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Content Updated: 5th July 2015

SEASONAL UPDATE: July 2015

Wildflower field

Well, we’ve reached July and it now feels officially like summer. Andy Murray is winning at Wimbledon, families are gearing up for the summer holidays, and we’re in the middle of a heat wave. Indeed, after summer getting off to a cooler-than-average start last month, last week we saw the hottest July day on record; Heathrow airport tipped the Mercury at 36.7C (98F) at 3pm on 1st July. The hottest temperature on record for the UK stands at 38.5C (101F) and was measured in Faversham in Kent during August 2003. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys such hot weather and there have been many hospitalisations as a result, with a level three “heatwave action” alert having been issued by the Met Office. There have also been a number of cases of dogs being found in baking hot cars. Personally, I find temperatures in the high twenties Celsius too much and the hot, muggy nights (here in Hampshire, the humidity is currently hovering just below 90% overnight) make sleeping a challenge. The long-range forecasts suggest some Atlantic low pressure systems will skirt the UK during the middle of the month, bringing cooler and fresher conditions, although this doesn’t look like it’s going to last, with the humidity rising again towards the end of July.

With all this warm weather, mornings and evenings offer the most promise for wildlife watching, as most species (certainly of mammals) tend to sleep away the hottest part of the day in cover. Indeed, I’ve had some fantastic encounters with hares and deer in the last couple of weeks, including my first ever sighting of Chinese water deer fawns in Bedfordshire last weekend. If you’re looking for something to entertain the kids over the summer holidays, both the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts are running a series of events across the country to help youngsters get engaged with wildlife and the natural world – check out their websites for further details. There are also some surveys taking place this month. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species are after your records of our pick of the month for July: stag beetles. If you’ve seen a stag beetle this year, please record it via their website and join the Great Stag Hunt. July is a good month to go glowworm-hunting and, if you’re successful in your quest, the UK Glow Worm Survey also wants to hear from you – please log any sightings via their website. The Mammal Society wants to know what mammals you have in your area and you can submit mammal records via their website. Finally, Joanna Durrant kindly donated a photo of a lesser stag beetle to this month's featured article, and I promised a quick plug for her conservation initiative - Wild About Hampstead Heath is a three year project aimed at inspiring local people to take an interest in the wildlife of Hampstead Heath in London. Please take a moment to visit the link and vote for the project. Now, if you’re out and about this month, what might you expect to see?

Chinese water deer with fawnMammals: I mentioned last month that June was the month of the baby deer, and to some extent that is the case. June is invariably the best month to find them lying up among the long grass, bramble and bracken. July is, however, the best month to see these youngsters up and about and following their mothers. Indeed, for some species (particularly fallow) July is a great month to find fawns playing together in crèches; chasing one another and making curious bleating noises as they do so. There will also be a few late-born calves/kids/fawns that may still be hiding up during this month. As I said last month, hiding up in vegetation is part of a deer’s natural behaviour and it is exceptionally rare for a mother to abandon her fawn. If you find a fawn lying alone, it’s mother nowhere in sight, please just leave it where it is unless it is visibly injured – the mother knows where it is and will be back to suckle it later. I was thrilled to see my first Chinese water deer fawn out with its mother at dawn last weekend (right).

Fox cubs are well-grown by now and will be spending much less time in and around the earth, choosing instead to lie up in vegetation at the surface – they will also be starting to hunt for themselves, beginning with insects. Similarly, badger cubs are growing fast and beginning to integrate into badger society, although they will retain their playful bounciness for a while yet! July is a good month to look for stoat and weasel kittens, which will be abroad with their parents as they learn how to hunt. The hedgehog breeding season is in full swing now, and there are even a few hoglets out and about with their mothers now; on that note, if you can leave fresh water out in your garden, particularly in this hot weather, please do because it can be a lifesaver for wildlife. There are plenty of bats out and about on July evenings, and a trip to the coast offers your best opportunity to see some of the cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that inhabit our waters. The small mammal breeding season is also at its peak now, making July a good month to see mice, voles and shrews – if you’re lucky enough to see any of these ‘mini mammals’, please log the sighting into the Mammal Atlas.

