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Content Updated: 13th October 2014

SEASONAL UPDATE: October 2014

Autumn leaves

Autumn is in full swing and, after an exceptionally dry and warm September, we’re now into a much cooler and more unsettled couple of weeks.  Saturday’s rain was much needed and Sunday morning’s sunrise over a frosty New Forest, with Red deer bolving (roaring) in the distance, was nothing short of magical.  I was surprised how early the deer rut started here in the Forest given that a warm, dry start to autumn normally delays it, but there were Red stags calling from about mid-September.  It is, however, normally the first frost of autumn that precipitates the most bolving and there was certainly plenty going on last Sunday.  So, now we’re into autumn the deer rut is well under way and there is plenty to see and hear.  I will cover the rut briefly in a moment, but first I wanted to cover a couple of news stories.

Firstly, you may have noticed that there have been a lot of spiders around during the last few weeks and with them have come a plethora of hysterical and exaggerated tabloid headlines: ‘Spider had affair with my husband’; ‘False widow ate my kids’; ‘Green-fanged spider sued me for damages’; those kind of things! For those wondering why we have so many spiders around at the moment, why they’re invading your house, and whether this is a danger to you and your family, I have put together a spider QandA for this week’s feature.  If you’re seriously arachnophobic and can’t handle spider photos, click here to read the photo-free version.

Secondly, some of you may be aware that the badger cull has resumed in Somerset and Gloucestershire. This is the second year of a four year cull planned by the government in an attempt to assess the impact, feasibility and humaneness of shooting badgers in significant numbers to control the spread of bovine TB. During the first phase, last year, 921 badgers (65% of the target) were killed in Gloucestershire and 940 (40% of target) in Somerset, falling short of the numbers anticipated by the government. Various factors affected the lower than expected kill rates, with anti-cull protestors playing a significant role patrolling setts, freeing trapped badgers and generally working to protect the badgers. Arguments rage on both sides about whether culling is the way forward in the battle against this disease, or whether it simply serves to exacerbate the situation. Many advocate vaccination over culling, and the government recently announced plans to vaccinate badgers next to the cull area (essentially in a strip down the middle of England) in a bid to create a buffer zone, but this is not without its problems. I still have “update the badgers and TB article” on my to-do list, but the current article is still largely applicable and if you’re interested in reading more, you can access it here.

If you’re planning on getting out this autumn, there are a series of events across the country (at the time of writing 607 to choose from!) listed on the BBC’s AutumnWatch website.  One event that is of particular interest, given that I live down here, is the Autumn Walking Festival in the New Forest.  This festival offers a series of different types of walks and guided tours for all tastes (wildlife, food, history, etc.), some offering a taste of New Forest produce in the multitudinous pubs found throughout the National Park.  If you live near the coast, Surfers Against Sewage are running a series of beach cleans this coming weekend (18th and 19th October) – details can be found here. If you are out and about this month, in the New Forest or elsewhere, let’s take a quick look at what you might expect to find.

Red stag bolvingMammals: There is plenty of activity among our mammals this month. Many species will be preparing for the winter ‘wind-down’ and are busy feeding up or stocking their larders to see them through the lean times ahead. Some of our mammals -- such as hedgehogs, dormice and bats -- hibernate and will be busy feeding up over the next few weeks; the aim is to put on sufficient fat to see them through the winter. Unfortunately, hedgehogs appear to be struggling at the moment and any support you can offer is gratefully received – food and water left out overnight can be a life saver to a local hedgehog.  A hedgehog ideally needs to reach 700g (1.5 lbs) before hibernation if it is to have sufficient fat reserves to survive the winter. Many adults will be able to reach this ideal weight, but hedgehogs born late in the year often stand little (if any) chance and these so-called “autumn orphans” will need help if they are to survive. If you find a young/small hedgehog in your garden, or a hedgehog of any size out during the day, you can find information on what to do in the Hedgehog Care article on this site.

