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Content Updated: 7th July 2014

SEASONAL UPDATE: July 2014

Summer sunrise

A couple of weeks of high pressure over the south of England and it certainly has been feeling like summer lately, with temperatures consistently in the mid-twenties Celsius. The weather forecast is for more unsettled weather in the south and midlands for the next week-or-so, with some much needed dry weather for the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The recent lengthy dry spell seems to have been good news for some species, while being bad news for others. A wet and chilly start to summer can spell disaster for newborn deer, which are vulnerable to hypothermia under such conditions. Consequently, the fact that June was largely dry here in the New Forest has been of benefit to these youngsters, many of whom are growing fast and now following their mothers. Conversely, prolonged dry spells can prove disastrous for many of our garden birds, hedgehogs, badger cubs and, to a lesser extent, fox cubs, all of which find it tough to get at invertebrate prey (largely earthworms) in very dry soil. It is ideal if you’re able to water a section of your lawn or flowerbed during dry weather to provide a foraging ground for your local wildlife. Hedgehogs will also appreciate it if you can find your way to leaving out a shallow dish of water in the garden overnight.

As regular readers of my homepage updates will be aware, I often plug wildlife reporting/recording schemes and I’m a firm believer in ‘citizen science’ as a method of collecting scientific data and monitoring trends in our natural environment. This week marked an important milestone in this process with the Biological Records Centre, now part of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Much of the data collected by the BRC is fed into the National Biodiversity Network, which now contains some 96 million observations on Britain’s flora and fauna. If you’ve been involved in any of the citizen science surveys in recent years, you’ve played a part in making this the success that it has become: thank you and well done! With this in mind, there are several schemes running during July that need your help, including: The Big Butterfly Count; BBC Breathing Spaces Ladybird Survey; BTO Abnormal Bird Plumage Survey; and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Survey of plants and lichens associated with ash. Now let’s take a quick look at what else is out-and-about this month for you to keep an eye out for while you’re out counting butterflies, ladybirds and lichens.

Hedgehog feedingMammals: Red fox cubs are almost fully grown by now, but still full of that playful exuberance that we associate with youngsters. The cubs will be spending less and less time in and around the earth now, preferring to lie-up in cover nearby. The parents will still be hunting for the cubs, but life will be getting increasingly tough and mum and dad are less easily persuaded to handover their catch than they were a few weeks ago; this drives the cubs to start catching some of their own food, which is largely insects and earthworms found close to the earth at this stage. Badger cubs are also still playful and can be found playing close to the sett during the evening and early morning; as with fox cubs, they will now be finding much of their own food, in the form of earthworms. Hedgehogs are also out-and-about looking for earthworms and, perhaps more importantly, prospective mates as we’re well into the hedgehog breeding season, with several litters of hoglets having been reported in recent weeks.

I’ve already mentioned that my local deer kids, calves and fawns are growing fast and many are up and about following their mother; I find early morning or late evening to be the best times to go deer watching at the moment, particularly if the weather is hot. Despite most young deer being mobile by now, the calving season is protracted for many species so I will reiterate last month’s plea that if you do come across a baby deer curled up in the long grass, bracken, etc., please don’t touch it – it has been left there by its mum, who knows where it is and will return to feed it later, it has not been abandoned and, unless it is in immediate danger, it does not need rescuing. Elsewhere in the deer world, you may start hearing barking in the woods and fields during this month – July marks the start of the Roe deer rut (breeding season) and the bucks bark both to ward off competition and to attract does. Watch out for young rabbits and stoat kits, which are also abroad this month.

