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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The sea is a mysterious place – millions and millions of gallons of water home to marinelife both above and below the sea’s surface. I am at my most relaxed and chilled when I am on a boat watching anything from dolphins to birds. And a bird you can almost guarantee to see is the Gannet. It is huge, very white and definitely my favourite.

Image of a Gannet by Richard Towell Flicr

Its’ long body, pointed wings with black tips and summery yellow head make it unmistakable. The bill is the Gannet’s most important tool. When they find a shoal of fish they hold their wings back and become a straight, pointed dagger. Dropping at speed, they plunge the water, catch their fish and rise to the surface to eat their prey within seconds.

This year I went out on a boat to see thousands of Gannets breeding on the small island, Bass Rock, in Scotland. It was certainly a sensory experience. The smell (very smelly and fishy!), the sight (a spectacle), the sound (a grating cacophony) and the taste (seasalt on your lips).

If you’d like to see your own Gannet watch from a coastal vantage point looking out to the horizon, get out onto a special boat trip or if you don’t like boats watch young Gannets currently still in their nests at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.

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If you’re out and about on a nice sunny day and notice what you think is a pretty red and black butterfly it is actually the Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae).

The Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) was originally named after the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’ once used by artists as a red pigment for painting.

The adult moth has two bright red spots and red stripes on its forewings and scarlet hind wings with charcoal edging. Moths are split into 2 broad groups – the macro moths (large) and the micro moths (small). The Cinnabar is a macro moth and has a body length of 20mm and a wingspan of between 32mm – 42mm. Although this is a predominantly nocturnal moth it can also be seen during the day.

Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Clare Dinham

Life cycle

Females can lay up to 300 eggs, usually in batches of 30 or 60 on the underside of ragwort leaves. When the caterpillars (larvae) hatch they feed on the around the area of the hatched eggs but as they get bigger and moult (instars) they mainly feed on the leaves and flowers of the plant, and can be seen out in the open during the day.

Caterpillar

Caterpillars are feeding from July – early September and are initially pale yellow but soon develop bright yellow and black stripes to deter predators.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Roger Key

The caterpillars feed on poisonous ragwort leaves. The poision from the leaves is stored in the caterpillars body (and even remains when they are an adult moth). Any birds or other predators that ignore the caterpillars bright warning sign will be repulsed by how foul they taste.

Numerous caterpillars on one ragwort plant can reduced it to a bare stem very quickly. They are also known to be cannibalistic.

The caterpillars overwinter as pupa in a cocoon under the ground. The adult moths emerge around mid May and are on the wing up until early August, during which time males and females will mate and eggs are laid.

Distribution and Habitat

The Cinnabar moth is a common species, well distributed throughout the UK and has a coastal distribution in the northern most counties of England and Scotland. Due to its toxicity to livestock Ragwort is being controlled in many areas across the UK. A study carried out by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamstead research in 2003 showed that although the distribution of the Cinnabar moth has remained roughly the same between the study period of 1968 – 2002 their numbers have dropped dramatically due to the persecution of their food plant Ragwort.

Cinnabar moths are found in typically well drained rabbit grazed (short sward) grassland including sand dunes and heathland and lots of other open habitats such as gardens and woodland rides.

Moth trapping

Cinnabar moths are attracted to moth traps which is the main way of recording moths. A moth trap is essentially a light trap which is set in the evening just before dusk and left on throughout the night. Any moths found within the trap can be studied the following morning and released without harming.

Moth trapping using a light trap © Clare Dinham

National Moth Night

Moth night is an annual event carried out across the country aimed at raising the awareness of moths among the public. This year it was carried out from the 21st – 23rd of June. Click on this link to find out more about National Moth Night

With thanks to Buglife for their contribution. To find out more about Buglife visit them at;

 www.buglife.org.uk

www.facebook.com/pages/Buglife-The-Invertebrate-Conservation-Trust

www.twitter.com/Buzz_dont_tweet

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Tom Hird AKA The Blowfish

Hey Guys! Blowfish here, and those fantastic people at Meet The Species have given me freedom to blog about whatever I fancy! HA HA HA HA! The FOOLS! Don’t they know how much The Blowfish can gabble about crabs, waffle about whales or speak about sharks!? It’s a wondrous prospect and so full of choice, but I thought I’d tell you guys and gals about one of my fave marine creatures found in the UK. He’s small, he’s bland but he really packs a punch! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… the Dog Whelk!

Nucella lapillus, the Dog Whelk, can be found up and down the coast of the UK and if you saw him, you’d just assume he was another boring old snail, going about his business just munching on algae and slime. A dangerous mistake to make. This sniper of a snail is a ruthless predator and is certainly not squeamish. Its favourite prey is mussels. Although mussels might be considered a sitting duck (after all, they hardly move), they do have a super tough shell that even a human can have problems cracking.