The other mainstay of mammal activity this month is the deer rut, with three of our wild deer species rutting during this month: Red, Fallow, and Sika. Red deer tend to hold traditional rutting grounds and these are areas of good grazing that the females are attracted to; the stags are drawn to the females, who form small matriarchal groups, and work hard to keep competing males away for long enough to mate with as many of ‘their’ harem as possible. The stags roar (or ‘bolve’) for a number of reasons: to scare off any potential rivals; to attract any nearby females; and this bolving also appears to help bring the females into estrus. Research by scientists on the isle of Rum has revealed that females can tell the size and fitness (and probably the individual deer) from the volume and duration of the roar; larger animals have deeper roars. Much the same applies to Fallow and Sika deer, except that the males tend to occupy a good spot (called a lek) where they stand and belch (Fallow) or whistle (Sika) to attract females over. The deer rut is fascinating and very entertaining to watch, but please remember that -- even in deer parks like Richmond, Bushy and Petworth -- getting too close to the deer can both disturb them and be dangerous for you – these large mammals are pumped up on testosterone and this makes them unpredictable.  Please keep your distance and don’t risk your safety, or theirs, for the sake of a photo!

Elsewhere in the mammal kingdom, foxes are starting to increase their activity as we head towards the breeding season. People often complain that foxes that had regularly been visiting their gardens either disappear or visit much less often now and this is probably because it is during October that many fox families start to breakdown and the parents kick the cubs out. Consequently, there are a lot of foxes on the move looking for a new territory and there tend to also be an increase in fights and foxes being killed on the roads at this time. As we progress into winter, fox calls will echo through the night more often.

Birds: October is, for me, the month of the owl. Little owl chicks have fledged and can be heard calling on mild October nights, while Barn owls can often be seen hunting during the day in this month. Moreover, October is the month of the Tawny owl. The last couple of early starts have yielded very vocal Tawnies in the New Forest, including a couple of impressive-sounding fights, and as many of my friends can testify of late, there’s a lot of ‘kee-wick-ing’ and ‘hoo-hoo-ing’ going on in our woodlands, parks and cities at the moment. These noises, that Shakespeare described as “Tu-whit. Tu-who” in his poem Winter, are contact calls made by Tawny owls and calling is increasing in frequency as the owls kick the kids out and become more territorial. Much has been said about sexing owls based on their calls, with the female making the ‘kee-wick’ and the male responding with the ‘hoo-hoo’, but in reality it is not that straightforward and I have sat and watched a Tawny change from kee-wick-ing to hoo-hoo-ing. That said, females do seem vastly more prone to making the kee-wick call than males (I’m reliably informed that males can make it, but generally don’t) and their ‘version’ of the hoo-hoo is more warbly/tinny in quality than that of the male, which has a deep, resonating quality. Here’s what I mean (click each to listen): female kee-wick; female hoo-hoo; male hoo-hoo. Being territorial now means that, not only can they be duped into responding (even approaching) imitated calls thus offering a better view, they are also more prone to calling during the daytime, which has caught some people off-guard.

October is also the month during which many of our winter migrants begin arriving, including Whooper swans from Iceland and wigeon from Russia and Scandinavia. Moon-lit nights in October herald the arrival of flocks of Woodcock, also migrants from Scandinavia – they can be found lying up among coastal dunes and in copses.   Redwings start to arrive during this month and a trip to your local churchyard may find them feeding on yew berries. Sightings of Bearded tits, crossbills, and bramblings are also starting to increase here in Hampshire.

Baby European adderReptiles and Amphibians: Now it’s getting cooler, reptiles and amphibians are much less active. There are still a few adders around, basking in what warmth they can find, and there was a baby adder (born earlier this year - right) trying to soak up the weakening sunshine in the New Forest on Sunday afternoon.  Generally, all the amphibians I have found in the last couple of weeks have been sheltering under logs and in leaf litter, where they will spend most of the autumn and winter.

Invertebrates: Insects and other invertebrates are getting scarcer at this time of year. The unseasonably warm September meant that we had many dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies around later in the year than might be expected historically, but the cold and wet start to October has significantly reduced the number out-and-about now. That said, there are still a few White, Speckled Wood, and Red Admiral butterflies on the wing. There still seem to be plenty of craneflies around, particularly among long grass, and many ladybirds and ladybird larvae to be found as well. In the garden there are still a few hoverflies and bees around and, with nectar in short supply at this time of year, ivy, Michaelmas daisies, sedums and asters are a big draw for such insects.

The only invertebrates that seem to be around in any significant numbers at the moment are the arachnids – with reports of lots of, bigger than expected, spiders invading peoples’ houses over the last couple of weeks.  I won’t go any further with this as I hope my Q+A below will help to alleviate some of the fears stoked by the media lately.

