Writes for Wildlife

celebration and protection of the natural world

Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata)

The Colorardo Potato Beetle is a fascinating insect, and although it is not native to the UK, I once found one, and that event, and all that followed inspired this post.

Colorado Potato Beetles are striking in appearance, around the size and shape of a ladybird but the wing cases have alternating black stripes with bands of orange or yellow, running along their length. There are usually 5 black stripes on each wing case and this gives rise to its other name: the ten-striped spearman.

Colorado beetle identifiaction: from top eggs, adult beetle & larvae. Taken from UNECE Guide to Seed Potato Diseases, Pests and Defects. (Can be found here).

This distinctive little beetle is native to Mexico, and the southern US including the state of Colorado. It is primarily seen as a pest by humans, as it feeds voraciously, breeds vigorously and is commonly resistant to pesticides. The food plants of choice are, as the name suggests, are potato crops. However these beetles also feed on tomato and aubergine plants and a native crop called the ‘buffalo bur’. A heavy beetle infestation can cause significant damage to the plant and may even defoliate an entire crop.

So why I am writing about a little stripy Mexican beetle? We do not have Potato beetles in the UK, we do however have a lot of potatoes. Potato crops are a large part of the farming industry in the UK. Over 6 Million tonnes were produced in 2017. (Reference)

 The beetles can breed up to three new generations during one potato growing season, and therefore one beetle can quickly become hundreds. The threat of potato beetles arriving in the UK is real, and thus they are a Notifiable species.

What does notifiable mean?

If you find a potato beetle in the UK you are legally required to notify the government. This is what happened to us. I found a potato beetle in a packet of spinach leaves. The amazing thing about this is that we even knew it was a potato beetle. I love wildlife and the natural world, but I won’t pretend that I can identify, on sight, every species of beetle from around the world. The kids have a board game called bug bingo*, and one of the ‘bugs’ on the board is a potato beetle, so even the kids recognised it immediately when we found it.

Colorado Beetle on my thumb.

The spinach leaves had come from Spain, so I did a little googling and it was only then that I discovered that they are a notifiable pest in the UK. Having worked as a vet in the UK shortly after the Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak, and BSE, I was aware of notifiable diseases but I had never reported an insect before!

These beetles are hardy. I mean really tough. The one I had was still alive and crawling around despite having been refrigerated, and enclosed in a bag for days.

When I notified the government, at my local office in Perth, by email. I sent a photo and asked what to do next. The office sent down a member of staff to identify and collect the beetle and remove it. He told me that these beetles, despite originating in warm tropical and temperate climates, can actually withstand freezing. Specimens have been stored in the freezer and yet quite happily started walking around again after defrosting. This is what makes it such a threat to the UK potato crop. Beetles which ravage potato plants, can produce numerous offspring, may be resistant to pesticide and can also survive our colder winter weather could cause a serious problem. The best way to protect against them is to prevent them coming into the country.

Biosecurity is so important and the potato beetle is just one example. We import many food stuffs from the continent that may carry a beetle. It can occur with any of the usual crops on which potato beetles feed, but also on crops sown in a field which grew potatoes in a previous season.

The beetles mate before overwintering in the earth, this means that a female emerging from the soil in spring is likely to already be carrying viable eggs, and able to lay them when she locates a host plant. So it only takes one female carrying eggs to get in to the UK to establish a colony, hence the vigilance.  

If you find a Colorado beetle, in the UK, you must notify the government. I have attached the relevant contact details here, along with an identification guide, just in case.

*Our family enjoys ‘Bug Bingo‘ and would recommend it, particularly if you have budding entomologists in your house. Easy enough for younger ones to play and enjoyable enough for the whole family together.

Litter in Larbert & the Threat to Wildlife – Let’s Work Together

There is a brand new business in Larbert and Stenhousemuir – a Tim Hortons coffee shop. There are several upsides to this. It replaces the dilapidated and abandoned McCowan’s factory which was an eyesore in the middle of town. Tim Hortons provides new jobs and business for the local area, as well as somewhere for people to meet socially. And, of course, there is coffee. If you are a coffee lover you will grasp the enormity of that last benefit. I am a coffee fan and would hate to deprive anyone of their dose of happiness in a cup either, but there is something that concerns me.

