We like to bring you theÂ occasionalÂ largeÂ invertebrate on this blog. And even a hugeÂ vertebrate now and then. But here’s a big insect with a story to tell. And it’s a story that hasn’t – quite – ended yet.
Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)
The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, or Tree Lobster,Â Dryococelus australis, is one of the largest insect species in the world. It is a flightless phasmid that lives on trees in the isolated Lord Howe Island chain off theÂ AustralianÂ coast. These great creatures were once common enough to be used regularly as fishing bait, but in 1918 a supply ship ran aground there and accidentally introduced the black rat. By 1920 the tree lobster was thought to be extinct, a casualty of the voracious rats which cut a swathe through the native island ecosystem. Continue reading
The worlds’s cutest spider. It’s a hard-fought contest, with the jumpingÂ spidersÂ invariably on the podium. But I’ve got a soft spot for another family altogether, the eresids or Velvet Spiders. I think they’ve been unfairly overlooked and I’m going to see if I can redress the balance.
The UK’s only eresid is the Ladybird SpiderÂ Eresus sandaliatus, of which I have written before. I’ve never seen one, and there’s a chance I shan’t ever do so as it’s fearsomely rare in this country.
But hold on, there might be hope – both for the spiders and me. There’s now a Buglife campaign toÂ increaseÂ the tiny population of this delightful, but very rare, animal. I recently found out that Buglife give an unusual promise “For donations over Â£1000 weÂ can arrange a visit to a site for you to see the Ladybird spider in its natural habitat and experience this important conservation project first hand” So I’m starting aÂ campaignÂ to donate Â£1000 to Buglife for this wonderful spider. All donations gratefullyÂ received, if we get to Â£1000 I shall write, photograph and blog the visit ad nauseum. It might take a while but I intend to get there!
Something’s gone badly wrong at the Greenest Government Ever. To say I’ve been profoundly disappointed at the environmental performance of the Coalition – in comparison to its glowing promises – is only the start of it. But at least, up until now, it has only been the traditional environmentalist’s bogeyman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has been the boo-hiss villain happy to deride current protection of wildlife and landscapes as a “ridiculous cost” on business.
Now the foes of our native biodiversity are expanding their reach. They are optimistic enough to be openly at work through DEFRA – traditionally the department that is responsible for nature reserves, protected landscapes, biodiversity, and protected species as well as farming, food and fishing. A modest DEFRA proposal for a research project on birds of prey has caused an extraordinary backlash of criticism from a wide range of respected voices throughout the conservation field. Having read it, I can understand why. The project is not large, but the implications are. And as far as I can see there are two possible explanations, neither of which give me any comfort. Either those who proposed this idea have an alarmingly poor understanding of the role and relative importance of native species versus introduced ones; or they don’t, but are confident enough to believe that any resistance to the proposal can be safely disregarded. Continue reading
Maerl. What’s that then? Chances are, you don’t know what maerl is, or why anyone else might care. Unless you live in Falmouth – in which case you have probably found out quite a lot about maerl recently. It’s a rare marine habitat which, like many other such habitats, is protected in the UK by European designations. And it was the Falmouth maerl which Chancellor George Osborne was referring to when he said last year “We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”
The maerl beds in Falmouth are internationally important for biodiversity and locally valued for their benefits to the fishing industry, but their fate is particularly interesting nationally because European protected habitats like these are very much in George Osborne’s crosshairs at the moment. Is he right to decide that economic benefits trump environmental sustainability? Is the economic imperative strong enough to make such fundamental changes, or is Osborne simply indulging in quixotic anti-European political posturing? Continue reading
In 2007 The Ranger wrote about his local colony of Philanthus triangulum, the European beewolf. Sadly, in 2008 the fearsome little things were nowhere to be found – perhaps they despaired of the dismal weather. In 2009 too I searched without success, but inspired by Ian Boyd’s find in Newchurch I recently went back for a second look at the sandy banks on Ryde seafront. This time sharp eyed Cat spotted the tell-tale signs of excavations a little way away. It seems that the original site had been covered by drifting sand over winter and now seemed too sandy even for these sand-loving creatures. But not far off they were hard at it, murdering bees industriously.
Bluebells eh? They’re everywhere at this time of year… but even so it was a surprise for The Ranger when some popped up yesterday on Sandown Beach!
These are growing behind a row of beach huts, in the sand. You can see some sand at the far end of the huts, and the sea is just visible in the distance. I was working at the time doing something else so had to take a quick snap on the council phone – but if you don’t believe me, go and look for yourself! I’ve always known that Sandown Beach is a great place, but never yet thought of promoting it as a place to look for bluebells. See exactly where they were after the jump: Continue reading
The invertebrate charity Buglife is moving to new offices in Peterborough, whilst in the midst of a legal tussle that could see the little charity faced with a bill of
Round about now kettle-cases start popping up on the Isle of Wight. That’s the local name for early-purple orchids, which, as the name suggests, start flowering relatively early, in spring. If you live in England it won’t be long before it’s the same round your way, if it isn’t already.
Orchids are mysterious things, appearing apparently from nowhere, flowering spectacularly, and then disappearing sometimes for years. No wonder they have a certain mystique. Continue reading
Ranger regular Dave Larkin noticed the article on the numbered pebble, and typically, manages to knock that into a cocked hat.
The most ironic marketing gaffe ever, and then an apparent u-turn by Royal Mail: did plucky little conservation charity Buglife really pull off this campaign coup? For those who haven’t been keeping up, see this post – or here’s a summary: Royal Mail have been planning to build a depot on a marshland full of scarce invertebrates in West Thurrock, and invertebrate charity Buglife has been campaigning to stop them. But a High Court bid by the charity to have the development halted was rejected in February. Buglife have been considering whether or not to appeal.
Buglife made their own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development