Aug 7

As a special edition of our monthly ARKive Geographic series, to celebrate the Olympics, we decided to take a look at some of the more unexpected species that can be found around the Olympic park and in the Greater London area.

London is the UK’s largest city, but it is also home to a wide variety of fascinating wildlife. Here’s a sample of just some of the species that have made London their home.

Peregrine falcon

Image of peregrine falcon at the top of a stoop

Famous as the world’s fastest animal, the peregrine falcon underwent serious population declines between the 1940’s and 1970’s. Due to protective legislation and the ban on organochlorine pesticides, the peregrine falcon population has recovered significantly and they have even moved into cities, using the cliff-like ledges that tall buildings provide. London has 18 known pairs nesting on famous landmarks including the Tate Modern and Houses of Parliament.  

European eel

 Image of a European eel

It’s not likely that you’ll catch sight of one of these slippery beasts during the Games, but the European eel will be present nearby in its watery home. This species has undergone a worrying decline across Europe and is now classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN. Numbers of European eels recorded crashed by 98% between 2005 and 2010, but there is still a population hanging on in the Thames. The Thames Estuary was classified as biologically dead in the 1960’s and the European eel was one of the first fish to be recorded in the area once the water quality began to improve.

Short-snouted seahorse

Image of short-snouted seahorse on seabed

Further proof of the rejuvenation of the Thames over the last 50 years is the presence of a more exotic sounding fish. In 2008 the Zoological Society London reported that short-snouted seahorse’s had been recorded several times during routine monitoring of the Thames. One location where this species has been recorded  is near Dagenham in East London – only a few miles east of the Olympic Park.

Stag beetle

Image of male stag beetle on tree trunk

The stag beetle is the UK’s largest and most spectacular beetle. London, particularly the South London boroughs of Lewisham, Croyden and Bromley, is its major stronghold. After spending around 4 years as larvae, munching on rotting wood, adult stag beetles are relatively short-lived surviving only for a matter of months. Male stag beetles wrestle using their large mandibles to decide who gets to mate with the smaller females.

Noctule bat

Noctule bat image

London is home to many species of bat including the noctule bat, one of Europe’s largest bats. The noctule bat is one of the first bats to appear in the evening, occasionally even before the sun sets and can be found in Greenwich Park and Hyde Park, both home to Olympic events this summer.

Red deer

Red deer stag and hind

 The UK’s largest native land animal, the red deer, can also be found in London. A herd can be found in Bushy Park, near the Olympic cycling time-trial event in Hampton Court Palace.

London is home to many more species that the keen-eyed will be sure to spot in London during August. Kingfishers dart along watercourses, water voles inhabit river banks, foxes stalk the streets. If you’re in London this summer and see any interesting species let us know via Twitter, Facebook or post a message in the box below.

 Eleanor Sans, ARKive Media Researcher

Jul 16

For the next three weeks, members of the public across the UK have the chance to get involved in the big butterfly count, a nationwide survey which will help to indicate not only the status of the UK’s butterfly populations, but also the health of our environment in general. As butterflies are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, butterfly declines can provide an important early warning system for other potential impacts on our wildlife.

With the UK having been subjected to unseasonably heavy rain over the last few months, conservationists are concerned that butterfly species may be struggling this year and therefore the count is more important than ever. Around 34,000 people took part in the big butterfly count 2011, and this year the organisers hope to make it even bigger.

If you would like to take part simply head over to the big butterfly count website, download an ID chart and spend 15 minutes recording the species you see in your garden, local park, woodland or field. Then all you need to do is submit your sightings online. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to spot some of these beauties…

Green hairstreak

Green hairstreak photo

Named after the white ‘streak’ across the fore- and hindwings, the wings of the green hairstreak are actually are dull brown on the uppersides, but bright green on the underside. The pupae of this species produce audible squeaks to attract ants, which are then thought to bury the pupae where they will hibernate until the following spring.

Six-spot burnet moth

Six-spot burnet moth photo

The six-spot burnet moth feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite. A brightly coloured day-flying moth, the name is somewhat of a misnomer as the number of spots can vary between individuals, and spots may be fused in some cases.

