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  • Paddy
  • Born and educated in Germany, I came to live in the UK in 1982. After working in various jobs over the years, I am now a freelance writer. I have a passion for wildlife and nature in general and love my family, my dog Jet, writing, music and dragons.
  • Born and educated in Germany, I came to live in the UK in 1982. After working in various jobs over the years, I am now a freelance writer. I have a passion for wildlife and nature in general and love my family, my dog Jet, writing, music and dragons.

A - Z Plant List

A - B - C - D/E

F - G - H/I/J

K/L - M - N/O

P - Q/R - S

T to Z

 

The A - Z of House Plants is currently under construction. Plant names will be linked to their corresponding articles as they are added. Please be patient - there are a lot of plants, and there may be days when only one or two articles can be added at a time. In the meantime, why not take a look at some of these general care articles:

 

A brief Guide to Potting Mixes

 

When and how to repot House Plants

 

Grooming House Plants - the Basics

 

Indoor House Plants and Light

 

Ten House Plants tolerating low Light Conditions

 

Indoor House Plants and Humidity Levels

 

Watering Indoor House Plants

 

Fertilising House Plants

 


To save readers having to scroll through the whole alphabet when looking for a specific plant, each section will be moved to its own page once all corresponding articles have been added. 

 

Yet to come: 

 

H

Haworthia

(Haworthia species)

Heartleaf Philodendron

(Philodendron scandens)

Hellebore

(Helleborus niger)

 Hibiscus

(Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Hyacinth Flower

(Hyacinthus orientalis hybrids)

Hydrangea

(Hydrangea macrophylla)

 

I

Impatiens

(Impatiens hybrids)

Iron Cross Begonia

(Begonia masoniana)

Ivy Geranium

(Pelargonium peltatum)

Ixora 

(Ixora coccinea)

 

J

Jade Plant

(Crassula ovata)

Janet Craig Dracaena

(Dracaena deremensis)

Japanese Aralia

(Fatsia japonica)

Jasmine Plant

(Jasminum polyanthum)

Jerusalem Cherry

(Solanum pseudocapsicum)

 

K

Kaffir Lily

(Clivia miniata)

Kentia Palm

(Howea forsteriana)

 

L

Lady Palm

(Rhapis excelsa)

Lantana Plants

(Lantana camara)

Lily of the Valley                                      

(Convallaria majalis)

Lipstick Plant                                          

(Aeschynanthus lobbianus)

Living Stones                                           

(Lithops species)

Lucky Bamboo                                        

(Dracaena sanderiana)

 

M

Madagascar Palm                                    

(Pachypodium lamerei)

Maidenhair Fern                                       

(Adiantum)

Mandevilla Plant                                       

(Mandevilla hybrids)

Martha Washington Geranium                   

(Pelargonium domesticum)

Medinilla                                                 

(Medinilla magnifica)

Ming Aralia                                              

(Polyscias fruticosa)

Miniature Roses                                        

(Rosa chinensis hybrids)

Mona Lavender                                        

(Plectranthus hybrid)

Money Tree Plant                                     

(Pachira aquatica)

Moses in the Cradle                                 

(Tradescantia spathacea)

Mother of Thousands                                

(Kalanchoe daigremontiana)

Mother-in-Law's Tongue/ Snake Plant        

(Sansevieria trifasciata)

 

N

Nerve Plant                                              

(Fittonia verschaffeltii)

New Guinea Impatiens                              

(Impatiens x hawkeri hybrid)

Norfolk Island Pine                                   

(Araucaria heterophylla)

 

O

Oleander Plant                                         

(Nerium oleander)

Orchid Cactus                                         

(Epiphyllum species and hybrids)

Ornamental Chili Pepper                           

(Capsicum annuum)

 

P

Paddle Plant                                            

(Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)

Panda Plant                                            

(Kalanchoe tomentosa)

Pansy                                                     

(Viola x wittrockiana)

Paperwhite Narcissus                               

(Narcissus jonquilla)

Papyrus Plant                                          

(Cyperus papyrus)

Parlor Palm                                             

(Chamaedorea elegans)

Parrot Flower                                           

(Heliconia psittacorum)

Passion Flower                                        

(Passiflora caerulea)

Peace Lily

(Spathiphyllum)

Peacock Plant                                         

(Calathea makoyana)

Peperomia                                               

(Peperomia caperata)

Periwinkle Flower                                     

(Catharanthus roseus)

Persian Shield                                         

(Strobilanthes dyerianus)

Persian Violet                                          

(Exacum affine)

Piggyback Plant                                      

(Tolmiea menziesii)

Pink Calla Lily                                         

(Zantedeschia rehmannii)

Pink Quill                                                

(Tillandsia cyanea)

Pitcher Plant                                           

(Nepenthes hybrids)

Plumeria                                                 

(Plumeria rubra)

Pocketbook Plant                                    

(Calceolaria herbeohybrida)

Poinsettia                                                

(Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Polka Dot Plant                                       

(Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Ponytail Palm                                          

(Beaucarnea recurvata)

Pothos/ Devil's Ivy                                    

(Epipremnum aureum)

Powder Puff Tree                                      

(Calliandra haematocephala)

Prayer Plant                                            

(Maranta leuconeura)

Primrose Flowers                                     

(Primula hybrids)

Purple Heart Plant                                    

(Tradescantia pallida)

Purple Passion Plant                                

(Gynura aurantiaca)

Purple Shamrock                                     

(Oxalis regnellii)

Pygmy Date Palm                                     

(Phoenix roebelenii)

 

Q

Queen's Tears                                         

(Billbergia nutans)

 

R

Rabbit Foot Fern                                      

(Davallia fejeensis)

Rex Begonia                                            

(Begonia rex)

Rosary Vine                                            

(Ceropegia woodii)

Rubber Plant                                           

(Ficus elastica)

 

S

Sago Palm                                              

(Cycas revoluta)

Satin Pothos                                           

(Scindapsus pictus)

Scarlet Star                                             

(Guzmania lingulata)

Scented Geranium                                   

(Pelargonium species and hybrids)

Schefflera                                                

(Schefflera actinophylla)

Sensitive Plant                                         

(Mimosa pudica)

Shamrock Plant                                       

(Oxalis species)

Shrimp Plant                                           

(Justicia brandegeana)

Siam Tulip                                               

(Curcuma alismatifolia)

Spider Lily                                               

(Hymenocallis littoralis)

Spider Plant

(Chlorophytum comosum)

Split-Leaf Philodendron                             

(Philodendron bipinnatifidum)

Staghorn Fern                                          

(Platycerium bifurcatum)

Strawberry Begonia                                  

(Saxifraga stolonifera)

String of Pearls                                        

(Senecio rowleyanus)

Swedish Ivy                                             

(Plectranthus species)

Sweet Potato Vine                                   

(Ipomea batatas)

Swiss Cheese Plant                                 

(Monstera deliciosa)


T

Thanksgiving Cactus                                

(Schlumbergera truncata)

Ti Plant                                                   

(Cordyline terminalis)

Tiger's Jaw                                              

(Faucaria tigrina)

Tulips                                                      

(Tulipa hybrids)

 

U - V - W

Urn Plant                                                 

(Aechmea fasciata)

Venus Fly Trap                                        

(Dionaea muscipula)

Wandering Jew                                        

(Tradescantia albiflora)

Wax Begonia                                           

(Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum)

Wax Plant                                               

(Hoya carnosa)

Weeping Fig                                            

(Ficus benjamina)

Windmill Palm Tree                                  

(Trachycarpus fortunei)

 

X - Y - Z

Yucca                                                     

(Yucca elephantipes)

Zebra Plant                                              

(Aphelandra squarrosa)

ZZ Plant                                                  

(Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Sad News...

quote-10-06-2013-RIP.jpg

Stop Animal Cruelty

Instead of protecting the precious diversity of life on our planet, many countries, groups and individuals delight in performing acts of incredible cruelty to and on animals. To help stop this insanity going on, please go to The Petitions Site and add your voice to the thousands of individuals who are prepared to stand up and say: ' Enough is enough. Stop this now!' 

