Friday, 28 June 2013

A Tank For Tadpoles

Let's face it, tadpoles are pretty cool. They undergo metamorphosis, a very interesting aspect of nature! Metamorphosis is the process of a species changing into another form. A tadpole, for instance, will eventually develop legs and leave the water entirely. But, unlike some other species that undergo metamorphosis, the tadpole actually has control over its change. A tadpole that spends a great deal of time in a shallow, warm area of the pond, stream, or lake will metamorphose quicker, were as an individual in the dark, cool, and deep area will develop slower. If the water level starts to drop, the creature will sense this and start to develop legs! And what's surprising is that these creatures actually make a decision on whether or not they should metamorphose. They judge whether the water is becoming dangerously low! Also, if an individual is killed and eaten, it will send out a distress hormone, which will promote the other tadpoles to start to metamorphose quicker!
Another interesting species that undergoes metamorphosis is the butterfly. The larvae, or the caterpillar as it's more often called, will often shed its skin in order to grow. But one day, the caterpillar will hang upside down from a twig, attached by a strand of silk, and shed its skin for the last time. This will fall away to reveal a strange, legless form. This is the chrysalis. It will stay totally motionless, yet inside its skin, the creature has broken itself down to a sort of soup of its own cells. For a moment, let's imagine we have a set of building blocks. We make something out of it, the caterpillar, then we take it apart again. Then, using the same building blocks, we create something else, a butterfly. And that's what is going on with the caterpillar's metamorphose. It's cells are simply being rearranged. Then, when the butterfly has been built, it emerges from the chrysalis to start a new life. What's so very amazing about this, is that despite being torn apart and rearranged, the caterpillar and the butterfly are still the same species and the same individual! This has been proved by scientists examining the unique genetic code of a certain individual! For more information, I recommend that you watch the fifth episode of the Alien Nation series, called Metamorphosis: The Science Of Change, with David Malone.
So, given all that, I decided that metamorphosis would be a pretty cool thing to learn more about. And what better way than to watch metamorphosis for yourself?
And so I set up a tadpole study tank. I originally had a shallow, open-topped container, but then I transferred them into a deeper, plastic tank. A tank is easy to create, just follow this easy step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Buy and position a tank. The tank's size will vary upon the amount of tadpoles you want to keep. Medium-sized plastic tanks are easily available and normally quite cheap, but the downsides are that they can break, scratch, and chip quite easily.
You can position your tank indoors or outdoors. If you have your tank inside your house, then you have much more control over temperature, water level, and survival rates. However, having them in a garden is also perfectly fine. Make sure that the tank is not in full light all day long, they need to have some shade for part of the day.
Also, if you want as many individuals as possible to survive, make sure you have a secure lid. This ensures that birds cannot come down to peck the tadpoles out of the tank!

Step 2: Pour a substrate in. This step is not entirely necessary, but I personally like the look of a tank better if it has a substrate. Sand, gravel, and grit are all good to use!

Step 3: Add some water. Do not use tap water, and if you do, make sure it has been left to stand for 24 hours. It is always best to use rain water, so using it from a water butt is fine. If in the process you add tiny, almost microscopic, creatures into the tank, then leave them. They'll make a great snack for them lucky tadpoles.

Step 4: Position furnishings and decorations to your taste! Stones, sticks, and wood are all great to use! In mine, I used 2 smaller rocks, and made a land area with a pair of large ones. It is important to add a land area when your tadpoles start to develop legs, but if you don't, they will climb out of the water on the glass! The blooming things are like geckos! You can also plant pond plants to add to the natural look.

I made my tadpole study tank as said above, and here's the result!

 Here's my tadpole study tank. You can see the land area on the right hand side.

When my tadpoles lose their tails and develop all their legs (i.e, they become a froglet), I move them into my froglet study tank. I have covered the bottom with soil, used a plant pot to make a cave, and made a water area using a plastic container. I added a few plants as a finale touch.
Here's the result:

My froglet study tank!

 A view from the top of my froglet study tank. This picture shows the water area on the left, and the cave at the right.

The tadpoles can be fed small land-living insects, fish food, and boiled cabbage and spinach. The froglets must be fed live creatures such as Ants, Fruit Flies, and Woodlice.

I hope that this post has inspired you to create your own study tank, and observe the amazing metamorphosis of the Common Frog for yourself!

Monday, 24 June 2013

A Ray Of Hope For Kinder?

 In an earlier post I explained how a nearby Brownfield - named 'Kinder' - was going to be developed on. I also briefly said that I had contacted several important people about Kinder, asking for help. Up until a few days ago, there was not a single reply. Now, finally, a person from Natural England, called Julian Small, has got back to me. He told me that they are mainly involved in land that has officially been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI for short. Unfortunately, Kinder is not an SSSI. He went on to explain that Natural England are also involved with areas where there are protected species - things like Bats, Badgers, and Great-crested Newts. He then asked us for a list of the species Barry and I had recorded on the area.
Barry (if you haven't read my first post, then Barry Warrington is the Hull Valley Wildlife Group's Entomological Recorder) has indeed made a list of the rarest species on Kinder, and has sent it to Julian. But is it enough?
It is highly unlikely that the destruction of Kinder can be stopped - our best hope is that Julian can postpone it, and give us valuable time to try and re-locate as many species as possible. However, this is a mammoth task - and it will be impossible to re-locate every species on Kinder.
Is there a ray of hope for Kinder, or simply a false hope? Look out for more posts about this subject . . .

