Friday, 21 August 2015

Plight of the Bumblebee 2: Commerce and conservation

B.lapidarius in my garden
When people talk about the vital importance of bees for pollination and agriculture, the only species that is usually thought about is the honeybee. For many crops however, both those grown in field and those in glasshouses, bumblebees and other wild bees are vastly more important. While honey bees are pretty generalist feeders, visiting many types of flower, they are not good at pollinating many species and are incapable of pollinating some crops at all, of which the Solanaceae (tomatoes, chilli peppers, aubergines etc.) are the most obvious. These require “buzz pollination”, where the bees vibrate the anthers to release pollen.  Other important crops which benefit from this type of pollinator rather than honey bees include blueberries, cranberries, and also kiwifruit. Even apples seem to be better pollinated by bumblebees that honeybees, as honey bees approach the flower in such a fashion that pollen is not efficiently moved from flower to flower. In addition, honeybees will not fly in cool or wet weather, which reflects their essentially tropical to subtropical origins. Bumblebees by contrast are adapted to cool climates, and will fly in cold weather or even in rain.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Plight of the Bumblebee Part 1: Lifecycle

B.terrestris worker
Aside from the honeybee, just about the only wild bee species most people in Britain are able to name are the large, furry bumblebees in the genus Bombus. With 24 species in the UK, and around 250 worldwide, they are a small but conspicuous minority of the several hundred species wild bee species in the UK. Aside from bumblebees and honeybees, the other species are all solitary, with a single female provisioning their nest, usually in a hole which may be excavated in the ground, wood, or simply a hollow stem.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

New Arrival: White-Belted Black and White Ruffed Lemur

Now on show at Wildplace is a new addition to their lemur collection, a young paid of the Northern or White-Belted Black and White Ruffed Lemur, Varecia variagata subcincta. This is one of three subspecies of V.variagata, plus the only other species of Varecia, the Red Ruffed Lemur V.rubra. Bristol Zoo has two V.rubra that are hand tame and are used in their daily animal displays, but these are non-breeding animals. The Wildplace pair will hopefully breed in the future, as they are a young pair.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

On the Wing: The Large Blue Butterfly

Last Saturday I finally managed to see the Large Blue Phengaris (Maculinea) arion at Collard Hill Hill reserve in the Mendips. As they are on the wing for perhaps another week or so, there is not much of a time window to see one this year. As one of the rarest of British butterflies, and with one of the weirdest lifecycles of any butterfly, it is definitely one to look for.

Friday, 19 June 2015

New Arrivals: Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby

Recently gone on show in the new Wallaby Walkthrough exhibit is a family of Yellow-Footed Rock Wallabies, Petrogale xanthopus. Originating from Queensland and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, it is one of perhaps 17 species of rock wallaby which collectively are found all across Australia.

Friday, 5 June 2015

New arrivals: The Gouldian Finch

Gouldian finches, normal and white-breasted forms
Now on view in the small aviary behind the wallaby walk though is a small flock of one of the most colorful small birds in the world, the Gouldian Finch. This is one of the most distinctive of the Estrildid finches, a group commonly referred to as waxbills, which also include such familiar cage birds as the Zebra finch and Java Sparrow, although they are most closely related to the equally colorful parrot finches which are mostly found in more humid environments in southeast Asia and New Guinea.Originating from northern Australia, they are now classed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, and have a population in their restricted range of probably only a few thousand individuals, split into several much smaller sub populations

Friday, 29 May 2015

Lizards 14: Rhinoceros Iguana

The last of the lizards in this series is one of the largest lizards in the Americas, the imposing Rhinoceros Iguana Cyclura cornuta. Originating from the island of Hispaniola, which is shared between the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, plus some nearby islands, it is the species of Cyclura most often seen in zoos, plus many more in private collections.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Lizards 13: Leptien's Uromastyx

U.aegyptia leptieni
Scattered through dry areas of Africa and Arabia are numerous species of herbivorous agamid lizard in the genus Uromastyx. Formerly included in the same genus are at least three species of Saara, which replaces Uromastyx in the Middle East and India. Commonly called spiny tailed lizards, they are mostly large lizards with distinctive thick, spiked tails which they use on defense, either by striking attackers with it or using it to block the entrance to their burrows.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lizards 12: Common Chameleon

The third of the chameleon species at Bristol is not often seen in zoos. The Common Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon is the “original” chameleon. It has a range that at least formerly included several of the Greek islands, although now it is only found on Samos, and extends all around the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, extending as far east as Iran. It is also found in southern Spain, Malta and Crete.  Other species of Chamaeleo are found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian peninsula and in India as far south as Sri Lanka. One of the largest is also the species hobbyists are most familiar with, the Veiled Chameleon C.calyptratus.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lizards 11: Bearded Dwarf Chameleon

Bearded Dwarf Chameleon - in center of picture
While panther chameleons are among the larger species of chameleon, many species have become miniaturised in the course of their evolution and are generally referred to as pygmy or dwarf chameleons. This has happened on at least two separate occasions, resulting in the dwarf chameleons of mainland Africa and the even smaller leaf chameleons of Madagascar. As a result of their small size and limited capacity to disperse, there are almost certainly many more species of these marvelous little lizards than are currently described.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Lizards 10: Panther Chameleon

Female Panther Chameleon
Of all the world’s lizards, chameleons are perhaps the most instantly recognizable. The distinctive eyes, which are extremely sharp – chameleons probably have some of the best vision of all reptiles – can either give good vision in any direction or be focussed on the same target to give stereoscopic vision and depth perception, essential when using their other distinctive feature, the extensible tongue (which can be as long as their bodies), to catch their prey.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lizards 9: Yellow Headed Day Gecko

