Posts Tagged ‘video’

Yellow-necked mice raid bird feeder (video)

21 February, 2012

The aliens take many forms

2 November, 2009
Harlequin Ladybird - a species shows its dark side.

Harlequin Ladybird shows its dark side.

The alien in my living room was black with red spots!

This dark form of Harlequin Ladybird visited my home during October. The phenomenon attracted the attention of BBC2’s Autumnwatch because hundreds of viewers reported seeing the ladybirds in their houses.

Towards the end of October I watched dozens buzz through and over the garden. Undeterred by bumping into windows, bushes and me, they seemed intent on travel and were not stopping to feed – so I reckon a mass migration is happening in the UK.

Where are they going to? How fast will their pattern of distribution across the British Isles change by 2010?

Beetle Boom

These alien invaders, said to have arrived in the UK during 2006 – are causing a stir. Lots of people are searching Google and the BBC website for ‘Harlequin Ladybird’ in response to the beetle’s appearance on the BBC2 Autumnwatch series and various 2009 press releases. It was also a boom year for Seven-spot Ladybird, teeming by the bucketload at Somerset during the summer of 2009. Ladybird swarm on BBC News…

Spot the difference

The Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) comes in many guises. In Britain, however, most of the colour forms are distinguishable from common native species, such as the Two-Spot Ladybird and the Seven-spot Ladybird, by three very visible clues:

  1. Harlequin Ladybird often has a rough trapezoid or ‘M’ shape on the pronotum.
  2. When it’s not black, the base colour of the larger Harlequin Ladybird is usually yellow or orange, rather than red.
  3. The Two-spot and Seven-spot Ladybird have black legs; while the Harlequin Ladybird has orange-brown legs.
Harlequin Ladybird underside_cropped

Orange legs on a Harlequin Ladybird

Perhaps the British species most likely to be confused with Harlequin Ladybird are the Eyed Ladybird (Anatis ocellata) or the smaller Ten-spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) which have orange legs and bright colour patterns similar to some of the harlequin’s.

The pronotum on a ladybird is frequently mistaken for the head, which the beetle tucks away in times of danger. One of the misleading markings on ladybird beetles is the huge spots on each side of the pronotum which act as false ‘eyes’.

More notes on harlequin recognition…

Organism of the month Dec 2008 – Supergreen Sea Slug (Elysia chlorotica)

5 December, 2008

Natureheads blog

How does it get so super green? This seaslug has nicked loads of chloroplasts! Because it hosts these chloroplasts – the microscopic organelles that normally exist in plant cells – it can get energy from sunlight.

click to see VIDEO

click to see VIDEO

When Elysia chlorotica eats algae, it is able to nab the mini solar power stations from the plant cells. But it’s not as simple as popping to the beach and chomping on seaweed. If only. For a start, one of its adaptations to eating algae is a specially evolved radula. Whilst the radula in the mouths of other seaslugs might be resemble a vicious cheese grater, Elysia’s enables it to sieve out the algal cell contents. And there’s more…

click to play VIDEO

I read at the New Scientist website that researchers have been investigating how this creature has been able to not only steal chloroplasts – but also put them to work. You would not expect a seaslug to have the right genes and enzymes to be able to ‘operate’ the chloroplast. In fact the chloroplasts carry DNA but their genes can only produce a small fraction of the proteins essential to run all their processes. They’ve discovered that the seaslug uses genes that once belonged to algae too. But nobody knows how that happens. Was it something Elysia chlorotica was able to do alone, or was there a virus involved?

Despite finding some algal DNA in the sex cells of the supergreen seaslug – which suggests the power to drive chloroplasts could become an inherited trick one day – baby supergreen seaslugs still have to eat algae to get chloroplasts. However, after that they can go 2 weeks without eating anything!


Kleptoplasty is something I’d love to do. Seaslugs are well known as biological thieves, and often people tell you about the way they can steal stinging cells (nematocysts) from anemones or other cnidarians. Only certain types have this special mechanism. They shift the eaten stinger cells to their gill plumes (‘branchs’) which are exposed naked on the outside of the body – hence the name ‘nudibranch’ which applies to many seaslugs. Not all are nudibranchs, Elysia is an opisthobranch, in the Sacoglossa order.

Seaslugs are hermaphrodite, typical of a mollusc. Some can squirt defensive inks and mucus from glands in their skin, and some have nasty-tasting chemicals within their skin to deter predators. Surprisingly, these chemical deterrents might not be made by the seaslugs themselves, but might sometimes be taken from the food they eat, and even transformed into new substances by them. Some are dull, some camouflaged, and some amazingly colourful and patterned, as you’ll have seen in the video clips above. There are even seaslugs with a hard shell. More cool facts about nudibranchs at the Sea Slug Forum.