Plants and Fungi: Probably the best feature of autumn is the colour change, with our deciduous trees starting to shut down for the winter. As the green chlorophyll breaks down, a variety of reds, oranges and yellows are revealed courtesy of xanthophylls, beta-carotene, and anthocyanins. The fallen leaves not only appear to contain waste products and toxins that the tree shunted into them before they are cast but, as they’re broken down by detritivores, nutrients are released back into the soil, acting as a fertiliser for the tree.

October, especially after all the rain we’ve had lately, is a great month for fungi hunting.   Species to lookout for this month include: the beautiful but poisonous bright red Sickener (Russula emetica), bringing a splash of colour to conifer woodland; the beautiful purple-coloured mushroom, Violet webcap (Cortinarius violaceus), found in birch woodland; and the bright yellow, but surprisingly small, Yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) fungi, found in conifer woodlands on rotting stumps and logs.   You may also be able to follow your nose to the impressive, if rather foul smelling Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) fungi - the pungent aroma attracts flies which carry away the spores to start new colonies of the fungus. Keep an eye out for dripping Beefsteak fungus on oak and Sweet chestnut trees this month.

The warm summer has led to another bumper fruit crop this year, with sloes packing the branches of Blackthorn here in the New Forest. There are also blackberries, hazel nuts, beech nuts, sweet chestnuts everywhere, although very few acorns owing to the bumper (mast) crop last autumn. (Oaks are cyclical in their mast production, with bumper years followed by sparse ones.)

Pick of the Month – The truth about spiders

Spiders hold an interesting place in our psyche. A few hardy souls love them (I'm one such person), a few tolerate them, but many more are terrified of them. Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias experienced today, with about half of all women and one-fifth of men suffering from the condition; symptoms range from a mild discomfort at their presence to a paralysing fear. Arachnophobia is an interesting phobia because it appears to override the ability of affected people to correctly estimate the size and speed of spiders. In an interesting paper published in 2012, researchers at Ohio State University reported that the greater someone's phobia of spiders, the more likely they were to significantly overestimate the size of a spider and, when shown a video of a spider moving towards them, the less able they were to correctly estimate when the spider would reach them (always underestimating the time). All of this makes evolutionary sense (if you're scared of something, swerving to avoid it too soon rather than too late is almost certainly beneficial to you), but it can be debilitating for the afflicted party. It is possible to be cured of arachnophobia, with some therapy taking up to six months. Alternatively, you can gradually desensitise yourself to spiders by simple things such as saying your fears out loud and watching someone else handle a spider - getting over a phobia takes time, but it is possible with the right approach and support.

House spiderQ: Are this autumn’s spiders bigger than last autumn’s?
A: It’s hard to say because there are no data sets comparing, year on year, spider body size. That said, some scientists think that the mild winter and warm, largely dry summer and start to the autumn has provided a bumper crop of invertebrate prey. With more food on offer, spiders may have been able to grow to their upper size limits.

Q: Are there more spiders around this year than last year?
A:
The answer seems to be yes.  It appears that the warmer weather didn’t just provide more food than normal, it also meant that fewer perished during the winter and more spiderlings survived to reach adulthood this year.  It should be noted, however, that (as mentioned above) there is no national spider census conducted to monitor spider numbers in Britain so it is very difficult to make statements about how their numbers vary year-on-year. A survey by the charity BugLife published in 2009 suggested that every domestic property (i.e. house and garden) in Britain has, on average, 30 spiders; this adds up to some 750 million arachnids. Given that we had, I would estimate, well in excess of 100 wolf spiders in our garden alone during this summer, I suspect this may be a significant underestimate.

Q: What types of spiders are likely to be coming into my house?
A:
My news Facebook newsfeed has been brimming with spiders over the past few weeks and the photos are almost invariably of the same three-or-four species because, despite Britain being home to somewhere in the region of 700 different spider species, few find comfort in our homes. In that which follows I will use the most often used common names for the species, but the use of vernacular naming with spiders is something of a minefield because there is a huge tendency for different people to call different spiders by different names. I appreciate that most people don’t care, but for clarity I will also include the scientific names.

