Animal Fact File: Golden Eagle

The scientific name for the golden eagle is ‘Aquila Chrysaetos’. The golden eagle is one of the most adaptable birds of prey in the world, they have lived on for millions on this planet and remain the most successful and widespread bird of prey in Northern Hemisphere. The golden eagle can be seen across much of Asia, small parts of Europe (with the most sightings in Spain), areas of Scotland, parts of North Africa and much of the North American continent.

The golden eagle can thrive in the following habitats:

1) Woodland

2) Grassland

3) Meadows

4) Mountainous Regions

5) Tundra

The golden eagle has many features which enable it to be a successful hunter, these adaptations include:

1) They are agile and swift flyers which mean they are capable of targeting fast prey and coping with sudden twists and turns.

2) Many golden eagles have a wingspan of around 1.9 m and long feathers on their wings; this allows the animal to stay airborne for extended periods of time while they search for prey.

3) Excellent eyesight – The golden eagle has binocular vision which enables them to detect prey from up to 3 miles away.

4) The golden eagle has sharp, non retractable claws which allow them to capture and kill their prey quickly and easily, this prevents the animal from suffering any injuries.

5) Large, Powerful wings – These enable the golden eagle to reach speeds of a staggering 110 mph when chasing prey.
The golden eagle has been persecuted for centuries across Europe particularly in the UK. In the past people thought that the golden eagle would often attack and kill poultry, game birds and even livestock. Due to the golden eagle’s large size and immense power it is more than capable of attacking and in rare occasions killing grey wolves, they have also been used in falconry.

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There are 6 known subspecies of golden eagle throughout its range; each varies slightly in colour and size. The subspecies that inhabits the British Isles is known as ‘Aquila Chrysaetos Chrysaetos’.

The golden eagle feed on a wide variety of prey (around 380 species have been known to fall prey) these include:

1) Rabbits

2) Brown Hares

3) Small mammals such as squirrels

4) Waterfowl

5) Young deer

6) Game birds (however they prefer to hunt grouse and pheasants)

7) On rare occasions they will attack livestock if food is scarce

8) They will even attack and kill foxes however they only compose of around 10% o their diet, however this varies depending on where they live.

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About 70% of the golden eagle’s diet consists of mammals. Golden eagles are ambush hunters and will often dive towards their prey in the hope it will catch its chosen target.

The golden eagle has declined from much of its original range in the UK and Europe, once they could found throughout these regions now only small, isolated populations remain and these are shrinking … fast! Golden eagles often find it challenging to adapt in a human environment, although some have managed to survive and even thrive in spite of it. There have been projects to reintroduce the golden eagle back into Scotland, there are now 800 individual golden eagles and the population is slowly increasing. The golden eagle has even begun to reclaim some of its lost territory in Europe.

Thank you for reading.

Plant Fact File: The Cactus

The cactus has a scientific name of ‘Cactaceae’. The largest cactus species in the world is the ‘Pachycereus Pringlei’ which can reach about 19 meters in height. The smallest cactus in the world is the ‘Blossfeldia Liliputina’ which only reaches a few centimetres in height. The cactus spends much of its time staying dormant; as soon as it begins to rain the plant will relish the opportunity by growing, flowering and storing as much water as possible.

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The cactus has many adaptations these include:

1) Thick waxy cuticle (coating) across the cactus – A cactus has a thick waxy coating to significantly reduce the water loss.

2) Thick, folded stem – A cactus has a thick, folded stem so, that the cactus can store as much water as possible in the stem during short periods of damp weather.

3) Spines instead of leaves – Cactuses have spines instead of leaves to reduce water loss and to protect it from desert herbivores.

4) A stem that is capable of carrying out photosynthesis – As the cactus’s leaves have become spines the cactus has evolved, to allow its stem to be able to carry out the process of photosynthesis.

5) Long roots – The roots of a cactus is thick and long means that the cactus can send out its root deep into the ground and spread out to maximise the chance of obtaining some water in the dry and tough desert soil.

6) CH4 – Unlike other plants the cactus can open its stomata (small pores on the stem or left) during the night in order to store as much carbon dioxide and remove as much oxygen as possible in order to enable photosynthesis to take place. When the stomata are open the plant will lose vast amounts of water over a short space of time, to combat this, the cactus has evolved to open its stomata during the night and keep them closed during the day, and this helps to dramatically reduce water loss. Other plants are CH3 which means they can only open their stomata during the day while the are photosynthesising.

Facts about the cactus include:

1) There are over 2000 species of cacti.