June 4 2013 3 04 /06 /June /2013 11:25

I usually prefer to write my own posts, but this time, I believe that simply showing readers the e-mail I just received may be of far more use than anything I could possibly say.

PLEASE NOTE: As the links provided below were personalised for me, readers should follow this link instead:

STOP THE CULL NOW

Here it is:


This message contains graphics. If you do not see the graphics, click here to view.
  IFAW logo  

Action Alert

 

June 2013

 

Follow Us  Facebook   twitter

 
Badger
 
 

Dear Paddy, 

If badgers could talk, they'd say, "Don't blame us!"

When some cattle became ill with a form of tuberculosis (bovine TB), they started to infect others, and then started to infect the wild animals around them, too.

In a desperate bid to tackle the issue of bovine TB, the Government has decided to undertake badger cull trials. That's despite the fact that scientific studies have shown that culling badgers would be of little help in reducing the disease, and could actually make things worse in some areas.

That means the culls will result in the needless slaughter of thousands of British badgers. You can help stop these cruel and unnecessary badger culls.

The Government continues to ignore the strong public opposition to the cull (as demonstrated by the e-petition now about to hit 240,000 signatures and the thousands who marched through London on Saturday). With the badger culls due to start any day, it is vital that our MPs understand the widespread opposition to turning badgers into scapegoats for a problem they didn't cause.

Badgers are native wild animals that need protection, not persecution. Tell your MP to vote 'No' to the badger cull trials in the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday. 

Despite clear opposition from the public and most of the independent scientific community, the Government does not seem to be listening. MPs will be voting on the pilot culls in a Parliamentary debate this Wednesday, 5 June. If you're able to personally meet your MP in Parliament on Wednesday that will really help to keep the pressure up. If you're not able to lobby in person, then please email. Whatever you do, you will be making a real difference to the fate of our badgers.

Thank you for your interest in keeping animals safe from cruelty.

Sincerely,


Robbie Marsland Robbie Marsland signature

Robbie Marsland
IFAW Regional Director, United Kingdom

P.S. There's no time to delay. Badgers need your help.Take a moment to tell your MP that badger culls must be stopped.

Badger

Speak up for badgers!

Tell your MP that you oppose badger culls, and they should too.

 
  act now button  

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Repost 0
Published by Paddy - in Endangered Species
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March 17 2013 1 17 /03 /March /2013 15:23

In spite of being the world's most widely distributed bird - occurring naturally in much of Asia, the Mediterranean and much of Europe, as well as having been introduced (partly by accident and partly intentional) to parts of Africa, the Americas and Australia - populations of the House Sparrow, known by the scientific name of Passer domesticus, are declining rapidly in many areas, including the UK, where numbers have decreased by as much as 60 per cent in cities and by almost half in rural areas. 

Though currently only listed as 'least concern' on the ICUN Red List, the RSPB has this lovely bird classed under the 'Red List Status'.

Description

Sparrow-maleThe fairly compact House Sparrow, a member of the Passeridae family, is typically between 14 and 18 cm (5.5 to 7.1 in) long and has a relatively large, rounded head. Its stout bill has an upper ridge (culmen) length of between 1.1 and 1.5 cm (between 0.42 and 0.59 in); its wing chord measures 6.7 up to 8.9 cm (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 in), and its tail ranges in length between 5.2 and 6.5 cm (2 to just over 2 1/2 in). 

The weight of a House Sparrow can range between 24 and 39.5 g (0.85 to 1.39 oz), depending on the bird's age and sex, as well as the time of year. Females are typically a little smaller than males, but will be larger during the birds' breeding season, while the males tend to be bigger during the winter. 

The plumage of House Sparrows consists mostly of varying shades of brown and grey, and differs between males and females.  Females have brown heads and upper parts, with some dark streaks around the back and wings (mantle). They do not have the black markings - or the grey crown - of the males, but feature a very distinct, pale supercilium (a stripe running from the beak's base over the eye and towards the back of the head). Usually, the underparts of the female are of a pale grey-brown colour.

Male House Sparrows have reddish backs, bold markings and dark grey crowns reaching from their bill's top across to their backs, with the sides of their heads being chestnut brown. They also have black around the bill, on the lores (the spaces between the eyes and the bill) and on the throat. 

There is a fairly small white stripe located between the crown and the lores, and behind the eyes are small white spots (known as postoculars), and black patches above and below them. The male's ear coverts (covering feathers), cheeks and underparts are white or pale-grey, as are the stripes located at the head's base.

sparrow-femaleThe mantle and upper back of the male are warm brown and feature broad, black streaks. The rump, lower back and the upper tail's coverts are typically grey-brown. Much duller - and featuring whitish tips on the ends of many fresh feathers - during the non-breeding season, the black and bright brown markings (including the black patch, badge or bib on the male's throat and chest) are gradually exposed more prominently through preening and general wear. The badge varies in size from one bird to the next, and it is believed that the increase in size is related to the age of a bird.

The plumage of juvenile House Sparrows is generally fairly similar to females, although it tends to be plainer above and of a deeper brown colour below. Although juvenile males often have white postoculars and darker throats, this is not a reliable method of determining the sex of a juvenile.

Sparrows are certainly vocal and can often be heard before they are seen. Most of their vocalisations are essentially variations of their short, but incessant chirping - often transcribed as either chirrup, philip or tschilp - call. This particular note is generally used:

  • As a general contact call among resting/ flocking birds
  • As a nest-ownership proclamation 
  • As an pairing invitation during the breeding season

The latter is typically performed with great speed and emphasis - though not necessarily adhering to a specific rhythm - and repetitively by the male, forming a song-like 'ecstatic call', although it may also be described as a song.

Aggressive males - as well as females establishing dominance over their partner when replacing them to incubate eggs or feed offspring during the breeding season - often also give trilled versions of this call, generally transcribed as 'chur-chur-r-r-it-it-it-it'.

A sound transcribed as 'quer' is given as a nasal alarm call, and a bird in serious distress will produce what can only be described as a shrill 'quee'. Mated pairs also appease one another with an aggression-inhibiting, soft 'quee'.

Young birds, especially those with the misfortune of ending up in captivity, often also produce a 'true song' similar to the warbling of another species of bird, the European Greenfinch.

Habitat 

Well adapted to living among humans, House Sparrows can be found in both urban and sub-urban areas around the world - often even breeding indoors, such as in zoos, warehouses or factories, for instance. Sparrows have even been found breeding 640 m (2,100 ft) - in a coal mine in England - below ground. Others prefer lofty heights - the observation deck of the Empire State building is apparently a favourite haunt for feeding Sparrows during the night.

Although this bird tolerates a broad variety of climates, it does tend to prefer drier conditions, and can survive periods without water by eating berries. In essence, the only habitats in which it is not possible to find Sparrows are tundra and densely forested areas. 

