Wild elephants in england

I recently saw a wild elephant in England!  However, this one was not a huge, grey African mammal, but a much smaller more colourful elephant.  It even had wings!  Do know what animal I saw?  It was an elephant hawk moth, and I met it when moth trapping.

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Adult elephant hawk moths don’t look very much like elephants, do they?  They are very pretty though.

Elephant hawk moth caterpillars have a very special way of protecting themselves from predators.  The caterpillar’s head stretches in front of their body on a thin neck which looks like a trunk, which is why they are called elephant hawk moths.

When the caterpillars feel threatened, they can pull their head and neck inside their body.  They have large fake eyes on the sides of their bodies, so when they pull their head and neck in they look like a small snake!  Birds which thought they were going to eat a fat, juicy caterpillar are suddenly faced with a small snake.  That would stop me from eating it!

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Can you see the large fake eyes behind the caterpillar’s head and the pattern on its body that look like scales on a snake?

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This caterpillar was not very afraid of me.  Maybe he knew that saigas don’t eat caterpillars.

Squirrel Nutkin

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I think Red Squirrels are one of the most beautiful animals I have met in the UK.

Have you read “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” by Beatrix Potter?  You can read it here if you like.  When Squirrel Nutkin was written over 100 years ago there were lots of Red Squirrels all over the UK.  However, there are now very few remaining.

About 100 years ago, people started bring Grey Squirrels over to the UK from their native America because they liked having them in their gardens.  However, Grey Squirrels are bigger and stronger than our Red Squirrels, so can take all the best places to live.  Also, Grey Squirrels can eat fruit and nuts before they are ripe, so can steal all the food before the Red Squirrels have a chance.  Grey Squirrels carry a disease called Squirrel Pox Virus, which is harmless to the Greys, but is deadly to the Red Squirrels.

Because of the combination of lack of food and disease brought by the Grey Squirrels, most of our native Red Squirrels have died.  They can now only be found in parts of Wales, northern England, Scotland, and on some islands where Grey Squirrels were never introduced.

If nothing is done to help the Red Squirrels in the UK, they could soon go extinct.  Luckily, a group of scientists, landowners and volunteers are working together with the Red Squirrel Survival Trust to make sure this doesn’t happen.  At Escot Park in Devon, they are breeding Red Squirrels in a safe enclosure where Grey Squirrels can’t enter, but people can!  One, day, they hope to be able to release some of these Red Squirrels back into the wild.

The squirrels at Escot are very friendly and we had a great time playing.  I was amazed by how clever the squirrels were, and how fast they could run up and down the trees.  It was great to see such a happy and healthy group of Red Squirrels playing together!

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This squirrel had never met a saiga before and was very interested in my horns!

You can see how clever and agile red squirrels are here:

 

 

Peppered Moths

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My nose was a good place to rest for the day before this male peppered moth flew off into the night to look for a female to mate with.

Have you ever left your bedroom light on at night with your window open, and been disturbed by lots of moths flapping around?  If you have, well done!  You have made a moth trap!

Most moths are nocturnal (come out at night) but are attracted to light, so we can catch them by putting out a really bright light.  The moths fly towards the light and then into a big box full of egg boxes.  The egg boxes are a good place to hide, so the moths stay here until the morning, when we can gently take them out, identify and count them, and then set them free in the evening.  Using a moth trap is a great way of seeing how many moths there are in an area, and all the different species that are present.

This is a home-made moth trap in action.  Can you see the moths that have already flown into the trap?

This is a home-made moth trap in action. Can you see the moths that have already flown into the trap?

When I was moth trapping with some human friends recently, we found a peppered moth.  Peppered moths have light coloured wings which helps to camouflage them during the day when they rest on light tree trunks.  However, 200 years ago, there was an industrial revolution in England, so there were lots of dirty factories creating lots of pollution.  Tree trunks became sooty and black because of the pollution, and so the moths were no longer camouflaged!  The lighter moths could be seen by birds and lots of them were eaten.  Moths that were darker were better camouflaged on the sooty trees, so fewer of them were eaten and more of them could reproduce.  Overall, during the industrial revolution, peppered moths became darker.  Now that we have made our factories cleaner, trees are not sooty any more and the peppered moths have become lighter again!

I think peppered moths are pretty special because over many generations they could change and survive as their environment changed around them.  Unfortunately, other animals are not so lucky and as humans change the world many animals are dying out.

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Look at all the different moths species we found in one night of moth trapping!

Crabs

When I visited Corfe Castle Primary School earlier this year, Oscar wrote a story about meeting a crab.

Crab

 

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This species of crab is called an edible crab.  You can tell because its pincers have black tips and it has a reddish shell with a special pattern all around the edge.  Some people say the pattern looks like the edge of a pastry!