2) Cactuses are native to the Americas (from the southern tip of South America to Western Canada). However, there is an exception to this rule the ‘Rhipsalis Baccifera’ which can be found in many parts of Africa, small pockets of India and Sri Lanka. This plant believed to have came from the Western Hemisphere as a result of birds eating the seeds from this cactus and then expelling them once they arrived to Africa and India.

3) There are around 1750 different species of cacti. Depending on the species a cactus’ spines can be very fragile.

4) A large saguaro cactus which has a scientific name of ‘Camegiea Gigantea’ is capable of storing a staggering 50 litres of water in a single rainfall.

5) Also a large saguaro cactus will only lose a mere glass of water in a single day, while an apple tree in the UK can loss a whole bath full of water in the same amount of time.

6) It is very possible for 90% of the mass of a cactus is water.

Some cactus species are vitally important for wildlife for example the cactus wren only makes its nests inside or on a cactus. Cactuses are pollinated by butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds. An interesting fact is the hummingbird is capable of beating its wings up to 90 times every second. The cactus is a relatively useful plant as it is a very hardy and adaptable plant is can be grown for commercial use so it can be eaten and given to livestock (once the spines are removed). They can also be used to make medicine.

Thank you for reading.

Animal Fact File: Eurasian Sparrowhawk

The scientific name for the Eurasian Sparrowhawk is ‘Accipiter nisus’. The sparrow hawk gets its name not because it eats sparrows, but because a staggering 96% of its diet consists of other birds. The sparrow hawk is a highly successful bird of prey and can be seen throughout Europe (including Britain), many parts of Asia and small areas of North Africa.

The sparrow hawk is very adaptable and can be seen in many environments such as:

1) Farmland

2) Grassland

3) Urban areas

4) Woodland which have different tree species

5) Meadows

6) Parks

In this species the female is around 20% larger than the male. Due to this size difference the male sparrow hawk will often take smaller birds such as buntings, tits and finches. The female sparrow hawk preys on large birds such as blackbirds, doves and pigeons. However if there are not many birds around the sparrow hawk will target small mammals, amphibian, reptiles and even bats to supplement their diet.

Breeding occurs in February seen after nest building; the nest is usually 70 cm in diameter and is made of sticks and plant matter. Around 5 eggs are laid which are bluish in colour and have brown specks, these hatches within 32 days; the chicks are cared for by both parents however the male will provide most of the food for the female while she is incubating the eggs. The chicks will fledge after around 26 days. Less than 35% of fledged chicks will survive their first winter, while adults have a survival rate of 70% for each passing year.

Facts about sparrow hawks include:

1) Around 125 species of birds have known to be become prey for sparrow hawks from tits to pheasants.

2) Female sparrow hawks are often 45% heavier than males, this means that when the male tries to impress the female he is very wary as the female can injure if not kill him.

3) Sparrow hawk populations are maintained by the number of prey items that are available not the other way around.

4) In the 1960s a pesticide known as DDT was used which caused horrific declines for the species across the UK.

5) Many young sparrow hawks will often nest within 25km of where they hatched.

6) The female sparrow hawk can survive for around 7 days without food, while the smaller male can only survive a mere 3 days.

7) Female sparrow hawks have a longer life expectancy than males, they can live for 10 years, while the male can only live for 8 years.

8) Sparrow hawks became a protected species in the UK during the early 1960s.

9) The female is heavily dependent on the male to provide her with extra food so that she can produce eggs.

10) Sparrow hawks will often eat their prey while they are still alive.

There are around 6 different subspecies of sparrow hawks; the one that inhabits the UK is ‘Accipiter nisus nisus’. The sparrow hawk is a highly successful predator and can take one third of young great tit and less than 30% of adult blue tits. There are often false reports that sparrow hawks are causing the decline of Britain’s song bird, this is completely untrue, the lack of nesting sites and limited food resources play a major factor. However people will often go and illegally kill sparrow hawks for this rather poor reason.

The sparrow hawk continues to thrive throughout its range despite persecution from game keepers and farmers. The sparrow hawk is vitally important at maintaining the balance of the ecosystem as they prevent the numbers of their prey from growing too large.

Thanks for reading.

The Puma: Successful predator or on the brink of extinction?

The scientific name for the puma is ‘Felis Concolor’. The puma has more than 40 different names in the English language alone (more than any other mammal in the world).

These names include:

1) Catamount

2) Cougar

3) Mountain Lion

4) Panther

5) Red Tiger

6) Puma

Part of the reason why the puma has so many names is that it is widely distributed throughout the Americas; they are also the most widespread mammal in the whole of the Western hemisphere. Each name given to the puma is unique to the area where it was named. Due to this large distribution there are believed to be 7 different subspecies of puma, each with a slightly different colour and size.