Birds: Most of our garden birds have fledged now and have lost their fledgling plumage, although some species (particularly blackbirds) are still scurrying around with beaks full of worms, suggesting they are busy raising a second brood. In the New Forest, I have had some nice encounters with Tawny owlet in recent weeks, most of which have almost completed their moults and are following their parents through the trees begging for food. The local goshawk chicks have fledged, their seagull-like calling belying their presence in some of the Forest’s conifer plantations, and it is now increasingly common to hear the ‘ringing whine’ of recently fledged Common buzzards as they pester their parents for food. July is also a great month to get out on heathlands, moorlands, in woodland clearings and recently felled conifer plantations at dusk to listen for the calling of one of our most endearing migrants: the nightjar. About 4,500 of these birds migrate from west and south-east Africa to breed in the UK, arriving during May and leaving during August or September. Warm, still nights are best to head out and brave the midges to take in the rising and falling bubbling churr [listen] of the male of this nocturnal summer migrant. If you’re out on heathland looking for nightjars, keep an eye out for skylarks, stonechats, Dartford warblers, winchats, wheatears and linnets, all of which are around during this month. In farmland, as well as skylarks, July is a good month to find yellowhammers and whitethroats.

PuffinJuly is a very busy month for seabird colonies and gannets, guillemots, fulmars and the comical puffin can all be found on some of our coastal cliff faces during this month. Closer to home, there are still plenty of swifts, swallows and martins around and the air is alive with the screaming of swifts at the moment. Many of our local gulls also have chicks now and it’s hard to believe these speckled balls of fluff grow into the large, chip-stealing opportunists that are now so familiar in our towns and cities.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Observing reptiles is more difficult at this time of year, particularly when nighttime temperatures are high, meaning that activity can continue after dark and the snakes and lizards hardly need to bask. When temperature do drop overnight, however, an early trip out just after sunrise can be rewarding – remember to tread lightly as reptiles respond to vibrations in the ground, rather than in the air (i.e. they don’t much care if you’re chatting, but they will scarper if they hear you stomping around). Despite not being found out basking as often during July, our reptiles are busy breeding, so it is not uncommon to have an adder, grass snake or lizard cross your path hot on the scent of a female, oblivious to your presence.

The amphibian world is also busy at the moment, with many frog and toad tadpole having metamorphosed and left the pond. In our pond our tadpoles are still a few weeks from metamorphosis. If you have a pond in your garden, or even if there’s one in your neighbour’s garden, please take extra care when mowing the lawn as the newly metamorphosed froglets and toadlets will often hang out in long grass during the day. Indeed, if you can leave an area of your lawn with longer grass, this will benefit adult and juvenile reptiles alike. If you don’t have a pond in your garden, or if your pond doesn’t have tadpoles, and you want to see some froglets, head out to your local pond after dark with a torch during this month; warm, damp nights offer the greatest prospects of finding these miniature frogs and toads.

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, 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, butterflies 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: July is a month of orchids and sundews. Recent trips out onto the New Forest have turned up Lesser butterfly orchids, Early purple orchids, Bog orchids, Heath spotted orchids and Pyramidal orchids. Carefully check boggy areas for the red stems and glistening glands of the carnivorous sundew. July is also the last month for many to savour the bright yellow of Common gorse, the peak flowering season for which is coming to an end, but heather is now in its peak flowering season adding a haze of soft pinks and purples to the heathland. Fungi-wise, the large white caps of Agaricus macrospores start appearing on lawns and in pasture during this month, while the bright yellow and slightly apricot-scented Chanterelle can be found in most types of woodland in July. This month is also a good time to check lawns, pastures and commons for the large white fruiting bodies of puffballs.

If you’re out around dusk, or after dark, looking for froglets, toadlets or nightjars, keep an eye out for an often overlooked insect of our grasslands, the feature of the month: glowworms.