In July, I was lucky enough to visit Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset, and met an edible crab!  As Oscar wrote, crabs have 10 legs in total.  However, the front two legs have changed into claws and are used for catching prey and to defend themselves rather than for walking.

When they are small, edible crabs live in rock pools and shallow water, which is where you are most likely to find them.  When they are older, they move to deeper water and hide amongst rocks during the day and come out to feed during the night.  Edible crabs can grow up to 25 cm across and weigh up to 3 kg (that’s as much as a new born baby human!)  They can also live to be 100 years old!

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You can see the pattern on the crab’s shell very easily in this picture.  If you are going to find crabs, be very careful they don’t catch you with their pincers!

What a corking tree!

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Did you know cork grows on trees?  I didn’t!

I met an interesting tree at Escot Park this summer; a Cork Oak!  Cork oaks are a very special tree because they have very thick bark that humans use to make corks!  Do you know all the different things cork is used for?  Humans have been using cork for thousands of years.  The humans I live with use cork in wine bottles, for making cork boards to pin letters to and one even has shoes made from cork!

Cork oaks live in hot dry areas in southern Europe and north Africa.  Their thick bark protects them from forest fires because it stops the main living tree trunk from being harmed.  After a fire, the damaged bark grows back so it can protect the tree from the next forest fire.  Therefore when humans harvest the bark from the trees for cork, the tree is not damaged and can regrow its bark to be harvested again.

Despite using cork for thousands of years, humans are now starting to use other materials in wine bottles.  This means cork is worth less money and people are not looking after the cork oaks so well.  Some people are even cutting them down so they can put farms where the trees were.  This is not only bad for the cork oaks but also for the species that live in the cork oak forests.  Some of the species living in this habitat are very rare, such as the Iberian lynx, Barbary deer and Iberian imperial eagle.  Some people are worried that soon we will have very few cork oak forests left!

If you want to know more about what some people are doing to help save the cork oak have a look at this website: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/cork_oak/

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Have you seen a tree with bark as bumpy as this one?  Cork oaks are such beautiful and unusual trees, it would be very sad if they were to disappear!

Jellyfish

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Here is a lion’s mane jellyfish I met on the Isle of Skye.  They can grow to over 2 metres wide with tentacles over 30 metres long.  The biggest lion’s mane jellyfish is the longest animal ever to be found!

Have you ever seen jellyfish in the sea?  I saw quite a few on the Isle of Skye this summer. They are fascinating animals and come in a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes.  The smallest jellyfish are only 1 mm across, while the biggest can be up to 2 m wide with 30 m long tentacles!  Some jellyfish use their tentacles to sting and kill prey to eat.  These tentacles can be very painful if you touch them, so you must always be careful if you find jellyfish washed up on the beach.

Big jellyfish will sometimes have hundreds of other animals, like shrimp or small fish, living on or around them.  These smaller animals use the jellyfish to find food and to protect themselves from predators by hiding in the jellyfish’s stinging tentacles.

Some jellyfish can produce light which is called bioluminescence.  Scientists do not fully understand why some jellyfish produce light but it is probably to help them to confuse animals that want to eat them.

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Here a blue jellyfish has caught a moon jellyfish in its tentacles, the moon jellyfish is the one with the purple circles. The blue jellyfish  will use its tentacles to kill the moon jellyfish so it can eat it.

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This is a type of comb jellyfish.  Can you see the light orange or yellow light that it is producing?

Finding Fossils

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This is a fossil of an ammonite that I found at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset.  Ammonites were a type of snail-like creature that lived in the sea around 150 million years ago, about the same time as dinosaurs such as stegosaurus’ were alive!

I recently spent some time exploring the coast line in Dorset in southern England where I saw lots of fossils.  Fossils are the remains of animals that died millions of years ago and have become buried in rock.  The coastline in Dorset and Devon is a World Heritage Site called the Jurassic Coast because you can find lots of fossils there.

By studying fossils, we learn about the animals and plants that lived millions of years ago and about how different the world looked.   Places like Kimmeridge Bay are now on the coastline, but they used to be part of the deep seabed because all the fossils we find there are of animals that lived in the sea.

One of the most famous fossil hunters from Dorset was a lady called Mary Anning.  She was born in Lyme Regis in 1799.  Despite being born into a poor family and receiving very little education, she became a world famous fossil hunter.  She discovered new species of dinosaurs from their bones and people travelled from all over Europe to buy the fossils she found.  Recently, Mary Anning was named one of the 10 most important women in the history of science!

 

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I visited Mary Anning’s grave in Lyme Regis.  It’s amazing how much work she managed to do in her life even though she died when she was only 47.

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Mary Anning’s grave is surrounded by fossils like this one to remind people of the great work she did.