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The Disillusioned Taxonomist

The blog of a disillusioned taxonomist.

Updated: 2018-03-02T16:47:26.457+00:00


Illustrations 2015


Hello all! I've been keeping quiet on the blogging front very much lately due to a lack of time, my bad! I have rediscovered my love for digital illustration of late, and have been working through a comprehensive portfolio of images. I thought it's about time I shared some of them publicly. Here are a selection of my best pieces from last year.Aardvark skullAardvarkOrycteropus afer (Pallas, 1766)Orycteropodidae; Tubulidentata; Mammalia; Chordata Aardwolf Aardwolf skullProteles cristatus (Sparrmann, 1783)Hyaenidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata Abdim's storkCiconia abdimii Lichtenstein, 1823Ciconiidae; Ciconiiformes; Aves; Chordata Abyssinian rollerCoracias abyssinicus Hermann, 1783Coraciidae; Coraciiformes; Aves; Chordata Acanthoceras jukesbrowni Spath, 1926Acanthoceratidae; Ammonitida; Cephalopoda; Mollusca AddaxAddax nasomaculatus (de Blainville 1816)Bovidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; Chordata Male Adonis bluePolyommatus bellargus (Rottemburg, 1775)Lycaenidae; Lepidoptera; Insecta; Arthropoda African black duckAnas sparsa sparsa Eyton, 1838Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata Male African comb duckSarkidiornis melanotos (Pennant, 1769)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata African grey hornbillTockus nasutus (Linnaeus, 1766)Bucerotidae; Coraciiformes; Aves; Chordata African grey parrotPsittacus erithacus Linnaeus, 1758Psittacidae; Psittaciformes; Aves; Chordata African hunting dogLycaon pictus (Temminck, 1820)Canidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata Male African lionPanthera leo (Linnaeus, 1758)Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata African monarchDanaus chrysippus (Linnaeus, 1758)Nymphalidae; Lepidoptera; Insecta; Arthropoda Male African pochardNetta erythrophthalma brunnea (Eyton, 1838)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata Male African pygmy gooseNettapus auritus (Boddaert, 1783)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata   African savannah elephantLoxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797)Elephantidae; Proboscidea; Mammalia; Chordata African spurred tortoiseGeochelone sulcata (Miller, 1779)Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata African warthog skullPhacochoerus africanus (Gmelin, 1788)Suidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; Chordata African white-backed duckThalassornis leuconotus leuconotus Eyton, 1838Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataAgrias claudina (Godart, 1824)Nymphalidae; Lepidoptera; Insecta; ArthropodaAgriochoerus antiquus Leidy, 1850Agriochoeridae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; Chordata Aldabra giant tortoiseAldabrachelys gigantea (Schweigger, 1812)Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata  Alligator prenasalis (Loomis, 1904)Alligatoridae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; ChordataAllosaurus fragilis Marsh, 1877Allosauridae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; ChordataFez AloeAloe peglerae SchönlandAsphodelaceae; Asparagales; Angiosperms Amazilia hummingbirdAmazilia amazilia (Lesson, 1827)Trochilidae; Apodiformes; Aves; Chordata American alligator skullAlligator mississippiensis (Daudin, 1802)Alligatoridae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; Chordata American black duckAnas rubripes (Brewster, 1902)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataAmerican crocodile skullCrocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807Crocodylidae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; Chordata American horseshoe crabLimulus polyphemus (Linnaeus, 1758)Limulidae; Xiphosura; Merostomata; Arthropoda Male American kestrelFalco sparverius Linnaeus, 1758Falconidae; Falconiformes; Aves; Chordata American robinTurdus migratorius migratorius Linnaeus, 1766Turdidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata Male American wigeonAnas americana Gmelin, 1789Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataAmphicyon ingens Matthew, 1924Amphicyonidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataAmphimachairodus giganteus Kretzoi, 1929Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataAmur tiger  Panthera tigris altaica Temminck, 1844Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataAnatotitan copei Lull & Wright ,1942 [= Edmontosaurus annectens (Marsh, 1892)]Hadrosauridae; Ornithischia; Sauropsida; Chordata Andean condo[...]

European zoo photo update


Hello readers, long time no blog. I have had almost no spare time of late, having had a full time job for the best part of a year (audio transcription for a London based market research company), still working on my Masters in Vert Palaeo, and trying to have a life. Speaking of which, I recently took a trip to France and Germany to visit a few zoos and collections that have been on my list for ages, and was not disappointed. I took five and a half thousand photos at eight zoos of various sizes, and it has been a mammoth task editing them and getting them ready to be seen. For now, they can all be viewed on my Flickr site.

First stop was the Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Although I've been before, the zoo has updated its collection to include such beauties as the Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, eastern quoll, and MacQueen's bustard. Link here.

I then visited the Parc des Félins just outside Paris. This is a collection of wild cats of several different species and subspecies, including southern oncilla (recently split from the northern species), Asiatic golden cat, Angolan lion, and Sri Lankan leopard. Link here.

The newly reopened Paris Zoo was a small but well-planned collection of species from around the world, including Iberian wolf, crowned sifaka, and Kordofan giraffe. Link here.

I then moved east to Cologne (Köln) and visited their zoo, featuring red-shanked douc, south African ratel (honey badger), and blue-eyed lemur. Link here.

I visited the world famous Walsrode Weltvogelpark, home to hundreds of species of bird - and nothing else - including shoebill, king bird of paradise, kagu, and cuckoo roller. Link here.

I spent a few days in Berlin, starting with a tour of the excellent carnivore collection at Wildkatzenzentrum Felidae just outside the city. I saw greater grison, banded civet, Malayan civet, and tayra to name a few. Link here.

Berlin, having erstwhile been two cities, has two zoos. The West Berlin zoo, Zoo Berlin, has a large collection of animals, including Baird's tapir, Siberian ibex, southern springhare, and common vampire bat, to name just a few. Link here.

The zoo in East Berlin, Tierpark Berlin, is a monster of a place, and was almost impossible to complete in a day. Still, I saw Chacoan mara, Javan leopard, Mesopotamian fallow deer, and three species (or subspecies) of takin, and much more. Link here.

I also visited the Museum für Naturkunde and saw their nice collection of African dinosaur mounts, both Tendaguru (including Dicraeosaurus, Dysalotosaurus, Elaphrosaurus, and of course Giraffatitan) and north Africa (Spinosaurus and Deltadromeus, for example), as well as the taxidermy gallery. Link here.