Big up

Thanks to the University of Maine’s symbio Elysia website for the Elysia images and video clips, and to Sven TylerK and StephenT for the other video clips. Finally, for those of you who now love seaslugs – a music video! Spanish Dancer:

Prince Charles on Rainforests

27 November, 2008

Natureheads blog 
Extract from a speech by HRH Prince Charles, 18 Nov 2008

“I think I must have first visited a tropical rainforest over 40 years ago in Papua New Guinea and I shall never forget the thick green forest canopies that stretched into the horizon, trees the height of cathedrals and an astonishing variety of some of the most remarkable plants, animals, birds and insects on Earth.”

“It is a remarkable fact that these ancient forests, which circle the equator in a giant green belt, are home to around half the animals and plants in the world, many of the plants having known – or as yet unknown – medicinal properties that are, or could be, of benefit to Mankind.”   …

“We need to do something about this and urgently; it is why I set up my Rainforests Project a year ago. At the end of the day, the answer is really very simple, although incredibly complicated to put in place. We are trying to find a way for the polluting, industrialised nations of the world – which caused climate change in the first place – to pay the rainforest countries for these eco-services. If we can do it, then the prize is huge. Not only can we can stop the terrifying rate of deforestation and buy ourselves some time so that new technologies on which so much hope is being pinned can be developed, we can also at the same time make a big difference to the lives of some 1.4billion of the poorest people on Earth who live in and around the rainforest.

Too often, people think there is nothing they can do about global warming. But there is. Stopping deforestation could make the whole difference, and would enable us to store carbon naturally – a much easier and cheaper option than relying entirely on as yet unproven and expensive technologies.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing, then you can visit my Rainforests Project website at and add your name.”

Sharks under threat says IUCN

24 November, 2008

Natureheads blog

Sharks are more popular than ever – unfortunately as food for humans! They also fall prey to factory fishing vessels as ‘collateral damage’ for the fish industry, and they are hunted for sport. This month the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that shark, ray and chimaera species are much more threatened in the northeast Atlantic than they are globally. Read more…

BBC Oceans

BBC Oceans

Link on right – watch the BBC iPlayer – Paul Rose recounts a wonderful, nocturnal encounter with six-gill sharks in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul had a huge chunk of tuna attached to him – confident that he was in no danger – to attract the sharks! Wow, I really envy the team on BBC Oceans.

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) aims to promote the long-term conservation of the world’s chondrichthyan (cartilaginous) fishes, and it’s in the process of assessing the status of cartilaginous fishes (roughly 1,000 species).

Seven percent of species in the northeast Atlantic are classified as Critically Endangered, seven percent as Endangered, and 12 percent as Vulnerable, primarily due to overfishing. This means 26 percent are threatened in the northeast Atlantic, compared with 18 percent globally.

“From angel sharks to devil rays, northeast Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world,” says Claudine Gibson, former Programme Officer for the IUCN SSG and lead author of the report.

“Most sharks and rays are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing because of their tendency to grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. Those at greatest risk of extinction in the northeast Atlantic include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like porbeagle and common skate, as well as commercially valuable deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish.”

Way behind the ecological data, the EU has only thus far set quotas for 4 species out of the 116 in northeast Atlantic zones.

“Never before have European countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the beleaguered shark and ray species of the northeast Atlantic,” says Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the IUCN SSG and Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. “Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels. Such action is immediately possible and absolutely necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals.”

Organism of the month Nov 2008 – Sumatran Rhino

24 November, 2008

Natureheads blog

By the time you read this the wild population of the Sumatran Rhino could be dead. With my low readership I don’t think that’s an exaggeration! No, seriously, they’re nearly all gone. Stop laughing.

Sumatran Rhinos have hardly ever been photographed or filmed, but here are 2 videoclips, one from SOS Rhino and one from WWF.

A project worker with SOS Rhino captured this short ‘once in a lifetime’ clip. Talk about a close encounter!

This WWF videoclip is from an automated camera.

Take a look at SOS Rhino’s great Rhino facts page and the WWF page on the Sumatran Rhino too. As you can see, there is even disagreement about how many are left in the wild! (300 or 30) Sadly the story is very similar for the Javan Rhino, which might have even fewer remaining individuals on the planet.

