Monday, March 21, 2005

Animal of the Week March 21, 2005 -- Immigration special

Ah spring,
The daffodils are fluttering and dancing in the breeze, the birds are nesting, lambs are gamboling in the field, and any day now the bees will be a buzzing, butterflies will be flitting lazily by, and what else? Ladybirds of course! Specifically Harmonia axyridis (harlequin).
In the far-east where they are native, harlequins are a colourful, varied, and versatile component of the food web, feeding on aphids, nectar, fruit, beetle eggs and larvae, and many other things. In non-native countries, away from their natural parasites and predators, harlequins are pernicious invaders feeding on native ladybirds' food and even native ladybirds. In about 20 years from their introduction as biological control organisms in the southeastern USA, harlequins have become the most common ladybird species in North America. And now, harlequins have landed in the UK. They first appeared last year and look set to have similar success here as they have on mainland Europe and in the US. There is a survey in the UK to track the spread of this species across the country, if you would like to get involved go So, look out for this AOTW as the weather warms up, and cherish the other ladybird species you spot as you go about it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Animal of the Week March 14, 2005 -- Curly-coated piggywig

Hi One and All,
This week's animal is Sus scrofa (domestic pigs and wild boar). New research published in the past week suggests that, rather than being domesticated once and spread as farmers moved around, wild boar have been domesticated in at least five separate locations--from Europe, to the Near East, to southeast Asia--in the past 9000 years. Despite appearing in a great array of forms, from the miniature pigs of Vietnam and polynesia to the huge pink land-race creatures, all pigs are the same species as wild boars, with which (size allowing) they can breed quite merrily. One of my sources ( contains the following: "Not only can they [pigs] perform repetitive circus tricks, such as jumping through hoops and walking tightropes, but they can also solve simple problems such as opening a bolted door." Hands up anyone who would not pay to see a pig on a tightrope.
The pig pictured here is a Mangaliza from the central plains of Hungary. I wanted to send a picture of the now defunct breed the Lincolnshire Curly Coat, sadly the only picture I could find was too small (and I got it in the neck about the vampire finch picture last week).

Monday, March 07, 2005

Animal of the Week March 07, 2005 -- Vampire birds of Wolf Island

Happy Second Week of March guys,

This weeks animal of the week is Geospiza difficilis (sharp-beaked ground finch). This inocuous looking LBJ (a birders' classification that stands for little brown job) is notable for a couple of reasons. Geospiza may be familiar to you as the genus of finches found on the Galapagos Islands. As they arrived on the remote archipelago, various ecological roles were not occupied so the birds diverisfied to fill these roles and eventually became distinct species. Although this radiation is commonly said to have led Darwin to the theory of evolution by natural selection, it is not so. Darwin's collection of finch specimens was slapdash at best and the significance of all the similar looking LBJs occupying different niches on the Galapagos was not recognised until years later. An unlikely role occupied by Geospiza difficilis (from the ominously named Wolf Island [not Wolf Lake, that's a whole different mailout]), is that of vampire. These little birds climb onto the backs of nesting or resting boobies (like gannets), peck at the skin until the blood starts running, and lap up the resulting flow.
(image from: