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)

Malta – massacre on Migration. A message from Chris Packham

Chris Packham

“For many years I have lobbied the UK’s bird charities to campaign to raise awareness about the slaughter of migrant birds on Malta. I have equally tried to stimulate television programme makers to cover the issue – both without success – a sad reflection of our complacent and risk adverse times.

“Well, I’ve finally run out of patience and together with three colleagues and the support of Birdlife Malta this spring I will be making a nightly video diary of the days events on the island which will be posted on . . .

YouTube at 9.00 PM (UK time)
between the
21st and 26th of April 2014

Our mission is to generate a wider awareness of this heinous practice with frank and factual reports from the frontline where our much loved migrant birds are being shot in huge numbers. It will not be pretty, the species killed include many UK favourites and rarities and the hunters are infamous for being confrontational and violent. I don’t care, this is not a holiday, it’s an attempt to bring this forgotten issue to a wider public attention and then to offer a couple of ways the viewers can actually do something to effect positive change.

Please try to watch our broadcasts and please publicise them as widely as possible. I believe that people will be truly horrified when they see what happens on Malta to ‘our birds’, I believe they care and they will do something to change it.

Thank you

Chris Packham”

Find out more background to this issue here:

Is Eresus the cutest spider on earth? Send me to find out.

The worlds’s cutest spider. It’s a hard-fought contest, with the jumping spiders 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 Spider 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.

Eresus sandaliatus
Eresus sandaliatus

But hold on, there might be hope – both for the spiders and me. There’s now a Buglife campaign to increase the tiny population of this delightful, but very rare, animal. I recently found out that Buglife give an unusual promise “For donations over £1000 we 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 a campaign to donate £1000 to Buglife for this wonderful spider. All donations gratefully received, if we get to £1000 I shall write, photograph and blog the visit ad nauseum. It might take a while but I intend to get there!

Continue reading Is Eresus the cutest spider on earth? Send me to find out.

Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

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.

Buzzard (c) Lisa Lawley

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 Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

Falmouth maerl – the canary in George Osborne’s coal mine

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.”

Maerl beds © Keith Hiscock

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 Falmouth maerl – the canary in George Osborne’s coal mine

Beewolf buzzing Ryde once more

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.

Philanthus triangulum, Ryde © Cat James

Continue reading Beewolf buzzing Ryde once more

Bluebells on the beach

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!

Bluebells on the 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 Bluebells on the beach

Aren’t all orchids protected?

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.

Early-purple Orchid, Cowes

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 Aren’t all orchids protected?