What you eat and drink might have an influence. Palm Oil is an ingredient in lots of different foods (including perhaps your Peanut Butter) and its plantations are taking the place of local rainforest essential for the rhinos. WWF has also revealed that coffee illegally grown in a national park is eating into the protection zones vital for the Sumatran Rhino at Bukit Barisan Selatan. Your favourite coffee maker could be buying from this coffee source! Thanks for the information WWF- but I can’t see anything about this on your Borneo and Sumatra Results page or interactive flash projects map. What’s happening?

So far on the Natureheads blog the ‘organism of the month’ has been an invertebrate – in fact I think they’ve all been insects. No apologies – they don’t get as much attention as they deserve. And yes, I have complained about the fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) focus far too much on mammals in the IUCN Red List (it was encouraging to see the Purple Marsh Crab featured in a case study on their website) …

Anyway, I had to give up some time and respect for the plight of the smallest rhinoceros in the world. There is so little known about the very secretive and shy Dicerorhinus sumatrensis that we won’t really know what we’re missing when (if?) it becomes extinct. Scientific study has had hardly any time to develop much of an archive on this rhino, which is very difficult to study.

Apparently they only get to about two-and-a-half metres in length, about the height of my shoulder, and a little heavier than I am, at 500 – 800 kilos. Maybe that has something to do with the 17-month gestation period? Wow.

One day I’d like to see a Rhino in those forests. A small, hairy, snuffling rhino. A peaceful vegetarian. Nevertheless, I’d like to be up a tree so I’m out of the way of the huge, hefty girl, as she might be a bit miffed to find me on her favourite path that night, and she might even be a bit grumpy and hormonal.

Organism of the month Aug08

26 August, 2008

Leafcutter Bee Leafcutter bees (Click to see full size image) are non-agressive,  so relatively much safer to observe than most other bees. This is partly because they are not colonial – they have no throng of thousands of sister worker bees to rely on and share the work. So to die in combat would be a massive loss, nobody else is going to get the shopping, feed the kids and do the home improvements… erm, I mean, they would greatly reduce their chances of reproductive success if they were very aggressive.

So what is their nest like? An individual female will find a hole, such as in wood or between stonework, and uses the cavity to establish a set of brood chambers. She gathers pollen and lays an egg with it, so the grub that emerges has a food supply. She then seals it off with leaf fragments, and starts another brood cell, seals that, starts another cell, and so on. Soon the hole will be filled up, and so the female bee sets off to find more holes and carries on until all eggs are laid – if all goes well.

Later the grub that hatches from the egg eats the pollen, and it pupates until the next spring. New adults emerge from the earliest cells first, chewing through the leafy seal. Each has to nip the backside of the sibling in front (blocking the way out!) to awaken it, and eventually they all find their way to the entrance.

Leafcutter bees in the British Isles belong to the genus Megachile. They are quite distinctive in shape and colouration, and they have bright, fiery orange fur underneath their abdomen. That’s where they carry the pollen. They are very useful for the garden because they are quite safe to have living right next to your plants or greenhouses (even inside commercial greenhouses!) and are prolific pollinators. The more you have the better, and you can help them to improve their numbers by providing nesting sites.

To attract solitary bees such as these, and the mason bees (Osmia spp) perhaps be less tidy when clearing things like fallen plant stems, dead wood piles, etc. Naturally they need pollen and nectar sources, and some of the best are early-flowering wildflowers e.g. dandelion, white deadnettle, selfheal, goat willow; and herbs are great, such as lavender, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and borage and things like artichoke. But to really boost their chances of breeding, make or buy a bughouse with holes drilled to about 8mm – 10mm diameter.

Does a bughouse really work?

Sheepdrove bughouse

Click to see a bee

I’ve got a bughouse from Sheepdrove Organic Farm, and it’s worked well in a sheltered east-facing location, where it gets early sun but does not get too hot all day. That was the advice from Dr Chris O’Toole, who has written a book on the Red Mason Bee (Osmia rufa) and a book on bumblebees. He developed cylinders of tubes to house these small bees. The idea is that you can provide dozens of nest chamber sites all in one place, and that saves the female bee lots of energy, because she would normally have to find numerous disperse locations.

Watch the video!

See what these lovely bees are like by watching the short video clips on the Natureheads channel at YouTube – here’s the best one embedded for you to watch now.

Watch the other clips on the Natureheads channel at YouTube for ideas on Leafcutter bee homes, witness some territorial behaviour, and more…

Finally – can anybody answer this question? I have been watching Leafcutter bees at my bughouse and noticed there are 2 different sizes of the same species. Are the small ones males and the larger ones females? I haven’t seen the smaller ones bringing leaf fragments back to their hole.

copyright © 2008 Jason P Ball