The New Coffee Shop, busy with customers.

Larbert and Stenhousemuir have a litter problem. A big problem. I pick up litter every time I go out of my house, and my kids often follow suit. Sometimes one item, sometimes several, but there is always something rolling around on the pavement to put in the bin or recycle.

Did you know that a Falkirk Council employee comes every afternoon, to collect the litter dropped after Larbert High School lunch break? I didn’t until I spoke to him recently. This is every (school) day. Every day there is so much litter dropped in our town that it has become necessary for there to be a designated person for picking it up. Invariably, the wind whips some of it away, and it is impossible for him to collect it all. Falkirk Council have provided numerous bins between the school and the town centre, at least 4 within a 0.5km stretch, and more in the centre itself. Still, there is litter.

There is litter all along the main streets & blowing around the car parks. There is commonly litter in the Scottish Wildlife Trust site, the Carron Dams. The Dams borders the High School property, and I regularly see numerous plastic bottles floating in the bodies of water. The Carron Dams is unique wetland habitat and a Wildlife Reserve, so this is of particular concern. I wonder how many fewer plastic bottles would be floating in the ponds at Carron Dams if there was a deposit return scheme in the school or town centre. There is always rubbish along the Lade path, and despite massive efforts to clear up and signs posted to keep it clean, here is a picture I took last week……

Litter in the Lade, between Larbert and Stenhousemuir.
In just a few short weeks, many common frogs will be arriving to spawn here.

My concern with Tim Hortons opening, and especially because it has a drive through, is that the numbers of single-use cups, lids, stirrers and boxes, would increase dramatically and that inevitably, some would end up as litter.

It didn’t take long. During opening week in December I saw the first festive Tim Hortons cup blowing around, discarded in the gutter.

The benefits of replacing a dilapidated old factory site with a shiny, new thriving business are detracted from if we have to wade through drifts of litter to enjoy it. Litter is of course, not purely a cosmetic concern, (although I don’t know who actually enjoys living in, and looking at litter), and not the main reason I am writing here. The primary concern for me is one of sustainability, wildlife safety and plastic pollution.

Wildlife are harmed by litter, and so it follows the more litter around, the more damage inflicted on our native species. Eventually this can lead to a reduction in wildlife numbers or diversity. Wildlife is essential for our health and well-being, whether we are aware of it or not. The Falkirk area is also lucky enough to have several waterways, rivers and canals. Not only wonderful natural environments which we can enjoy but essential wildlife habitats too. Waterways flow to the sea carrying any rubbish they contain which arrived on the wind. There is increasing information available about the devastating problems that marine plastics cause for wildlife,  and something we should all make ourselves aware of.

Animals can become entangled or trapped in litter, causing painful injuries and sometimes death. Litter mistaken for food may be consumed, which can fill the digestive tracts of animals who then slowly die of starvation, unable to digest or pass the foreign objects. There is some information here, on the RSPCA site about the damage litter can cause and ways to dispose of waste to keep wildlife safe.

We have a surprising number of wildlife species in our local area, despite being mostly urban and somewhat industrial. To benefit from all that nature brings us, we need to be aware and take care of it. Together we can make a huge difference for the benefit of each other as well as our wildlife. Simple tasks, when carried out by many, can have a huge impact.

What can we do?

Next time you go out for a coffee, dispose of your cup responsibly. If possible, take your own cup or flask for the baristas to fill. Maybe pick up a bottle or can or crisp packet if you see one while you are out enjoying our local nature spots. Pehaps even carry a bag just for this purpose. Educate others about litter, the harm it can cause wildlife and how to use the council recycling schemes. We must also question the necessity for plastic single-use items every time they are offered to us, and make every effort to seek alternatives.

Let’s support our local businesses and enjoy our wonderful natural spaces. Let’s look after each other and the environment, one coffee cup at a time.


Dippers

(Cinclus cinclus)

On a recent trip to Mull, I was lucky enough to spot a dipper and spend some time watching while it splashed around vigorously on a semi-submerged stick. It was so engrossed that I managed to get close enough to get some video footage. I rarely manage to take video, as I only have an (ancient) iPhone, and I need to be very close for anything to be clearly visible or worth sharing, so I was pleased to get the clip to share with you.