Please enjoy my photos (or don't, I'm not gonna tell you what to do), and if you want to use any of them, please ask me first.

Hall of Vertebrate Origins


Following on from my previous post about the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which I visited last year, I now present selected photographs of specimens exhibited in the Hall of Vertebrate Origins. The gallery is situated next door to the Saurischian gallery, hence why it is next on this blog. All photos taken by Mo Hassan at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in June 2015.Tupuxuara leonardii Kellner, 1994Thalassodromidae; Pterosauria; Sauropsida; ChordataOne of the first specimens to greet you, if you look up, as you enter the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, is a mounted cast of a Brazilian pterosaur called Tupuxuara (named after a Tupi familiar spirit in Native American mythology). Looking at it superficially, it looks like it has a giant head, a little body, spindly legs, and very long arms. With soft tissue in place, this animal probably looked a bit like a giant toucan or some other tropical bird, with membranous skin between the long finger and the hind limbs to serve as wings, and probably a fuzzy body and a colourful head crest.This specimen is a cast, AMNH 29080, of a specimen collected in Ceará, Brazil, dating from Cenomanian in the mid-Cretaceous. More on pterosaurs will follow in the next post...Alligator prenasalis (Loomis, 1904)Alligatoridae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; ChordataThe genus Alligator contains two living species: the critically endangered Chinese alligator (A. sinensis) from the Yangtze River, and the well-known American alligator (A. mississippiensis) from the southeastern United States. The genus formerly contained many other species which have now become extinct, proving that alligators were found in a far broader range across the globe in former times. This specimen, AMNH 4994, was collected in South Dakota in 1906, and dates from the Oligocene period, around 35 million years ago. This suggests that South Dakota was then warmer and wetter.Gavialis browni Mook, 1932Gavialidae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; ChordataThis long-snouted skull belongs to a relative of today's gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), an endangered fish-eating crocodilian from the Indian subcontinent. This specimen, AMNH 6279, was collected in 1922 from Pakistan, in the Siwalik Hills. These hills are famed for the fossils of early hominids (apes) like Sivapithecus and the okapi-like antlered giraffe Sivatherium, amongst other fossils. It dates to 5 million years ago, and differs very little from the modern gharial.Voay robustus (Grandidier & Vaillant, 1872)Crocodylidae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; ChordataThe smallest modern crocodile species, the dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis), occurs in west and central Africa, and grows to a maximum of 190 cm (6.2 feet). This is one of its close relatives, Voay robustus, from Madagascar. It lived there until fairly recently, the most recent fossils dating to the Holocene, and may have gone extinct only 2,000 years ago. Unlike Osteolaemus, V. robustus grew to 5 m in length and had short horns on the top of the skull behind the eyes. It has been suggested that the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), which currently lives in Madagascar, only colonised the island since the extinction of Voay.This specimen, AMNH 3102, was collected in 1930 in southwestern Madagascar.Sebecus icaeorhinus Simpson, 1937Sebecidae; clade Notosuchia; Sauropsida; ChordataIt is well known that the Ancient Egyptians revered crocodiles. The god Sebek represented the Nile, as well as fertility, and was pictured as having the head of a Nile crocodile. The genus Sebecus honours Sebek. This animal was a large terrestrial carnivore, alive during the Eocene period, some 33-66 million years ago. It is not a crocodilian, unlike modern crocodiles and alligators, but a close offshoot of the ancestors of crocodiles, a member of the Notosuchia. Notosuchians were around from the Cretaceous through to the Miocene, with Sebecus being one of the last surviving genera of the group. They were a very diverse group of[...]

American Museum of Natural History: Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs


I visited New York City last June/July, for the first time. Naturally, one of the first places I visited was the American Museum of Natural History. In the first of hopefully a short series of posts on that museum, I feature the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. Saurischians are one of the two major groups of dinosaurs. The most well known members of this group include Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, and the domestic chicken. The photos below were taken at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in June 2014, by Mo Hassan. They are presented in rough phylogenetic order.Plateosaurus engelhardti von Meyer, 1837Plateosauridae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; ChordataPlateosaurus (from the Ancient Greek for"flat lizard") was one of the first dinosaurs. Non-avian dinosaurs (that is, all dinosaurs that are not birds), arose during the Triassic Period and lasted until the end of the Cretaceous Period, a stretch of time lasting around 170 million years. Among the earliest were small theropods (bipedal carnivores) like Coelophysis (see below), and Plateosaurus. It was a prosauropod - early offshoots from the branch that later led to sauropods - the long-necked dinosaurs like Brontosaurus. Plateosaurus has been known since the 1830s, when several bones were found in Germany and later identified as dinosaur bone.Plateosaurus remains one of the best known dinosaurs as over a hundred individuals are known from many parts of Germany. The individual photographed was named Plateosaurus trossingensis Fraas, 1913, but later synonymised with the type species of the genus, P. engelhardti. Its specimen number is AMNH 6810 and was collected by Friedrich von Huene in 1925 in Trossingen in southwest Germany, and dates from the late Norian stage of the Upper Triassic.Brontosaurus excelsus Marsh, 1879Diplodocidae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; ChordataYou may have heard of Brontosaurus, it's got to be one of the most well known dinosaurs of all time. Except that for over a hundred years, it didn't even exist. Well, only in the sense that it has been known to science by another name. Apatosaurus ("deceptive lizard") and Brontosaurus ("thunder lizard") are both types of sauropod, both living at the same time in the same place. For most of the twentieth century they were assumed to belong to the same species, and as the name Apatosaurus was published first, due to the rules of zoological taxonomy, Brontosaurus became demoted to a synonym of Apatosaurus. A study published this year has determined that Brontosaurus is sufficiently distinct from Apatosaurus, and resurrected the name for three species previously assigned to Apatosaurus. One of these is A. excelsus, now B. excelsus, which the above pictured sauropod was identified as.The specimen, AMNH 460, is mostly real, with the skull based on Apatosaurus louisae, and tips of tail and limbs from another specimen. It dates from 150 million years ago (Kimmeridgian/Tithonian stages of the Late Jurassic). According to the recent study (Tschopp, Mateus & Benson, 2015), which looked at individual specimens rather than species, AMNH 460 is a close relative of both Apatosaurus species and all three Brontosaurus species, but not a member of either. For now, it remains either Apatosaurus excelsus or Brontosaurus excelsus, until a new genus is erected for it if needs be.Diplodocus longus Marsh, 1878Diplodocidae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; ChordataEveryone who's ever been to the Natural History Museum in London will know about Dippy the Diplodocus. Specifically, Dippy is a cast of CM 84, an almost complete skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii Hatcher, 1901, in the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The eponymous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie commissioned ten casts of CM 84 to museums around the world, including London of course. But D. carnegii was not the first species of Diplodocus to be described. D. longus is the type species, meaning it was the first species to be given the genus name D[...]