The second species of day gecko kept at Bristol is the much smaller Yellow Headed or Neon Day Gecko, Phelsuma klemmeri. Growing to a maximum length of around 10cm, this species is one of the species more widely kept and bred by hobbyists. In the wild it is only known from a total area of under 1000 km2 on the Ampasindava peninsula in north west Madagascar. As a result of its limited range, where it is only known from two regions, it is currently classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Lizards 8: Standings Day Gecko

In Madagascar and nearby islands of the Indian Ocean some of the most visible reptiles are the various species of Phelsuma geckos. Usually referred to as day geckos (although at least one species on Mauritius is nocturnal) they are mostly small lizards, living in trees and bushes. There are numerous species, many with ranges limited to a single island or patch of forest, and consequently many are classed as threatened or worse by the IUCN. At least 2 species are extinct, one of which was the largest known species, the Rodrigues Giant Day gecko, which reached at least 40cm. .
At Bristol, 2 species are on display, the tiny Yellow-Headed Day Gecko P.klemmeri and Standing’s Day Gecko P.standingi.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Lizards 7: Utila Iguana

Currently the second largest species of lizard in the Bristol Zoo collection, the Utila iguana Ctenosaura bakeri is also one of the most threatened, as it is currently classed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Part of the reason for this is its microscopically small range – it is confined to around 8 of mangrove swamp on Utila island, off the north coast of Honduras. There are currently 15 recognised species of Ctenosaura, with a natural distribution ranging from Baja California and Mexico south to Colombia, although 2 species have been introduced to Texas and Florida.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Cotswold Wildlife Park

White Rhinoceros
Over the Easter weekend I visited Cotswold Wildlife Park, which for readers unfamiliar with it is located not far from Oxford. CWP is famous for its bird collection, but there are some seriously significant mammal species as well. The reptile and amphibian collection has some good species, notably Morelets Crocodile (which they have bred), and Black Mamba. I will probably write about some of the species I saw later this year, but in the meantime here are some of my photos:

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Lizards 6: Round-Nosed Plated Lizard

Gerrhosaurus major
Of the larger lizards in the Bristol Zoo collection, one of the more distinctive is the Round-Nosed Plated Lizard, Gerrhosaurus major. Also called the Sudan Plated Lizard, Western Plated Lizard, Rough-scaled Plated Lizard, and other names as well, it has a large range across most of eastern and southern Africa. 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Lizards 5: Solomon Islands Skink

Adult Corucia with juvenile
One of the more unusual, as well as larger, lizards on show at Bristol is a family group of the Solomon Islands Skink Corucia zebrata. Unfortunately, members of the public all too often walk by their enclosure as they tend to be secretive and immobile during visiting hours, often inside hollow cork tubes or resting on an overhead beam in their enclosure. This is a loss for the visitors, as they have one of the more complicated social structures and lifestyles of all lizards.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Lizards 4: Green Tree Monitor

Juvenile V.prasinus
Turning from desert living vegetarians, the subject of this post is an insectivorous species from the rain forests of New Guinea. The Green Tree Monitor Varanus prasinus is widely distributed in rain forests across the island, but as it spends all its time in the canopy it is not seen frequently unless a tree is cut down.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Lizards 3: Chuckwalla

Common Chuckwalla
Sharing the enclosure with the spiny lizards is a breeding group of Common Chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater. This is the most widespread species, ranging over rocky desert areas of much of the south western USA and Mexico. There are four other species, three on islands off the coast of Baja California and Mexico, which are classed as either Near Threatened or Endangered, mostly as a result of their limited range rather than any specific new threats. The remaining species, the Penisular Chuckwalla S.australis, is classed as Least Concern , as is the Common Chuckwalla.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Lizards 2: Blue Spiny Lizard

Blue Spiny Lizard
One of the more obvious lizards as you enter the reptile house at Bristol Zoo are the various members of a colony of Blue Spiny Lizards, Sceloporus serrifer cyanogenys. Also known as swifts or fence lizards, there are more than 90 described species of Sceloporus found in North America south through Mexico down into northern South America. There is a certain amount of debate around the taxonomy of the various Sceloporus species – some seem to intergrade with others and several species are divided into multiple subspecies.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Lizards 1: The Gila Monster

The first lizards that a visitor to Bristol Zoo will encounter are two young Gila Monsters (Heloderma suspectum) as they pass through Twilight World. Unfortunately, although these are fascinating animals, most visitors walk straight past as they are not exactly the most active of animals, in fact they generally behave as though they were stuffed. However, when readers of this blog next see an exhibit, I hope they will at least check them out.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

New Arrival: Eastern Quoll

Eastern Quoll
Just gone on show in Twilight World at Bristol Zoo is a new species of marsupial, the Eastern Quoll Dasyurus viverrinus. These belong to the same family, the Dasyuridae, as the Kowari Dasyuroides byrnei (also on show), buit is much larger, about the size of a small cat.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Book Review: Tuatara: Biology and conservation of a venerable survivor by Alison Cree

There are very few species of small(ish) reptile which are famous outside their native range unless they are venomous or brightly coloured, but the Tuatara Sphenodon punctatus of New Zealand is certainly among that select number. Their fame is due to their being the sole survivor of a unique lineage of reptiles separate from the turtles, the archosaurs, and the lizards, although they are most nearly related to the last, although since they split from the common ancestor with the lizards well over a quarter of a billion years ago even that is not close. The book reviewed here is a summary and survey of the whole of tuatara-related research, and covers not just the biology and ecology of the living animal, but its evolutionary history, interactions with humans, and their past, present, and future conservation status.