Category Archives: Wildlife & Environmental News

Wildlife & Environmental News

Spring’s Top 10 Wildlife Spectacles in the USA (The Nature Conservancy)

“Looking for an excuse for a road trip, or maybe just an afternoon at a local park? Here are ten top must-see natural spectacles that you can catch each spring….”

Eddie adds:  The good news is that events in at least three of the ten categories (four, if you are a fly fisherman) happen here each year in the North East USA, so check out the suggestions in the above link, from The Nature Conservancy!

The world is losing bees at an alarming rate. What will happen if they go extinct?

Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list. They are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.

That’s only the start. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. Which means a world without bees could struggle to sustain the global human population of 7 billion. Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables.

It gets worse. We are losing bees at an alarming rate….

To read the full article and view a video from the BBC, click on this sentence.

An Increase in Tick Bites and Lyme Disease in the UK

Walkers in Britain are being urged to take extra precautions against tick bites this summer because an epidemic of blood-sucking ticks is likely, following a mild, wet winter that gave them perfect breeding conditions.

The warning was delivered by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University, who says there’s no definitive data on how many ticks are in the country. Some areas have none. Others – usually woodland and heath areas – may have more than 100 per square metre. However, the general consensus among rural communities is they are on the increase, largely as a result of the warmer and wetter weather (good breeding conditions) and the growing number of wild deer (ticks like living on their skin).

Dog walkers are also being advised to check their pets thoroughly as well, because ticks spread other diseases too, not just Lyme Disease.

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease — the most serious bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks — has also increased, according to Dr Tim Brooks, head of the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. He says laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1,200 last year, although the actual number of cases is probably three times that. Awareness and testing of the disease has also gone up, so the figures have to be seen in that context, he adds.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.

Typical bulls-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Typical bull’s-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most common symptom is a pink or red circular “bull’s-eye” rash that develops around the area of the bite, but it doesn’t appear in everyone. Flu-like symptoms and fatigue are other noticeable signs of infection.

Eddie adds:

Before feeding on the blood of their victim, the ticks are extremely small and difficult to see.  What is grimly worse is the fact that they actually burrow into their host’s flesh and become very difficult to remove.  The best way to do so is with forceps, pulling gently, directly upwards but it is extremely imortant not to squeeze too hard and burst the tick as that may leave its mouthparts embedded and can add to the subsequent infection.

Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host's flesh (which is painless) and swell as  and they suck the blood.  You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons
Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host’s flesh (which is painless) and swell as and they suck the blood. You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons

The longer the tick is on its victim the larger it gets as it fills with the blood it is feeding on.  The illustration on the left shows the different life-stages.  (The American ‘dime’ coin that is used for scale is smaller than a British ‘penny’ and significantly smaller than a British ‘one pound’ coin.)

However, the good news — as established over many decades of this problem here in the USA — is that if the tick is removed within 36 hours of first attaching itself, the chance of a person getting Lyme Disease is somewhere between very low and zero, so the crucial task is checking oneself very carefully each day after being outdoors in relevant areas.

Get your partner or a family member to check your back, too, because even though some say the ticks only bite up to an adult person’s waist height, this is actually goverened by the height of the vegetation in the area.  Tall grass or brush raises the waiting insects higher and any resultant bites can therefore be higher on one’s body.  The back of one’s neck and shoulders should certainly be included if you’ve been through tall vegetation, and if you are wearing a short-sleeved top, check your armpits as well.

Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal's presence by the increase in carbod dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim.  At this stage, the ticks are minute.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal’s presence by the increase in carbon dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim. At this stage, the ticks are minute. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some people in the USA advocate wearing light-coloured clothing so you can see any ticks that are on the outside of such (where they are harmless) before they potentially find an opening and get inside.  Similarly, if you are in a bad area for ticks it is a good idea to tuck your trouser legs into your socks — another way to stop them getting in, even if it won’t win you any points in a fashion competition.