Toronto Zoo


Here's a selection of photographs from my visit to Toronto Zoo in June 2014. All photographs taken at Toronto Zoo, Ontario, Canada by Mo Hassan. Those not in captivity are indicated in the caption, otherwise it's safe to assume they are captive.Wild North American red squirrelTamiasciurus hudsonicus (Erxleben, 1777)Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataGiant pandaAiluropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869)Ursidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataHuon, or Matschie's, tree kangarooDendrolagus matschiei Förster & Rothschild, 1907Macropodidae; Diprotodontia; Mammalia; ChordataSouthern hairy-nosed wombatLasiorhinus latifrons (Owen, 1845)Vombatidae; Diprotodontia; Mammalia; ChordataPolar bear cubUrsus maritimus Phipps, 1774Ursidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataGreen aracariPteroglossus viridis Linnaeus, 1766Ramphastidae; Piciformes; Aves; ChordataElegant crested tinamouEudromia elegans (Saint-Hilaire, 1832)Tinamidae; Tinamiformes; Aves; ChordataPlush-crested jayCyanocorax chrysops (Vieillot, 1818)Corvidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataFemale desert-grassland whiptail lizardsAspidoscelis uniparens (Wright & Lowe, 1965)Teiidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataEasily identified as females as this species is entirely parthenogenetic (all female population reproducing by cloning with unfertilised eggs).Nicaraguan spider monkeyAteles geoffroyi geoffroyi Kuhl, 1820Atelidae; Primates; Mammalia; ChordataWild eastern kingbirdTyrannus tyrannus (Linnaeus, 1758)Tyrannidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataNorth American raccoonProcyon lotor (Linnaeus, 1758)Procyonidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataCanada lynxLynx canadensis (Kerr, 1792)Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataWood bisonBison bison athabascae Rhoads, 1897Bovidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; ChordataWild ebony jewelwingCalopteryx maculata (Beauvois, 1805)Calopterygidae; Odonata; Insecta; ArthropodaWild trumpeter swansCygnus buccinator Richardson, 1832Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataAmerican moose bullAlces americanus (Clinton, 1822)Cervidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; ChordataWild female and young wood ducksAix sponsa (Linnaeus, 1758)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild tree swallowTachycineta bicolor (Vieillot, 1808)Hirundinidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild male Baltimore orioleIcterus galbula (Linnaeus, 1758)Icteridae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataOlive baboonPapio anubis (Lesson, 1827)Cercopithecidae; Primates; Mammalia; ChordataRed-tailed hawkButeo jamaicensis (Gmelin, 1788)Accipitridae; Accipitriformes (Falconiformes); Aves; ChordataWild woodchuck, or groundhogMarmota monax rufescens Howell, 1914Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataSpotted crossing the hippopotamus enclosure.Spotted-necked otterHydrictis maculicollis (Lichtenstein, 1839)Mustelidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataFemale Sumatran orangutansPongo abelii Lesson, 1827Hominidae; Primates; Mammalia; ChordataBald eagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus (Linnaeus, 1766)Accipitridae; Accipitriformes (Falconiformes); Aves; ChordataWild ring-billed gullLarus delawarensis Ord, 1815Laridae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata[...]

Ripley's Aquarium


When I visited Canada last year, I spent two days in Toronto to see a few of the sights and meet friends and family. I got to Toronto quite late in the day, but decided to head to the CN Tower.The CN Tower, downtown Toronto, from directly beneath it.June 2014I honestly didn't know at the time, because I last visited Toronto in 2002, but there is a new beautiful aquarium at the foot of the tower, that was importantly open until late (something like 11 p.m.). Of course, I went in, not hoping to see very much.Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, Toronto.It turns out the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is the best aquarium I have ever visited. OK, I haven't been to that many, mostly in the UK, but it beats all of them hands down. It has several well designed exhibits with many unusual species of fish and invertebrate that I had not seen before.All photos taken in June 2014 at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, Toronto, by the author.Orange sea penPtilosarcus gurneyi (Gray, 1860)Pennatulidae; Pennatulacea; Anthozoa; CnidariaThis bright orange thing looks like an antiquated writing implement sitting in an ink well, and kind of looks like a plant. It is in fact an animal, an invertebrate distantly related to jellyfish and sea anemones. Sea pens have a long fossil record, definitely having existed in the Cambrian, being found in the Burgess Shale (a deposit from western Canada dating to around 500 million years ago), and the enigmatic Ediacaran fossil Charnia masoni from Leicestershire which is even older (c. 580 Ma) might be a sea pen. Like their fellow cnidarians, corals, they are colonial animals, meaning each sea pen is made of thousands of tiny polyps that work together to feed and protect the whole sea pen. They are capable of uprooting themselves and moving, although spend the vast majority of their time in one place.Arctic graylingThymallus arcticus Pallas, 1776Salmonidae; Salmoniformes; Actinopterygii; ChordataGrayling are members of the salmon family, and are distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, including Britain. The arctic grayling is found in rivers and lakes across the north of Eurasia and North America. Unlike salmon they never enter the sea, but some populations spawn in tributary streams but spend their lives in lakes.Nurse sharkGinglymostoma cirratum (Bonnaterre, 1788)Ginglymostomatidae; Orectolobiformes; Chondrichthyes; ChordataThe nurse shark is a nocturnal fish that spends most of its day resting on the ocean floor. (I'm writing this as the song "Nightswimming" by R.E.M. just came on my iPod, wow). They eat fish, crustaceans and molluscs, which they can crush with their specialised dentition, which is both sharp and strong. Nurse sharks are found in the tropical western Atlantic Ocean, mainly around the Caribbean, but a population from the eastern Pacific, from Mexico to Peru, has been newly described as a new species, Ginglymostoma unami Moral-Flores et al., 2015 (available here). Interestingly, "young nurse sharks have been observed resting with their snouts pointed upward and their bodies supported off the bottom on their pectoral fins; this has been interpreted as possibly providing a false shelter for crabs and small fishes that the shark then ambushes and eats" (Compagno, 1984; available here).Sandbar sharkCarcharhinus plumbeus (Nardo, 1827)Carcharhinidae; Carcharhiniformes; Chondrichthyes; Chordata (phew, lots of Cs there!)This is a widespread shark in subtropical and tropical coastal waters worldwide. It has a similar diet to the nurse shark, eating fish and crabs, and is not considered a danger to people despite its large size. They are unfortunately threatened by fisheries as they present very good fins for the mostly Asian market of shark fins.Atlantic horseshoe crabLimulus polyphemus (Linnaeus, 1758)Limulidae; Xiphosura; Merostomata; ArthropodaThe horseshoe crab is one of those creatures often called a "living fossil". However much you like or dislike this term, [...]