Behaviour, Biology and Diet 

sparrow-woGregarious throughout the year, especially when feeding, House Sparrows are extremely social birds and can often be seen flocking with other bird species. They roost communally; nests are typically grouped in clumps, and there is nothing a Sparrow enjoys quite as much as sharing a communal dust or water bath. Feeding mostly at ground level, these birds flock in bushes and trees - often in large groups (during the non-breeding season) - where they can often be heard indulging in a little communal singing. 

The main nesting season for House Sparrows ranges from April through into August, although this may occasionally be extended either end, mostly depending on weather conditions. Nest sites vary, although cavities - like eaves/ other crevices found in buildings, holes in rotten trees/ branches or sandy banks - are generally preferred. In warmer regions, Sparrows may also nest in hedges or the branches of - preferably evergreen - trees. 

Wherever the site may be, pairs often use the same site year after year. Many pairs also remain faithful to each other for life, although it rarely takes more than a few days to replace a lost partner. At the nest - as well as at feeding stations - the female, though smaller than the male, is dominant.

Typically domed (although nests built/ taken over inside buildings, etc, may be left uncovered) nest holes are first of all filled with straw and/ or dry grass, then lined with feathers, string, hairs, scraps of paper or any other soft material the bird can find (or steal - sparrows have been known to pluck feathers for their nests straight out of living pigeons). 

sparrow-nestThe female then lays a clutch of four to five white, greenish-white or bluish-white, spotted (grey or brown) eggs, often over a period of two to three days. While nesting duties are shared by male and female Sparrows, the female is better equipped for incubation (she develops a special brooding patch of bare skin) and therefore tends to spend most of her time - especially during the night - incubating, while the male perches nearby.

After 11 to 14 days, the chicks begin to hatch. They are then brooded for between 6 and 8 days, although they only begin to control their own body temperature from the age of 10 or 11 days. Typically remaining in the nest for anything between 11 and 23 days, the hatchlings - which will open their eyes after four days and grow the first bits of down after around 8 days - are fed by both parents.

Occasionally, hatchlings fall out of the nest. Those that survive such a fall should - if at all possible - be returned to the nest, as hand-rearing them is extremely difficult and rarely successful, even for experienced rehabilitators (to whom they should be passed on). 

Fledglings still unable to fly should only be moved if likely to be at risk from vehicles, cats, etc - their parents will be nearby and will continue to feed them until ready to sustain themselves. As it is, most fledglings will be able to fly by the time they leave the nest, although they will not start feeding themselves - at least partly - until a day or two after leaving the nest. Their parents will continue to feed them for up to 14 days, after which they reach the ability to sustain themselves and gradually disperse further and further away from the nest.

Females will then lay another clutch, commencing the cycle again. The care of fledglings may, as a matter of fact, be left completely left to the male, while the female prepares the nest - and herself - for the next clutch' often laid within days of the previous brood leaving her care. Altogether, a pair may produce three to for clutches in a single year. 

sparrow-fledglingWhile the majority of House Sparrows tends to move little further than a few kilometres, most regions have limited migration. In coastal areas, for instance, young birds may disperse over comparatively long distances, while Sparrows living in mountain regions tend to move down to lower altitudes for the winter.

Young birds - especially the 'newly independent' ones - tend to gather in huge flocks, seeking areas with an abundance of food. Feeding stations in local gardens and patches of wasteland are some of the preferred areas these 'teenagers' hang out in. Ripening fields of grain are also highly tempting for rural birds, and once the adults have finished nesting, they often join the crowd to feast on the ripening grain. As autumn arrives, the flocks tend to break up, and the Sparrows return to the sites of their nesting colonies.

Adaptable and opportunistic, House Sparrows predominantly feed on seeds of weeds or grain (with a preference for wheat and oats), but will supplement their diet with whatever else is available. This includes anything provided - accidentally or deliberately - by humans (including bread, although they much prefer seeds); flower buds, berries and a variety of fruits like cherries and grapes, for instance. Sparrows in temperate areas are also known to tear up flowers (in particular yellow ones) during the spring.

This does by no means indicate that Sparrows are vegetarian, though. Their diet also includes:

  • Ants
  • Aphids
  • Beetles 
  • Caterpillars 
  • Crickets
  • Crustaceans and mollusks (where available)
  • Dipteran flies
  • Earthworms 
  • Grasshoppers
  • Sawflies
  • Spiders and more

Even frogs and lizards have been known to compliment the Sparrow's diet on occasion. Basically taking advantage of whatever food happens to be in abundance, Sparrows have also been know to steal prey from robins and other birds.

Until around two weeks after hatching, young Sparrows are typically fed predominantly on insects, but they may also be given the odd spider and small quantities of seeds and grit. The latter may sound a little odd, but grit - which may consist of tiny stones, bits of masonry, egg or snail shells - is important for a Sparrows' ability to digest the typically hard seeds it feeds on.

sparrows-in-flight.jpgConsidering all this, it seems remarkable that this gorgeous little creature's numbers should be declining. Unfortunately, young Sparrows suffer a comparatively high rate of mortality - on average, only between 20 and 25 per cent of hatchlings will actually survive long enough to experience their first breeding season. 

In addition, House Sparrows are preyed on by cats, corvids, squirrels and birds of prey (merlins, accipiters and others), as well as - sadly - by humans. In particular around the Mediterranean, House Sparrows are still very much part of the menu for human consumption. To add to the tragedy, these little birds are - especially on European roads - also common road kill victims.

Pesticides also take their toll, as do diseases like Salmonella and Escherichia coli, for example. There are also several parasites that, while usually harmless to adult Sparrows, can seriously affect youngsters. In spite of laws governing the removal of Sparrows' nests without government licences and making the killing of Sparrows illegal, the fact that farmers often see them as pests often also still results in persecution in many areas.

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Published by Paddy - in Endangered Species
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November 24 2012 7 24 /11 /November /2012 17:15

hedgehog-1Anyone remotely interested in local wildlife may already have noticed that hedgehogs seem to be fewer in numbers. While some may have assumed that the reason for not seeing them is simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, David Wembridge's report 'The State of British Hedgehogs' confirms that hedgehog populations are indeed in the decline. They have, in fact, dropped by a quarter (25 per cent) in as little as 10 years. No-one is sure just why this is so, and there are many likely reasons, some of which will be dealt with later. Let's begin by taking a closer look at this lovely creature.

Description

hedgehog-5The British Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, has the official common name of European Hedgehog. Widely spread across the continent, this lovely mammal is also often referred to as the Western European, Western, or Northern Hedgehog.

The hedgehog is the only spiny animal in Britain, and can not be mistaken for anything else. Growing up to between 20 and 30 cm (8 to 12 in) in length, hedgehogs can weigh between 1.5 and 2 kg (3.3 to 4.4 lb). Their upper side is covered in literally thousands of about 2.5 cm (1 in) long spines - a small hedgehog weighing just 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) has 5000 to 6000 spines - that are brown close to the body and gradually fade into white at the tips. They also have a roughly 2 cm (3/4 in) long tail, and 2 to 3 cm (3/4 to 1 2/10 in) long ears.

Rarely seen at full length - partly because they are hidden by the grey-brown, coarse fur covering the animal's chest, belly, legs, face and throat, and partly because hedgehogs tend to not extend them fully unless necessary - hedgehog legs are approximately 10 cm (4 in) long. This makes hedgehogs excellent short distance sprinters. Although they tend to amble about when foraging for food, they can reach speeds between 3.22 and 9.66 km/h (2 to 6 mph) if late for appointments.

Biology and Behaviour

Being predominantly nocturnal, the typically solitary hedgehog has comparatively poor sight. This lack of sight is, however, well compensated for by the animal's excellent sense of smell and above average sense of hearing. 