Dipper Splashing around on Aros Loch

Dippers are one of my favourite birds, they are so distinctive and have made some remarkable adaptations to maximise the benefits from their chosen habitats. They are fairly common in the UK, with around 6,000-18,000 breeding pairs, and there are many places to see them. They are uniquely adapted to their habitats, and although some of the locations may be out of the way, if you know the dipper’s requirements you can always keep an eye open. The habitats of preference for dippers are fast flowing, fresh water streams and rivers, usually with mature trees nearby.

Dippers are distinctive in appearance with dark backs, wings and tails, contrasting with a bright white bib. They are wren like in shape with a jaunty cocked tail, but they are larger at about 18cm long. Called dippers because of the bouncy, bobbing motion they make while perching, often on a rock. In fact, a rock near or in the water with white droppings on it, is a good sign that you are in a dipper’s habitat.

Dippers tend to fly along watercourses, almost exclusively over the water itself. They use very fast wing beats and stay close to the water’s surface. They are solitary in nature. When I have seen them in the past it has usually been a glimpse of something dark moving fast over the surface of the water which draws the eye, then if I have been lucky, it will stop and bob briefly on a rock nearby, before submerging or flying off further up or downstream.

Dippers have some unique abilities and physical traits which allow them to maximise the use of their watery territory. While some sea birds dive into water to hunt, and penguins can swim supremely well underwater, the dipper masters both of these techniques, and also, incredibly walks along stream beds in currents of fast flowing water. They do dive into the water, but also simply walk into water until submerged and keep walking along on the hunt for food. Dippers are also able to fly through waterfalls to find safe nesting spots or food sources behind the watery curtains.

The Upper falls at Aros Park from the Alainn Viewpoint

The Dipper has solid bones in its lower limbs, unlike the hollow bones of most other avian species, and these help it to stay submerged. Another amazing evolutionary adaptation are the dippers eyes, which have developed the eye muscles to modify the shape of the lens for improved underwater vision. Dippers are also able to store more oxygen in their blood which allows them longer periods of time submerged; they are true specialists.

Dippers like fast flowing fresh water. Good water quality is essential because they eat small larvae, crustaceans and fish, which do not thrive in polluted environments. The presence of dippers can therefore indicate the health of an ecosystem.

I saw this one on Mull, a Scottish island in the inner Hebrides, when I was back visiting family over the Christmas period. I grew up in Tobermory*, and wanted to take my children to the loch where my brother and I spent a lot of time as kids. Aros loch is just outside Tobermory, in Aros Park. The park is Forestry Commission owned and is well worth a visit for the beautiful trees, amazing waterfalls and walking paths.

View accross to Tobermory from Aros Park

I have observed dippers in several Scottish locations including the River Kelvin near Kirkintilloch, at Braklinn Falls in Callander and the River Nevis in Fort William. There is plenty of suitable habitat in Scotland and I always look forward to spotting one. If I do manage to take any further footage I will share here and on my social media channels (links in sidebar).

*(Yes, Tobermory is the same place Gordon Buchannan, the famous wildlife cameraman grew up…….. his list of ‘species observed in the wild’ is probably slightly longer than mine…..and I think he probably also has a better camera… )

References

Bailey, Bill. Bill Bailey’s remarkable Guide to British Birds, (pocket Version), (2018) Quercus

Hume, Rob. Birds of Britain and Europe, the definitive, photographic field guide, 5th ed (2018) DK, RSPB.

RSPB website: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/dipper/

Kids are Wild

Promoting engagement with wildlife and the natural world, is a cause very close to my heart. I love to share the fascinating facts, strange quirks and outstanding beauty of the natural world that inspire me. While simple pleasure is one motivation for experiencing nature, there is a more compelling reason to venture out: nature is good for us.

 

Nature benefits everyone, directly and indirectly. We know from experience that simply getting some fresh air, exercising in a local greenspace, or watching a beautiful sunset can boost our current state of mind, but the more you can manage, the better. The advantages of experiencing nature are not reserved for those who live near wildlife reserves or who have a holiday home on the coast. Nature is available to everyone everywhere, and with a little planning and maybe some creative thinking, we can all increase our nature quotient.