Pick of the Month for July – Glowworms

Female GlowwormThere are two species of glowworm found in the UK: the Common glowworm (Lampyris noctiluca) and the very rare Lesser glowworm (Phosphaenus hemipterus). There are a few records of the Lesser glowworm from Britain, mainly from Sussex and Hampshire, although more recently small colonies have been recorded in north London and north Wales; typically this is a Mediterranean species. Consequently, the species that most people see when they encounter glowworms in Britain is Lampyris noctiluca. Lampyris comes from the Greek lampein, meaning ‘to shine’, while noctiluca is derived from the Greek nocti, meaning ‘night’, and luca, meaning ‘light’. Essentially, the glowworm’s scientific handle translates as ‘the shining night light’. (Right: A female glowworm displaying.)

Contrary to the name ascribed to this small invertebrate, and the caricature adopted by many children’s books, glowworms aren’t worms; they’re actually beetles of the family Lampyridae and are related to other large familiar insects, such as click and soldier beetles. The males and females display one of the most striking cases of sexual dimorphism (i.e. males and females looking different) found anywhere among the invertebrates. Male glowworms have wings, are light brown in colour and grow to about 12mm (half-inch) in length. Males have a large light-sensitive eye that seems to be used exclusively for locating females during their slow, fluttering (moth-like) flight periods. Female glowworms, by contrast, have a larviform appearance -- i.e. have characteristics of the larvae -- lacking wings, and growing to 25mm (1 in) in length, which is essentially twice the size of the male. Males and females favour the same types of habitat: damp areas with tall grass. Consequently, glowworms tend to be encountered in meadows, on commons, in orchards, roadside verges, railway embankments and even on some garden lawns with low-growing vegetation. Nonetheless, there are records of glowworms on woodland rides, cliffs, heathland and even in the valleys of Wales and Scotland, although these appear to be outliers. The type of habitat glowworms favour means that they are most likely to be found on the chalk grassland/downland in southern England. Despite a couple of, as yet unverified, reports glowworms are believed absent from Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Lighting up the night
Perhaps the trait for which glowworms are best known is their ability to glow. Every part of the glowworm’s lifecycle involves light emission (even the eggs glow faintly), but it tends to be only the adult females that we see glowing among the grass on calm, mild nights during June and July. Indeed, although the males appear to possess the ability to glow, I have been unable to find any records of them doing so, even in captivity. The females, by contrast glow for an hour or more at a time and this eerie yellowy-green light (emitted at a wavelength of around 550nm and as bright as the LEDs used in modern electronic devices) is used to attract passing males. Females lack wings and consequently cannot fly to track down mates, so they must rely on the males coming to them. In order to attract a potential suitor, the female will crawl up a blade of grass and point the underside of her abdomen skyward before ‘switching on’ her light. Light is emitted from the bottom three segments on the underside of the abdomen, with most light coming from the penultimate two sections and only spots emitted from the tip segment. Most glowing in southern England occurs between about 10pm and 11pm and the females can display for up to about two hours, before retreating back down into the grass to recover. The glow is continuous, although the female generally moves her abdomen around, giving the impression that the light is cyclically dimming and brightening. The display can carry on over as many as ten consecutive nights, although glowing stops when the female attracts a male (which can see this light from at least 10m/30ft away) and/or after she has been mated.

Glowworm larvaeThe process by which glowworms produce light is fascinating, if quite complex and involved. I am quick to point out, at this stage, that I am not a chemist! I hope my description of the process does it justice, and I would be interested to hear from chemists reading this if they spot any errors.

Each section of the light organ consists of three layers of cells: the outer layer is a tough translucent skin through which the light shines; directly underneath this is the photocytic tissue; and underneath this is a layer of photoreflective cells filled with crystals of uric acid. In other words, there’s a layer of light-producing cells that have a layer of cells underneath that reflect light (so the light shines out, rather than in) and a protective lens-like cover on top. Inside the light-producing (photocytic) tissue a series of chemical reactions are happening and energy, in the form of light, is given off in the process – when this happens inside a living organism, we call it bioluminescence.