While their sense of hearing is very well developed - the sound of an approaching worm would be perceived as loud - and partly used to detect both potential prey and danger, the sense section of hedgehogs' brains is taken up mostly by smell centres, indicating just how important this sense is to these creatures. 

hedgehog-2They use smell to recognise each other, detect potential predators (including humans - when the wind is coming towards them, they can smell people from several metres/ yards away), and - first and foremost - find food. 

Constantly sniffing both the air and the ground, a hedgehog can smell a potential meal as far as 2.5 cm (1 in) below the surface. Hedgehogs also have a sense of taste, although they apparently do not care what their food tastes like - they will eat many insects other insectivores prefer to leave on their plates.

Quite noisy eaters (a hedgehog feeding under your bedroom window can be most alarming), hedgehogs have a fairly varied diet, including, among other things:

  • Bees
  • Beetles
  • Birds
  • Birds' eggs
  • Caterpillars
  • Earthworms
  • Earwigs
  • Millipedes
  • Slugs
  • Small mammals
  • Snails

Beetles, caterpillars and earthworms are, however, favourite food items on this interesting hedgehog menu. 

Living in temporary nests during the summer, hedgehogs spend most of the night foraging for food. If they sense approaching danger, they will roll up tightly into a ball, completely covering their soft undersides and heads. Few predators take the risk of attempting to break into this ball.

Their breeding season lasts from April right up to September, although most of the activity will take place during the warmer nights of May and June. After a gestation period of approximately 4 1/2 weeks, the females give birth to between 4 and 7 babies (there seems to be no official name for baby hedgehogs, although they are occasionally referred to as kits, pups, piglets, hoglets or hedgehoglet. 

hedgehog-3The hoglets are born blind, and their spines are just underneath the skin (nature's way of preventing injury to the mother during birth. Around two weeks later, their eyes open, and their spines begin to grow. A week later, they loose their baby teeth. At the age of four to five weeks, they leave the nest and learn to look after themselves.

Sadly, many of these babies die within the first few weeks of their life, often before they leave the nest. This means that, in spite of being capable of having two litters a year, most females will only raise two or maybe three babies a year. Those that do survive have an average expected life span of around three to five years, with a few fortunate individuals making it to the ripe old age of 10 years. This is, however, a rarity, mainly because hedgehogs have only one set of adult teeth and, once these teeth are worn down or lost with age, they can not feed properly and effectively starve to death.

hedgehog-4With the approach of winter, hedgehogs prepare for hibernation by piling on as much fat as they can. They then retreat into a nest - called hibernaculum - made from grass, various plants and leaves, and go into a deep sleep. During this sleep, their metabolic rates drop drastically, allowing them to survive the cold, mostly insect-free winter months with no or very little food. They may wake up from time to time and move to another nest. Many hedgehogs will build at least two nests, so it is often possible to find many empty nests. 

Threats and likely Causes for the Decline of Hedgehogs

Ironically, while designed by nature to help them survive the winter, hibernation is one of the biggest threats to a hedgehog's life. The reasons for this range from their inability to defend themselves against freezing temperatures, floods and the destruction of their nests by other causes to the dangers they expose themselves to by building these nests in piles of logs or leaves and other man-made or semi-man-made structures. 

hedgehog-6.jpgAll too often, they are burnt together with garden rubbish, or on bonfires. This can be prevented by checking for hedgehogs before lighting up. Many of them become trapped in sheds, greenhouses and garages after building their nests in these inviting, warm and typically comparatively undisturbed places. Unable to get out, they can not find food and starve. Keeping doors closed at all times will stop them from getting in to begin with.

In addition, changes in agricultural practises and increasing urbanisation are continually reducing their natural habitat. Although hedgehogs tend to adapt fairly well to urban life, they do need places to hide, and well manicured, overly tidy gardens offer little in this respect. Making gardens hedgehog friendly by keeping at least part of them a little 'untidy' will give them somewhere to go.

Slug pellets and other pesticides also claim the lives of many, and carelessly discarded rubbish - especially those plastic rings around multi-packs of cans; plastic bags and cups; tins and yoghurt pots - poses a serious threat, as these inquisitive animals will scramble into them (particularly if smells promise a tasty morsel), get themselves stuck and end up either suffocating or starving.

Disposing of rubbish properly and keeping bin bags out of their reach (they will often tear bags open and climb into them to investigate, either ending up suffocating or being compressed when the bags are collected) will do much to prevent these unnecessary deaths.

Ponds, swimming pools, car inspection pits and fencing holes - in short, any deep holes with steep sides - are lethal traps for these gorgeous little creatures, as they are unable to clamber back out if they should happen to fall into them. Keeping one side of such features sloped offers them a chance to climb out. 

hedgehog-7.jpgThen, of course, there are cars. Growing numbers of roads and ever increasing traffic claim thousands of hedgehogs each year. What can be done? It really is quite simple. Chances are, drivers will meet hedgehogs during night travel, when traffic is typically at a low. Slowing down and being prepared to stop for an animal could prevent many roadside casualties - not only hedgehogs, but also badgers and other animals.

How YOU can Help 

There are many ways to get involved in trying to stop the decline of hedgehogs. In addition to helping hedgehogs in your own garden, you could become a hedgehog champion; adopt a hedgehog and/ or learn how to care for hoglets. The sources listed below will provide additional ideas on how to successfully invite, care for and ultimately protect hedgehogs.

Sources:

http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

http://www.wildlife-web.org.uk/hedgehog

http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/

http://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/

http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/FAQS/faq.htm

http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/SOBH2011lowres.pdf

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October 25 2012 5 25 /10 /October /2012 11:41

angel-shark.jpgThe unusual, very distinctive Angel Shark, Squatina squatina, was once very common in the North East Atlantic, from Mauritania to Norway; throughout the North Sea; in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Today, it is already extinct in some areas - including its former habitats in the North Sea - and is listed as critically endangered everywhere else. Up to now, this magnificent creature was still fairly common in its last stronghold around the Canary Islands, but even there, its numbers are now seriously threatened.

Description

The wide pectoral fins and flattened front section of the Angel Shark's body make it look more like a skate or ray than a shark, although its body's rear section is more like a typical shark's rear end. Its skin colour ranges from grey to greenish or reddish brown.  While young Angel Sharks may feature net-like white markings and comparatively large dark blotches, adults are typically a little plainer, featuring a scattering of small white spots and some blackish dots. The back of the Angel Shark may also feature some lines - slightly lighter than the main colouring - that mimic tidal ridges in the sand. 

angel-shark-1.jpgThe blackish dots covering the back of the shark tend to join in the middle of the pectoral fins, creating dark bands, and the dark leading edge of the dorsal fins is trailed by a paler edge. Like other mid-water feeders, the Angel Shark has a so-called terminal mouth (opening at the head's front, with equal lower and upper jaws). It also features a pair of nasal skin flaps and nasal barbells - whisker-like projections - which it uses to feel and taste. 

Vertical slit pupils within its round, large eyes provide this creature with excellent all-round vision, making it a very efficient ambush predator. At birth, an Angel Shark is usually around 24 to 30 cm (0.8 to 1 ft) long. Females will grow to reach a mature length of between 126 and 167 cm (4.1 to 5.5 ft), while adult males can be 1.83 to 2.24 m (6 to 7.3 ft) in length. 