Birds: Now is a good time to go out looking for owls, because many owlets will be in the final stages of fledging and increasingly mobile. The downside to this time of year is that there is a lot of foliage around, which may obscure your view. Nonetheless, in my local woods there has been a lot of calling by recently fledged Tawny owlets, which is helpful for tracking them down. Most of the fledgling birds in the garden now have lost much of their juvenile plumage and are starting to look more like small adults, although some species (particularly blackbirds and robins) may be tending their second brood by now. In the New Forest, it seems that there are juvenile wrens everywhere and a bumper crop of redstarts and woodpeckers. Nightjars are also back on the Forest and Dartford warbler activity should be picking up on heathland during this month. The stonechats are still very visible, if quieter than of late, and the song of the easily-overlooked corn bunting, which sounds like the ‘clacking’ of a bicycle, can be heard on downland during this month. Winchat, wheatears and yellowhammers are also prominent on heathland during July, and there are plenty of ducklings and goslings still about. Many raptor chicks will either have fledged by now or be well on their way. Here in the New Forest many of the buzzard chicks have now fledged (listen out for the ringing whining attention-seeking call of the young) while the goshawks aren’t far off. I’ve also seen some superb photos of well-grown peregrine and sparrowhawk chicks.

Common froglet in garden pondReptiles and amphibians: July can be a good month for reptile spotting, although very warm conditions can cause these creatures to seek shade. Early mornings on bright, clear days are the best time to look for adders and grass snakes out basking. During this month female sand lizards will be laying eggs in burrows dug in loose sand on southern heathlands and Lancashire dunes. Towards the end of the month, keep an eye out for juvenile common lizards; darker than the adults, these youngsters can often be found in small groups. Grass snakes will be starting egg-laying during this month, so compost heaps -- indeed, any piles of decaying material, preferably not far from water -- are worth a look. Amphibians can also be found during this month, particularly frogs and toads in quiet gardens, but dawn and dusk are the best times to search out these critters, which will spend much of the day sheltering from the sun in shady, damp spots. In the past few days we have seen tiny frogs (only about 1cm/0.5in. long) around our garden pond. These newly metamorphosed frogs (left) will start dispersing out into the garden during this month and are fantastic to watch. Interestingly, we also still have a lot of tadpoles in the pond, of varying sizes and stages of development.

Invertebrates: Even in our small city garden the air is alive with the buzzing of bees, flies and hoverflies, and many of our solitary bees are very active during this month. Check out firm, dry, exposed sandy areas of your local heathland and you’re likely to find a series of small excavations – watch for a while and you’ll likely be treated to a brief glimpse into the working endeavours of our mining bees and sand wasps. Sand wasps dig out a burrow in sandy soil in which to entomb caterpillars. The caterpillar is paralysed before being pushed into the burrow along with one of the wasp’s eggs; when the grub hatches, it will consume the caterpillar to fuel its development. There are also still some stag beetles to be found at the moment (see feature below), and many of the small brown wolf spiders that were carrying around their white or pale blue egg sacs last month are now carrying their spiderlings on their abdomen.

July is also a good mothing month, with plenty of large, showy hawk moths around at the moment. If you’re very lucky, you may find a grand Purple emperor moth; these stunning but elusive creatures are restricted to oak woodland in central and southern England, from about Nottinghamshire in the north to Hampshire in the south. Apparently, various putrid substances (including dog mess, fox scat, decaying rabbits and urine) can be used to tempt these butterflies down from the treetops! Other Lepidoptera to watch out for this month are the day-flying beautiful yellow underwing, the pale shiny-scaled silver-studded blue and the ethereal blue-winged Chalkhill blue. I have also seen quite a few people post on Facebook (particularly to the BBC Springwatch page) asking for identification of red and black moths they’ve found while out walking: black wings and red spots are six-spot burnet moths, while black wings with a red stripe and two red spots at the base of each wing, are cinnabar moths. Many species of grasshopper, cricket, damselfly and dragonfly can also be found during this month, so pretty much wherever you choose to walk you’re likely to find something!

Plants and fungi: There are still some bluebells in flower, next to the cow parsley and campion in the roadside banks. July is the peak flowering month for gorse and heather while soggy areas are awash with the bright yellow of bog asphodel. July is also a good month for orchid-spotting, with the southern marsh in flower on grassland, heath spotted orchids found on acid heathland, and common spotted orchids on chalk downland. Fungi-wise there is some chicken of the woods and Russula to be found this month.