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My Wildlife Event

Last Sunday, June 16th, I hosted a wildlife event with the local Wildlife Watch Group. The aim of the event was to show people just how much wildlife was in the area, and to convince the local children that there's amazing flora and fauna right on their doorstep! We did it on a green area between The Groves and Santolina Way, an area officially called 'Summergroves Open Space' but we call the 'Breathing Space'. It was originally a brownfield site, but a few years ago it was turned into a sort of wildlife-friendly park. A small water area was created, with viewing platforms. Benches and litter bins were added, and meadows and trees planted.
However, in recent years, it has seriously lacked in management. Wildlife can be incredibly independent, but quite often it needs management. The ponds have become overgrown with reeds, with no open water. Also, quite recently, local people have started complaining that it is 'untidy', 'messy', and 'scruffy', and telling the Council to come and cut down meadows! It amazes me that people can think that wild flowers are untidy!
The event started at 2 pm, and we got a few more people than I had expected! We started out by showing them small mammal traps that I had set up, in which we had caught a pair of Wood Mice. These seemed to interest most of the people, except the ones that ran away screaming ;-)!

 Looking at a Wood Mouse, while being recorded by Chloe Davies from the BBC.

The night before, I had set up several pitfall traps, and after releasing the Wood Mice, I led the group round to examine the contents of these traps. Most of the species we found I had expected to get, and these included: Ground Beetles, Ants, and Woodlice. However, in one pitfall trap there was a female Wolf Spider with an egg sack! I have never seen this particular species with an egg sack before, so this was great for me!
Next, we looked at various insects that Barry had brought us, including a Gold Spot Moth, Poplar Hawkmoth, and a huge Ground Beetle!
We were going to show people what lived in the water area, but due to recent weather, it was more of a mud bath than anything else. So instead, we showed them some creatures that we had collected from our own pond in a bucket. The species included: Water Hoglice, Leeches, Common Frog tadpoles, and Damselfly larvae!

Watching pond life!

I then gave everybody some tubs and sweep nets, and they went off to see what they could find! We discovered a beautiful Cucumber Spider, a few Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers, and loads of Kentish Snails!

 Showing the group how to use a sweep net.

The event was supposed to finish at 3 pm, but we ran over by . . . well, just an hour! 
I really enjoyed hosting the event, and it seemed that everybody had a great time! I think that most of the local children have gone away knowing more about the nature on their doorstep. I heard one girl saying, "It's amazing that there's all these bugs right under our feet, and we never knew they were there, Mum!", so I think the event made a big impression on her . . .
Barry made a tally of all the species that we discovered, and it turns out that we found a total of 104 species!
I am hoping to be able to host more events like this one, and if I do, I'll make sure that I write a post about them . . .
I would like to thank John and Ann Rayner, Emma, Vicky, Barry Warrington, and especially my Mum and Dad for helping me - without their help, the event would never have existed! Finally, I would like to make a huge thank you to everybody that attended the event!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Beetle Boy's Recommended Reading

I would like to add an extra post today, just recommending a few good wildlife books . . .
I really love reading both fiction and non-fiction, and I have 2 bookcases packed with books. I have several favourite Natural History books. I would like to provide links to where you can get such books here, so that you can enjoy them as much as I do!

Nick Baker's Bug Zoo by Nick Baker: A really excellent book recommended for younger readers! It provides good information on how to keep insects in captivity for study - but you must release them after a while, though! To buy it on Amazon, click on the title.

A Student's Guide To The Seashore by J.D Fish & S. Fish: For more advanced readers, this is a brilliant book. It is very in-depth, and provides lots of diagrams and information. Highly recommended for those wanting to study marine life seriously.

RSPB Handbook Of The Seashore by Maya Plass: This is a great book, I love mine as it is signed by the author and brilliant Marine Biologist, Maya Plass! It covers both plants and animals, and is a great guide.

Chris Packham's Back Garden Nature Reserve by Chris Packham: This is a book that I don't use much, though it is very good. It has information on birds, insects, and ponds - and how to attract these species into your own Back Garden Nature Reserve!

Collins Pocket Guide To Freshwater Life Of Britain And Northern Europe by Malcolm Greenhalgh and Denys Ovenden: I got this book as a Christmas present, and I love it. Lovely drawings, highly recommended. 

Reader's Digest Field Guide To The Butterflies & Other Insects Of Britain by Reader's Digest: A really, really good book - a must for any butterfly lover! 

Collins Field Guide To Insects Of Britain And Northern Europe (3rd Edition) by Michael Chinery: A quite complex book for more advanced readers. Includes numerous good diagrams, and covers identification, classification, and more!

