Behold, the tree lobster. (Spoiler: not a lobster)

We like to bring you the occasional large invertebrate on this blog. And even a huge 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) (c) Granitethighs
Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)

The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, or Tree Lobster, 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 the Australian 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 Behold, the tree lobster. (Spoiler: not a lobster)

GB Non-native Species Secretariat offering free online courses

If you’re interested in non-native species and their impact on the environment, and you’d like to learn more, this is the thing for you.

One of the very few parts of environmental work that the government has not cut back on recently is the focus on non-native invasive species. In fact, the establishment of the GB Non-native Species Secretariat has given considerable momentum to ongoing work to understand and control the species of animal and plant that cause problems when they spread invasively in the wild.  Typical species that hit the headlines include Japanese knotweed, American mink and Himalayan balsam. But there are many others and lots to learn about them – like floating pennywort (shown above). Continue reading GB Non-native Species Secretariat offering free online courses

Smearing toads with haemorrhoid cream… humanely

Regular readers will remember the anguish with which celebrities and commoners alike rallied round the cause of poor old introduced hedgehogs in Scotland, hard-pressed by conservationists bent on their eradication.

A cute little toad


Now an Australian comparison has arisen. Let’s see if Sir Paul McCartney steps forward once more, in defence of the cane toad! Yes, this deeply unpleasant creature, introduced in 1935 and wreaking havoc ever since, is the object of extraordinary hatred by, it seems, all Australians. No Australian societies exist to stand up for the rights of cane toads, and nobody is offered any bounty to cane toad rescuers. Instead, we get the robust Aussie response of “Not In My Backyard Day”, which is sponsored by the Northern Territory government. Continue reading Smearing toads with haemorrhoid cream… humanely

Knotweed: is Stefan papering over the cracks?

Everyone seems to know a few facts about Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica: it’s going to be eaten by some Japanese bug, any minute now; it’s really nasty and destroys your house; and anyway, it’s illegal, right?

Japanese Knotweed (Credit: ultra megatron)

Well, like many half-known truths there’s something in all of these assertions. It’s not an offence to have knotweed on your land – although it is to plant or sell it. And the psyllid that has been released in the UK as a biological control agent may or may not eat it all up, but for most of us that won’t happen for many years, if it does at all. But does knotweed actually damage buildings? Now this strongly-held belief about knotweed is being challenged by eminent horticulturist and broadcaster Dr Stefan Buczacki. Reported in Gardening Week Dr Buczacki says:

My instinct is that it’s an overreaction. I have never seen an example of Japanese knotweed damaging a building’s foundations. It’s undeniably a persistent, spreading weed, it’s the 21st century triffid. But the real threat of Japanese knotweed is the threat it poses to surrounding plants.

If Stefan is right – and he usually is – then is the multi-million pound knotweed-eradication industry just stringing the rest of us along? Continue reading Knotweed: is Stefan papering over the cracks?

Tell me, sweet little lice

Well, it seems it’s actually come true. As reported on this blog and elsewhere, CABI have been looking at possible biological control agents for the invasive Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica. They’re now ready to release one, the jumping psyllid plant louse Aphalara itadori

Japanese Knotweed (Credit: ultra megatron)

To their credit, CABI have done a remarkably good job in getting publicity not only for the process of assessment, but also for the release. Few with even a passing interest in knotweed can be unaware of the work they have been doing, or the results. This is no mean achievement for what might otherwise appear to be a fairly non-dramatic bit of biodiversity-based science. But needless to say this hasn’t stopped the hard of thinking from gathering their meagre wits and bleating caution. Luckily the Daily Mail is there to provide an outlet for such folk. Continue reading Tell me, sweet little lice

The non-native species portal opens!

Behold! The portal is opening… and what’s inside? Is it a trans-dimensional gateway to another star system? No, it’s a new UK government website about non-native species. Probably a lot more useful than a cosmic wormhole. Well, stabler, certainly.

GB non-native species secretariat

Amazingly, despite having the not-at-all saucy and snappy name of the GB non-native species secretariat they made a website with a memorable URL:, even if it immediately comes up with dismal government URLs once you are in it. Still, you can’t have everything. But web addresses don’t really matter except to tedious nerds (ahem). The real question is, is it any good? The Ranger took for a test drive. Here’s the results. Continue reading The non-native species portal opens!

Knotweed – what harm could it do?

Japanese knotweed is in the news because of the proposed introduction of a predatory insect to control it – a story reported on this blog in May. Knotweed is an introduced plant that is a plague on waterways and urban fringe land throughout much of Europe. Millions of pounds is spent annually on attempts to eradicate it, but is this simply a habit? Whilst nobody can deny that the plant is very destructive to buildings and structures, surely this non-poisonous weed can simply be left alone in semi-natural environments. After all, it provides shelter, nectar, and looks quite attractive. Why not just leave it alone?

Japanese Knotweed (Credit: ultra megatron)

Now some research published in the journal Biological Conservation has further demonstrated what many land managers have for decades assumed: that knotweed causes real harm to biodiversity and natural ecosystems. Continue reading Knotweed – what harm could it do?

Invasion of the swingers

The Ranger is fond of internet tittle-tattle, and occasionally enjoys the salacious titbits found on the Holy Moly gossip website. There’s something curiously compelling in scurrilous untruths about people you’ve either never heard of, or wish you’d never heard of. This week amongst tales of huge stars like Jodie Marsh’s ex-husband and that disaster area pop star Pete Doherty, it asked, in all innocence:

QUESTION! Which TV couple were mightily pleased to plant the old ‘pampas grass’ in their front garden as a marriage saver?

Goodness knows what the answer is – and indeed it’s pretty irrelevant. But what’s this about pampas grass? Some euphemism obviously… but for what? The Ranger’s interest was piqued.

Pampas grass, Berkshire © Fabricator of useless articles

Continue reading Invasion of the swingers

Knotweed to be unravelled at last?

An insect has been identified that just might prove to be the holy grail of biological control: a safe predator for Japanese Knotweed.

Japanese Knotweed (Credit: ultra megatron)

The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International has announced plans to begin consultation on the use of a Japanese psyllid to attack knotweed in the UK. If approved, this will be the first time an exotic species has been used in Britain to control a plant. Continue reading Knotweed to be unravelled at last?

Aussies open ‘toad detention centres’ and make fertilizer out of them

Remember the invasive Cane Toads – scourge of Australian native wildlife? they were the subject of one of the most popular posts on The Ranger’s Blog ever: Smearing toads with haemorrhoid cream… humanely.

A cute little toad

The Australians have taken a characteristically robust view of how to deal with these introduced pests. Continue reading Aussies open ‘toad detention centres’ and make fertilizer out of them