The puma can survive in almost any habitat, these include:

1) Freezing coniferous forests in Southern Canada (where temperatures plummet to as low as -25 degrees Celsius.

2) Hot, dry deserts in Mexico and Southern USA.

3) Lush, green tropical rainforests in the Amazon.

4) To mountainous terrain in the tip of South America.

The puma has an excellent sense of hearing and eye sight meaning that it can detect prey from up to 2 miles away in total darkness. The puma has very large paws compared to its body size; this is an evolutionary adaptation which means the puma can cling onto the prey animal that it attacking. The puma is a very strong and powerful animal. An interesting fact is that 80% of the entire body mass of male pumas is pure muscle, while in females it is around 70%. The puma is a solitary hunter and is often found alone.

The puma weighs in at an average of around 110 kg and reach 9 feet in length. The puma can reach speeds of 50 mph and maintain that for at least 1.5 km. The puma can jump vertically up to 4 meters in the air and catapult themselves forward meaning they can cover up to 20 meters in a single bound. The puma is a very efficient predator and it has a hunting success rate of 83% its rival the wolf averages a mere 10%. The puma will always target the neck of the animal it is attacking by doing this it kill the prey item very quickly, because of this the puma can bring down animals that weigh 5 times more than themselves. All these characteristics have helped to assure that the puma is the most successful predator in the Western hemisphere.

Apart from humans the cougar has no natural predators. However it will often compete fiercely against its enemies. The puma is a superbly adaptable animal and this has proved to be a major advantage when tackling ‘human encroachment’. As humans reduce the amount of land available to the puma, they often have to retreat into difficult mountainous terrain; however its adaptability insures the survival of the species in the wild. In fact the puma can tolerate much higher levels of ‘human encroachment’ than its rivals meaning that it has a major advantage over its competitors.

The puma’s rivals are:

1) The American Brown Bear (also known as the grizzly bear).

2) The American Black Bear.

3) The American Gray Wolf.

In some cases the puma’s enemies will try to steal a kill; however they only usurping only 20% of the puma’s kills. The puma will often try to kill its rivals to eliminate the excess competition and to provide safer environments for their cubs. A single litter will have around 5 cubs which are born blind and completely helpless. Their eyes fully open at 3 weeks of age. They stay with their mothers for 1 – 2 years learning how to hunt.

Attacks on humans are rare, but still occur, however the majority were caused as these animals were provoked and some of these attack were … fatal. Despite the decline of the puma over the past century the animal is still thriving across the Americas. It is capable of surviving in some of the hostile regions on the planet making it the successful and numerous mammals in the western hemisphere.

Thanks for reading!

Are Big Cats In the UK?

Big cats have been reported to inhabit the British countryside. The main known reason how these animals came to Britain is that many owners of these exotic animals chose to release them due to the introduction of the ‘Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976’. The first sighting of these creatures date as far back as the 18th where a well known writer (William Cobbett) believed he saw a mid-sized cat climbing a tree.

Throughout the 19th century there are increasing reports, sightings and evidence for these creatures inhabiting the British Isles. In 1991 a European lynx was shot in Norfolk due to killing over 10 sheep in a very small amount of time. However the issue was just reported in 2003 as the farmer thought that he had shot an endangered species. In 1993 a leopard was shot in the ‘Isle of Wright’ for killing livestock. In 2001 a lynx was captured in North London and taken into London Zoo. It was then discovered to be under 2 years of age.

In June 2006 a video was taken of a large black cat (possibly a panther) in the rural areas of Aberdeenshire. In mid 2009 a video was taken of a large black cat that was walking next to railway line in Argyll, it is apparent that big cats with dark colours have been reported on several occasions before. In 2010 a video footage was taken of a 5 foot black cat in Gloucestershire.

There have been very few attacks from big cats on people in Britain. There are 2 well known big cat attacks on people. In 2000 a young boy was attacked by what appears to be a black panther in South Wales. This evidence for big cats living in the UK is unique because is yields physical impressions, the attack left him with 5 claw marks on the left side of his face.

There has been some DNA evidence which confirms the existence of the ‘British big cats’. In 2011 DNA testing which was done by Durham University shows that a leopard was living in Northern Devon.

These creatures feed on roe deer, fallow deer, sika deer, and young deer. They will also target birds, rabbits and small mammals. There have been several reports of big cats killing livestock however this happens only in extreme cases such as poor weather, lack of natural prey or the animal is injured. The species of big cats that inhabit Britain are the leopard, the Black Panther (which accounts to the majority of reports); the puma (where 30% of sightings fit its description), Jaguar, Lynx, Ocelot, Jungle cat and even lions have been reported.