So how do you make a meal of a mussel? Well, the dog whelk is not afraid of using a little chemical weaponry. There is a special patch on the whelk’s muscular foot that secretes a powerful acid that will start to dissolve the mussel’s shell. Backing up this acid attack, the dog whelk produces his most devastating weapon, a radula. All molluscs have radula and they are very wonderful things. A radula is essentially a long conveyor belt of teeth. In algal grazing molluscs, the teeth are flat and evolved for grinding, but in predators like the dog whelk, the teeth are long, curved and dagger sharp! Using the radula like a chainsaw, the whelk starts to saw through the acid-weakened shell. But the worst is yet to come!

Once the shell has been breached, the living mussel inside is slowly shredded to pieces by the buzzing radula. It can take up to a week for a dog whelk to eat a single mussel! However, one mussel’s sacrifice might not always be in vain. Chemicals given off by feeding dog whelks stimulate the surrounding mussels to defend themselves. Using strong sticky adhesive threads called byssus, the mussels will bind the dog whelk to the surface of the rock, holding it fast and leaving it to face a long drawn-out end.

You see! All this hardcore drama! All occurring right under your nose! So next time you’re down on the beach, don’t go looking for the fast scuttling crabs, or the darting actions of fish, why not spot the Dog Whelk and his slow but deadly methods! Great stuff!

Cheers

Blowfish

To read more about Reptiles, Amphibians and Marine Life, you can visit the Blowfish’s blog here; www.school-of-fish.co.uk/blog

Or to contact Tom (Hird AKA the Blowfish) please visit; http://www.atwenterprises.co.uk

Many thanks for your great contribution Blowfish!

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A stirring thought from Hugh during his talk at Wilderness Festival: one of our Meet the Species feature events

To see more of Hugh, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter

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Rebecca Nesbit (Butterfly Becky): Conservation and the environment have been my passion from when I was far too young to know what it all meant. So I studied biology at University of Durham and in 2010 I was awarded an ecology PhD. I did my research at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and spent my time chasing migrant butterflies. I now work as a PR consultant, and represent small companies with bright ideas in science and technology.

A few weeks ago my friend was surprised to find a small green caterpillar in her peas from Mozambique. Curious to see what species had made it all the way from Africa we kept it in a pot and were delighted when it turned into a pupa. Sure enough, two weeks later it emerged as a beautiful moth, which turned out to be the scarce bordered straw, Helicoverpa armigera, a species that arrives in small numbers in the UK as a migrant.

Scarce Bordered Straw, Helicoverpa Armigera

Our pet moth had come to the UK the easy way, thanks to people. But its wild counterparts can get here without us, and it’s not alone. Many insects travel thousands of kilometres and move between continents without the help of humans. Take the silver Y moth, which is very common in the UK. It never spends the winter here, but uses wind currents hundreds of metres above our heads to reach the UK from Africa.  Don’t be fooled by its tiny size though – it is by no means at the mercy of the wind, as this research shows.

You may also have spotted the painted lady, a beautiful butterfly with winter breeding grounds in north Africa. When weather conditions get too dry in Africa butterflies make the journey north, and lay their eggs in Europe where the weather is better for the caterpillars’ food plants. In the autumn they fly south to escape the cold. If you see any, Butterfly Conservation would love your records.

Insect migration can be very different to bird migration. Many birds migrate each year between summer breeding grounds and winter feeding grounds. But lots of insects don’t show this distinct pattern and are simply moving to a new area so they lay their eggs somewhere with a plentiful supply of food.

Also, most insects don’t live that long. In many insect species, such as the painted lady or silver Y, no individual makes a northwards and southwards migration – instead it is the next generation which completes the round trip. That makes it even more mind boggling to think about how they find their way without anyone to follow or any prior knowledge of the route. You can read about my research into how butterflies know which way to fly  The more I learn about the world of insects the more amazing their world seems!

With many thanks to Dr Rebecca Nesbit ( rebeccanesbit@societyofbiology.org )  for her great contribution!

To find out more about Minibeasts visit www.thesciencesays.southernfriedscience.com/who-we-are

Or visit them on Twitter @thesciencesays or @RebeccaNesbit

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This year many of our Meet the Species accredited events were BioBlitz events – where scientists, volunteers and members of the public all come together to survey a green space for wildlife. This video is from Cambridge BioBlitz and you can find you local event through the National BioBlitz Network.

Many thanks to Cambridge University (& Cambridge University Botanical Gardens) for this amazing video and their kind contribution.

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