Large white

Large white photo

A widespread and common species, the large white is the biggest of the white butterflies found in the UK, with a wingspan of up to 7cm. Females can be distinguished from males by the two black spots and a black streak on the fore-wings. The colourful caterpillars of this species consume mustard oils in their diet, making them very distasteful to birds.

Red admiral

Red admiral photo

A migratory species, red admiral adults emerge after hibernation in the UK between January and March, and are joined by butterflies that have travelled from North Africa and southern Europe between May and August. Adults are often seen in gardens feeding on nectar or rotten fruit.

Common blue

Common blue photo

The common blue is the most widespread of the blue butterflies in Britain. While the males are a striking bluish-violet, the females are more brown in colour, with orange spots near the margins of the wings. Favouring sunny, sheltered areas, the common blue is typically seen in woodland clearings, coastal dunes, road verges and cemeteries.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood photo

A common woodland butterfly, the speckled wood has numerous eye-spots on its wings. The male tends to perch in patches of sunlight, intercepting intruding butterflies. Males may also patrol an area in search of females, who lay single eggs on blades of grass after mating.

Brimstone

Brimstone photo

While the female brimstone is a greenish-white colour, the male is bright yellow and it is widely believed that this species was the inspiration for the name ‘butterfly’. This species has a very long proboscis, and can exploit flowers with very deep nectarines, including runner bean flowers and teasels.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell photo

A beautifully patterned butterfly, the small tortoiseshell has wings comprising black patches, areas of bright yellowish-orange and a fringe of blue spots, making this species instantly recognisable. The caterpillars feed on nettles and are common in areas of human activity.

Meadow brown

Meadow brown photo

A dark brown species with an eye-spot on each wing, the female meadow brown can be distinguished from the male by the presence of an orange patch on the forewings. Although found in a range of habitats, this species has suffered as a result of the decline in the extent of hay meadows in Britain.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly photo

One of the most beautiful butterflies in the UK, the peacock butterfly earns its name from the stunning eyespots on the wings which frighten predators, or divert birds from attacking the body. Males and females are similar in appearance but the males are slightly smaller and will defend territories in sunny locations, chasing any females that pass by.

If you do to take part over the coming weeks we would love to hear how you get on, why not leave a comment below and let us know what species you have seen, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter?

And for those of you outside of the UK, what species can you find in your local area? Do you have any favourites? Let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 1

A personal experience lead to the indri becoming Michelle’s favourite species, but will this week’s team member’s choice be admiration from afar or another astounding encounter?

Susan Russell – Wildscreen Finance Manager

Favourite species? Barn swallow

Why? I just love to hear them chattering in the sky above on a summers day. They’re really beautiful to watch and the story of their migration is amazing. I think they’re just as special as any rare or exotic species! I have chosen this image as it reminds me of a week I spent at a campsite in Yorkshire. The swallows were nesting in the laundry and in the ladies loo block. When I first arrived I went to wash my hands and on the shelf above the wash basin was a beautiful model of a swallow, just 6 inches from my face. At least I thought it was a model until it flew away!

Favourite barn swallow image on ARKive:

Barn swallow image

Barn swallow chicks being fed at nest

The barn swallow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. An abundant species, the barn swallow has modified its nesting tendencies to complement the changing landscape throughout its range. Previously exploited in the hat trade in the 1800s, the barn swallow is now mostly threatened by the reduction in prey availability due to elevated pesticide use.

See more photos and videos of the barn swallow.

Feb 7

Native ladybird species in the UK and Europe are declining rapidly due to the spread of the invasive harlequin ladybird, according to scientists.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

Harlequin ladybird

Invasive alien

Native to Asia, the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) has been introduced to many countries as a pest control agent, but is now spreading rapidly and has itself become a pest species.

Introduced to North America in 1988, the harlequin is now the most widespread ladybird on the continent, and the species has also invaded much of northwest Europe. It was first spotted in Belgium in 2001, and arrived in the UK and Switzerland in 2004.