Biology, Behaviour and Habitat 

Angel Sharks occur in temperate waters, preferably in areas with sandy or muddy sea floors. They can be found at depth from 5 m (16.4 ft) inshore (estuaries, coast line) up to 150 m (492.1 ft) or more along the continental shelf, although they are seasonally migratory and will disappear from the majority of shallower areas during the summer. During this period, they can occasionally be found in larger numbers in bays situated on the northern end of Gran Canaria.

angel-shark-0.jpgBeing nocturnal, the Angel Shark will typically only swim off the bottom during the night, and is torpid during the day. It will find a resting place, where it uses its pectoral fins to dust away sufficient sand or mud to create a depression within which it can settle. From this position, with just its eyes protruding from the sand/ mud, it ambushes its prey. Once an unsuspecting creature - predominantly crustaceans, flatfish, mollusks and skates - swims by, the shark bursts out of its hiding position at incredible speeds and snaps it up. When hunting is good, the shark may stay in its chosen spot for prolonged periods.

Angel Sharks are ovoviviparous, which means their young develop inside eggs that remain within the female's body until the young are ready to hatch. Gestation typically takes between 8 and 10 months, at the end of which the female will give birth to a litter of 7 to 25 pups, depending on the size of the female. The larger the female is, the larger her litter is likely to be.

Threats

This species is not particularly important to fisheries, with only a fairly small number being caught for human consumption, fish-meal and perhaps oil, predominantly around Tunisia. The real threat to this lovely creature is more or less accidental - many specimens end up as by-catch of the fishing industry. Their habit of lying in wait at the bottom makes them especially  vulnerable to trawl fishing, which has significantly increased over the past 50 years and has resulted in dramatic reductions of Angel Shark populations, with complete extinction in some areas. 

Bottom long-lines and trammel nets, as well as tuna traps, also pose a danger to this species, and habit degradation - especially around coastal areas - caused by human disturbance further lead to a decline in numbers. 

angel-shark-dist.jpgConservation

Already protected within three marine reserves in the Balearic Islands, more and more countries - including the UK and Belgium - are beginning to recognise the need to protect this animal and are taking appropriate steps towards this goal. The Canary Islands, the southern Mediterranean and several other areas, however, still need to confirm the species' status and take action. 

This is particularly urgent in the Canary Islands, one of the last remaining Angel Shark strongholds, where unsustainable, destructive fishing methods, coastal habitat degradation on pollution not only threaten this species, but the whole ocean Eco-system. Having already lost the Mediterranean monk seal - the rarest seal in the world - the government of the Canary Islands must take steps now to protect this and other threatened species before it is too late. At time of writing, readers are/ were able to sign a petition to this effect at the Petition Site.

Sources:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/581/776/011/canary-islands-dont-let-the-angel-shark-disappear/

http://www.arkive.org/angel-shark/squatina-squatina/#text=Facts <http://www.arkive.org/angel-shark/squatina-squatina/>

<http://www.elasmodiver.com/CommonAngelShark.htm>

www.sharks.org/species/228-angel-shark-squatina-squatina.html <http://www.sharks.org/species/228-angel-shark-squatina-squatina.html>

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September 24 2012 2 24 /09 /September /2012 11:23

Currently only classed as vulnerable, although reclassification as endangered is being discussed, the Polar Bear, which has the scientific name of Ursus maritimus (marine bear, a name it received owing to its excellent ability to swim), is the largest of all land living carnivores. 

Description

polar-bear1Adult males can reach a length of up to 2.6 m (8.53 ft) and weigh up to 600 kg (1,322.77 lb, or 94.5 st). Females tend to be considerably smaller at lengths of around 2.1 m (6.9 ft) and weighing in at up to 300 kg (661.39 lb, or 47.25 st). A pregnant female with plenty of stored fat can, however, weigh more than 500 kg (1,102.31lb, or 78.74 st).

Immediately recognisable due to the distinctive white appearance of their fur (which is, in fact not white, but colourless), Polar Bears have longer necks than other bears, and their elongated heads feature comparatively small ears. The black tip of the Polar Bear's nose and its footpads (which are also black) are the only parts of its body that have no fur. 

Extremely strong-limbed, Polar Bears use their huge forepaws for paddling. The toes of this gorgeous creature are not webbed, but are designed to to walk on snow and ice. Non-retractable claws dig into snow not unlike ice-picks, and small indents and projections on the soles of the bear's feet help the animal to walk on icy surfaces without slipping by acting like suction cups.

Range, Habitat and Biology

polar-bear4Polar Bears are found on ice-covered waters throughout circumpolar Arctic regions, from Denmark (or to be more precise, Greenland) and and Norway through the former USSR to parts of the United States and Canada. Canada's James Bay - London, by the way, is on roughly the same latitude - is the furthest south polar bears can be found throughout the year. 

As the ice cover extends further to the south during the winter months, Polar Bears will often move as far south as the northern Bering Sea and Newfoundland. They rarely enter central polar basin areas,  as the year-round, thick ice means there is little food for them here.

The annual ice close to the coastlines of islands and continents represents the Polar Bear's preferred habitat, as this is where the largest numbers of their favourite prey, Ringed Seals (scientific name Phoca hispida) can be found.

Living solitary lives for the best part of the year, except when breeding or in family groups, stocks - or populations - of Polar Bears are distributed all over the Arctic, with undefended home ranges up to 300,000 sq km (115,830.65 square miles) in size often overlapping.

Able to detect prey up to a metre (3.28 ft) under compacted snow and up to 1 km (0.62 miles) away thanks to their extremely heightened sense of smell, Polar Bears feed predominantly on Ringed Seals, although they will not refuse a Bearded Seal (scientific name Erignathus barbatus) either. Seals are usually captured as they come to the surface of water holes to breathe, although the bears will also hunt them down in their lairs under the snow, especially when young seals are being nurtured there. If and when the opportunity arises, Polar Bears will also feed on belugas, narwhals, seabirds, walruses and waterfowl. 

While there is plenty of food around, Polar Bears can devour remarkably large amounts of food very quickly. When little food can be found, this animal has the unique ability to enter a hibernation-like, slowed down metabolic state. The ice in Hudson Bay, for instance, completely disappears from mid-July right through to mid-November. This means pregnant females typically do not feed for a total of up to eight months. They will metabolise stored protein and fat reserves, as well as recycling metabolic by-products. Particularly cold weather may also prompt this majestic animal to fast. Energy is often conserved during such periods by the bears retreating into temporary dens.

polar-bear2The mating season of Polar Bears ranges from late March into May. As the females nurse cubs for two and a half years, they are only available for mating once every three years. In order for ovulation and fertilisation to be stimulated (a process known as induced ovulation), females must mate over and over again for several weeks. Breeding pairs subsequently stay together for up to two weeks or so to ensure success. If the male is displaced, the female may mate with other males during this period.

The implantation of fertilised eggs is then delayed until some time between mid-September and mid-October. Two to three months later, the female will give birth - litters may consist of one, two or occasionally three cubs - in a snow den. Each cub will weigh approximately 0.7 kg (1.54 lb) at birth. Although they look like miniature versions of their parents, their fur is much thinner to begin with. All being well, assuming they survive the first few years of their lives, the cubs have an overall life expectancy of 25 to 30 years.

Threats

Since hunting - which at one point drove Polar Bears to near extinction - is regulated, the main threats to populations are poaching, pollution, disturbances generated by industrial activities and - first and foremost - large scale ecological changes brought on by climate changes. 

