Saturday, 25 June 2011

Skull of Fox Cub

I'm thinking of re-naming my blog contributions 'road-kill-corner'. On the way back from Bath today, where I had been invigilating my sculpture exhibition 'Meta Anatomica' with the family, we stopped briefly in a lay-by and I found a long dead fox cub. Managed to 'retrieve' the skull and it's a perfect little miniature of an adult skull. Sharp unworn teeth, with adult teeth visibly coming through above them, a slightly shorter snout and thinner, rounded and more fragile cranium than an adult fox skull.

For comparison I have placed it alongside an adult fox and badger skull (*top photo). You will also notice the stockier frame of the badger skull and the cranial fins along the ridge of the skulls of both of the adult skulls, which help to anchor the impressive jaw muscles. This boney ridge is particularly robust in Badgers, and the jaw bones are also very solid and firmly hinged, but the fin isn't present in juvenile badgers and confused me when I was first collecting skulls. I promise to find a 'live' contribution to the blog as I was inspired by Adam's recent Bee observations, even the bees I find myself looking at are dead ones I've found.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Skulls and Little Owl

My blog posts are frequently dominated by dead things, perhaps as they are still they are the things I most easily notice as I charge about too busy to look properly....

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Humble Bumbles

Just had a fantastic day with the South Yare Wildlife Group, learning how to identify common bumblebees as well as cuckoo bees.

Bee expert Nick Owens initially taught us how to identify 'the big six' bumblebees (red-tailed, garden, white-tailed, buff-tailed, early and common carder). With each having 3 different forms (queen, worker and male) this immediately gives 18 forms to recognise. Additionally, each has a corresponding 'cuckoo' species which parisitises them by taking over a nest (kleptoparasatism!)and benefiting from the host species workers' endeavours.  These therefore closely resemble one of those 6 common species (e.g. the Barbut's cuckoo-bee, Bombus barbutellus,  resembles the Garden bee, Bombus hororum) but can be discriminated from them by features such as the absence of pollen baskets (as the workers from the host species provide this function.) Throw in mimic hoverflies and moths and the novice bee-spotter can be quite overwhelmed!

Common spotted orchid
Barbut's cuckoo-bee
After an initial 'classroom' session, we headed out to Ducan's Marsh in Claxton to test our knowledge in the field. This SSSI has a staggering array of wildflowers (including orchids) which in turn sustain a fantastic diversity of insect and other life, including bees. Armed with our ID guides and with Nick around to give definitive identification, we were lucky enough to spot specimens of each of the big 6 species, plus the newly common tree bumblebee which is apparently spreading across the UK. We also saw 5 of the common cuckoo species, giving us a grand total of 12 species for the day, which is a pretty good haul for a single day.

It was a great introduction to these fascinating creatures, and certainly whetted my appetite to learn more about them, as well as to apply the new knowledge in our own backyard.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Recent Photos

Just a quick posting of a couple of recent photos. First is a treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - common but not always easy to spot as they scurry over the bark of a tree using that dagger-like bill to find and skewer invertebrates:

And this is a brown tail moth caterpillar (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) with its distinctive twin red dots. Apparently these can cause quite serious infestations and are not therefore always welcomed by gardeners. I have not mentioned its appearance to the gardener in our household yet...