Since the harlequin’s arrival, scientists have warned about its potentially harmful impacts on native ladybird species. However, new research published in the journal Diversity and Distributions has now measured the scale of these impacts and demonstrated a strong link between the spread of the harlequin and rapid declines in native ladybirds.

Photo of harlequin ladybirds, showing variation in the species

Harlequin ladybirds showing some of the colour variation in this species

Rapid declines

Led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, the study was made possible by thousands of records submitted as part of “citizen science” projects that record ladybird observations across Britain, Belgium and Switzerland.

Using this data, the researchers found that in the five years following the harlequin ladybird’s arrival in the UK, seven out of eight native ladybird species declined. Similar declines were also found in Belgium and Switzerland.

Particularly badly affected was the two-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata), which is estimated to have declined by 44% in the UK and 30% in Belgium. It is now difficult to spot in some areas where it was once common.

Outcompeted

Like many other native ladybirds, the two-spot ladybird is smaller than the harlequin and likely to be outcompeted for food and habitat. The harlequin is also likely to prey on the eggs and larvae of native ladybird species. In addition, the harlequin ladybird may potentially be more toxic than native species, giving it better protection against predators.

Photo of harlequin ladybird in flight

Harlequin ladybird in flight

Speaking about the results, Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said, “It’s a very real decline, which should be put amongst a whole other set of factors putting ladybirds in a more fragile situation.”

Such factors may include the intensification of agriculture and climate change.

The only UK species apparently unaffected by the harlequin’s arrival was the seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is similar in size to the harlequin and not in such direct competition for habitat as other native species.

Photo of seven-spot ladybird eating aphids

Seven-spot ladybird feeding on aphids

Ecosystem impacts

The researchers have warned of potentially serious consequences if the harlequin ladybird continues to spread. Ladybirds play an essential role in ecosystems, keeping pests such as aphids in check. Although the harlequin ladybird also feeds on aphids, having just one species playing this role could make the overall ecosystem weaker.

Tim Adriaens of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) in Belgium, said, “At the continental scale, the arrival of the harlequin could impact on the resilience of ecosystems and severely diminish the vital services that ladybirds deliver.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Ladybird decline driven by ‘invading’ harlequin and at The Telegraph – Harlequin ladybirds threaten British species.

Find out more about how to record UK ladybird sightings at The Harlequin Ladybird Survey and UK Ladybird Survey.

View photos and videos of ladybirds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Aug 18

Two common otters spotted in Kent, in the South East of the UK, mark the return of this charismatic mammal to every English county, according to the UK Environment Agency.

Photo of common otter on grass

Return from near extinction

Also known as the Eurasian or European otter, the common otter had declined drastically in England due to persecution, habitat degradation, and poisoning by pesticides washed into waterways. By the 1970s, the species had almost entirely disappeared from the country.

Fortunately, legal protection and improvements in water quality have seen the common otter return from the brink of extinction. A survey of over 3,000 river sites in England between 2009 and 2010 found that the number of areas with evidence of otters had increased tenfold in the last 30 years, and otters are even starting to reappear in cities such as Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and London.

According to the Environment Agency, the return of otters indicates that English rivers are at their healthiest for over 20 years.

Photo of common otter feeding on eel in estuary

The recovery of otters from near-extinction shows how far we’ve come in controlling pollution and improving water quality,” said Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency’s national conservation manager.

Rivers in England are the healthiest for over 20 years and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning to many rivers for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.”

Final piece in the jigsaw

Despite this nationwide recovery, otters have been slow to return to the South East, with experts predicting that the species would not be resident in Kent for another ten years. However, the two otters recently spotted in the county, on the Medway and Eden rivers, means that the common otter has now returned to every county in England.

Photo of common otter adult and cubs

The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation,” said Mr Driver.

Although the common otter still faces threats from human encroachment, road fatalities and conflict with anglers, these sightings are positive news for the comeback of this species, and for the state of English waterways.

Read more about this story at the BBC – Otters return to every county in England.

View photos and videos of otter species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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