The main spider people see running across the carpet or loitering on walls/ceilings is the aptly-named House spider (above). House spiders aren’t a single species, but instead a group of spiders placed within the Tegenaria genus (some prefer to use the genus Eratigena, but this has yet to be widely accepted). There are 102 species currently known from this genus -- which translates roughly to ‘carpet weaver’ and is a clue to the type of webs the females create -- and several that are found in Britain, although normally only three are commonly found in houses : the Common House spider (Tegenaria domestica), Western House spider (Tegenaria saeva), and the Giant House spider (Tegenaria duellica), which are almost indistinguishable without a close-up inspection. The Cardinal spider is also a member of this genus (Tegenaria parietina), indeed the largest Tegenaria species in the UK, but this is uncommon and found largely in the south-east of England. These light brown spiders have fairly small bodies and long legs.

Another species commonly found in houses, particularly bathrooms is the Cellar spider (Pholcus phalangoides), also sometimes called the Daddy-longlegs spider (not to be confused with craneflies). These spindly spiders have small heads and small, almost rectangular abdomens (the size of which swells according to how well fed they are) and very long, thin legs. Cellar spiders tend to hang out in the corner of ceilings and, if you approach too close will vibrate in their webs in the hope that you can’t see them. If you’re arachnophobic, these are good to have around because they’ll eat most other spider species, even much larger House spiders.

Increasingly, here in the UK, False widow spiders are being found in houses. As with House spiders, the name False widow actually refers to any of several species in the genus Steatoda (meaning ‘rotund’). In the UK we have six species only two of which are found with any regularity in houses: Steatoda nobilis and Steatoda grossa. A third species, Steatoda bipunctata, also known as the Rabbit hutch spider, tends to be found in outbuilding such as animal hutches and sheds. False widows appear to have increased their range north in recent years, but their distribution is still very patchy with the majority of sightings from the south coast and south-east England; there are no records for northern England or Scotland.

There are a couple of tiny (less than half-centimetre long) spiders are sometimes also found in, particularly old, houses: the stunningly spotted Spitting spider (Scytodes thoracica - below) and any of a handful of Jumping spider species, including the attractive black and white striped Zebra Jumping spider (Salticus scenicus).

Spitting spiderThere are other spider species that live on the outside of our houses, including the large black Tube web spider. Again, this actually refers to any one of three species of the genus Segestria, but the largest species and the one that has been in the tabloids over the last few weeks is Segestria florentina, which is currently restricted to southern Britain. These are large black spiders that live in holes in walls and you tend only to see their front legs poking out. Lace web spiders of the genus Amaurobius (of which there are three species) are sometimes found in cocoon webs in the corner of windows and are often misidentified as False widows owing to a broadly similar abdomen pattern. Finally, the fat, patterned spiders most of us see in our gardens sitting in the middle of their webs is the aptly-named European Garden spider (Araneus diadematus). None of these species tend to venture into houses of their own volition and, where they are found, they tend to have been carried in on clothing or other objects.

Q: Why do spiders suddenly appear inside in autumn?
A: September and October is the breeding season for most of our common spider species so, in most cases, the spiders that we find in our houses at this time of year are male Tegenaria looking for females. The females live in lofts, behind skirting boards, in window frames, etc. all year round and the wandering males come inside looking for them during the autumn. It is currently thought that the males follow scent trails when looking for females and will often use the same routes each day in their search; this explains why (if you don’t squash them) you often find a spider in about the same spot each night.

Some spider species have just evolved to live in human houses, where they relish the warmth and a spider living in your bathroom or conservatory will remain active thoughout most of the year, while those in the garden may go into a torpid state if the weather gets cold enough. There are also far fewer potential predators in a spider-friendly house; all they have to worry about are other spiders!

Q: Will the spider die if I put it outside?
A: Probably not, although it may depend on the species. In his 2008 book, Spiders: The Ultimate Predators, Stephen Dalton notes that the Cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides) is a lover of warmth and requires temperatures of at least 10 deg-C (50 deg-F) to survive, although I have not seen this quoted anywhere else and those in my un-heated shed seem to make it through even snowy winters. It is a commonly-held misconception that spiders die off when the weather gets cold but, although some invariably do, many over-winter in a torpid state (with legs curled under their bodies to reduce their surface area and thus slow down heat loss) in leaf litter or under logs and bark.

Obviously, there is a greater chance that, if you put the spider outside, it will get eaten by a predator. It is also quite likely that it will simply find its way back in while you’re not looking!

