This weeks #FactFriday is looking at the Scottish Crossbill (Loxia scotica) !
The Scottish crossbill is a small passerine bird, belonging to the finch family. It is the only terrestrial vertebrate endemic to the UK and resides solely in Scottish Caledonian forests.
The Scottish crossbill manipulates pine cones with its heavy crossed bill to pull out the seeds, and builds bulky nests of twigs, heather and moss in the branches of Scots pine trees.
The species is morphologically almost identical to red and parrot crossbills and can virtually only be distinguished by its call, although even that needs to be confirmed on a sonogram. There are an estimated 6,800 breeding pairs in Scotland, however, the effects of a warming climate on this species could result in changes to the availability of their food (pine cones) and increase food scarcity. A warmer climate could also result in range expansion of other crossbill species, which may compete with the Scottish crossbill in these areas. Research into this topic is still new.
This week for #FactFriday we are introducing the hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)
The hummingbird hawk-moth is a small, day-flying hawk-moth. It is a summer visitor from May to September in the UK, migrating from Southern Europe in variable numbers each year. Adult hummingbird hawk-moths live for around 7 months.
The hummingbird hawk-moth has greyish-brown forewings, bright orange hindwings, and a greyish body with a broad, black-and-white ‘tail’. it hovers during flight, fluttering its wings so quickly that it can appear orange and makes an audible hum.
The similarity between the hummingbird hawk-moth and hummingbirds is believed to be a result of convergent evolution wherein two species belong to separate families and having no apparent relation with each other develop to be very similar. This is called homoplasy, when a trait has been gained or lost independently in separate lineages over the course of evolution.
This weeks #FactFriday we’re introducing the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)!
These reptiles are the most common species of lizard found in the UK. They live for 5-6 years and are found in a variety of colours; brown, grey, olive and black.
They are unusual in that they incubate their eggs inside their body and “give birth” to live young, giving them their viviparity. This is due to it being the northernmost distributed reptile and therefore having to incubate young in these cooler temperature.
When escaping from a predator, the common lizard will shed it’s tail to act as a decoy, letting the lizard escape (in 2 pieces).
This weeks #FactFriday we are introducing the european pine marten (Martes martes)
Pine martens belong to the mustelid family and are characterised by their cream/ yellow “bib” on their throat. They are the only mustelids with semiretractable claws, allowing them to spend much of their time in the trees. They are mostly active at twilight and night.
Once heavily persecuted, these animals have been making a recovery in Scotland. A study in 2012 found that martens have spread into Sutherland and Caithness and into Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Tayside, and Stirlingshire, with some in the Central Belt, on the Kintyre and Cowal peninsulas and on Skye and Mull. Their population expansion has been linked to the reducing numbers of grey squirrels. Grey squirrel numbers decline in areas where they overlap with pine marten populations, allowing red squirrel numbers to increase. This is thought to be due to grey squirrels not having the same danger response to pine martens as red squirrels, and being bigger and less agile, allowing them to be caught more easily.
This #FactFriday we are delving into the life of the hooded crow (Corvus cornix)!
These birds are closely related to the carrion crow and have recently been distinguished from one another. In areas where the species’ overlap, they can form a hybrid species. Hooded crows are found in North and West Scotland and Ireland where there are around 260,000 breeding pairs.
They are omnivorous and will feed on dead animals, stolen eggs, crustaceans, nuts, small birds and mammals. These birds often congregate together in a group known as a “murder”
The Corvid family are among some of the most intelligent birds on Earth and the hooded crow is no exception. These birds have been documented using bread crumbs to catch fish in Israel and similarly, in Norway and Sweden, dragging fishing lines out of water to eat the hooked fish!
This weeks #FactFriday we are diving deeper into the world of the tardigrade belonging to the phylum tardigrada which comprises over 1,100 species!
These little creatures are usually around 1mm long and have a well-formed head and body consisting of 4 segments, each with a pair of feet with claws or suction discs attached.
Tardigrades are commonly found on lichen, mosses, leaf litter and marine and freshwater sediment all over the world. They can live from hot springs in the Himalayas to the Antarctic and have been found to survive in space. While not being classed as extremophiles (due to them entering a state of cryptobiosis, known as a “tun”) they can survive extreme temperatures, pressures, radioactivity and desiccation.