This is certainly a problem I take very seriously and the fact that I always wear insect-repellent shirts and trousers, from early spring until winter sets in properly, undoubtedly helps.

Are such garments available in Britain?  I don’t recall ever seeing them there.  If you are planning an outdoorsy vacation anywhere warm, I would certainly recommend you search for such clothing online as it also stops mosquitoes and other biting insects from spearing you through your shirt!

One good source is Ex Officio and the relevant page is:  http://www.exofficio.com/search/bug-repellent%20clothing but there are several other sources that I know of so just do searches for ‘bug-repellent clothing’ and ‘insect-repellent clothing’.

 Eddie Wren

 


Sources:

  • http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4078667.ece
  • http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27255853
  • http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/epidemic-ticks-hit-britain-summer-3484449
  • http://www.examiner.com/article/mass-health-officials-warn-residents-about-dangers-of-lyme-disease
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bullseye_Lyme_Disease_Rash.jpg

 

 

Live cameras watch for first Eurasian Crane chick to hatch in Britain for 400 years!

Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus), last known to have nested in Britain in the 16th Century.  (Wikimedia Commons)
Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus), last known to have nested in Britain in the 16th Century. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

An attempt by a pair of cranes to raise the first wild-hatched crane in western Britain in 400 years is being filmed on a webcam.

The webcam has been installed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at its Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire.

The 4ft (1.2m) tall cranes… first tried to nest at the centre last year but their chick died.

The one or two eggs are due to hatch mid-May and can be watched by internet users via the trust’s website.

The cranes are part of a reintroduction programme to re-establish the once-common birds in the UK….

Read the full article, from the BBC.

 

Salamanders — tiny predators doing good things for the planet!

My father-in-law Bob kindly saved an article from yesterday’s Buffalo News for me, under the heading of ‘Peewee predators’.  (Science Page [page H6], Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014).

It originated from the New York Times and focuses on recent research which rather surprisingly describes how useful salamanders are at helping to combat greenhouse gasses!  Who would have thought it!

Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]
Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]
By far the best write-up on salamanders that I have ever encountered is spread through what is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the very best natural history books I have ever read, namely The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, in Tennessee.

One small excerpt rather dramatically covers the ‘peewee predator’ aspect mentioned above, as follows: “Salamanders are the sharks of the leaf litter, cruising the waters and devouring smaller invertabrate animals.  Evolution has discarded Plethodon’s lungs to make its mouth a more effective snare.  By eliminating the windpipe and breathing through its skin, the slamander frees its maw to wrestle prey without pause for breath.”

Last but by no means least, I’m going to mention the Woods, Walks and Wildlife blog I came across, from Connecticut, which includes some really pleasing photographs of red-spotted newts and efts (the same species at different stages of life).  Check it out!

Eddie

21 April, 2014

Did you know that flies can manoeuvre like fighter jets (in tiny fractions of one second)?

“The flies start turning away from approaching threats in half the time it takes you to start blinking at a camera flash, and finish throttling up their flight motor in one-fiftieth of the time it takes you to complete the blink. It is little wonder we find them hard to swat.”                                        [Professor Graham Taylor, Oxford University]

Another fascinating excerpt — this time from Prof. Michael Dickinson of Washington University, Seattle — is: “…they can fly like an ace at birth. It’s like putting a newborn baby in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft and it knowing what to do.”

Read the full article (with video), from the BBC, at: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26943442

Dragonfly Conservation in the USA

If you are interested in conservation and have an interest in insects, in their own right, or odonates in particular (i.e. dragonflies and damselflies), you are likely to find this 1 hour 23 minute YouTube video to be very informative indeed.

The video is of a webinar developed for Natural Resource Conservation Biologists that covers dragonfly life history, ecological roles, conservation status, habitat needs, and their intersection with the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program.

A separate, very useful website for anyone interested in odonates is:  www.odonatacentral.org