Saturday, 30 June 2018

Swallowtail to be Swallowed Up?


It has been predicted that the Swallowtail, Britain's largest butterfly, will disappear from these islands in the next 40 years (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/29/sea-level-rise-could-wipe-out-swallowtail-butterfly-in-40-years). The butterfly is mainly found in the fens of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire where its larva feeds only on Milk parsley. The problem is that this food plant has no salt tolerance and the predicted raising of the sea-level in the near future will convert the fens into saltmarsh. No food plant: no butterfly.

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Enchanter's nightshade (Ciraea lutetiana) bloomed in deepest Loughor. Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) disturbed the skies of Gorseinon.

Friday, 29 June 2018

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More action in Bynea with Common sea lavender (Limonium vulgare) and Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) in bloom. Also spotted a Beautiful demoiselle (Calopterix virgo) flapping about.

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More critters in Loughor. Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperanthus) butterflies and what appeared to be solitary bees.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

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The Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was in flower in Loughor. In Bynea, the alien Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) was in bloom and Meadow browns (Maniola jurtina) flitted.

Town Bee or Country Bee?


A somewhat counter-intuitive finding from Royal Holloway London is the observation that bumblebee colonies (important wild pollinators) thrive better in urban locations than they do in the countryside (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/27/bumblebees-thrive-in-towns-more-than-countryside). The colonies persist longer, are bigger and produce more queens to spread the species. The authors of the study consider many possible factors to account for the difference  including noting that, in towns, there is a relative absence of some bumblebee brood parasites, a diverse range of flowering plants is found in gardens/parks and you do not find anything like the  levels of insecticides and herbicides that are common in agriculture. I personally think that the last-mentioned factor is by far the most important. One could also add that there may be benefits for the town-based bees as flowers in these locations bloom at a variety of times (the agricultural processes generally result in pollen and nectar only being produced over short, defined periods).    

Monday, 25 June 2018

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In Loughor, Garden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) was in flower, as was Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), in Bynea. The latter location also revealed larvae of the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) on Ragwort along with what appeared to be Platycnemius pennipes; a Gold-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) and many darting Orthetrum coerulescens.

Tobacco Tales

With all the recurrent UK concerns about unhealthy diets and the perceived 'success' of the anti-smoking campaigns (including the development of 'healthy' vaping), one might have got the impression that tobacco no longer poses any health issues. There is, however, evidence that child labour is rampant in countries, such as Malawi, that farm the plant (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/25/revealed-child-labor-rampant-in-tobacco-industry). The children not only miss out on education but are exposed, under gruelling extended conditions, to toxic pesticides and fertilisers used on the crop. One of the less reported consequences is a high incidence of 'Green Tobacco Sickness' which results from workers, of any age, directly handling (under damp conditions-via watering or sweat) the leaves of the plants. This results in nicotine poisoning (nicotine is a highly toxic protection presumably used by the plant to deter herbivores) via the skin. The poisoning results in nausea, sickness, stomach cramps and migraines.

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Visited , in Loughor, by a slightly battered Swallowtailed moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria).

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Super-sizing Supermarkets?

Everyone (including the UK government) appear to accept that the country has an 'obesity epidemic' with dire health and costs consequences (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/24/helm-boseley-health-diet-eating-obesity-policy-eating-sugar-salt-fat). The latest focus appears to be the activities of supermarkets (especially displays in the check-out aisles). Supermarkets (and other shops and on-line suppliers?) certainly can play a role in countering the intake of too many calories, too much unhealthy food and giving the buying public more information on healthy choices. Having said that, they are in the business of selling stuff, so expecting them to 'police' health is, I feel, expecting too much (especially if we rely on 'voluntary' actions). It seems to be that the government needs to be more pro-active and should be legislating to help parents provide the appropriate nutrition (and exercise?).

Corals Too Slow to Survive?


A number of studies have suggested that the growth rate of corals is too slow to deal with the current rate of sea-level rises (https://www.scimex.org/newsfeed/coral-reefs-losing-ability-to-keep-pace-with-sea-level-rise). This suggests that climate change will result in the 'drowning' of most coral formations (these animals need to operate in shallow water to enable their symbiotic algae to be able to photosynthesise nutrients on which the coral depends). This would have a devastating impact on many oceanic islands (both physically and in terms of scuba-linked tourism). It would have an event worse effect on their extraordinary biodiversity.

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Visited, in Loughor, by a Plain wave (Idaea straminata).

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Towering Expectations


I must admit to having some sympathies (I am taller than average) with Charles Byrne who was dubbed 'The Irish Giant', as his medical condition resulted in his being more than 2.30 m tall (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jun/22/irish-giant-may-finally-get-respectful-burial-after-200-years-on-display). His skeleton has been on display at the Hunterian museum in London for more than 200 years, in spite of his expressed wish to be buried at sea (bribery of the undertaker may have been involved). An individual may make money out of a condition whilst alive but that shouldn't mean his remains can be displayed, against his wishes, after death. I am not certain the museum would lose much if the skeleton is buried at sea?

Friday, 22 June 2018

Herpes and Alzheimers


Recent studies have revealed that the brains of Alzheimer patients often have high concentrations of herpes virus (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/21/alzheimers-link-to-herpes-virus-in-brain-say-scientists). It is uncertain whether the virus (sometimes linked to sexual activity) has a role in creating the dementia or whether the neurological condition predisposes individuals to infection. This is yet another factor that needs to be considered in attempts to develop treatments that might prevent Alzheimer's or treatments that can be applied to patients with the neurological condition.