Kitchener, Ontario


In June and July last year, I visited North America. I stayed for a few days in Ontario, Canada, staying in Kitchener and Toronto, then spent ten days in New York State, staying in Yonkers. I went back home via Kitchener. I went to Canada and the USA to visit friends and relatives, and to see some different easily accessible wildlife, and visit some world class collections of animals. The following photos were taken in June 2014 in the town of Kitchener, Ontario, by Mo Hassan.Adult female (above) and immature (below) American robinsTurdus migratorius migratorius Linnaeus, 1766Turdidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWhen us Europeans see an American robin, we think "pfff, that's not a robin, that's a thrush!", or something along those lines. American robins are thrushes, that is to say members of the genus Turdus (hehe, turd-us) of the family Turdidae. You can tell when you look at the immature that they are thrushes, the dappled belly turns to bright reddish-brown in males and a more muted shade in females. They only bear a very superficial resemblance to the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), which is itself a flycatcher, but obviously reminded early homesick European settlers of little robin redbreast to name Turdus migratorius after it. Incidentally, there are "robins" in Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, amongst other places, that look enough like the true robin to earn themselves that name.   Male American goldfinchSpinus tristis (Linnaeus, 1758)Carduelidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataAnother bird named for its resemblance to a European relative, the American goldfinch seems to be much more golden than the European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis. They are now not even deemed to be from the same genus, with the siskins and American goldfinches having been moved to the genus Spinus. The yellow colour is slightly washed out in this photograph, unfortunately it's a little too saturated for my camera to take, as it pecked insect pests off the chard.Male northern cardinalCardinalis cardinalis (Linnaeus, 1758)Cardinalidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataThe northern cardinal is a beautiful songster that I always look forward to seeing and hearing whenever I'm in North America. We have no songbirds as vibrant red as this, so it's always a joy to see it singing from the top of a tree. They are named for their resemblance to the scarlet robes of cardinals of the Catholic Church.V-marked lady beetleNeoharmonia venusta (Melsheimer, 1847)Coccinellidae; Coleoptera; Insecta; ArthropodaI'm not entirely sure of this ID - please correct if you know better. It looks a lot like the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) from East Asia, but lacks any white on the pronotum (neck shield). It's also strange to not call it a ladybird.Lyster's eastern chipmunkTamias striatus lysteri (Richardson, 1829)Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataI saw a few species of squirrel wild in Canada, more of which will follow in the zoo posts. The eastern chipmunk was the most commonly seen of them all. There are about 24 chipmunk species in North America, the vast majority being found in the west and southwest, with only one, the Siberian chipmunk, occurring outside North America.Next, Ripleys Aquarium in Toronto.[...]

Wildwood Trust


There are a few wildlife parks and zoos that specialise in one sort of animal or habitat or another. Many of these are among my favourite institutions in the UK: I've blogged about Crocodiles of the World in Oxfordshire (here), which holds over half of the world's crocodilian species. There is Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Kent which specialises in wild cats, and of course the nine Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserves in the UK, which specialise in ducks, geese, swans, screamers, and other water birds and wetland habitats in general. Another favourite is Highland Wildlife Park in the highlands of Scotland which features mostly British and European species as well as those from high latitudes and altitudes, i.e. the poles and mountains.There are a small number of collections in a similar vein which specialise in British creatures. Just because we don't have lions and tigers (any more), it doesn't mean the UK lacks interesting, charismatic, and beautiful creatures. I've yet to visit the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, but I took a visit to The Wildwood Trust in Kent last April, and it doesn't disappoint on the front of offering good views of living British species, species that have gone extinct from the UK in historic times, and the odd species from Europe.All photographs taken below by Mo Hassan, April 2014, at Wildwood Trust.The author not really holding a badger.European jayGarrulus glandarius glandarius (Linnaeus, 1758)Corvidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataThe jay is Britain's most colourful corvid (member of the crow family), yet one of its shiest. Most people will have seen this bird in wooded areas of parks, noticing the beautiful blue wing patch. I rarely get close enough to wild jays in the UK, so this remains the best photo I have taken of one. The Trust also holds rooks (Corvus frugilegus), magpies (Pica pica), and jackdaws (Coloeus monedula), more commonly seen members of the crow family, the individuals being animals in rehabilitation.Scottish wildcatFelis silvestris grampia Miller, 1907Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataThe wildcat is well known in Europe, Africa, and western parts of Asia, and for the most part a relatively common species. It is well known as the wild ancestor of the domestic cat, believed to have been tamed in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago, but not necessarily in Egypt, which is where the domestication is usually thought to have happened, from the African wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. There is evidence (published by Vigne et al. in 2004 in Science) of domesticated cats in Cyprus dating from 9,500 years BP. Wildcats are also native to the UK, but are nowadays threatened with extinction and limited to isolated patches of pine forest in Scotland. They look like a somewhat chubby tabby cat, with greyish-brown fur and a white muzzle and chest patch. However, black individuals are known, and as the gene pool is diluted with genes from domestic cats, other colours are appearing, threatening the future of pure-bred Scottish wildcats.Short-eared owlAsio flammeus flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763)Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; ChordataThere are four native owls in Great Britain: tawny, barn, long-eared, and short-eared, along with the now quite widespread introduced little owl. Of these, I have seen tawny, barn, and little owls in the wild, but never either of the "eared" owls. The long-eared owl looks like a small version of an eagle owl, and is surprisingly small when seen in the flesh. The Wildwood Trust has the other elusive species, the short-eared owl. Although it does indeed have short ear tufts, as can be seen above, usually, the owl keeps these close to its head and does not usually show them. Short-eared owls fly by day but aren't abundant in the UK, despite being found in most continents of the world.Eurasian lynxLynx lynx (Linnaeus, 1758)Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataThere[...]