Pick of the Month for July – Stag beetles (Lucanus cervus)

Male Greater stag beetleI confess to getting a little jealous every summer when I see friends post photos of stag beetles that have turned up in their garden on their Facebook news feed. These giant (by beetle standards) insects are an increasingly rare sight in Britain and I haven’t seen one in years. Despite being comparatively rare these days, I think most people are familiar with the imposing critters. Nonetheless, based on some of the feedback from the recent article Springwatch ran on these insects, it seems few people know much about the animal itself. With that in mind, this month I want to take you on a brief excursion into the fascinating world of Britain’s largest beetle.

A beetle with antlers?
Stag beetles form part of the Coleoptera order (from the Greek meaning ‘sheathed wing’) of insects, which currently holds about 40% (some 400,000 species) of all insects, and one-quarter of all animal life known to science. Within the Coleoptera sits the Lucanidae family, in which we find 1,200 to 1,300 species of stag beetles from across the globe. This month it is the greater stag beetle (henceforth, just ‘stag beetle’), known scientifically as Lucanus cervus, that is our focus. In Britain, alongside Lucanus cervus, we have two other species that are commonly referred to as ‘stag beetles’.  There is the smaller cousin of L. cervus, the lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus) that is found across southern England and south Wales, and Sinodendron cylindricum, which is sometimes also referred to as the rhinoceros beetle. Neither of these latter two species, however, matches the stag beetle for size or stature.

The stag beetle’s Latin name, Lucanus cervus, gives a hint both to its appearance and its association with humans. According to Pliny the Elder, Roman scholar Nigidius called the stag beetle lucanus after the south-western region of Italy where they were worn as amulets. This was later used as the insect’s genus by ‘father of taxonomy’ Carl Linnaeus when he formally described the beetle in 1758. Linnaeus also assigned the species epithet cervus to the beetle because the long mandibles (jaws) spread apart in a wide v-shape, with three inward-pointing hooks near the tip, have a similar appearance of the antlers of Red deer stags (Cervus elaphus). As we shall see, these mandibles are used in a similar fashion to deer antlers too.

Based on body size, JT Clark suggested that there are actually two subspecies of the stag beetle in Britain – Lucanus cervus cervus and the smaller Lucanus cervus capreolus (capreolus translates to ‘small goat’ and is the genus assigned to the Roe deer) – although this does not appear widely accepted. Part of the problem is that this species has quite a large size range. Adult males commonly measure 4-7cm/1.6-2.8in. long, with the largest on record apparently just shy of 9cm/3.5in. in length. Male beetles also tend to be larger than females, which range in size from 2.5-6cm/1-2.5in. There is also considerable variation in size across Europe and, in a 2001 paper to the journal Insect Conservation, a team from the University of London reported that beetles from Spain, Germany and the Netherlands were significantly larger than those from Belgium or the UK. The reason for this size discrepancy is unknown, but is possibly under genetic control because keeping beetles from these areas in captivity (with unlimited Lesser stag beetleaccess to food) doesn’t appear to increase their adult body size. Females lack the enlarged mandibles sported by the males and, at first glance, may be mistaken for lesser stag beetles (left); their smooth/shiny reddish-brown wing case and smaller head can be used to separate them on closer inspection. Males, like females, are black except for their wing cases, which are reddish-brown. Females have small black mandibles, while the much larger ones of males are chestnut brown in colour.

Stag beetles are found throughout western Europe, including Britain but excluding Ireland. They are locally common in the Thames valley and surrounding areas and found in the Severn valley and coastal areas of south-west England. Females lay eggs underground and thus prefer soil that is easy to dig, which makes them an uncommon species in chalky areas such as the North and South Downs in southern England. In the UK this species in generally found at elevations of 50m/164ft above sea level, but elsewhere in Europe (e.g. Bulgaria) it may be found up to 1,700m (one mile) . Generally, it is thought of as a species of oak woodlands, but it may also be found in hedgerows, parks and gardens. Indeed, a distribution study published in 2011 reported that, in the UK, stag beetles were known to be mostly urban and had a broad range of host plant associations. Oak was still the most prevalent plant association, but still only accounted for fewer than 20% of the records.