A Long Way Back for the Big Island

The massive lava flows from Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island have apparently destroyed a unique area of rainforest and many marine pools with impressive reef life (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/20/hawaii-volcano-eruption-kilauea-natural-wonders-destroyed-kapoho-bay). It is estimated that it will take at least 100 years for the new lava flows to mature into anything like the destroyed habitats. This is, of course, a completely natural destructive event but it does, perhaps, suggest that such locations need an increased range of protected areas (putting all your 'eggs in one basket' near an active volcano is not an optimal strategy).

Eels and Nose Candy

An interesting study from Naples has demonstrated that the tiny concentrations of cocaine derivatives that contaminate river waters from drug users (especially near big cities in Italy and England), seem likely to severely impair the ability of European eels to undertake their long reproductive migrations between  the sea and freshwater (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/21/cocaine-in-rivers-harming-endangered-eels-study-finds). The drug alters the activity of the fish and also damages its musculature and its fat stores (needed to power the migration). Even 'rehabilitating' the eels in clean water for several days, failed to restore the fish's condition. This is yet another example of a detrimental effect of humans on other animals but who would have considered such a link likely?

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

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In Loughor, the Garden snails (Helix aspersa) used their love darts. A solitary Riband wave (Idaea aversata) visited.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Monday, 18 June 2018

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In Bynea, Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium augustifolium) was coming into flower.


Food Crisis or a Food Crisis?


The Chief Executive of pesticide manufacturer, Syngenta, which is now owned by China, is apparently claiming that curbs on 'agricultural' technologies might well 'lead to a food crisis in 10 years' as the impact of climate change take hold (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/17/high-risk-food-shortages-pesticides-chemical-giant). He (somewhat predictably) contradicts UN claims that that pesticides are not a panacea for feeding the world, suggesting that farmers can get better at 'focusing' the use of these chemicals (and might well use less). I do worry, however, that a company that reportedly sells EU-banned herbicides (such as Paraquat) in the US and Brazil is not totally focused on the detrimental effects of agricultural chemicals on populations of pollinating insects (as well as damaging exposed humans). Losses of these species would also trigger early food crises. We need technological innovation but we also need controls on herbicide and insecticide use.

Going Bananas!

The world's banana crop is apparently under imminent threat from a fungal epidemic, Panama disease, that is sweeping plantations in many areas of the globe (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jun/18/scientists-scramble-to-stop-bananas-being-killed-off). A similar thing happened in the 1950's leading to the then dominant variety being largely replaced (almost 100%) by the single Cavendish strain. It is always a bad idea to have a single strain as there will be no variation in resistance to disease and pathogens can spread rapidly in such circumstances. It is reported that scientists are working hard to genetically engineer a resistant strain of the Cavendish. Perhaps using a variety of strains would be more beneficial?

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A Knot grass moth (Acronicta rumicis) larva contemplates its next meal in Loughor.


Sunday, 17 June 2018

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Around Llanelli Foreshore, there were Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and Rest harrow (Onosis repens). There were also lots of exploring froglets (Rana temporaria) by Sandy Waterpark.

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In Loughor, Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) got on with producing its poisonous orbs and Redshank (Persicaria maculosa) flowered. In Bynea, Majoram (Origanum vulgare) bloomed.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Here Comes the Night!


A Berkeley study on 62 wild Mammal species from across the planet has suggested that most of these animals are becoming more nocturnal when faced with local human activity (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/14/human-activity-making-mammals-more-nocturnal-study-finds). Avoiding the planet's most dangerous predator might not be a bad idea. It would be interesting to know if the animals involved have individually adopted this life-style (possibly to minimise disturbance in the same way that insect-eating bats avoid birds in the daytime) or whether members of these species that are more active 'after hours' are more likely to survive and breed (i.e. the change is currently being selected). These changes in nocturnal activity could have wide-ranging influences on the species (and other animals in the same environments). For example, it could alter the efficiency and duration of feeding or the availability .

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In Loughor, a white-tailed bumble-bee hoverfly mimic Volucella bombylans zoomed about.


Rat Recovery


There is an interesting study (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jun/14/paws-and-play-gene-treatment-helps-rats-with-spinal-cord-injury-regain-their-nerve) from King's College London suggesting that gene therapy can help restore mobility in the limbs of rats who had had their spinal cords damaged. The single injection delivers an enzyme (chondroitinase) to the damaged region, dissolving scar tissue and allowing the nerves to reconnect. The enabled the rats to regain a complex motor activity task that involved their fore-paws. This may also prove to be helpful in clinically treating some forms of spinal damage.

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More action around the Bynea/Penclacwydd border. Marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) and Marsh bedstraw (Gallium palustre) were both in flower. Day-flying Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) and Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae) moths were both in action. For the Common blue damselfly (Enallagna cyathigerum), love was in the air.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

A Micro Improvement?


Amongst all the talk of our losing species of mammals, birds and insects, it is somewhat contrary that the UK is apparently gaining one new species of micro-moth per annum (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/14/one-new-species-of-micro-moth-found-in-britain-every-year). The additions apparently arrive either under their own steam (flying in or, more probably, blown on the winds) or get imported along with agricultural or horticultural produce. These are a modest increase for our biodiversity and, in some cases, a potential source of future problems (some could turn out to be serious pests).

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

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More flowers in Bynea. Hairy St John's wort (Hypericum hirsutum) and Tree mallow (Lavatera arborea).

Treatment for Headcases?

It has recently been demonstrated that a cheap and easily-available drug, transexamic acid, used to treat knife and gunshot wounding, ben...