Why should we put effort into spending time in nature? There are so many benefits to mental, and physical health both immediate and longer term. Everyone can and does benefit from nature, whether they seek it out or not, but being aware of how much good we can do ourselves might make those trips out a priority. Various ecosystem factors play positive roles in human wellbeing; forests and biodiversity both have protective roles for global human health. We are in no way separate from the natural world, however urbanised our day-to-day experiences are. To protect, celebrate and seek out nature, is to connect with our natural past and to invest in a future of improved health.

As adults it is our collective responsibility to ensure that kids get to experience natural phenomena, to see beautiful views, and move their bodies in natural environments. We are also responsible for using and caring for our local natural spaces, to allow continued accessibility and shared benefits.

I am particularly passionate about sharing nature with kids, partly because I am a parent of young children, partly because I was lucky enough to grow up enjoying abundant natural spaces and wildlife, but also because the benefit to kids can be dramatic.

For children, the benefits of spending time in natural environments are continuing to be studied. The results so far make fascinating reading and provide more than enough reason to make the time to share nature with the young people in your life.

 

 

 

Benefits to kids include, but are not limited to

  • Increased resilience and ability to handle difficult situations
  • Increased concentration for academic activities
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved connection with local community, through use of shared greenspaces
  • Playing in natural environments improves coordination and agility
  • Increased Energy
  • Improved eyesight
  • Stimulation of creative thinking
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Positive effect on mental health, immediate and ongoing
  • Positive effect on fitness
  • Fosters connection with nature and environmental issues
  • Regular play in natural environments helps to form life-long healthy habits

These do indeed sound like gifts we would wish to bestow on our children, but how to fit ‘nature’ in to modern family life? To answer, I intend to continue this series of posts, taking a look at the benefits of nature in more detail and providing links to relevant studies, further reading, and achievable outdoor activities.

If getting outside with your kids currently seems daunting I will include ideas of how and where to get outside, from free and simple quick fixes to more epic excursions; quick cloud watching sessions, rockpooling, forest schools or maybe a camping trip.

I look forward to taking this series further and engaging in the conversation about our children’s health and wellbeing. Please join me and we can let the kids be wild together.

 

 

Zoonoses, Emerging Infectious Diseases and Wildlife

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animal species. The infectious agent may be a bacteria, virus, fungus, protozoa or helminth. Zoonoses may be transmitted directly, indirectly or be vector-borne (e.g. via an insect bite). Humans have lived in close contact with animal species for thousands of years, and so while zoonoses are not a new phenomenon, they are receiving more focus recently because of the role they are playing in emerging infectious diseases.

Most emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are zoonotic pathogens. In fact since the 1940s more than three hundred human diseases have emerged from animals, and of the pathogens which affect humans, the majority (61%) are zoonotic. Many of the zoonoses have reservoirs of infection within wildlife populations. A reservoir of infection is often a group or species of animals which can carry and possibly transmit organisms infectious to humans, without displaying symptoms of disease. (Taylor et al. 2001) EIDs are receiving attention because of the negative impact on human and animal health, with potential associated economic consequences. They may affect farm animal health and welfare as well as wildlife conservation efforts.

The role of wildlife in zoonoses is multifaceted. Anthropogenic factors are driving major changes of wildlife habitats. The increasing global human population and the associated requirement for food, shelter and fresh water creates more opportunities for wildlife interaction and therefore infection.

Climate change and global warming provide conditions where pathogens may be able to exploit a new geographic niche or host species. Most microorganisms have optimum temperature ranges, and environmental changes can lead to alterations in transmission, environmental persistence, or virulence. The consequences of these changes are not always predictable. (Bengis et al. 2004) In countries where water is a limited commodity, water sources can become a location for direct and indirect infection of humans by the wildlife species with which they share this essential resource.

Direct destruction of habitats by humans, means that the wildlife residents are required to relocate, learn new foraging behaviour, or rely on novel food species, all of which creates potential conflict and interactions with humans.