Most tardigrades are plant eaters and feed by piercing a plant cell with their stylets. Some species are carnivores, feeding on bacteria and even other smaller tardigrade species. While most species only live 3-4 months, some can live for up to 2 years.
DNA sequencing revealed tardigrades to have 75-800 mega-base pairs. The genome of the most stress tolerant species, Ramazzottius varieornatus, was sequenced in 2015 who found that ~1.2% of it’s genes were a result of horizontal gene transfer from bacteria. They also found evidence of a damage suppressor gene (Dsup) which was shown to protect against DNA damage from X-ray radiation. When the team then applied the Dsup protein to human cells, it was found to prevent damage of cells to X-ray radiation by around 40%. #tardigrade
This weeks #FactFriday is looking into the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) you can see these birds along the river Clyde and Kelvin where they overwinter along the coast.
These large birds live in freshwater and marine environments. They have a primitive appearance, looking almost reptillian. While their feathers may look black, they actually have a blue/green sheen. Their beak has a sharp hook on the end used for catching fish.
Cormorants are sociable birds and can be spotted in groups resting on rocks together. They have been reported to form colonies of up to 20,000 birds! They hunt in flocks where they will dive up to 10m in pursuit of fish.
Their average lifespan is 11-20 years and are 1 of only 2 species which have been trained by Japanese fisherman to help catch fish.
Cormorants are sometimes confused with shags. They can be differentiated, however, by the more prominent yellow around their face and bigger beak. Shags are also usually only found solitary along the coast while cormorants can be found on the coast or inland and usually stick in groups.
This weeks #FactFriday is focusing on the European sturgeon, Acipenser sturio.
This fish species is classed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to overfishing, poaching, water pollution and destruction of their habitat.
The sturgeon is a large fish with an elongated body and flattened snout with recognisable plates along it’s body. They can grow up to 6 metres and weigh a whopping 400kg, part of their reason for decline is due to their long juvenile phase, they don’t reach sexual maturity until 20 years and can live for over 100 years.
They are found along most European coastlines, and being anadromous, migrate to inland rivers to breed. However, despite this being their distribution, there is only 1 freshwater river left in which they are known to spawn – the Garonne river basin in France.
They feed on molluscs and crustaceans and locate them using barbells on the front of their mouths
Interesting fact: sturgeons are the only species that have diamond shaped pupils!
This week, for #FactFriday we are looking at the Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) !
This bird is Europe’s largest wader and is instantly recognizable by it’s mottled brown upperparts, long legs and a long, downcurved bill. It’s also known as the “whaup” in Scots.
The diet of the Eurasian curlew consists of worms, shellfish and other invertebrates. In the summer they can most commonly be found in upland moors, bogs and wet grassland.
They have high site fidelity, meaning curlew pairs will return to the same area to breed every year. At the end of their breeding season they then head towards the coast and large estuaries where they overwinter.
The UK population of this wader accounts for over one quarter of the global breeding population. However the UK has seen declines of 65% in our national population since the 1970’s and it is now classified as near threatened. Low productivity (chicks don’t hatch/ survive to fledge) is thought to be main cause of UK decline which has been attributed to predation and a reduction in quality of breeding habitat. For this reason the Eurasian curlew is now widely acknowledged to be the UK’s highest bird conservation priority.
They have THE best call of all the waders- definitely worth a listen on YouTube!
This #factfriday we are fueling your insect knowledge with facts about the comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album).
Once only found in the south of England, this butterfly has colonised huge areas of the UK over the past 50 years and now breeds right up to central Scotland.
Their wings are scalloped and are commonly referred to as anglewing butterflies. They have brownish-orange wings with black marks when unfolded. When folded, they resemble a dead leaf and have a white curve on the underside which looks like a comma, hence their name.
Comma caterpillars are camouflaged to resemble bird droppings and are designed to keep predators away.
They have a flexible life cycle and, depending on the weather, some spring and early summer caterpillars develop into butterflies that go straight into hibernation. Others become adults that breed straight away and give rise to a new generation in the autumn.