While long term effects of climate changes are as yet unclear, it is certain that even minor changes have a profound impact on the lives of these animals. More snow, for instance, could result in the bears having problems hunting for seals in their lairs. This would obviously affect survival rates of both cubs and adult bears. Less snow, and perhaps increased rainfall, on the other hand, may result in seal populations being drastically reduced as lairs may not be thick or deep enough to protect their cubs, or they may collapse, killing the cubs outright. 

Fewer seals obviously mean less prey and lower survival rates for Polar Bears. Increases of overall temperatures are also likely to have a serious effect. Polar Bears are perfectly adapted to the freezing temperatures of the Arctic. Warming of their habitat will not only affect their ability to create dens, it may also cause them to die as a result of overheating. Receding ice cover forces more and more bears onto solid ground, where food is not as easily found, often meaning bears eventually succumb to starvation.

polar-bear3The reduction of sea ice also means many bears get stranded on floating ice in their search for food. While they are good, strong swimmers, even Polar Bears can only swim so far, and many of them are already found dead as a result of drowning. 

To make matters worse, big oil companies now plan to take advantage of the reduction in sea ice by oil drilling in the Arctic. This will put the already fragile habitat of Polar Bears at an even greater risk. To protect this beautiful creature, this must not happen, and political leaders need to be pressured into protecting the Arctic. 

Greenpeace are sponsoring a petition to this effect. The names of people signing this petition will be entered onto a scroll, which, when completed, will be placed onto the North pole's seabed with a flag to demand the Arctic remains off-limits to industrial fishing and oil drilling. Readers can sign this petition at Care2 

More detailed, scientific information on Polar Bears can be found at Polar Bears International

Sources:

http://www.arkive.org/polar-bear/ursus-maritimus/?gclid=CJS7tu6uy7ICFcYMfAod92YArA#text=Facts

http://www.bearplanet.org/global-warming-polar-bears.shtml

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September 14 2012 6 14 /09 /September /2012 14:54

badger4.jpgIt is said that the badger, Meles meles, is one of Britain's most popular animals. Loved by many, this beautiful animal is comparatively widespread across both England and Wales (with some isolated populations in Scotland). Sadly, the badger is frequently harmed by man - sometimes by accident and on other occasions with cruel intention. All too often, the only time this shy, nocturnal animal is seen is as a dead body by the side of the road. 

Persecuted by man for a host of dubious reasons for centuries - to the extend of almost being wiped out to extinction on several occasions throughout history - Britain's badgers are once again under threat. This time, the threat does not come solely through illegal badger baiting, a cruel 'sport' with no real purpose other than to satisfy the bloodlust of some deranged individuals, but through a proposed cull. But more of that later...

Badgers can grow to a length of up to 75 cm (30 in), with a tail approximately 15 cm (6 in) long. They can weigh as much as 10 - 12 kg ( 22 - 26.5 lb). Their coat of coarse black and white hair can give them an appearance of being grey when seen from a distance. Females - or sows - are a little smaller than males - boars - and tend to have a shorter, bushier tail, with the male's tail usually being thinner, longer and pointed, with more white.

badger2.jpgFace, head, underside and leg hair is shorter than the hair on the back of the badger, which can grow up to 7.5 cm (just under 3 in) long and features a pointed black tip. The chest and forepaws of this gorgeous creature are black, while the head features prominent black and white stripes, and white tips on the ears. Badgers have five toes with long, powerful claws that are non-retractable and are used for digging. 

They live in setts, which are complex underground systems of tunnels and nesting chambers lined with grass, leaves and moss. These setts are typically dug into slopes - often involving tons of soil being shifted - near copses and woods, in particular if they are close to pasture land. Occasionally, they can be found in abandoned quarries, and urbanisation means they can also be found near farmland or in suburban areas.

In addition to the main sett, where a clan of badgers - usually around 6 adults and however many cubs, although some clans may include up to 20 adults - live, there is often also a secondary outer sett containing fewer nesting chambers than the main sett.

Classed as carnivores due to their large canine teeth, Badgers are actually omnivorous, meaning they will eat anything they can find. They are foragers, rather than active hunters, and their diet includes roots, fruits, bulbs, beech mast and acorns; wasps, snails, frogs, mice, voles, beetles and earthworms. 

While mating times may vary, this animal typically mates some time between February and July. Implantation is then delayed for between two and 10 months, usually resulting in the sows becoming pregnant in December. Once properly pregnant, the sow will give birth to two or three cubs after about seven weeks, usually some time between January and March. 

The young, or cubs, are born blind and have just a little fir, which is dirty white in colour, on their back. Sometimes, the cubs make whickering, high-pitched noises. Adults tend to purr when they are happy, or make deep growling or barking sounds to warn intruders off. 

badger3.jpgCubs will begin exploring the sett at the tender age of 6 to 7 weeks, going as far as the sett entrance by the time they reach 8 weeks. As a rule, they will not leave the sett until they are around 9 to 10 weeks old, and they will remain close to their mothers even then. Many of the cubs die within their first year. Those that survive circumstances and manage not to be killed by farmers or hunters and their dogs can live for five or more years.

On reaching adulthood, young boars will challenge the leader of the clan for his position in the established hierarchy. More often than not, challengers will be forced to leave the clan. Their options then include joining another clan, forming their own clan or living alone, although the latter is comparatively rare.

Like their relatives, which include pine martens, otters, weasels, stoats and polecats, badgers have musk-bearing glands below their tails. They also have a second pair of musk glands near their anus. The scent of the musk secreted from these glands helps members of a clan to recognise each other. It is also used to mark the clan's home range in an effort to deter non-members of the clan from stealing food or mating with the females. 

While the home range is an area clan members will use at some point or another, it may not be defended as fiercely as the territory, which is essentially the main area surrounding the sett and the location of the females.

In addition to being needlessly hunted and slaughtered by farmers and hunters, the British government is now proposing to cull 7 out of every 10 badgers in a completely misguided effort to eradicate what is known as bovine TB. This disease affects cattle. Unfortunately, it is passed on to badgers by cattle, ultimately resulting in badgers occasionally passing it back to herds. 

badger1.jpgThis cull is estimated to mean death for at least 130,000 badgers, reducing numbers in the south west of the country by around half, with an expected reduction of about a third of the population across England. Many local areas may end up losing all of their badger populations. In addition, thousands of these beautiful creatures could be left with crippling injuries, or be left to die a slow, painful death.

Going through with this cull will only have one result - it will decimate badgers. It will not, in any way or under any circumstances, help to eradicate bovine TB. There are better, more humane ways to deal with this disease. One of these ways would be to put the funds required to set up this senseless cull into developing an effective vaccine.

Readers can help to stop this atrocity by signing the petition against the cull at Care2. A similar petition has been launched by Just Do Something

Whichever way readers decide to help is irrelevant, as long as they do something and do it quickly - time is running out fast for badgers!

Sources:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/878/182/887/?cid=FB_TAF 

http://www.beautifulbritain.co.uk/htm/wildlife_gardening/badger_facts.htm

http://www.badgerland.co.uk/

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August 24 2012 6 24 /08 /August /2012 15:41

Animals of Europe are no more protected from becoming endangered than those in other parts of the world. The beautiful Apennine Chamois, scientifically known as the Rupicapra rupicapra ornata or Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata, a goat-like mammal found in European mountain areas, for instance, is already listed as endangered or vulnerable at least in Italy.

Apennine-chamois1.jpgDescription

One of the rarest groups of animals in Italy, the Apennine Chamois grows to a size of 110 to 130 cm (3.6 to 4.3 ft) in length and 70 to 85 cm (2.3 to 2.8 ft) in height. Typically weighing around 14 to 62 kg (31 to 136 lb), the Apennine Chamois has a comparatively short tail of around 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in).