One devastating example of the interconnectedness of wildlife, humans, livestock and disease, and the importance of forests for human health, occurred in Malaysia in the late 90s. Slashing and burning of vast swathes of tropical rainforest provide land for pig farming. The fruit bats who had been displaced from the forest, were forced to forage for fruit on the trees near the pig farms. Pigs ate the pieces of fruit contaminated with bat saliva and urine which fell into their enclosures. The pigs ingested the Nipah virus, which is carried asymptomatically and shed by the bats, and developed severe respiratory and neurological symptoms. For many pigs the first symptom was sudden death. The Pig farming industry collapsed at a massive financial loss to the farmers and the Malaysian economy. In addition to this there were hundreds of humans infected by the virus and more than one hundred people lost their lives. (Aguirre et al. 2012, Kahn, 2011) However, there needs to be caution in the response to identifying the source of infection or the reservoir species. Bats for example, provide many essential ecosystem roles including pollination, insect consumption and seed dispersal; they should not be thought of as primarily a source of infection.

As the human population increases, some communities employ varied means of finding food. In some countries of the world this means that bush meat is being hunted, traded and eaten on a regular basis. Currently over 500 million wild animals each year. Not only is this a threat to several iconic and critically endangered species, but the opportunities for human infection arising from the contact with and consumption of infected animals is increasing. Ebola virus causes a haemorrhagic disease of both humans and great apes; and with no specific treatment, mortality rates in both groups can be high.  (Bermejo, et al. 2006) HIV is also thought to have entered the human population via bushmeat consumption. (Bengis et al. 2004)

Wildlife trade is also big business, with live animals or animal products shipping round the globe. Millions of birds and fish are transported live each year, as well as tens of thousands of primates and reptiles. The trade is estimated to be worth $6 billion. The increase in intensive farming means that an outbreak of disease in a single species can be devastating.

As well as being a source, wildlife can be adversely affected by zoonotic diseases. The impact on human health of Ebola, Rabies, and HIV, which are all zoonotic pathogens, cannot be underestimated as they cause significant morbidity and mortality. However, Humans are also able to infect vulnerable wildlife species. Gorilla tourism in Africa has become a popular way to raise funds to support conservation of this critically endangered species. However Gorilla are susceptible to pathogens any human visitors may be carrying, particularly respiratory viruses. Gorilla have also sustained marked losses due to the recent Ebola outbreaks. (Bermejo, et al. 2006)

Examples of zoonotic diseases – Many pathogens can affect human, livestock and wildlife health. (Image adapted from: GAO analysis of USGS data, 2011)

 

Travel to almost everywhere on the globe is possible; the world is increasingly connected. This means that pathogens, diseased people and animals may also move around with relative ease, meaning that infectious diseases can be difficult to contain or to then trace to a source when an epidemic is under way. A concerted, multidisciplinary, global effort is required to reduce the impact of zoonotic diseases worldwide. There must be collaboration between human health professionals, ecologists, animal health professionals, as well as other involved parties to try to predict, monitor and document diseases. The role that biodiversity plays, in maintaining health cannot be overlooked, and I plan to cover these topics further in future posts.

 

 

References

Aguirre, A., Daszak, P. & Ostfeld, R. (2012). New directions in conservation medicine applied cases of ecological health. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press

Bengis RG, Leighton FA, Fischer JR, Artois M, Mörner T, Tate CM. (2004) The role of wildlife in emerging and re-emerging zoonoses. Rev Sci Tech. Aug;23(2):497-511.

Bermejo M., Rodríguez-Teijeiro, J., Illera G., Barroso, A. Vilà, C. Walsh, P. (2006) Ebola Outbreak Killed 5000 Gorillas. Science: Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1564 DOI: 10.1126/science.1133105

GAO analysis of USGS data (2011)  https://www.gao.gov/assets/590/586047.pdf

Kahn, LH, (2011) https://thebulletin.org/2011/02/deforestation-and-emerging-diseases/

Taylor LH, Latham SM, Woolhouse ME, Risk factors for human disease emergence. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2001 Jul 29;356(1411):983-9. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2001.0888

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Scottish Caterpillar Hunt 2018

This summer our family enjoyed hunting for caterpillars when we were out and about and we took pictures of the different species that we were lucky enough to find. I have pulled them all together in a photo post here to share with you.

