Monday, 26 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 6: Praire Dogs

One of the exhibits we have at Bristol that is very popular with the public is our small colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Cynomys ludovicianus. There are five species of prairie dogs - the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), the white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus), the Gunnison prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni), the Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), and the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). The only species that is to be seen in zoos is the Black-Tailed.

Unlike the other species, the Black-Tailed does not hibernate, probably because it is usually found in warmer and wetter climates than the others, and its staple diet of grasses is therefore available all year round. In the autumn, broadleaf plants become more important as green grass is less available. In winter, any available green vegetation is consumed. In the spring and summer, each prairie dog consumes up to two pounds of vegetation per week.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 5: Turkish Spiny Mice

On view in Twilight World here at Bristol we have a group of interesting small rodents, the Turkish Spiny Mice Acomys cilicicus. Several UK zoos hold this species; Bristol has 33 (at last count!) and there are nearly 600 in UK zoos in all. The reason there are so many being kept is that the species is believed to be rare and possibly endangered in its homeland – at present it is only known from the type locality. For species with a comparatively short lifespan and rapid turnover of generations, the captive population must be larger in order to avoid rapid loss of genetic diversity.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Phasmid Study Group summer meeting

On Saturday I went up to the Phasmid Study Group summer meeting at the Natural History Museum in London. The PSG is one of the older specialist invertebrate study groups in the world, and has a wide membership from professional entomologists to children (some of whom came to the meeting).

Phasmids (variously called stick insects or walking sticks) are a very widespread group, occurring on all continents and in most climates. There are no native British species, but at least three New Zealand species have been established in the UK for nearly 100 years. In warmer climates they are a potential pest, so in the US especially keepers may face restrictions on whether they can keep them, depending on the local climate and agriculture. Despite their potential for producing large numbers of offspring, in the UK at least they are an apparently harmless addition to the British insect fauna.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 4: The Agouti

Often overlooked in the Zona Brazil section are two large rodents distantly related to the capybaras, although they are closer to the domestic guinea pig or cavy. These are our two male Azara’s Agouti, Dasyprocta azarae. There are eleven species of Dasyprocta currently described, although I would not be surprised to learn there are more, and they range although the tropical rainforests of central and South America. Azara’s Agouti is found from central and southern Brazil, through eastern Paraguay to Argentina.