Nov 14
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Guest Blog: Who’s eating my eggs?

Nature, as the great poet Tennyson reminded us, is “red in tooth and claw”. Animals face a constant battle to survive, and many species are under persistent risk from predators. One of the mechanisms animals use to avoid a bloody end is camouflage – blending in with the background – to avoid being eaten.

But what makes for good camouflage? How do factors such as colour and patterning work to fool the senses of wily attackers? At present, although we know a lot about the different types of camouflage that might exist, we know very little about the value of camouflage and how it works in the natural world.

Pygmy seahorse image

Pygmy seahorse camouflaged against fan coral

This short video is a brief introduction to the ongoing work of Dr Martin Stevens at the University of Exeter, and Dr Claire Spottiswoode at the University of Cambridge, who are examining egg predation and camouflage in habitats in South Africa and Zambia. Their colleagues, Dr Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal, also at Exeter, have set up hidden cameras to record egg predation events in different bird species.

The project aims to increase our understanding of camouflage in the wild and its relationship with survival. To do this, the team study the camouflage of ground nesting birds, and their eggs and chicks in the natural environment. They are using specialist cameras to photograph the birds, and camera traps to identify their main predators and to monitor nest survival.

Wrybill image

Wrybill eggs on nest, showing camouflage

Back in the UK they then use the images to simulate the relevant predator visual systems, which often see the world very differently to us, including different colours. Using a range of image analysis techniques, the team are comparing the properties of the eggs, chicks and adults to the environment to study their camouflage and how it affected their risk of predation.

Avoiding your eggs being eaten is a matter of life and death to many animals, but the research also helps improve our fundamental understanding of vision and could have wide-ranging applications, from bioscience to security and defence. Animal camouflage has also influenced human behaviour and culture, including art, fashion and the military.

A full in-depth feature on the project will appear on the BBSRC website and YouTube channel when the fieldwork is completed in the coming months.

Useful LinksCamouflage banner1_crop

Dr Martin Stevens, Sensory Ecology & Evolution group
http://sensoryecology.com/people/martin-stevens.html

Project nightjar, University of Exeter
http://nightjar.exeter.ac.uk/
African Cuckoos
http://www2.zoo.cam.ac.uk/africancuckoos/home.html

 

Apr 24
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Guest blog: Meet Bristol99 residents – the fox, the peregrine and the owl

This year ARKive and Bristol Festival of Nature are both celebrating their 10th anniversaries! Each are marking the occasion in very special ways: while ARKive is asking the world to vote for their favourite species, the Festival of Nature is setting out to discover Bristol’s wildlife with Bristol99 – an exciting project that aims to connect people in the city with nature on their doorstep through a variety of wildlife events across Bristol’s ninety-nine best sites for nature.

Wherever you live, there are always fascinating species to be found, and with these two celebrations happening at the same time, it seemed like a good idea to talk about the three of ARKive’s shortlisted favourites that you might find right here in the city of Bristol: the red fox, the peregrine falcon, and the barn owl.

Red fox 

Red fox raiding dustbin for scraps

First, the red fox. If you live in the UK, it’s probably the species you’re most likely to have on your tick list, and with Bristol being home to the famous BBC Natural History Unit, it’s become a bit of a film star over time. Foxes began colonising Bristol in the 1930s, when suburbs of semi-detached houses sprung up on the city outskirts, with large gardens that provided an ideal habitat. The population grew rapidly, spreading to the city centre, and foxes can be seen regularly across the city. Keep your eyes peeled after dark!

Peregrine falcon

Urban peregrine falcon ssp. anatum at nest with large brood of four chicks

Peregrine falcons are best known for being the fastest animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 200mph! In the UK, peregrines have increasingly moved into urban areas in recent years, and Bristol has a number of residents and visitors. Last summer, a pair nested on a ledge of a building by the city’s harbour and were regularly spotted circling the city centre hunting for food for their single chick. The steep cliffs of the Avon Gorge are the best place in Bristol to view these birds, with one viewing spot even named Peregrine Point! Here local enthusiasts gather between April and October, when the peregrines are most active, and observe their day to day activity.

Barn owl

Barn owl photo

Finally, the barn owl. This beautiful bird suffered a decline in numbers throughout the twentieth century which has been attributed to the use of certain agricultural pesticides and an overall loss of habitat. You are more likely to spot a barn owl in the countryside, where it inhabits riverbanks, field edges and roadside verges, but Bristol is blessed with a number of large parks on the outskirts of the city such as Ashton Court and Stoke Park, where if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of an owl at dusk as they come out to hunt.

Nature on your doorstep

With three of the nominated 50 species in the running for World’s Favourite Species being found on our doorstep here in Bristol, it just goes to show that you don’t need to visit the  most exotic places and habitats to find amazing wildlife. Wherever you live, there are a whole host of exciting species just waiting to be discovered.

If you live in the Bristol area, then join us for Bristol99, as we explore our local green spaces to see what fascinating species we can uncover. It all starts with the Bristol BioBlitz on 3rd and 4th May and finishes with the Festival of Nature on 15th and 16th June, where you can join ARKive and over 150 other organisations for the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world!

But no matter where you live, get out and enjoy nature. And don’t forget to vote for the species which deserves to be the World’s Favourite Species.

Lucy Gaze, Bristol99 Project Officer

P.S. our vote is for the peregrine

 

Bristol Festival of Nature                                         Bristol 99

 

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