This is an enjoyable and easy activity to enhance family outdoor adventures and children of all ages are usually successful at finding little creatures in the undergrowth. Older kids could write a nature diary or report, take the photos, or make a presentation. We all enjoyed looking up the species we didn’t know on-line and in print. The benefit of caterpillars as a photo subject is that they don’t scurry away too fast, unlike many other wildlife species….!

Here are our selection of species for summer 2018, all were spotted in Scotland, UK.

Fox Moth Caterpillar, near Biggar, March

Drinker Moth Caterpillar, North Third Reservoir, Stirling, April

 

Yellow Underwing Moth Caterpillar (I’m not certain of my ID here, so suggestions welcomed!), Falkirk area, April.

 

Drinker Moth Caterpillar, Near Loch Venechar, May

Many spooky-looking clusters of Ermine Moth Caterpillars, Livingston, June

The foliage was covered by these webs, and there were hundreds of caterpillars associated with them. An amazing sight.

 

 

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars, Grangemouth & Culross, July

 

A selection of photos of the many colour variations of Campion Moth Caterpillars. we find many of these in our garden since we planted red campion wildflowers. The caterpillars can be found inside the seed heads after the plants have flowered. All spotted in Larbert, July.

Another Fox moth caterpillar, Glen Roy, Fort William, July

An Emperor Moth Caterpillar, Glen Roy, Fort William, July. (Appologies for the blurry picture, but because this was the most impressive species we spotted, I had to include it!)

 

 

 

Grey Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Larbert, August

 

Large Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar, Larbert, September.

 

 

We saw many more moth caterpillars than butterfly caterpillars, and by far our most impressive was the Emperor moth caterpillar; it was really quite large, about 10cm long and prompted us to get ridiculously excited on the hillside in Fort William!

That concludes our caterpillar round up for 2018 and we had such fun looking for them that I am sure we will continue to hunt next year and hopefully we can tick off a few more species.

Which species did you spot this year? Do get in touch, leave me a comment below or stop by my twitter or instagram feeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotland’s Red Squirrels

During spring, red squirrels are focussed on producing and nurturing young. The benefits to us are that there are numerous observable behaviours that can hint that the red squirrels in your area are breeding, even if catching a glimpse of the tiny kits themselves proves difficult. To find out more about red squirrel breeding behaviours, read my article on the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels blog.

 

A red squirrel feeding at RSPB Loch Leven earlier this year

Red Squirrels have been declining in Scotland for decades. This native species has struggled with disease and competition from grey squirrels (a non-native species, introduced in the late 1800s) resulting in a vastly diminished red squirrel population. Scotland is home to around 75% of the UK red squirrels, and the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project aims to bolster, conserve and increase the numbers of this iconic species.

There has been some encouraging news for Scotland’s reds recently.  Population decline has slowed and project showed that the numbers in 2017 remained stable. If you spot any red or grey squirrels you can report your sightings which will support this important red squirrel conservation work.

Threats to Amphibians; Part 1: Ranaviruses

The Northern hemisphere is currently in the midst of spring, the season I have associated with frogspawn and tadpoles since I was a very young child. These days, I still experience child-like excitement when spotting amphibians in the wild, but there are ongoing challenges which must be overcome if amphibians are to thrive.

Common frog – the species most frequently affected by ranavirus in the UK

There are several factors threatening the existence of amphibians including pollution, loss of habitat, international trade in amphibian species, climate change as well as infectious diseases. Ranaviruses are some of the infectious pathogens contributing to dramatic loss of biodiversity of amphibian species.

Ranaviruses are emerging pathogens which have caused significant losses to amphibian species worldwide. Ranavirus is of such a concern that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have placed it on a list of notifiable pathogens. (Schloegel et al., 2010) This article will concentrate on the situation in the UK.

The UK boasts only two native frog species (common frog and pool frog), two native toad species (common toad and natterjack toad), and three newt species (Palmate, Smooth and Great Crested). Threats to any UK amphibian could be devastating for native wildlife and pond ecosystems. Currently ranavirus has caused the most devastating effects among the UK’s common frog populations (rana temporaria), and has been linked to several mass mortality events in this species.