London Zoo part two


Welcome back, here are some more photos taken at London Zoo last April.Atlantic mudskipperPeriophthalmus barbarus (Linnaeus, 1766)Gobiidae; Perciformes; Actinopterygii; ChordataMade famous by that Guinness advert, which makes out we all came from mudskippers, which is obviously not true. Mudskippers are specialised gobies that live in tropical mangroves, where water level fluctuates throughout the day, often leaving these fish stranded on land. They can "skip" using their pectoral fins, swimming using the tail, and although they lack lungs, they can absorb oxygen through wet skin and mucous membranes (e.g. mouth).Sexy shrimpThor amboinensis (de Mann, 1888)Hippolytidae; Decapoda; Malacostraca; ArthropodaYes, this really is called the sexy shrimp. I really don't know why.Grey-headed gullChroicocephalus cirrocephalus (Vieillot, 1818)Laridae; Charadriiformes; Aves; ChordataClosely related to the black-headed gull of Europe and the Bonaparte's gull of North America. This bird seems to be in transition between winter and summer plumage, as its head is still white.Male green peafowlPavo muticus Linnaeus, 1766Phasianidae; Galliformes; Aves; ChordataThis male was displaying to his females and a group of school children in the Snowden Aviary. Less well known but in my opinion much prettier than the blue peafowl.Malagasy giant jumping ratHypogeomys antimena Grandidier, 1869Nesomyidae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataDown in the basement of the Clore Pavilion, in an area formerly known as Moonlight World, can be found some of London Zoo's most unusual inhabitants. Over the years I have seen dasyures, echidnas, and other bizarre mammals in this part of the zoo, and today they still have a few species of nocturnal mammal to excite fans of obscure mammals. The Malagasy giant jumping rat is in a family endemic to Africa and Madagascar, with this species restricted to a tiny patch of forest in western Madagascar, and is classified as Endangered by the IUCN.North Sri Lanka grey slender lorisLoris lydekkerianus nordicus (Osman Hill, 1933)Lorisidae; Primates; Mammalia; ChordataAnother unusual inhabitant of the Moonlight World is the slender loris. I'm always wary of using flash photography on animals, especially those in darkened surroundings and with big eyes, but this loris was actually very curious, and came closer to me as I took no more than three photos before moving on.Australian water ratHydromys chrysogaster Geoffroy, 1804Muridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataA large aquatic rodent native to Australia and New Guinea, it also goes by the names of beaver rat or rakali.Moholi bushbabyGalago moholi Smith, 1836Galagidae; Primates; Mammalia; ChordataA southern African primate named for the sound of its voice.Hooded pittaPitta sordida (Muller, 1776)Pittidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataCommon emerald doveChalcophaps indica (Linnaeus, 1758)Columbidae; Columbiformes; Aves; ChordataMale black-necked weaverPloceus nigricollis (Vieillot, 1815)Ploceidae; Passeriforms; Aves; ChordataThese three photos were taken in the Blackburn Pavilion, also known as the Bird House. It was rebuilt in 2008 to feature a walkthrough aviary.Sumatran tiger cubPanthera tigris sumatrae Pocock, 1929Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataThis was taken when the tiger cubs at the zoo were only around a month old.,Woolly-necked storkCiconia episcopus Boddaert, 1783Ciconiidae; Ciconiiformes; Aves; ChordataTaken at the African Bird Safari walkthrough.Bearded pigSus barbatus Muller, 1838Suidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; ChordataA Southeast Asian relative of the wild boar, and a lot bigger than it looks!Tawny frogmouthPodargus strigoides (Latham, 1801)Podargidae; Caprimulgiformes; Aves; ChordataThis nocturnal owl-like relative of nightjars is found in Australia, and looks very odd from the front.[...]

London Zoo - Reptile House


My latest visit to London Zoo was in April 2014. I spent a long time in the Reptile House and here are some of the pictures of herpetofauna from that trip.King cobraOphiophagus hannah (Cantor, 1836)Elapidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014The longest venomous snake in the world and one of the world's most feared.Blue tree monitorVaranus macraei (Böhme & Jacobs, 2001)Varanidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014An unusually coloured species of monitor lizard endemic to the eastern Indonesian island of Batanta. Rhinoceros viperBitis nasicornis (Shaw, 1792)Viperidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Long-nosed viperVipera ammodytes (Linnaeus, 1758)Viperidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Puff adderBitis arietans (Merrem, 1820)Viperidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Gila monstersHeloderma suspectum Cope, 1869Helodermatidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014These venomous lizards were mating.Male Yemen veiled chameleonChamaeleo calyptratus (Duméril & Bibron, 1851)Chamaeleonidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Royal (or ball) pythonPython regius (Shaw, 1802)Pythonidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Male Fiji iguanaBrachylophus bulabula Keogh et al., 2008Iguanidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014This recently discovered, endangered, bright blue and turquoise iguana is endemic to a few of the islands of Fiji, whose nearest relatives, apart from the other Fijian members of Brachylophus, are from South America.Annam leaf turtlesMauremys annamensis (Siebenrock, 1903)Geoemydidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Yellow-crested Jackson's chameleonTrioceros jacksonii xantholophus (Eason, Ferguson & Hebrard, 1988)Chamaeleonidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Caiman lizardDracaena guianensis (Daudin, 1802)Teiidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Radiated tortoiseAstrochelys radiata Shaw, 1802Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Lake Oku clawed frogXenopus longipes Loumont & Kobel, 1991Pipidae; Anura; Amphibia; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Mallorcan midwife toad tadpoleAlytes muletensis (Sanchiz & Adrover, 1977)Alytidae; Anura; Amphibia; ChordataLondon Zoo, April 2014Mammals, birds, and more coming soon.[...]