The bioluminescence reaction can be divided into two main parts and it starts with a small molecule -- made up of Nitrogen, Sulphur, Carbon, Oxygen and Hydrogen -- called luciferin, from the Latin lucifer, meaning ‘bringer of light’. The first step of the process involves the luciferin being bonded with an ‘energy molecule’ called ATP, which happens in the presence of magnesium ions. One of the resulting compounds, called luciferyl adenylate, binds to the surface of a special protein called luciferase. Luciferase is what we call an enzyme; it holds molecules together while they react, thereby speeding up (or, to give the process its correct name, catalysing) the reaction. The second step is that the luciferyl adenylate, still bound to the luciferase, combines with an oxygen molecule to form an ‘excited’ molecule called oxyluciferin. The energetic oxyluciferin molecule is unstable and it quickly returns to its normal (ground) state. In order to stabilise, the electrons of the oxyluciferin lose energy by giving out photons (light particles). So, glowworm bioluminescence is achieved via the oxidation of luciferin to an excited form of oxyluciferin and the subsequent grounding of this oxyluciferin. (Above: A glowworm larvae hunting.)

If all this sounds like gobbledygook to you don’t worry. Essentially, glowworms can produce light because they have a special tissue in their abdomen in which they can stick together oxygen and luciferin and the resulting excited ‘blob’ kicks out light as it calms down. A network of tubes (called abdominal trachea) supply the oxygen to the photocytic tissue and allows the glowworm to ‘switch’ the light on and off reasonably quickly. There is also some suggestion that a glowworm’s light might be unique to that individual. The construction of the luciferase enzyme, being a protein, is under genetic control and glowworm biologist John Tyler has recently suggested that millennia of evolution has resulted in differences in the genome that results in each glowworm producing a luciferase enzyme with a slightly different structure and that this, in turn, affects the light it produces.

In many light-producing reactions, a substantial amount of the energy given out takes the form of infrared radiation (i.e. heat). Have you ever noticed how hot an incandescent light bulb gets after only a few minutes being on? This is because the conversion of electrical energy to light is pretty inefficient in these bulbs; only about 10% of the energy is converted to photons, with the remaining 90% of the energy being infrared radiation. You can imagine that, if the same inefficient process was employed by glowworms, the beetle would soon overheat! Fortunately, glowworm bioluminescence is very efficient such that studies suggest only between 2% and 10% of the energy released is heat. Consequently, glowworms are said to produce ‘cold light’. So, glowworms can keep their lights on for an hour-or-more without the risk that they’ll cook themselves in the process.

It’s a bug’s life
Glowworm larvae eating snailGlowworms start life in the autumn as one of a cluster of up to 100 tiny (about 1mm in diameter) pale yellow eggs; these eggs may glow faintly. How quickly the larvae develop is affected by temperatures such that warm conditions can see larvae hatching out in 21 days, while it may take the same larvae 45 days in cooler spots – typically, the larvae hatch after around 35 days. Out of the egg emerges a light grey larva, about 5mm long (so five could line up, nose-to-tail, in an inch). After a few hours the larva’s skin hardens and turns black and yellow or orange spots are visible on either edge of the 12 body segments – glowworm larvae look very similar to ladybird larvae. The purpose of the larva is to eat as much as possible over the next two or three years, laying down small globules of fat -- each smaller than a pinhead -- that will serve as fuel for the pupation and for the adult. (Adults don’t feed in their brief, two-or-three week, lives; they are entirely preoccupied with mating.)

