Saturday, 29 October 2011

Halloween: Behold the Great Pumpkin

For the last week the zoo has had its Halloween week, with among other special events some displays of pumpkins and squashes grown by the gardeners. Traditionally, the only members of the pumpkin family grown on any scale in the UK were marrows and their smaller relatives the courgette (zucchini), but with more varieties for sale in supermarkets more people are growing other varieties, such as butternut squash and, of course, pumpkins.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

By the light of the silvery Moon (Moth)

A.selene male
Earlier this year we started showing a new species of silkmoth, in addition to the Giant Atlas Moths Attacus atlas and the Rothschild’s Atlas Moth Rothschildea jacobeae. These are the beautiful lime green Indian Moon Moth, Actias selene.Although we do not currently have adults on show, we have larvae growing off-show and should have the adults again in a few months.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Hot off the press

How on earth did people come to decide that chilli peppers were a good addition to a meal? Here is a plant that comes from a family (the Solanaceae) which are often poisonous, and whose fruits contain a compound that specifically attacks mammalian pain receptors, causing a severe burning sensation. Nonetheless, about 8 or 9 thousand years ago, someone in Central or South America tried one and thought ”Hey, that’s great! I will put it in all my food!”

Friday, 7 October 2011

Aquarium Tour: Mushroom polyps

The last tank before you exit the aquarium is a marine tank housing a variety of small to medium-sized coral reef fish (incidentally, an informal count of visitors suggests the phrase “look –there’s Nemo Dad/Mum!” occurs at a frequency of around 10-15 times per hour in front of it). It is not the fish however I wish to close with, but some of the most colourful, and disregarded, animals in the tank, the extensive growth of soft corals of various species, particularly the mushroom polyps.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Aquarium Tour: Lungfish

The last large tank in the Aquarium contains a large variety of Malawi cichlids. While these are fascinating animals in their own right, I would like to write about one of the less commonly visible inhabitants of the tank, the African lungfish. There are actually four recognised species of Protopterus in Africa, with several divided into subspecies, and as they are very similar I am not sure if the two individuals we have are the same form, but they are probably P.aethiopicus. A third individual is in quarantine and will be going on show soon.