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.

Why some birds wear jewellery

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Scientists use small rings like this to identify different birds so we can learn more about them.

Have you ever seen a bird with a small ring on its leg?  Birds with rings are helping scientists to understand more about the different wild birds that live around us.  A few months ago, I was lucky enough to join some ornithologists (an ornithologist is someone who studies birds) who were putting rings on some young birds.  While they were working, they explained to me how it all works.

Each ring put on a bird has a unique number.  When ornithologists see a bird with a ring they can look up the number and then see where other ornithologists have seen that bird before.  This means we can learn about where birds move between, how long they live and how they mate.

Bird rings have taught us that birds can live longer than we thought.  The oldest ringed bird is an albatross called Wisdom; she is at least 63 years old!  You can read about her here.  They also help us to understand bird migrations.  One of the longest recorded migrations by a single bird in one year was 27,000 km – that’s further than flying around the whole world!  You can read about that here.

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This bird is a nuthatch.  I met her while she was having rings put on her legs.  All the ornithologists who touch birds as part of their work are very well trained, and can hold the birds without hurting them which is very important!

 

Chasing Otters

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The remains of an otter’s lunch.  Otters that live by the sea eat all sorts of different animals and not just fish.  This sea urchin must have made a very tasty lunch!

I really wanted to meet an otter on Skye.  Otters used to be very common across all of Britain but since the 1950’s their numbers have dropped.  This is because humans have changed the rivers and lakes where otters live; the water has become polluted because of changes in farming, there is less space for otters to live because of building, and there are more roads near rivers which otters get killed on when they try to cross.

Thankfully, our rivers are starting to get cleaner and now the numbers of otters has started to increase again.  You can now find otters in every county in the UK!

Otters do not only live in rivers.  I was told that there are quite a lot of otters living in the sea around Skye.  However, otters are very shy, nervous animals and are very hard to meet!  I spent a lot of time looking for them amongst the rocks but never managed to see one.

I did, however, see lots of signs that there were otters around!  When otters catch a meal, they will bring it to the shore to eat.  You can tell that otters live in the area because you find the remains of crabs, lobsters, sea urchins, mussels and anything else otters eat.  Even though never met an otter, I was happy to know that there are many living in Skye and that they are eating very well!

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I only eat grass and plants so have never eaten crab, but I’ve heard it’s very tasty.  The otters on Skye seem to really like them because there were crab shells everywhere!

If you want to try and see an otter, the wildlife trusts have a guide of great places to see them here.

Marine Mammals

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It’s very hard holding binoculars with hooves.  Thankfully I had a helpful human on hand to hold them for me.

As well as lots of seabirds, Skye is very famous for its marine mammals.  If you spend enough time looking, you can see porpoises, dolphins, whales and seals!

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You can tell that this is a harbour porpoise and not a dolphin because it is very small and its fin is a triangle shape with straight sides like this /\, dolphins fins are curved backwards like this shape )\

Did you know you can see dolphins in the seas around Britain?  Unfortunately I didn’t see any dolphins but I did see lots of Harbour porpoises.  These are similar to dolphins but much smaller; adults are around 1.5 metres long, about the same size as a human. They are quite common around the British coastline.  If you are near the sea in Wales, Scotland or Ireland then you may see them!

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You can tell it’s a minke whale because of the shape of its fin and because it has a very long back.

You can also see whales in the UK!  Minke whales are the easiest whale to see in Britain.  They grow up to 10 metres long!  If you want to see a minke whale, the best place is the west coast of Scotland.  I saw them quite a few times while on Skye.

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You can tell that this seal is a grey seal because it has a very flat face.  You could lay a ruler from its forehead to the end of its nose.

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These are common seals.  Their forehead is rounder than the grey seals.  I think their heads look a bit like dogs!

There are two types of seal in British seas, the common seal and the grey seal.  I think seals are great fun.  They are very curious animals and will come and look at you if you stand still on the shore.  You don’t even have to be near the sea to see them as sometimes they swim up rivers to find fish to eat.  You can see seals all around Britain, and in many places you can take boat trips around seal colonies to see their babies, which are very cute!

For information on where and how to see whales and dolphins in Scotland, have a look at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trusts website.  Wildlife extra also have information on where to see seals in the UK here.