Ranavirus behaves slightly differently in the UK than in some of the other geographic locations in which it has been studied. Ranavirus usually affects adult frogs in the UK, while in the rest of the world the majority of the effects are observed in the larval forms (tadpoles).

In the UK adult frogs are more commonly affected than tadpoles

In infected individuals, the symptoms are varied. The virus frequently causes ulceration, either of the skin or internally. This may cause obvious wounds on the skin, or even missing digits, which can become secondarily infected by other pathogens. Cutaneous erythema (redness) may be visible, with swollen limbs, unusual swimming patterns and lethargy also observed. On post-mortem, haemorrhages are often discovered within the internal organs. The clinical signs are therefore non-specific and the overall appearance of infected frogs may be augmented by concurrent pathogens or pathologies of other origin.

Ranavirus first was observed in the UK in the1990s after several mass die off events in England. (Cunningham et al 1996) Continued study of those outbreaks and tissues archived at that time has revealed two ranavirus lineages detected in UK amphibians. These are termed CMTV-like (common midwife toad virus-like) and FV3-like (frog virus 3-like). The genetic data has shown that it is likely that FV3 in particular has been introduced to the UK at several times and different locations, although the exact routes and methods are unknown. (Price et al., 2017)

More work is required to fully elucidate the epidemiology of the viruses to clarify the host range and indicate any as yet unidentified species which may be involved in virus transmission. Ranaviruses are not species specific and have been detected in a variety of different species worldwide including fish, reptiles and various amphibian species. In the UK, ranavirus has also been detected in common toads and newts.

Although it may be possible to find an isolated affected frog, the primary indication of Ranavirus infection is mass die-offs in a population of frogs. Numerous individuals may be affected and perish within a short period of time. In the UK infections and mass die-off events were first reported in the late summer months, in South-East England. Since then positive virus samples have been identified in the West and North of England as well as in Wales and Scotland.

Three main outcomes for a population follow from infection. Firstly a transient pattern of infection may be observed, where after a period of pathology and mortality, there are no subsequent deaths. Secondly, catastrophic die-offs have been observed in some habitats where ranavirus kills all the frogs in that location. Finally, a persistent infection pattern has been noted. An initial infection period causes morbidity and mortalities in a population then among the remaining frogs, further mortalities are observed in subsequent years. These outcomes are without exception catastrophic for frog populations, which may not recover. (Teacher et al., 2010)

There is some evidence however that the frogs may mount adaptive immune responses to ranavirus. Behavioural adaptations have also been observed, where it was shown to be more likely that uninfected frogs would mate with each other. (Price et al., 2015; Teacher et al., 2009) So although much more needs to be known about ranaviruses to protect UK amphibians, and potentially other species too, there does appear to be indications that wild frogs are adapting to the presence of ranaviruses.

Everyone can play a role in preventing the spread of infectious amphibian diseases. If you spot healthy, normal amphibians sightings can be reported using the dragon finder app, which is part of the frog life group, which is focussed on conservation and education. Your sightings can inform future conservation efforts and research. Diseased amphibians or mass die off events should also be reported, this time via the Garden Wildlife Heath project. Finally, remember not to move any amphibians or spawn between ponds, to prevent spread of infection.

To prevent spread of infection, don’t move any spawn that you may find.

 

References

Cunningham AA, Langton TES, Bennett PM, Lewin JF, Drury SEN, Gough RE, et al. (1996) Pathological and microbiological findings from incidents of unusual mortality of the common frog (Rana temporaria). Philos Trans R Soc Lond Ser B-Biol Sci. 351: 1539–1557. pmid:8962441

Price, S. J., Garner, T. W. J., Balloux, F., Ruis, C., Paszkiewicz, K. H., Moore, K., & Griffiths, A. G. F. (2015). A de novo Assembly of the Common Frog (Rana temporaria) Transcriptome and Comparison of Transcription Following Exposure to Ranavirus and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0130500. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0130500

Price SJ, Wadia A, Wright ON, Leung WTM, Cunningham AA, Lawson B (2017) Screening of a long-term sample set reveals two Ranavirus lineages in British herpetofauna. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184768. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184768