The Puma and the Black Panther are the most commonly reported cats in the UK there is also reports of a big cat that is completely unique to Britain and unknown to science however there is very little information on this particular species. The Puma is by far going to be one of the successful cats in the UK (please note the puma is classified as a small cat this is because it can purr and it is more closely related to small felines rather than big cats). The puma is highly adaptable and can easily survive in the UK. One reason why the large felines have been so successful in the UK is that there is a wide abundance of prey and there is very little competition for food and territory.

These animals must be breeding in the UK, many big cats live no more than 20 years in captivity, however there have been sighting since the 1970s. Between 2004 to 2005 there have been around 18 reports of big cats with cubs which is evidence that these creatures are breeding.

These animals do provide their advantages, these include:

1) Controlling deer populations

2) Encourage people to come to Britain (if they become more numerous) which will fuel the economy.

3) The lynx was once native to Britain, the fact that it is amongst many reports suggests that it can be re-introduced back into the UK. It also means that there could already be small breeding populations throughout the British Isles.

These creatures will only attack if corned so it is advisably that a reasonable amount of space is given if you decide to look for these animals. There have been a few reports of big cats growling at people, this meant that the cat was corned and had no where to escape. They growl to intimidate people so they back away giving an opportunity for the cat to escape.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and please leave a comment if you wish.

The Decline of the European Honey bee

The European honeybee has continued to suffer a very steep decline around the world (particularly in the USA as well as the UK).

The main causes for the decline of the European honeybee in the UK are:

1) Colony Collapse Disorder
2) Varroa Mite
3) European Foul Brood
4) American Foul Brood (also known to strike be in North America)
5) Farmers spraying insecticides (chemicals) on their crops

honey-bee_2507512b (The honey bee has suffered horrific declines in recent years around the world, the bees seem to have been struck down by the mysterious disease ‘colony collaspe disorder’. Some scientists even think that mobile phones have contributed to this decline as the electrical signals could interfer with the bee’s navigation system).

1) Colony collapse disorder is an ‘unknown’ disease, which means bees fail to store enough food for the winter or many worker bees fail to return to the hive which causes enormous problems because without the large number of worker bees in the hive means that the few bees in the hive are unable to feed the rest of the hive members and as a result they starve.

2) The varroa mite is a parasitic invertebrate that is native to Asia and the Middle East. The European honeybee originated from India and lived along side their Asian cousins (the Asiatic honeybee). However, 8500 years ago the European honeybee migrated to Europe due to climate change, availability of food and the predators that lived with them. The European honeybee has not only survived but thrived in Europe for thousands of years, until recently. In the 1950s beekeepers from Asia introduced the Asiatic honeybee (Apis Cerana) into Europe and Britain however they could survive the winters and were out-competed by the European cousins.

Unfortunately the varroa mite started to infest European hives which has caused substantial problems as the bees have no immunity to them. The varroa mite mainly targets young bees, but will sometimes feed from adult bees’ particularly in autumn and winter. When the varroa mite feeds on a host (the honeybee) it ‘sucks’ out body fluids and injects a deadly virus into the bee meaning that it quickly dies within days of being infected.

3) European and American foul brood are very similar; however American foul brood is causing serious problems. European and American foul brood is caused by a fungus that grows and feeds on the bee larvae, causing them to die and rot while still developing.

4) Spraying insecticides (chemicals) on agricultural crops might be good at keeping pests away from the crops, but what good is it when it kills off most if not all the useful pollinating insects that is helping us to make money. An interesting fact is that the services provided by pollinating insects (including honeybees) is valued at over £600 million of trade each year in the UK alone.
Even if the insecticide is weak, it will build up inside the body of the honeybee, which the concentration reaches so high that the bee dies as the insecticide poisons its blood.

Another weakness in the European honeybee is that Africanised honeybees do something that is rarely seen in the insect world, they trick the bees guarding the hive into thinking they are part of the hive, once inside they will kill the queen exchange it with their queen (this only happens in the USA).

There is yet another very serious threat to the European honeybee is the introduction of the Asian hornet (Vespa Velutina). Although the European honeybee can repel the attack of European hornets they are quite unable to defend the hive from an invasion of Asian hornets. (The Asian hornet does not currently inhabit the British Isles, however there are fears that the hornet will simply fly over the English Channel from France). The Asian hornet is a major predator of pollinating insects and it’s favourite food is the honeybee. If this hornet arrives to the UK it is very likely that it will cause the numbers of pollinating insects to drop dramatically over a short period of time which will affect food production adversely.