In the heat of the night
From May until mid to late July male stag beetles take to the air in search of females. Their quest is an urgent one because this species is what we call semelparous; they have a single reproductive ‘event’ before they die. The males emerge before the females and are normally the ones that you see in flight – females can fly but seldom seem to do so. Consequently, it is the males that tend to disperse farthest, linking what many scientists believe would otherwise be isolated populations. Many sources suggest that male stag beetles migrate about 500m (one-third of a mile) from their point of emergence, while females move up to about 20m/66ft, although studies in Europe suggest that they may move much further. One German study recorded males dispersing an average of 802m (almost half a mile) while females moved an average of 263m/863ft from their place of emergence. How far a given beetle moves may depend on the local population density (if there are more beetles around you won’t need to move as far in order to find a mate) and habitat type, but prevailing weather may also play a role. Indeed, more generally, how active the beetles are appears to vary according to sex and ambient temperature.

A comprehensive study by Markus Rink and Ulrich Sinsch of the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany involved radio-tracking 56 free-ranging stag beetles and observing many more in Germany’s Moselle River valley between 2000 and 2005. Overall, Rink and Sinsch collected data on 171 individuals and found that males were consistently active for fewer days than females (an average of 8.5 weeks vs. 12 weeks) and both sexes were more active on cooler nights. Indeed, the biologists found that warm temperatures increased the beetles’ metabolism such that weight loss was three or four times greater during the warm summer of 2003 than the more temperate two subsequent summers. (The summer of 2003 was on average 4C/7F warmer than that of 2004 or 2005.) Air temperature needed to reach at least 11C/52F for the beetles to get airborne, although more generally they didn’t take to the air until it had warmed to about 14C/57F. Flights were never observed in air temperatures above 26C (79F), although ground activity continued up to about 33C (91F). The time of first emergence of the beetles didn’t seem to be affected by air temperature, although studies elsewhere have shown that Stag beetlestag beetles from the southern Alps emerge later than those in the north. Interestingly, in his 1973 German paper on stag beetles, Herbert Ant at the Museum fur Naturkunde in Munster published a description of male and female stag beetles excavating small holes in the soil and staying there during hot periods. Ant thought that this might be the beetles taking up moisture, but Rink and Sinsch’s results suggest it may be a thermoregulatory behaviour aimed at preventing the beetles overheating.

Stag beetles are primarily crepuscular (i.e. most active during dawn and dusk) and the males are attracted to light, which means they often end up around houses on summer evenings. It is believed that males track down females by their scent, and some authors have observed males mating with dead females, so strong is their urge to copulate. Once a female has been located, courtship involves the male circling her, with his mandibles raised and opened wide. Should any other males be attending the same female, a wrestling match may ensue. The males will raise their mandibles at each other in a display of aggression and, if neither backs down, they will clash. The aim is to throw over your opponent and stag beetles are both skilful wrestlers and, for their size, incredibly strong. The males lock mandibles like red deer locking antlers and one beetle may eventually pick the other one clear off the ground and throw it to one side, or even out of a tree. I’ve not come across any statistics for fights in this species, but in a paper to the Journal of Insect Behaviour earlier this year, Jana Goyens at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and her colleagues described the outcome of fights between a North American species of stag beetle. Goyens and her colleagues found that the largest opponent won in 85% of cases, and the more evenly matched two opponents were the longer the battle lasted. When the researchers blindfolded the beetles the outcome of the fights didn’t change, suggesting that visual information wasn’t a necessary for a successful battle. The tarsal (foot) claws of the males are highly curved and have increased height, which helps maintain balance while fighting and provides grip on most surfaces. Among male stag beetles, it seems that aggressive behaviour is correlated with size: larger males are usually more aggressive and prone to fighting than smaller ones.

Stag beetle larvaBringing up bugling
Once the beetles have mated they separate. The male may go and look for other mates, or may die shortly after the mating, while successfully mated females tend to return to the spot where they emerged. When the female arrives at her emergence site, she will assess whether there is sufficient decaying wood available and, if there isn’t, she may look for an alternative location to lay her eggs. Once a suitable location has been found, the female will dig down (maybe 50cm/20in.) and lay her eggs either in the rotting wood, or nearby in the soil. On average, a female will lay about 24 eggs – although she may lay between 15 to 36 eggs depending on her size – that will develop in the soil for about a month before the larvae hatch out and begin feeding on the decaying wood. Stag beetles spend most of their lives in larval form – on average they spend four years as a larva, but in some locations they may remain in larval form for up to seven years. The reason for this prolonged larval stage is that wood is difficult to digest and poor in nutriment, so it takes the larva a long time to gain sufficient condition to be in a position to pupate into an adult. Recently, there has been debate among entomologists (people who study insects) as to whether there are three or five distinct stages (called instars) to the stag beetle’s larval period. The general consensus was that there were only three instars, with the third being the longest.