The summer coat of this lovely animal is smooth, short and reddish-brown or tawny in colour. In winter, 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 in) long chocolate brown guard hair covers an under-layer of woolly hair. Under-parts of the Apennine Chamois are pale, with darker legs. A slight mane may be present around the throat area, and the cheeks, nose-bridge and jaw are pure white. Beginning at eye-level, a black stripe runs down to the muzzle.

Both sexes have black, slender horns. Up to 32 cm (12.8 in) long, these horns rise vertically from the animals forehead, with the top third bending sharply backwards, almost like a hook. Growing a little more each year, these horns do not fall off at any point, unless, of course, they are somehow damaged.

Biology, Ecology and Habitat

Found in alpine meadows and rocky areas throughout Europe (especially in the Carpathians and the Alps), as well as in Asia Minor, herds of the Apennine Chamois wander to meadows up to 1800 m (6000 ft) above sea level during the summer months. Their home ranges typically average at around 74 hectares, where they forage for their favourite diet of buds, fungi, leaves and shoots.

As winter approaches, the herds will retreat to altitudes around 1100 m (3630 ft), sometimes entering forested areas, but always remaining close to steep cliffs. 

When threatened - the Apennine has a range of natural enemies, including predators like bears, foxes, lynx and wolves- alarm signals including sneezing, whistling through the nostrils and foot stamping will be followed by the whole herd speeding to the nearest, most inaccessible places. This flight will see them making leaps spanning as much as 6 m (19.8 ft) in length and 2 m (6.6 ft) in height. Sure-footed and extremely nimble, Apennine Chamois can travel at speeds of up to 50 km/hr (30 m/hr), even on uneven or steep ground. 

Apennine-chamois2.jpgHerds typically consists of small flocks of five to 30 females and their young, with the males remaining solitary until the breeding season approaches. The autumn rut will see older males producing open-mouthed grunts and driving younger males away from the herd of females, killing them if necessary.

After a gestation period of around 170 days, the females will give birth to one kid, although occasional, relatively rare twin-births do occur. Typically born in May or June, the young are able to follow their mothers almost immediately, and will be weaned after a period of six months. 

Females will reach sexual maturity at the age of about two and a half years, while males will take a little longer, around three and a half to four years. The average life span of Apennine Chamois is 14 to 22 years.

Main Threats

Currently known to suffer from reduced populations in areas like the Molise, Latium and Abruzzo National Parks, groups of the Apennine Chamois are becoming increasingly isolated, resulting in reduced genetic variety. This, combined with relatively low survival rates of young during the first year, increasingly leaves them vulnerable to other factors. These factors could, combined with the already reduced numbers, result in local extinction, ultimately resulting in conservation projects already in action - thanks to the Life Natura project - being rendered futile.

Diseases transmitted by domestic animals grazing in close proximity to Apennine Chamois herds and hunting (the hide of this gorgeous creature is turned into 'shammy' leather, a soft, very fine cloth perfect for polishing - add to these threats. 

Conservation Measures

The Apennine Chamois is now protected under Italian law, and measures to increase population sizes to viable, sustainable numbers through release of additional animals into under-populated areas are in action and appear to be successful, at least in areas like the Gran Sasso and Majella parks. There is no doubt that other areas will have to be considered for this measure within the near future if local extinction is to be prevented.

Sources:

Glenn, C. R. 2006. "Earth's Endangered Creatures - Apennine Chamois Facts" (Online).

Accessed 8/10/2012 at http://earthsendangered.com/profile.asp?sp=68&ID=6.

http://www.camoscioappenninico.it/en/contenuti/apennine-chamois

http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Rupicapra_rupicapra.html

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Shackleton, D. M. [Editor] and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group.  1997.  Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives.  Status Survey and Action Plan for Caprinae.   IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Walther, F. R. 1990.  Chamois (Genus Rupicapra).  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker. New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 495-497.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at http://nmnhwww.si.edu/msw/

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July 17 2012 3 17 /07 /July /2012 15:31

The Aberdare Mole Shrew, or Aberdare Shrew, as it is also known, has the scientific name of Surdisorex norae and belongs to the mammalian Soricidae family. It is one of two species of African Mole Shrews, the other one being the Mt Kenya Mole Shrew. 

Although both species are remarkably similar to moles (hence their names), they are, in fact, not that closely related to moles, and should not be confused with shrew moles, which is another group of species altogether.

This tiny mammal - an adult Aberdare Mole Shrew is believed to weigh as little as approximately 9 g (0.32 oz) - is endemic to the eastern side of central Kenya's Aberdare Mountain Range. Occurring on grassland above the tree line, at altitudes of between 2,800 and 3,300 m (9,186 to 10,827 ft) above sea level, the Aberdare Mole Shrew can only be found in three known locations within the Aberdare National Park.

aberdare-mole-shrew.jpgDescription, Biology and Habitat

Very little is known about the habits and family life of the Aberdare Mole Shrew. Most of what is known about it is general information referring to shrews of the Soricidae family in general.

Looking rather like a long-nosed mouse, the Aberdare Mole Shrew is, as a matter of fact, not a rodent, but is more closely related to moles. While rodents have front incisors meant for gnawing, shrews have spike-like, sharp teeth. 

Unlike the gnawing teeth of rodents, the teeth of a shrew do not regrow, but wear down in time. As shrews only have one set of teeth throughout their life (their milk teeth are lost before birth), it is possible to find shrews with some of their peg-like, small chewing teeth missing.

Typically terrestrial, some shrews forage for insects, worms, nuts and seeds in dense vegetation and/ or leaf litter, while others may climb trees, live below the ground, in snow or spend some of their time hunting in water.

Shrews tend to have tiny eyes, usually with comparatively poor sight, but have excellent smell and hearing. Unusually high metabolic rates mean these active little creatures have a voracious appetite and need to find and eat food weighing between 80 and 90 per cent of their own body weight each day.

As a rule, shrews do not hibernate, but they are capable of entering a torpor like state if necessary. Morphological changes during the winter months mean a shrew may lose up to 50 per cent of its weight through shrinking of its internal organs, bones and skull.

Fiercely territorial, shrews only meet up when it is time to mate. A female is capable of bearing up to ten litters a year, with breeding only stopping during the winter in temperate climates. The young are born after a gestation period of between 17 and 32 days (depending on the particular species), and have a life expectancy of 12 to 30 months.

Threats and Conservation

It appears that the Aberdare Shrew is listed as vulnerable as a result of continual habitat changes due to climatic changes. Until further research provides more information on the species' distribution, habits and population sizes, little can be done to ensure its survival. 

 

Sources:

http://www.earthsendangered.com/profile.asp?gr=M&view=all&ID=1&sp=13300

http://globalspecies.org/ntaxa/110913/L

http://en.goldenmap.com/Shrew

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July 6 2012 6 06 /07 /July /2012 13:47

Acropora coral is a genus of polyp stony coral belonging to the Cnidaria Phylum. This species rich genera - 149 species have been described, but it is believed that there are in excess of 350 species in the genus - are important in reef building, often dominating vast sections of the tropical coral reefs found around the Indo-Pacific, although a few species - though not as abundant - can be found in tropical Atlantic regions. 

acropora1.jpgHabitat

Acropora corals predominantly live within shallow reef environments in the oceans surrounding Africa, American Samoa and Asia; Australia, the British Indian Ocean Territory and Central America; Europe, the Middle East and North America (US Territory), as well as Oceania and South America. Constraint to the water-surface in order to make the most out of the sun's energy, Acropora corals prefer medium to high water motion. As a rule, shoals of small fish can be found within these living 'forests'.

