Tag Archive | biology

My words go a little further

In July last year I had an idea. During my time as a full time volunteer with the National Trust at Fyne Court in Somerset  and the Quantock Hills AONB service I carried out a small survey on hazel dormice. I had gathered and analysed some interesting data and wanted to share this with anyone who might like to read it! Having never gone to print in the nature or environmental field, I started looking at possible options. I guessed my survey didn’t merit “scientific peer reviewed” publication status, but was more along the lines of “general interests” to nature lovers.

A sleepy dormouse holds on to my thumb

I got in touch with the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species who run many different protects based around conservation of different species in England. They produce a newsletter twice a year called “The Dormouse Monitor” for people with an interest in dormice and for people who monitor the small mammals.

Dormice are put into plastic bags briefly to be seperated, weighed and sexed

I contacted the editor and explained my situation and I was invited to submit an article with some photos. With some feedback from experienced dormice monitors, Steve and Shelly I put together a piece and sent it off. Six months later…my words are in print, being read (hopefully) by many dormice lovers around England, and maybe further afield!

A family of dormice huddle close together to stay warm

To read the article, visit the PTES website at this link, click “Autumn 2011” and go to page 6. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed collecting the data and getting up close and personal with the adorable dormice!

Dormice enter a semi hibernation (torpor) during cold or wet periods during the breeding season

It’s not a hedgehog….

Today I spent a few hours in a less than wild place – the ecology section of the Southern Denmark University library. Usually I like to explore the wonders of nature first hand, see and hear it unfold in front of me. Today, my adventure was different, less “up close and personal” and more “remote access” but very enjoyable. Browsing the shelves I picked up a book which at first glance appeared to be about hedgehogs (right). The title  immediately caught my attention. I had never seen or heard of this strange animal (so I thought!) and was curious to find out more!


Echidna are small mammals with long snouts and small black eyes. The body is  covered in spines and fur. Echidna have short limbs, the front limbs have a broad claw designed for digging. Back limbs are smaller with a long curved second claw used for grooming. Echidna are part of the monotreme order which also includes the platypus (below).


Monotremes are unusual as they are mammals which lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. There are two types of echidna, the short-beaked (Tachyglossus aculeatus) seen above and long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni).  The short beaked echidna is found across Australia and in New Guinea. The long beaked is listed as endangered (IUNC) and can only be found in New Guinea.

Echidna (also known as spiny anteater) have no teeth. The short beaked echidna dines on ants and termites with the ability to extend its tongue up to 18cm to reach its prey (left).  The long beaked echidna prefers earthworms and has a specialised groove in it’s tongue designed to catch it’s wriggling prey.

After waking from hibernation (February-June) echidna mate between June and September. During courtship the normally solitary echidna gather together and numerous males (up to 11) will follow a single female in a train for days in order to win her attention. After mating an egg the size of a grape, cream in colour with a leathery exterior is incubated in a pouch on the underside of the females abdomen for around 10 days.

The tiny echidna is born without spines, weighing 0.3-0.4g and feeds from special mammary glands on the inside of the pouch. In the safety of the pouch the young feed on nutritious milk from the mother and grow rapidly. The young are evicted from the pouch after 45-50 days once they start to develop spines (that has to be painful!). The female digs a burrow underground to protect her young and between feeds seals her young in the burrow to protect it from predators. After about 5 and a half months the young emerge.

After my trip to the library I wanted to find out more and a quick internet search lead me to realise I had technically come across this strange and wonderful critter before. Anyone who is old enough to remember Sonic the Hedgehog will remember Knuckles. The charachter who was both sonics enemy and friends was based on an echidna (not instantly recognisable!)

Unfortunatly I couldn’t afford a trip down under to take my own pictures so this is a list of the resources I used to source some shots.

1. Amazon.co.uk

2. http://oz.plymouth.edu/~cplamprey/CSDI1200/homepage.html

3. http://www.learnanimals.com/platypus/platypus-pictures.php

4. http://dennyyap.blogspot.com/2007/06/echidnas-i-love-them.html

5. http://wheatbeltbiodiversity.blogspot.com/p/wheatbelt-biodiversity-fauna.html

6. http://fcms.its.utas.edu.au/scieng/zoo/researchareasdetails.asp?lSchoolResearchAreaID=45

7. http://megahipersuperflipasonic.blogspot.com/2010/06/knuckles.html

Free food – my favourite!

The last few weeks have been filled with one of my favorite activities – foraging for free food! It has mainly revolved around mushrooms, but I have found other foods including acorns, beech nuts and apples. Collecting wild mushrooms is an activity I do very cautiously. Last year I attended a mushroom walk on the Quantocks and became comfortable identifying a few tasty mushrooms.

This year I attended another talk organised by the biology society in the Southern University of Denmark. I recommend this method as an introduction to wild shrooms. You have an expert on hand to quiz and help you identify the ones you want in your pan and the ones you want to leave to the slugs. The experts will also bring you to the best spots where a good variety will be found.

There are other resources which can assist in your mushroom ID if you can’t make it to an organised talk/walk or you want to add to your knowledge afterwards. If you are interested in buying a book, the Rodger Phillips book “Mushrooms” is an excellent book with great photos to guide you. It is rather large and not the type of book you could easily bring into the woods with you, so a smaller field guide could also be helpful.

To add to that there are some nice on-line keys which can help you figure out what it is you have found and whether it’s safe to eat. Two I’ve tried and found useful are http://www.mycokey.org and http://www.rogersmushrooms.com. On the mycokey site there is a nice picture key where you can input the various characteristics of your mystery mushroom to help narrow down what it could be.

You can input colours, size, texture, shape and at the end you get a list of suggestions with photographs and detailed information. It’s very simple and doesn’t require any previous knowledge. If I want to ID a mushroom, I take a sample home and have it close by to help identify the various parts, colours and shapes. Detailed photos can also be helpful.

The second site is similar but does require some understanding of the terms used to describe the different parts and shapes. The Rogers site has a large number of different photos of the mushrooms which is very helpful and you can also upload your own photos to the site to assist in ID. There are also mushroom recipes and a forum where you can post questions.

While out foraging in the local beech woods near Odense we came across a beautiful purple mushroom which I hadn’t seen before and wanted to ID. We took some photos in the forest and I took a sample home to investigate. I used the on-line ID sites and a Danish book figure it out.

I compared the colours, size, shape and eventually I was able to identify it Laccaria amethystea (edible, but probably not worth the hassle, it’s very small!). A big thank you to Rasmus for letting me use some of his beautiful photos for this blog!