Paradise Wildlife Park


I've been visiting Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, since I was an ickle kid. It has always been one of my favourite zoos, with some unusual animals you wouldn't usually seen in zoos. It remains the only place where I have seen the very rare Owston's civets, for example.Eurasian nuthatchSitta europaea caesia Wolf, 1810Sittidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Paradise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014The Park is set in woodland, attracting various wild birds. I spotted this nuthatch in the woodland part of the park.Male Swinhoe's pheasantLophura swinhoii (Gould, 1863)Phasianidae; Galliformes; Aves; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014There is a section of the park called "Birds of Paradise" which doesn't actually include any birds of paradise, but has a collection of birds of prey, parrots, and pheasants, including this beautifully plumaged male Swinhoe's pheasant from Taiwan.Swainson's (rainbow) lorikeetTrichoglossus haematodus moluccanus (Gmelin, 1788)Psittacidae/Psittaculidae; Psittaciformes; Aves; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014There is a walkthrough exhibit of Swainson's lorikeets where you can feed the brush-tongued birds with nectar.Burrowing owlsAthene cunicularia (Molina, 1782)Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014I like the way these two owls appear to look like one in this composition.Immature South African cheetahAcinonyx jubatus jubatus (Schreber, 1775)Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014Paradise has plenty of felids, shared with its specialist spin-off, Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which contains nothing but cats. Between them, they have (and have had) all of the big cat species, several threatened subspecies and varieties (including the white lion), and many small felids like Pallas' cat, ocelot, Geoffroy's cat, and Siberian lynx. The cheetahs here were being trained by keepers, while this photograph was taken, to accept food on cue to facilitate examination.JaguarPanthera onca (Linnaeus, 1758)Felidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014The Park itself also has tigers (of unknown race because they were rescued and thus are not part of any breeding programme), a female African leopard, and snow leopards, as well as some beautiful jaguars.Oudri's fan-footed geckoPtyodactylus oudrii Lataste, 1880Phyllodactylidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014Chinese alligatorAlligator sinensis Fauvel, 1879Alligatoridae; Crocodylia; Sauropsida; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014Swinhoe's striped squirrelTamiops swinhoei (Milne-Edwards, 1874)Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014Small mammals kept at the zoo include Asian short-clawed otters, meerkats, pygmy marmoset, red panda, lesser hedgehog tenrec, Egyptian rousettes (a small flying fox), and the chipmunk-like Swinhoe's striped squirrel.Corsac foxVulpes corsac (Linnaeus, 1766)Canidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataParadise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire; March 2014Finally, Paradise also boasts a number of canines, including red and corsac fox, raccoon dog, and Eurasian grey wolves.[...]

London Wetland Centre


Hello readers, here are a few photos taken at WWT London Wetland Centre. I have been working there as a volunteer and casual learning assistant, helping the education team to deliver and devise activities like pond dipping, arts and crafts, and nature walks, for almost four years now. I've mentioned them and features photos taken there in many posts before, including wetland bonanza, two posts on teals, and arctic wildfowl. Here are some photos taken at the Wetlands last year.Bewick's swan Cygnus bewickii (Yarrell, 1838)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes (captive collections), March 2014Radjah shelduckTadorna radjah (Lesson, 1828)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes (captive collections, "Kakadu"), March 2014European robinErithacus rubecula melophilus Hartert, 1758Muscicapidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at WWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, March 2014Grey heronArdea cinerea (Linnaeus, 1758)Ardeidae; Pelecaniformes; Aves; ChordataWild at WWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, March 2014Wasp beetleClytus arietis (Linnaeus, 1758)Cerambycidae; Coleoptera; Insecta; ArthropodaWWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, May 2014Vapourer moth caterpillar on bramble leaf (Rubus fruticosus)Orgyia antiqua (Linnaeus, 1758)Lymantriidae; Lepidoptera; Insecta; ArthropodaWWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, June 2014Blue mint beetleChrysolina coerulans (Scriba, 1791)Chrysomelidae; Coleoptera; Insecta; ArthropodaWild at WWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, May 2014This is an invasive species of bright blue beetle native to southern and central Europe but is spreading northwards. It is a pest of mint plants.Bee orchidOphrys apifera HudsonOrchidaceae; Asparagales; Liliopsida; AngiospermaeWWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, May 2014Egyptian geeseAlopochen aegyptiacus (Linnaeus, 1766)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at WWT London Wetland Centre, Barnes, August 2014Next, photos from a trip to Paradise Wildlife Park, a small but interesting zoo in southeast Hertfordshire.[...]

Amwell Nature Reserve


I always wanted to live near a wetland nature reserve, and when my family and I moved to Ware from north London, I ended up surrounded by wetlands. Amwell Nature Reserve, owned by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, is only around 3 miles away from my house. It is also a short walking distance from St. Margaret's rail station, or around a mile's walk from Ware rail station, taking you along the scenic River Lee navigation.I visit at all times of year, since it is my local patch so to speak. There are photos here from two summers and winters ago, as I haven't gotten round to uploading photos taken in the last six months or so.Panoramic view of Amwell Nature Reserve, with my mum, Hattie.Hertfordshire, May 2014Wild red foxVulpes vulpes crucigera (Bechstein, 1789)Canidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2013Some mammals to start with. I saw this fox in broad daylight in the fields adjoining the nature reserve, probably taking advantage of the many rabbits that abound in this area.Wild Reeves' muntjacMuntiacus reevesi (Ogilby, 1839)Cervidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014It's not too unusual to see Reeves' muntjac around in these parts but during the day is unusual (for me at least), and also oddly enough, I think this deer was on an island! The waters around it must be shallow, as the grey heron in the background shows. Reeves' muntjac are not native to the UK, being introduced from China, having escaped into the wild from Woburn and Whipsnade deer parks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.Wild eastern grey squirrelSciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, June 2013A grey squirrel at the feeders by the James hide, a great place to see small birds, and some mammals, without disturbing them.The author with Konik poniesEquus caballus Linnaeus, 1758Equidae; Cetartiodactyla; Mammalia; ChordataAmwell Nature Reserve, June 2013Here I am with two of the reserves Konik ponies, before and after being bitten on the arm by one. When they're not biting bloggers, they are seen grazing the reserve. They are semi-wild, being a breed of domestic horse selected for its similarities to the ancestral tarpan (the now extinct wild horse that gave rise to all domestic horses and ponies). The Koniks are very hardy and not very tame, as evidenced by the bite.Female (left) and male northern shovelerAnas clypeata Linnaeus, 1758Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014Male gadwallAnas strepera Linnaeus, 1758Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014Greylag gooseAnser anser anser (Linnaeus, 1758)Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014There are many wildfowl species to be seen at Amwell. Residents include the feral greylag geese that probably descended from farmyard geese (which themselves originally descended from truly wild greylag geese!) and mallards. Gadwalls and shovelers are more common in winter, as are teal, pochard and wigeon.Common gullLarus canus Linnaeus, 1758Laridae; Charadriiformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014Many species of gull congregate on the reserve and its surrounding waters, including black-headed, herring, and lesser black-backed gulls. I rarely see other types, but this common gull was an exception. Despite its name, common gulls are not all that common in southern Britain, preferring northern parts of the country.Common ternSterna hirundo Linnaeus, 1758Sternidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; ChordataWild at Amwell Nature Reserve, H[...]

