The now entirely virtual ranger

Back in 1989 I discovered that people would actually pay me to work in the countryside. I could hardly believe my luck – and still can’t.¬† It’s been a great ride, but now, 28 years later I’m going to try something else. Yes, the ‘Virtual Ranger’, my online tag since about 1995, will finally apply.

I’m leaving the Gift to Nature charity after almost exactly two years, to join the Isle of Wight Council, not as a countryside worker or manager this time, but as¬†Communications and Engagement Officer. Continue reading The now entirely virtual ranger

Giant African land snail

We heard you wanted to see a picture of a simply enormous snail. So here it is:

Achatina achatina

This massive beast is Achatina achatina, the giant Ghana snail: native to the forests of Ghana. Their shells grow to a length of 18cm with a diameter of 9cm, however, Wikipedia suggests that certain examples have been surveyed in the wild at 30x15cm, making them the largest extant land snail species known. These snails and others related to them are sometimes a right pest when they are introduced outside their native range, eating crops and even gnawing the stucco off buildings. However in the West they make popular pets, apparently. Though probably not amongst lettuce-enthusiasts. Video of Gary the giant snail taking a shower after the jump… Continue reading Giant African land snail

Geology rocks up to your desktop

The British Geological Survey has long been the alma mater of Britain’s rock nerds. Now it’s coming to your desktop – or pocket – with an impressive array of geology-based information free-to-use.

Geology of Britain viewer

Across the whole of the UK the geological map is now available via the familiar Google Maps interface. You can see the zoomed-out view in the image above, but the fun bit is when you get to centre in on an area, and the detail starts to emerge. Continue reading Geology rocks up to your desktop

Im in ur genome, infectin ur flies

How awesome is this? The bacterium Wolbachia is thought to parasitically infect “70 percent of the world’s invertebrates, coevolving with them”[1] (see previous posting on The Ranger’s Blog). Now research has uncovered an extraordinary and startling phenomenon: Wolbachia has managed to copy its entire genetic code into its host. No, it’s not like Jeff Goldblum in ‘The Fly‘, but it is getting surprisingly close.

Wolbachia (c) Softpedia

Scientists at the University of Rochester and the J. Craig Venter Institute have discovered a full copy of the parasite’s genome in the genome of a Drosophila fly. It’s not unusual for bits of parasitic DNA to get muddled up with host DNA from time to time, but for an entire organism to be transcribed in this way is remarkable – and has far-reaching implications.

Drosophila sp. fruit fly (c) Max xx

Classical evolutionary theory supposes that new features arise by natural variation such as mutations, and that natural selection then ensures that the beneficial features survive. Major changes should therefore take many generations, and very long periods of time. However there has for some time been debate in evolutionary biology about the time that evolution appears to take: there is evidence that it is not a constant, low-level and slow process, but that it sometimes happens in fits and starts.ScienceDaily reports on how this new discovery affects this theory:

The finding suggests that lateral gene transfer – the movement of genes between unrelated species – may happen much more frequently between bacteria and multicellular organisms than scientists previously believed, posing dramatic implications for evolution. Such large-scale heritable gene transfers may allow species to acquire new genes and functions extremely quickly, says Jack Werren, a principal investigator of the study… Werren and [Michael Clark, a research associate at Rochester] are now looking further into the huge insert found in the fruitfly, and whether it is providing a benefit. “The chance that a chunk of DNA of this magnitude is totally neutral, I think, is pretty small, so the implication is that it has imparted some selective advantage to the host,” says Werren. “The question is, are these foreign genes providing new functions for the host?” This is something we need to figure out.”

So, not only has it managed to become an integral part of its host, but it might actually be benefiting it (as Wolbachia is known to do elsewhere). This would obviously provide a way in which evolution could proceed much more rapidly – if one organism is capable of simply adopting the genes of another, fully formed, a mechanism for considerably faster rates of evolutionary change may have been revealed. What other organisms have been absorbed in the past, maybe even into our own genome? It seems inevitable that at some point this will have occurred… and will probably occur again. Perhaps Wolbachia will one day be a part of us too!

David Miliband MP – the handsomest Environment Secretary in Westminster

The Ranger was doing some slightly worthy homework reading up on the Marine Bill White Paper. Intending to write a bit of new stuff for Naturenet, or maybe a post on this blog, he was stopped in his tracks by a startling image:

Environment Secretary, David Miliband © Crown Copyright 2007

Environment Secretary, David Miliband

Now, really. Perhaps we should take this moment to reflect. There are two things we can all learn from this remarkable portrait. Firstly, if you’re one of the most important politicians in the country, try not to pose for a photograph of yourself looking like a gurning imbecile. And secondly, if that is unavoidable, then don’t, whatever you do, publish the result alongside every press release and on an official government website in full 250kb hi-resolution glory, and invite people to download it. It’ll only lead to trouble

See a huge slug devour a flower

The magic of YouTube once more draws The Ranger’s attention to an outsize invertebrate: This massive slug is from the Namaqualand region of South Africa. The contributor, Mike Cope, helpfully points out:

These slugs grow bigger than one’s hand. The flowers are about 1 inch (2.2 cm) long

Blimey – that’s a big slug. In case you’re wondering about the cuddly bunny fancy dress it appears to be wearing, you can probably work out the the cute pink ears are flowers in the background, but what you might not spot is that the big hole in it is not an eye but in fact the breathing-hole or pneumostome that can be seen on pulmonate slugs.

National What Week?

Naturenet regularly updates many pages, but this one gets done every year – and every year it’s a right chore. That’s because it involves The Ranger trawling through loads of outdated webpages and cryptic press releases to try to fathom out things like the actual date of International Bog Day (29 July 2007, since you ask); and why 2008 is going to be the International Year of the Potato (still not so sure about that one).


Of course, because such a lot of effort goes into it, this is one of the most popular pages on the website. Don’t worry, The Ranger is pleased to do all that work for you. If you’re organising an environmental event, check out this list first. All suggestions and corrections welcomed, of course.