A fully-grown stag beetle larva can reach 11cm/4.3in. long, with a fairly smooth, creamy-white skin, orange head and legs and brown mandibles. The larvae are quite chunky, and often exhibit what appears to be a black patch running along their back (this is actually the gut contents that are visible through the translucent skin). Larvae have three pairs of ‘pro-legs’ and lack eyes. Overall, it is virtually impossible to distinguish a small stag beetle larva from a lesser stag beetle larva without a hand lens and field guide. Lesser stag beetle larvae are more likely to be found above ground, however, and often in large numbers with adults nearby. When placed on the ground, a stag beetle larva will curl up into a c-shape (left). (Longhorn beetle larvae, by contrast, remain straight when placed on the ground, while cockchafer larvae arch their backs.) They feed on decomposing wood by scraping the surface for splinters, and are particularly fond of wood infested with white rot fungus – the more decomposed the wood is, the less energy the larva expends digesting it and the faster it can grow. The adult beetles cannot feed on solid food, they can only drink the sap from trees or juices from decaying fruit. Indeed, there are scattered reports of adults (particularly males) feeding on sap runs on tree trunks in Europe, but I’ve not come across any records of this behaviour in the UK. That said, if offered a solution of sugar water, male beetles can sometimes be Stag beetleencouraged to drink it. Being unable to and/or unwilling to feed means that adults must rely on the fat reserves laid down during their larval stages. Once fully grown, the larvae leave the rotting wood they have been feeding on and build a large cocoon in the soil in which to pupate. Pupation takes roughly six weeks and begins in the last autumn of the beetle’s lifecycle. The newly pupated adult will remain underground throughout the winter, emerging in the following spring.

Adult beetles tend to live for only a few months. Rink and Ulrich found that females lived longer than males, which started dying off during July; most females hung around until mid-August. Part of the reason females live longer may be that they travel less than males and spend the last few days/weeks of their life underground laying eggs, both of which makes them less vulnerable to predation. Being underground may also reduce their metabolic costs, as temperatures tend to be lower and more stable within the soil compared with the air. The researchers also found that males usually died within hours of showing signs of senility, while females often remained motionless at the surface several days before death. Magpies and other corvids are probably the most significant predators of stag beetles, while domestic cats, foxes, owls, woodpeckers, kestrels, shrews, badgers, wild boar and hedgehogs will also take them. Many beetles are killed on the roads.

Conservation concerns
Stag beetles have not always been a source of fascination for humans. In his Fauna Britannica, Stefan Buczacki tells how, here in the New Forest (in Hampshire, UK), the stag beetle was once called “the Devil’s imp” and thought to damage farmers’ crops; it was, consequently, not a welcome sight and pelted with stones. Today, a loss of habitat – particularly a tendency to keep parks and gardens ‘tidy’, which can result in a lack of the rotting wood on which their larvae depend – is considered a major factor in the decline in both number and distribution seen over the past 40 years. It is currently listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “near threatened”, in Appendix II of the EC Habitats Directive, Appendix III of the Bern Convention, and on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). What all this means in practice, however, is that it is a species of conservation concern here in the UK, which makes it illegal to sell them without a license, but it is not a level of protection sufficient to, for example, prevent a building project going ahead. If you accidentally dig up a stag beetle larva, the best course of action is to re-bury it in a safe spot with as much of the accompanying rotting wood as possible. You can also encourage stag beetles into your garden by ensuring there is plenty of decaying wood around. Relatively simple things such as leaving the stumps of felled trees in the ground, creating a log pile in your garden, putting down woodchip, and so forth, can all help stag beetles colonise the area.

(Just a quick reminder: if you've seen a stag beetle this year, please log the sighting with PTES as part of their Great Stag Hunt. Thank you!)

Whatever you’re up to this month, take care and I hope to see you back here in August. 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 and a special thanks to John Humble, Joanna Mary Durant, Darren Larmer, Sue Gambin, Tricia Hinton and Shaun Johnson for donating their excellent stag beetle photos for this month's update.

Stag beetle close-up

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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 are, however, 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, 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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