Biology and Ecology

Growing as plates, slender or comparatively broad branches - depending on the location and the species - Acropora corals are colonies of small organisms called polyps. Approximately 2 mm in diameter, the polyps protrude slightly from the coral - typically more so during the night - to capture and feed on dissolved organic matter and plankton. Unexpected movement and the arrival of potential predators will cause the polyps to withdraw back into the coral until the coast is clear, so to speak.

Colonies of Acropora coral share both a nerve net and tissue. Because the skeleton, or corallite of new polyps is created by somewhat specialised axial corralites, which form the tips of branches, the whole colony is closely interconnected, making it possible for the colony to grow rapidly in a coordinated manner. 

Like many other corals, Acropora species have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, a type of algae. The coral provides a safe environment for the algae within its tissue, while the algae uses photosynthesis to provide nutrients for the coral. On average, approximately 70 per cent of the coral's nutrients are obtained in this manner, but it will also feed on zooplankton.

Reproduction occurs either sexually or asexually. For sexual reproduction, streams of eggs and sperm are released into the water. Some of the larvae resulting from fertilisation of eggs will settle on the original reef, while others may drift around the oceans for months before finally settling on far away reefs. 

Asexual reproduction occurs when a branch breaks off the colony, becomes re-attached to the substrate and continues to grow from there. This process is also known as fragmentation, and is often used to grow coral for aquariums. The majority of corals will reach maturity at an age of between three and eight years, and it is believed that normal life expectancy is somewhere above ten years.

acropora2.jpgThreats to Acropora Coral

The most common threats to Acropora and other corals include pollution, abnormally high water temperatures and eutrophication (excess nutrients stimulating excessive plant growth); sedimentation and increased acidification of oceans. One of the first signs of corals being stressed by one or more of these causes is bleaching, which is the direct result of the loss of zooxanthellae. The bleached coral will have a stark white appearance, and, if new zooxanthellae can not be assimilated, will eventually die. 

Another real threat is over-fishing and diseases in predatory and plant-eating fish. As the numbers of, for example, groupers and parrot fish decline, organisms that prey on Acropora polyps - such as, for instance, damsel fish, fire worms and short coral snails - thrive. In addition, a lack of herbivorous fish allows macro algae growth to explode, limiting the recovery of already stressed corals and settling of coral larvae.

The sad News

Sadly, at present around 76 species of Acropora corals are listed as endangered. These species include:

  • A. willisae
  • A. walindii
  • A. verweyi
  • A. vaughani
  • A. turaki
  • A. tenuis
  • A. tenella
  • A. suharsonoi
  • A. striata
  • A. spicifera
  • A. speciosa
  • A. solitaryensis
  • A. simplex
  • A. selago
  • A. secale
  • A. russelli
  • A. rudis
  • A. roseni
  • A. retusa
  • A. polystoma
  • A. plumosa
  • A. pichoni
  • A. pharaonis
  • A. papillare
  • A. paniculata
  • A. palmerae
  • A. palmata, or Elkhorn Coral
  • A. nasuta
  • A. nana, or A. azurea
  • A. multiacuta
  • A. monticulosa
  • A. millepora
  • A. microclados
  • A. lutkeni
  • A. lovelli
  • A. loripes
  • A. lokani
  • A. loisetteae
  • A. listeri
  • A. kosurini
  • A. kirstyae
  • A. kimbeensis
  • A. jacquelineae
  • A. indonesia
  • A. hyacinthus, or Brush Coral
  • A. humilis, or Finger Coral
  • A. horrida
  • A. hoeksemai
  • A. hemprichii
  • A. granulosa
  • A. globiceps
  • A. glauca
  • A. formosa
  • A. florida, or Branch Coral
  • A. elegans
  • A. echinata
  • A. donei
  • A. divaricata
  • A. digitifera
  • A. desalwii
  • A. derawanensis
  • A. dendrum
  • A. cervicornis
  • A. caroliniana
  • A. carduus
  • A. batunai
  • A. awi
  • A. austera
  • A. aspera
  • A. arabensis
  • A. appressa
  • A. anthocercis, or Red Table Coral
  • A. acuminata
  • A. aculeus
  • A. abrolhosensis, or Fuzzy Staghorn

Conservation Measures

Fortunately, many coral reefs are already under protection, and in some areas, active measures are being undertaken to encourage the growth of new colonies. The drawback to these measures, however, is the fact that oceans continue to be polluted, over-fished and generally abused, and worldwide climate changes continue to heat up oceans everywhere. 

 

Sources:

http://www.earthsendangered.com/profile.asp?gr=COR&view=all&ID=1&sp=9362

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acropora

http://www.thesea.org/acropora/acropora_coral.htm

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June 22 2012 6 22 /06 /June /2012 10:49

A.-rodriguezensis.jpgAfricanogyrus rodriguezensis, another endangered species that apparently has not been given a common name as yet, is a freshwater snail that is air breathing, or, to put it in scientific terms, an aquatic pulmonate gastropod mollusk. 

Endemic to Mauritius, the Africanogyrus rodriguezensis belongs to the family of Planorbidae, which includes the so-called ram's horn snails and other related species. As very little is known about this species, much of the information provided here applies predominately to snails in general.

Basic Information

The mollusk group of snails has spiral or coiled shells to cover the soft body. These shells enlarge towards the opening end as the snails grow. Some of the aquatic snails have to come to the water's surface to get the oxygen they require. The oxygen is then held and breathed in from within the shell. Other species, including the Africanogyrus rodriguezensis, have gills through which they extract the necessary oxygen straight from the water. None of the freshwater snails can survive for long periods out of the water.

Habitat, Diet and Reproduction

A.rodri-classification.jpgAfricanogyrus rodriguezensis and other freshwater snails are typically found amid non flowering plants and tree roots on the banks of slow to moderately flowing streams. Occasionally, they can also be found living among rock fragments and organic matter along the edge of the water.

It is believed that the Africanogyrus rodriguezensis is a herbivorous species, living on algae and small decaying bits of dead plants and so on. All snail species are hermaphrodites, meaning they possess the reproductive organs of both males and females. 

Fertilisation occurs through a small slit that appears on the snail's neck when the time is right. The eggs also develop in this slit. Once the larvae hatches from the eggs, they begin to swim freely in the water. Soon after, their shells begin to grow. Eventually, the weight of the shells becomes too heavy for them to swim, and they become 'pedestrian', like their parent. 

Population, Threats and Conservation

Unfortunately, there is currently no available data referring to population estimates or conservation measures. Africanogyrus rodriguezensis is listed as endangered, because it is believed that this species, like many other snails and other species of animals living within freshwater habitats, is threatened by habitat degradation and/ or pollution as a direct result of human activities. 

While it is obviously essential for agricultural, residential and industrial areas to be expanded in order to deal with and provide for the ever growing human population, it is a shame that so many species suffer as a result. 

Freshwater snails may not be cute and cuddly, but they do perform a vital role in the ecology of their habitat. Losing species that consume algae and decaying plant material will add further to the deterioration of streams and rivers, ultimately leading to many other species - including humans - being affected by choking rivers.

 

Sources:

Glenn, C. R. 2006. "Earth's Endangered Creatures - Afrogyrus rodriguezensis Facts" (Online).

Accessed 6/21/2012 at http://earthsendangered.com/profile.asp?sp=1731&ID=1.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanogyrus_rodriguezensis

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