RSPB The Lodge


The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is the UK's largest nature conservation charity. Their headquarters is near a town called Sandy in Bedfordshire, which happens to be under an hour's drive from where I live in neighbouring Hertfordshire. The headquarters and its surrounding grounds are known as The Lodge, which is what this photo essay is about.I first visited The Lodge last February on a cold but sunny day with my mum. I was particularly impressed with one of the hides along the Woodpecker Trail, which I spent hours in, watching countless birds.Great spotted woodpeckers (from top: female, male, male in foreground female in background)Dendrocopos major (Linnaeus, 1758)Picidae; Piciformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014Of course I expected to hear woodpeckers prominently at this time of year along the Woodpecker Trail but I didn't expect to see them at such close range. Males are told from females by the small patch of red on the nape of the neck, but are otherwise identical. The great spotted woodpecker is one of only three British woodpeckers (a fourth, the wryneck Jynx torquilla is a rare vagrant) and is easily heard in late winter and throughout spring drumming at trees.Stock doveColumba oenas Linnaeus, 1758Columbidae; Columbiformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014Although quite similar, the stock dove is less of a suburban animal than the wood pigeon. Stock doves are distinguished by the dark iris (making it look 'kinder' than the wood pigeon), lack of white patch on the neck, and no white on the wings. The 'stock' in its name derives from an Old English word meaning a hollow piece of wood, which would be used as 'wood stock' for fires. Although called a dove (as are white feral pigeons), it is most certainly a pigeon.Long-tailed titAegithalos caudatus rosaceus Mathews, 1937Aegithalidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014A long-tailed tit, one of my favourite British birds, looking rather bull-necked.Lesser redpollAcanthis cabaret Statius Müller, 1776Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014Most redpolls are winter finches, spending the summer months at higher latitudes in northern Europe and Greenland. The lesser redpoll, however, is mostly sedentary, with higher numbers being present in winter during particularly cold spells further north. The red 'poll' in its name is referring to the top of the head, which is rosy red.Male mallardAnas platyrhynchos Linnaeus, 1758Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014Eastern grey squirrelSciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014European rabbitOryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758)Leporidae; Lagomorpha; Mammalia; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014Female common blackbirdTurdus merula merula Linnaeus, 1758Turdidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014I visited again two months later in warmer weather, and the bunnies were abounding. The small pool in front of the hide helped attract thirsty birds and mammals and those in need of a bath.Male chaffinchFringilla coelebs gengleri Kleinschmidt, 1909Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014Eurasian nuthatchSitta europaea caesia Wolf, 1810Sittidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014European goldfinchCarduelis carduelis britannica (Hartert, 1903)Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfo[...]

Kingfishers in Hertfordshire


I thought I'd resuscitate this blog with some photo essays of memorable places I've been in 2014. The first of these is RSPB Rye Meads in Hoddesdon, east Hertfordshire. I have been visiting this nature reserve since 2006, and since it is my closest RSPB reserve now that I live in east Herts, I visit fairly regularly.Rye Meads is a wetland reserve part owned by RSPB and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, and is close to London, with trains from Liverpool Street stopping at Rye House station, a ten minute (slow) walk away from the reserve.Male Eurasian kingfisherAlcedo atthis (Linnaeus, 1758)Alcedinidae; Coraciiformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB Rye Meads, March 2014Rye Meads is most famous for hosting breeding populations of kingfishers. They are easily visible from many hides, most notably the Kingfisher Hide. They can be seen darting back and forth between feeding areas and the nesting site, as the male pictured above was photographed.Green sandpipersTringa ochropus Linnaeus, 1758Scolopacidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; ChordataWild at RSPB Rye Meads, August 2013Other birds the reserve attracts include black-necked grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), a nationally scarce breeding bird, and green sandpipers.Northern water voleArvicola amphibius (Linnaeus, 1758)Cricetidae; Rodentia; Mammalia; ChordataWild at RSPB Rye Meads, August 2013The most commonly seen mammal in the reserve is the water vole. Water voles, sometimes known affectionately by the name of Ratty, thanks to the character in Wind of the Willows, suffered a severe decline in the UK in recent decades due to introduced American mink (Neovison vison). Thankfully, water voles respond well to reintroduction projects and are now on the increase again. At Rye Meads, voles can easily be seen munching on apples and other food given to them by reserve staff on feeding platforms beneath some of the bridges.Peacock butterflyAglais io (Linnaeus, 1758)Nymphalidae; Lepidoptera: Insecta; ArthropodaWild at RSPB Rye Meads, April 2014The summer is a great time to visit, with butterflies and dragonflies in abundance, while winter is great for wintering wildfowl.The next article will feature another local RSPB reserve and some pecking piciforms.[...]

I think I hear a heartbeat... IT'S ALIVE!!


Hello followers (do I hear an echo?echo?echo?), I have decided to resuscitate this blog, blow off the thick layers of dust, and start semi-regular blogging again as the Disillusioned Taxonomist-turned-vertebrate-palaeontologist-in-training.What follows is sort of a "best-of", a few of my proudest blogging moments from the first three years of this blog, then links to all of the quizzes I've held, plus the answers, on various areas of natural history over the years.One of my first posts, back in 2008 (when I was 24, holy flipflop!), was a short story about a radioactive theropod. It was good, I still think so! Meeting with a SpinosaurusI blogged about the Natural History Museum later that year, where you can see a young me posing with some stuffed felids. My Favourite MuseumAfter my first visit to Cyprus in 8 years, when I visited the Güzelyurt Museum of Archaeology and Natural History, and reported on some of its more bizarre exhibits. Rogue TaxidermyIn the latter half of 2009, I blogged a series of posts about British wildlife, featuring an A-Z of native extant and extinct animals and one plant. For the letter B, I featured Baryonyx, and included a poem I wrote about my then-favourite dinosaur when I was about 8 years old. British Wildlife: BAnd one of my favourites, my prehistoric animal alphabet, with 26 fictional creatures shaped like the letters of the alphabet, complete with binomials. Prehistoric Animal AlphabetAnd here are the quizzes:Test your knowledge of vertebrate skulls with Cranial Challenge (answers here);Fun tetrapod themed riddles (answers here);I asked you to have a go at identifying this unusual bird (answer here);A series of unusual mammal skulls, here, here, and here (answers here, here, and here - the answers are in the same post as some of the questions so try to view them in order to avoid spoilers);A different quiz, guess the connection (answer here);No, it's not a fossilised belt, but what is it? (answer here);More skulls, this time of mammals (answer here);A reptilian close-up (answer here);Whose foot? (answer here);A celebrity plant quiz (answers here);And everyone's favourite wildfowl quiz, Name That Gosling! (answer here).I hope I still have a few readers, in which case, thanks for reading, and a Happy New Year to all![...]