My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell:  This is a great book that tells the true story of Gerald growing up on an island called Corfu. With snakes in the bath and scorpions on the dinner table, any nature enthusiast will love this book.

If I think of more books, then I'll add them in another post!

Bush Beating On Brownfields . . .

Yesterday (June 13, 2013), Barry and I visited a local Brownfield site. It is next to an indoor playground, 'Kinderland Playzone', and we've named it Kinder (how original!). It is split into 3 areas: 'East' or 'Small' Kinder, 'South' Kinder, and 'West' or 'Big' Kinder. Even though it is a Brownfield site, it is brimming with life of all kinds.
Some of my favourite species are: Kestrel
                                                            Common Toad
                                                            Ox Eye Daisies
                                                            Fat-legged Flower Beetle
                                                            Lesser Marsh Grasshopper
                                                            Sawfly (various species present on this site)
Sadly, Barry has recently been informed that South Kinder is going to be turned into a car park. Several rare species are present there, to lose them would be such a shame! We were already sad about about that - but then we found out that Big Kinder was going to be built up as well! Big and South Kinder are the most productive of the 3 areas, and what's so frustrating is that there is nothing we can do to stop its demise! I have contacted several important people to see if they can postpone the build, but I've heard nothing back from them. At least if the build could be postponed, then we could try to re-locate some species. I'll keep you updated on this!
But on this particular day, we were just seeing what we could find. We were armed with sweep nets, tubs, and cameras, and together we set out to find some bugs! Barry showed me how to bush beat with a sweep net: 
Step 1 - Find a suitable shrub or bush and plunge the net into the centre as hard as you can.
Step 2 - Push the net upwards, then flick it back so that the bottom flips over the rim of the net, stopping any insects escaping.
Step 3: Examine contents of net.
Though it may look violent, it is often very productive. I found several species: Weevils, Flee Beetles, Sawflies, True Flies, and a few unidentified insects. We put any particularly interesting specimens into tubs, for closer examination.
A bemused dog walker watched us apparently murdering tree saplings, then walked of. If there's one thing I've learnt in the 8 years I've been interested in Nature, it's this: being a Naturalist makes you look like a nutcase at times.
We moved on to Small Kinder, and while Barry chased moths, I examined the life under a piece of wood. Amongst groups of Woodlice, Snails, and Worms was what at first sight seemed to be a lumpy rock. On closer examination I found that it was a female Common Toad (females are larger than males). A few days before, we found a Toad in exactly the same place, and had taken it home and introduced it into our garden. We haven't seen it in there since. Maybe this Toad had crawled back to Kinder and gone back under its wood ;-) We decided to take it home, to see if it went back to Kinder again! I'll keep you informed on the fortunes of this Toad . . .
I enjoyed my time on Kinder, but at the back of my mind I knew that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the site for much longer.

Keep an eye out for more posts about Kinder and our female Toad! 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

My Wildlife Mentor

This is my very first post, so I'm pretty excited about writing this! I'd like to make it a sort of thank you to my 'wildlife mentor' Barry Warrington.
I've always been interested in nature as mentioned in my 'About Me' section of my blog. However, what I really needed was someone to guide me and take my interest to the next level. Then, by chance, my Dad and I stumbled across Barry.
We'd decided to go on a wildlife walk to a nearby wood that we visited often. We were walking through the trees; me taking not-so-good pictures with a small camera, when we saw somebody else in there with us - with a big camera. Anybody with a big camera, kneeling down next to a fungi-covered rotting log, has got be a nice person as far as we were concerned - so we went up to him.
We soon learnt that his name was Barry Warrington and he was the local Entomological Recorder - though it turns out that he's very knowledgeable on all nature, as we would learn in the upcoming months . . .
He was from the Hull Valley Wildlife Group, which I'd never heard of before. It wasn't long before I was showing him quite fuzzy pictures of 'Unidentified Strange Objects' - Earthstars, a type of strange fungus.
We exchanged contact details, and soon became friends. We've since been to many different local areas together, that are positively brimming with life!
This was a few years ago, so as you can imagine, we've been all over since then . . .
Many of the places Dad and I never even knew existed! One such place is Thorne Moors, where I have enjoyed encounters with Adders, Common Lizards, and more! Without Barry I would never have seen this amazing wildlife, nor would I have learnt about it in such an up-close-and-personal way!
Barry has also taught me of the importance of learning the scientific names of animals and plants, which I've always found difficult to learn and memorise. 
I was lucky enough to be present when he discovered a new breeding site for a rare species. It was good that this was covered by the local newspaper, but unfortunately they made it sound like I discovered them, not Barry!
I also enjoy learning about animals by keeping them as study aids, and I have several exotic insects and also tropical fish! It started out with insects, but when Barry told us that he had kept cold water, tropical, and marine aquariums, he inspired me to set a tank up. My current tank is my second aquatic tank, and without Barry's experience, encouragement, and advice, it would never exist.
Barry has, and still is, helping me achieve my dream of one day being a Naturalist. He's also a fabulous friend to our entire family, and for that, I dedicate this first post on my first blog to him.