 (The Asian hornet orginates from Southern and Southeast Asia. It was accidently introduced into Europe by the importing of flower pots now it has adapted swiftly to the European climate and are spreading rapidly. They now inhabit much of France, Western Germany and parts of Northern Spain, where they wreck havoc by attacking the hives of honey bees. They is major concern that this species will be able to fly across the English Channel as they can now be found in the Northern coasts of France. This hornet could also arrive by importing plants and building materials).

The loss of honeybees is so vitally important because we heavily rely on bees to pollinate over 60% of our own food. We are very lucky that wildlife around the world (including honeybees) do many useful jobs for free because if we did everything artificially that wildlife does free we would not have a single penny to spend on anything else. Another interesting fact is that food (fruits and vegetables) that are pollinated by insects such as bees and butterflies are worth a staggering £50 billion of trade each and every single year, there is no way we can afford to lose this kind of trade.

Also if bees fail to pollinate fruit, vegetables and berries because of their dwindling numbers then many animal species will starve themselves into extinction. Many of Britain’s much loved birds are in a very serious decline partly due to limited food sources, these birds include: Siskins, bullfinches, song thrush and willow warblers are just a few of the species suffering from food shortages.

We can prevent the further decline of the honeybee in the following ways:

1) Farmers to reduced spraying their crops using insecticides (farm organically).

2) For beekeepers to breed hardy and disease resistant strains of the European honey bee.

3) For more people to start beekeeping.

Over recent years it seems that the decline of the honey bee along with other species of pollinating insects such as bumble bees and butterflies will continue. However honey bee numbers have recovered slightly. A third interesting fact is that there used to be 25 species of bumble bee in the UK, now 23 species remain, most of which are rare. Only 7 species out of the 23 are widespread. There has been a reintroduction of the short-haired bumble bee which was last seen in Britain in the 1980s, since the reintroduction it seems to be surviving well.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and please leave comments below if you wish.

Should large predators be re-introduced back into the UK?

The UK was once home to some of the largest predators in Europe, the European grey wolf, the Lynx and the European brown bear once thrived here.

The European gray wolf (also known as Canis Lupus) can reach 150 cm in length and weigh at least 25 kg. They once inhabited woodlands and mountain ranges where they hunted red and roe deer. The wolf suffered persecution from farmers for centuries until the it died out in England during the 1670s. However the European gray wolf continued to survive in the Scottish Highlands until the 1740s where they were hunted to extinction in the British Isles. The European gray wolf can still be seen in Eastern and Southern Europe.

The Lynx (also known as Felis Lynx) grows up to 135 cm in length and weighs between 21 – 30 kilograms. They once thrived in densely wooded areas and mountainous terrain, on which it preyed on roe deer, hares and birds. The lynx died out in the UK during the early part of the 11th century due to constant persecution from farmers, reduction in prey and habitat loss. The lynx still inhabits Southeast Europe and are now being re-introduced to parts of Western Europe and much of Asia. An interesting fact – A lynx needs to eat at least 2 kilograms of meat a day just to survive.

The European brown bear (also known as Ursus Arctos) can reach 2.1 meters in length and weigh in at around 250 – 300 kilograms. They once could be seen in rural areas such as woodland and grassland with rivers and streams. The brown bear is an omnivore and will hunt deer and birds, but will also feed on fish, fruits, berries and honey, however less than 20% of its diet consists of meat. The European brown still survives in Russia, Northern Spain, Southern France, Italy and other areas of Northern Europe.

The advantages of re-introducing large predators back into Britain are:

1) The bear, the lynx and the wolf once thrived here until they died out primarily due to human activities, so the ethical approach would be to put these animals back where they belong.

2) Secondly, many people leave the UK to visit countries that still have these predators wouldn’t it be cheaper for those people to simply see these animals in the UK?

3) Thirdly, deer populations have skyrocketed over the last few decades and are causing an immense amount of damage to the ecosystems and agriculture. The UK government spends a staggering £2 million each year to simply control their numbers, and this is not enough. By re-introducing predators back into Britain this would mean that deer numbers can be controlled without wasting an enormous amount of money.

The disadvantages for re-introducing large predators back into he UK are:

1) They could have the potential to attack livestock and this could cripple food production. An interesting fact – Apparently, brown bear will kill as many as 50 sheep in a single night! There is no place in the UK that can afford these substantial losses.

2) Also there is serious concern whether these predators will pose a threat to humans and the answer inevitably is yes. There have been reports of wolves and bears attacking humans. However there have been very little information on lynx human attacks, maybe we can only re-introduce the lynx back into Britain.

I am in favour of the re-introduction of large predators back into the UK as this help strengthen our crippled economy. If you wish to comment please do so.

Thank you for reading!