Schloegel LM, Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Speare R, Hill B. (2010) Two amphibian diseases, chytridiomycosis and ranaviral disease, are now globally notifiable to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE): an assessment. Dis Aquat Organ. 92: 101–108. pmid:21268971

Teacher, A. G. F., Garner, T. W. J., & Nichols, R. A. (2009). Evidence for Directional Selection at a Novel Major Histocompatibility Class I Marker in Wild Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) Exposed to a Viral Pathogen (Ranavirus). PLoS ONE, 4(2), e4616. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004616

Teacher, A.G.F., Cunningham, A.A. and Garner, T.W.J. (2010). Assessing the long-term impact of Ranavirus infection in wild common frog populations. Animal Conservation 13, 514-522.

Earth Hour 2018

#connect2earth

Earth Hour is happening this weekend; a wonderful opportunity to start conversations and spark ideas to positively impact the planet and it can also be lots of fun!

This Saturday, 24th March 2018, at 8.30pm you can join this global movement for 60 minutes and commit to turning off all your lights for the hour. Each country’s earth hour begins at 8.30pm local time so that the sequential switch off sweeps the globe as the planet spins into a new day.

Celebrating Earth hour with children, (if it is not past their bedtime….. or maybe even if it is) can impact their thoughts about the planet we call home, and how the choices we make have consequences. Sitting with family members in the flickering light of the fire or candles for one hour can be a novelty, and a good time to discuss the reasons behind our choices and maybe brainstorm ideas to further help people, animals and planet.

However, the way you celebrate is entirely up to you: an hour of peaceful contemplation or a family story-telling session or maybe even get the neighbours involved and have a street party. Earth Hour is coordinated by the WWF and one of the strong themes for the next couple of years is focussing on preserving the planet’s biodiversity.

If you would like to find out more or sign up to join in you can go to the Earth Hour website. You can also watch the official video showing the many famous locations round the world switch off their lights and showing their support. If you decide to join in, do share your plans on social media; I would love to see how you celebrate.

Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary

As the snow in the UK finally melts and we get back to our normal activities, it might be an opportune moment to turn our attentions outward again, beyond our personal environmental challenges, and think globally.

The ‘Beast from the East’ created conditions in Central Scotland not unlike those in Antarctica…

Antarctica is a land of snow and ice and strong winds, but it is also home to a myriad of species and provides important climate services for the earth.

There are no people native to Antarctica, and most of the current residents carry out scientific research. Antarctica belongs to no single country or group and it follows that everyone has a responsibility to safeguard this unique environment. Antarctica is still relatively free from the detrimental effects of human activity, but only creation of an Antarcic Ocean Sanctuary will ensure that this wilderness purity endures.

We still have barely scratched the surface of the species diversity of the Antarctic Ocean. Some resident species have never been observed by a living person. As I mentioned in my conservation medicine post, biodiversity is vital for the health of humans and the planet. Scientists who study this area are amazed by the variety. It is certain that large scale fishing activity or mineral explorations will significantly harm this important ecosystem and research indicates that Antarctic ecosystems take years to recover from damage.

Greenpeace have been integral to protecting the landmass of Antarctica, but there is more that needs to be done to keep this truly pristine wilderness safe from anthropomorphic degradation. Many of the key species that we are familiar with, such as penguins, rely heavily on the health of the surrounding waters as they are ocean hunters. Vast quantities of krill make these oceans an important feeding ground. Krill are vitally important to the food web at all levels, and are the main food source of several whale species which visit these waters.  Seismic blasting, drilling and other mineral prospecting activity adversely affects the natural behaviours of wildlife species. Industrial fishing activities in these waters could have numerous detrimental effects including accidental bycatch, and damage to the sea floor.

The UK government can influence the creation of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary in the waters around Antarctica, as they are part of the Antarctic Ocean Commission. The proposed sanctuary is I.8 million square miles (five times the size of Germany). If you would like to be part of creating the biggest ocean sanctuary in the world you can sign the petition here.

If you would like to be entertained by David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame) dancing with the Antarctic penguins on a recent trip with Greenpeace to promote this campaign then by all means click here and enjoy.

 

 

 

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