Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Over 6th July 21 AS/A2 Biology students (and Dr Paul and I) set off to Snowdonia to study ecology as part of the A2 Biology course. 

North Wales

Staying at a Field Studies Council centre in Betws-y-coed, the first evening began with setting Longworth mammal traps (non-lethal) so that we could get an estimate of the population of small mammals in the centre grounds. After dinner we had a bonfire and a game of football on a pretty muddy pitch (it had rained most of the day whilst we travelled) but it was good fun.

The following day we checked our mammal traps before breakfast. Another school had also set mammal traps but they hadn’t gone to such great lengths to conceal them and subsequently the squirrels had raided the traps and eaten all the bait. 

Wood Mouse

Our traps however were untouched, and yielded 4 wood mice and 3 bank voles.

Bank vole

After letting them go we travelled by coach to Morfa Harlech, a nature reserve with a textbook-quality sand dune system. Walking across the dunes from the sea towards the land allowed us to record the changes in plant and animals species and the local environment, highlighting the process of succession. At the end of the dune system is woodland that was once bare sand but over time has been colonised by successive plant communities.

Sand dunes at Morfa Harlech

That evening the students worked in the classroom to process their results, and then we played another game of football.

Sunday saw us travelling to Penmon Point on Anglesey to study a rocky shore.

Penmon Point, with Puffin Island in the distance

Penmon Point

 Starting at the low water mark we moved higher above sea level, recording the changes in types of seaweed and plants, limpets, barnacles and crabs.

Velvet Swimming Crab

 Rocky shores exhibit something called ‘zonation’ – the distribution of the different organisms is heavily influenced by different local environmental conditions.

On the return from Penmon Point we stopped off briefly at Cwm Idwal, a spectacular corrie (bowl-shaped glacial valley) formed by over 2 million years of glaciation.

Cwm Idwal

The glacier is long since gone, although it has left a crystal-clear lake in its place. Cwm Idwal is special for many reasons, but particularly since it is home to the incredibly rare Welsh Tufted Saxifrage, an alpine plant that is a leftover from the time when Britain was much colder just after the last ice age.

Tufted Saxifrage – a survivor from the last Ice Age.

 The plant clings on to life on the cold backwall of the valley where few other plants can survive.

That evening didn’t see any football – instead the students dressed up as pirates and took part in a treasure hunt and then a piratey sing-song around a roaring fire!

Monday was our last day, but the morning was spent collecting invertebrates from a fast-flowing freshwater stream and then looking for a correlation between the different species and the velocity of the water.

A cased caddisfly larvae from a freshwater stream.

After that, we travelled by train back to London – rather tired but having had a really good trip. The students were amazing – they worked so hard, got really enthusiastic about everything and were a credit to themselves. Well done!

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Welcome to part 2 of the Arthropods special, and today I’m giving you a whistle-stop tour of the myriapods. This group includes centipedes and millipedes (as well as a couple of less important relatives), with approximately 12,000 species currently known.

Centipedes and millipedes are common enough if you look through leaf litter or under stones and flowerpots in the garden. What’s the difference between centipedes and millipedes? Well, a common mistake is about the number of legs (i.e. 100 for a centipede and 1000 for a millipede – this isn’t true). The number of legs in a centipede varies between 20 to 300, and in millipedes ranges from 36 to 750.

The easy way to distinguish between a centipede and a millipede is to look for the number of legs per body segment. A centipede has 2 legs per body segment and a millipede has 4 legs per body segment. They also differ in terms of diet – centipedes are active hunters and carnivores whilst millipedes are detritivores (eating decaying leaves).

Centipedes and millipedes are a very successful group, and have been around on the Earth for at least 440 million years. An earlier relative of centipedes and millipedes called Arthropleura lived 300 million years ago and was able to reach lengths of 2.5m. This makes it the largest land invertebrate ever, and could grow this large due to higher concentrations of atmospheric oxygen at the time.

So, here are some interesting photos of centipedes and millipedes from around the world. Enjoy!

Arthropods are great. I love ’em!

What are arthropods, you might be thinking? Well, the term arthropod (from the Greek for ‘jointed foot’) describes organisms that have hard exoskeletons, segmented body and jointed limbs – animals such as insects and spiders.

Arthropods are a remarkably successful group,  tracing their history back to a common ancestor that lived aabout 500 million years ago. Thanks to their hard waterproof exoskeletons they did very well in the sea, and were in fact the first animals on land. They later diversified into at 5 main groups:

  • Myriapods – including centipedes and millipedes
  • Chelicerata – including spiders, scorpions, horseshoe crabs and mites
  • Trilobites – an extinct group of marine animals (looked a bit like woodlice, but weren’t related)
  • Crustaceans – including crabs, lobsters, shrimp, barnacles and woodlice
  • Insects– including ants, bees, beetles and butterflies

    The arthropod family tree

There are at least over 1 million known species, and they make up 80% of all living species (that means if you took 100 random species from anywhere on the Earth, approximately 80 of them would be arthropods). They are incredibly populous – a conservative estimate of the number of insects alone (currently alive) is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 10 quintillion). That’s quite a lot.