Tube web spiderQ: Are spiders dangerous?
A: Spiders are small predators; they catch and consume other animals. By virtue of their size, however, most spiders lack chelicerae (jaws) large or powerful enough to puncture human skin. Furthermore, spiders tend to keep themselves to themselves and bites occur either accidentally (when a spider has become caught/trapped in clothing, for example) and from deliberate provocation. I have observed and photographed many spider species (including False widows) from close range and have never even felt that I was in danger of being bitten. If I evict a spider from the house I take sensible precautions and put them into a cup/glass rather than handling them, even if I know the species to be harmless. A False widow living in a web in your bathroom, or a House spider on your ceiling mean you no harm and, if left alone, pose no threat.

Q: What should I do if I’ve been bitten by a spider?
A: Keep calm. Many of the symptoms people report from spider bites are actually symptoms of shock. Typically, being bitten by a spider is no worse than a wasp or bee sting, but some people are allergic to spider venom and can experience an anaphylactic response to being bitten. Generally, a spider bite will manifest as a small lump that is reddened and swollen and may have two small, but discernible, puncture marks. So, remain calm and treat the wound as you would any insect bite or sting; clean the bite and apply antiseptic cream/liquid. The horror stories you may have read in the tabloids about spider bites leading to amputations are vastly exaggerated – this is exceptionally rare and occurs when the wound becomes infected with bacteria from the victim’s skin or environment. If you are concerned about the bite contact your GP. If you experience symptoms of anaphylaxis -- i.e. red skin rash, swollen face (particularly lips or eyes) or hands/feet, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, nausea, etc. -- seek medical attention as a matter of urgency.

Q: Green fanged spiders in the UK! Really?
A: Sort of! The ominous-sounding ‘Green-fanged spider’ of Daily Mail fame is actually the tube web spider Segestria florentina (left).  These are the large black beasties that you see in holes in your house wall with their front legs sticking out and sit and wait for something to trigger one of the spoke-like trip-lines of their web. The chelicerae of females glow faintly green under torch light. These spiders are among the few that can puncture human skin, but are rarely found indoors. This species has been in the UK since at least 1845, although it appears to have expanded its range considerably since the early 1990s.

Q: Are there really False Black widows in the UK?
False Widow spiderA: The first thing to clear up here is the use of the term black in the vernacular name for this spider as it immediately conjures up images of the notorious Black widow spider of the tropics. It is very important to stress that, despite sharing a broadly similar body plan and web design, False widows are not a ‘type’ of Black widow spider; they are not even part of the same family. Black widow venom is highly potent and can kill humans, while the venom of the False widow is substantially milder and, unless you have a specific allergic reaction to it, is no more problematic than a bee or wasp sting. The False widow species most likely to be encountered in homes and out-buildings is Steatoda nobilis (right) and this species has been in the UK since the early 1870s; its range has extended since the mid-1980s.

Q: What purpose do spiders serve?
A: Spiders are predators of animals, so they play an important role in maintaining species balance within an ecosystem. In your house, spiders will happily eat a whole range of creepy crawlies that you may consider pests, including flies, silverfish, earwigs, moths as well as other spiders. In your garden, spiders are also prey for a number of species, including many birds.

Q: Why do spiders sometimes stop half-way across the floor and watch me for several minutes before carrying on?
A: Don’t worry – it’s not sizing up your weakness in preparation for an attack! Quite simply they run out of steam! Spiders don’t have lungs like ours. Instead most species have a pair of flattened, disc-like structures in their abdomen called book lungs; these are highly vascularised structures (i.e. have a high density of blood vessels). From these book lungs winds a network of tubes, called tracheae (pronounced track-e-a), that deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. This method of gaseous exchange is good at conserving water (we lose a lot of water with each breath), but much less efficient at delivering and extracting oxygen from the air than the mammalian lungs. As it happens, it is actually the impact that this lack of oxygen has on the rate that they can perform certain biochemical reactions (including neutralising lactic acid and generating the phosphate needed by their muscles) that is the key here; but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this QandA. Ultimately, spiders lack stamina and need to stop and rest periodically after exerting themselves to recover from the exercise. Indeed, spiders can only run for, on average, 20 seconds before needing to stop and recover.

Whatever you’re up to this month, take care and I hope to see you back here in November. As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page (Note: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support.

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WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries, however, are equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well (the BBC, for example), many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.

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DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

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