The larvae feed almost exclusively on molluscs (slugs and snails - right), which they search for relentlessly. The larva’s eyesight is poor -- detecting only movement and changes in brightness -- but it can feel its way with highly sensitive antennae and mouthparts. Nobody really knows whether the larva can track slugs and snails from their slime trails, or whether they just stumble across them. However they come across their quarry, once they have located a slug or snail, the larva will nip, often repeatedly, at the mollusc’s foot. The feeding method and mouthparts of the glowworm larva was described in detail by Kathleen Haddon in a paper to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, published in March 1915. The larva uses large, curved mandibles to nip the foot of the snail or slug and inject a small amount of digestive fluid (a protelytic fluid produced in the larva’s intestine) into the mollusc through grooves in the mandibles. Several bites may be administered, each taking less than a second to deliver, and after each bite the larvae retracts its head into the ‘shoulder’ segment of its body (called the pronotum), helping to protect it from potential retaliation and to wipe off any slime on its head. It may take a while for the digestive secretion to paralyse and start to break down the snail and, while waiting for this to happen, the larva may ride on snail’s shell. Once the snail is paralysed, the larva will begin feeding; lapping up the snail’s partially-digested tissue. The larva has a row of bristles just above its mouth that serve to filter out any lumps of tissue too large to swallow. Feeding is a slow process and it may take the larva 16 hours, or longer, to eat its fill; the larva takes frequent breaks to rest and clean off the slime with a specially-evolved bunch of hooked tentacles at the tip of its abdomen that acts like a scouring pad.

Male glowwormThe larvae can glow, although less brightly than the adult female and there is some indication that they use this as a form of defence; lighting up when confronted by danger. In addition to potentially using light to repel would-be attackers, a study led by John Tyler, and published in the journal Physiological Entomology in 2008, found evidence that glow-worm larvae contain distasteful steroids called lucibufagins, which make them unattractive to predators. When attacked larvae can evert pleural organs (from their chest cavity) whose membranes are studded with small vesicles; it is suggested that these vesicles, with delicate membranous walls, may serve to release controlled quantities of a toxin -- likely containing these lucibufagins -- that is carried in the larva’s body fluids (haemolymph), to repel predators. Despite this, some estimates suggest that as few as 2% of the larvae will survive to pupate.

As autumn turns to winter, molluscs become more difficult to find and break into, so the larvae find a sheltered spot to overwinter in a state of torpor, arousing the following spring to resume hunting. The larvae will continue to feed for two-or-three years before they’re ready to pupate, and this change is signified by an increasing tendency to be active during the day during early summer (prior to this, the larva was largely nocturnal). The larvae may congregate in small groups to pupate, with the act itself occurring undercover, typically underneath logs or stones. The larva sheds its skin, to reveal a thin-skinned translucent pupa. As with butterfly pupation, the animal inside the pupa is almost entirely broken down and rebuilt to form the adult beetle. Males take around 11-15 days to pupate, while females emerge after 8-12 days. Once emerged, the adults set about finding a mate – this is their sole preoccupation. The adults will survive for only a few weeks, enough time to mate and lay eggs, before dying. (Left: A male glowworm.)

Glowworms in trouble?
New Forest glowwormGlowworm numbers are known to fluctuate considerably year-to-year, which makes it difficult to get a handle on population trends, but there have been indications since the 1950s that numbers are declining, not just in Britain, but across Europe too. The causes of the decline aren’t entirely understood, but habitat loss -- particularly the fact that the Wildlife Trusts estimate that we’ve lost 80% of our chalk grasslands in the last 60 years -- appears to be a key factor. Similarly, our dominance of the night also appears to be an issue. Male fireflies are attracted to light of any colour and there is a report of some 50 males being attracted to the red LED light on the power supply of a moth trap extension lead. Consequently, light pollution is believed to be an increasing problem, with street and security lighting distracting males from the comparably dim light of the females. Given the conservation concerns surrounding this enigmatic insect, anyone who finds a glowworm is encourage to report it via the Glowworms Survey. If the above has whetted your appetite to learn more about glowworms, I can highly recommend the fascinating talk The loves and lies of fireflies, by biologist Sara Lewis.

So, I hope this has inspired you to get out into your local woods, fields and fens to experience the wildlife about this month. Whatever you’re up to this month, take care and I hope to see you back here in July. 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. Finally, a huge thanks to Sandra Morrish, Jason Steel, Neil Phillips and Simon Currie for donating photos to this month's update.

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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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