So, in celebration of these fascinating and diverse organisms, this is part 1 of 5, each focusing on a different arthropod group. First up is Chelicerata – enjoy!

 

Big Schools Birdwatch 2012

Posted: February 1, 2012 by Mr Bilton in Animals, Biology, Field Work
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Last week every member of Year 7 and 8 took part in the RSPB’s ‘Big Schools Bird Watch’ event. Having placed hand-made bird feeders around the school the previous week, students spent a lesson outside, armed only with a pair of binoculars, a pencil and an ID guide, trying to spot some of the common (and more elusive) birds in the school grounds.

Birdwatch 2012 - The school ground support a large variety of different bird species.

It was certainly an eye opener, and the graph shows the variety of different species seen. The students were recording the maximum number of any given type seen at the same name. As you can see, we’re very lucky to have such biodiversity in the school grounds and we’re looking forward to comparing our results when we participate in the event again, next year.

If you’re interested in finding out about birds, have a look at the RSPB site http://www.rspb.org.uk/.

Nature at Loreto

Posted: January 16, 2012 by tvineloreto in Animals, Biology
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As you stroll from building to building or sit out on the front lawn on a warm sunny day have you ever taken the time to stop and look around at the school grounds. We are blessed with beautiful grounds which are a haven for wildlife. The well established trees, lawns, flowerbeds and new pond provide a wide range of habitats and hidden within is an amazing array of animals, you just need to know where to look.

You cannot have failed to notice the bin-diving squirrels or heard the noisy cackling of the magpies but what else is there to see if you just take the time to look and listen?  We have a large variety of birds visiting or living in our grounds and during the week of 23rd Jan – 28th Jan, students at Loreto will be taking part in the Big Schools Birdwatch organised by the RSPB, an annual event used to collect wildlife data on a national scale.

If you would like to find out more about the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch 2012 or take part in your own survey clink on the link       www.rspb.org.uk

Here are just a few of the birds you might see around Loreto College

The Robin

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

The Robin ( Erithacus rubecula)

Probably the best known British bird, both the male and female have the distinctive red face and breast, white underside and brown plumage. Juveniles are brown. Robins are highly territorial and signal their presence with a beautiful, melodic song.

 They are a gardeners companion, following a gardener to snatch up any worms or insects disturbed whilst they work.  Often spotted in the flowerbeds by the main school entrance

 
 
 

Blackbird

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

A very common sight in parks and gardens. Males are glossy black with a yellow beak and yellow eye-rings,females are brown. They have a rich and beautiful song and sing from high points such as rooftops  and aerials.    A common sight on the school front lawn and by the Mary Ward Block.

 
 
 

Dunnock

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

 Small, with brown plumage but has a greyish hue on the sides of the head and on the breast.

Often mistaken for a sparrow as it is similar in size and colour but Dunnocks have a much slender beak. Seen  in the flowerbeds by the main entrance and in the fenced off area by the pond.

 

Blue Tit

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

 Small, colourful garden bird and a regular visitor to bird tables. It has a distinctive ultramarine cap, wings and tail and a yellow breast. Face is mainly white with a horizontal black line through the eye. Breast is yellow with a small black vertical stripe

 Another gardeners favourite due to its love of small insects and caterpillars. Its acrobatic antics on bird feeders and fat balls make it an entertaining bird to sit and watch.

 Seen throughout the school grounds especially the magnolia trees in front of the school office.

Great

 
Great Tit (Parus major)

 Not to be confused with a blue tit, it is slightly larger and has a black cap which extends down the side of its head as far as the eye socket. It has white cheeks and a yellow breast with a large black central stripe.

 Seen throughout the school grounds.

Mallard

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

 Male has an emerald-green head and blue and white band on wing. Female is predominantly brown but with the same blue and white plumage on the wing.

A spring time visitor to Loreto often seen strolling across the front lawn or taking a nap in the middle of it.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Named after its wonderful song. A medium-sized garden bird with brown plumage and a very characteristic pale breast with v-shaped dark spots on.  Another gardeners friend due to its love of snails. It is common for a thrush to have a preferred “anvil” , a large stone used to smash open the snail shells.

 Seen on the main lawn and in the shrubs along the main school wall.

There are many more species of birds living in our grounds, why not see what you can spot?

The most endangered cat – from Iberia

Posted: January 5, 2012 by Mr Pimentao in Animals, Biology
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Just over 100 animals make up the remaining population of the Iberian Lynx

The loss of their habitat to farming and tourism development in southern Portugal and Spain, added to shortages in rabbit availability due to myxomatosis have brought this species close to extinction.

For 30 years, conservation efforts have managed to save the species from extinction, but it has been very hard to maintain stable breeding populations. Today it is estimated that there are only 38 breeding females in the wild.

Links:

Saving the Endangered Iberian Lynx in Europe – video from National geographic

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) video

WWF