Flickr lists


I have recently updated my Flickr photograph portfolio, featuring >2,000 photographs of animals and plants. 

I was originally going to post a number of long lists here, but they are very long and dry, but if anybody wants them, let me know and I can send them by email. I have listed the links to individual photographs by common name in alphabetical order, scientific name in alphabetical order, and in a phylogenetic order. If there is a request for a list of photos from a particular place, e.g. London Wetland Centre, or Cyprus, I can easily make one of those. I realise these lists of photos would be useful to anyone looking for a photo to use in a publication, on a web page, or any other educational use.

Flickr photography portfolio


Hey all,

I have created a portfolio of my wildlife photography shots over the years, now on Flickr.

Flickr photostream

There are currently around 1800 photographs in there of animals and plants, wild and captive, taken in the UK, Europe, Cyprus, and the US. I have created sets for broad taxonomic groups, orders of tetrapod, continent of origin, and conservation status. Any suggestions for more tags or sets welcome.

I cannot guarantee everything is correctly identified, so any well-informed suggestions for taxonomy and identification are also welcome.

I will also add selected art pieces in due course.

Blue-and-gold Macaw


Blue-and-gold macaw
Ara ararauna (Linnaeus, 1758)
Psittacidae; Psittaciformes; Aves; Chordata
Digital painting created using ArtRage 3.5.4 Studio Pro
January 2013

A tropical start to 2013! A happy new year to all.

Penguins of the World


Penguins of the World
Digital art created using Artrage 3.5.4 Studio Pro, using original pencil illustrations first published on this blog in 2008
November to December 2012

I have been inactive on this blog of late. I am still creating artwork, as can be seen here. Here are the eighteen species of penguin in existence, ranging in size from the emperor to the little blue, and extending in distribution from the Equator to within a few degrees of the South Pole, and on four southern continents. I have blogged about the Spheniscidae in more detail some years back, with posts on all species as linked to below:

Emperor Penguin and King Penguin
Adélie Penguin and Chinstrap Penguin
Gentoo Penguin and Yellow-eyed Penguin
Northern Rockhopper Penguin and Southern Rockhopper Penguin
Erect-crested Penguin and Fiordland Crested Penguin
 Macaroni Penguin and Royal Penguin
Snares Crested Penguin and Little Blue Penguin
Jackass Penguin and Galapagos Penguin
Magellanic Penguin and Humboldt Penguin

What's that gosling?... revealed


It's a Hawaiian goose, or nene, gosling.


Hawaiian goose with gosling
Branta sandvicensis (Vigors, 1833)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
April 2012

The hint in the photo was the half-webbed, or semipalmate, feet. The goslings are growing fast and are as of yesterday almost the same size as their parents.

Why I'm NOT boycotting Eurovision 2012


I don’t normally make a habit of using this blog as a platform for my political opinion (in fact this might be the first time, I can’t remember), but since I feel quite strongly about human rights, LGBT rights, and camp pan-European song contests, I will make an exception to explain why I won’t be boycotting the 57th Eurovision Song Contest which takes place this Saturday in Baku.

Until I watched Panorama: Eurovision’s Dirty Secret, an excellent piece of investigative journalism by the BBC, last night, I was quite ignorant of the plight of the Azeri people, especially those who speak out against the corrupt government. Journalist Paul Kenyon interviewed several protesters who were horrifically treated and have had to seek exile in order to avoid even worse torture. Despite legalising homosexuality in 2001, same sex unions are still not recognised, and many Azeri people feel uncomfortable being openly gay due to the threat of persecution. Several European countries have officially boycotted the event: Armenia, a long time foe of the neighbouring Azerbaijan, has pulled out altogether, as has Poland. So why am I still watching?

Until I came out as gay two years ago, I never admitted to enjoying watching the song contest, as doing so would have most likely automatically outed me. I watch for several reasons:
  • guessing to whom each country will give twelve points/douze points and no points/nul points;
  • to laugh at the ridiculous costumes;
  • to make derisive tweets about the representatives each country chooses to give the vote results;
  • to laugh at Graham Norton’s comments on said representatives;
  • to root Turkey and the UK on;
  • and to have something to talk about for the next few weeks because even if you’re European and don’t watch it, you know someone who does and most likely have an opinion on it anyway. 
So why deprive myself of this multi-level enjoyment only to be heard by no-one? There are more productive ways to get heard: blogging about it is a start, as is signing a petition (such as here and here) to the Azeri government or to your own government, pleading to them to stop the unjust treatment of dissidents or the economic/ political support of a nation that allows this to happen.

Comments welcome as usual. Tell me, will you be watching this year?

What's that gosling?


Hey readers, long time no blog I know... there should be some nice new material appearing on this patch of cyberspace in the next few months [if I can be arsed]. Well, for now, here's a photo of a cute ickle gosling. Anyone able to identify the species and/or breed? Comments here or via the social network site of your choice.


Bonus picture, here's a gorgeous lapwing.


Northern lapwing
Vanellus vanellus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Charadriidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
April 2012

Sapphire, 1996-2012


SapphireDigital painting created using ArtRage 3.0January 2012At ten past six in the evening on Wednesday 25th January, my darling Sapphire was euthanized at the age of 15 years and 8 months. In his last few months we’d noticed him becoming slower in his movements and that he’d been losing weight. In the last week, he seemed to have lost all feeling in his right hind leg. The vet, after detecting a lump in his abdomen which was causing him pain, decided his prognosis was poor due to his age and the likelihood that the lump was cancerous and most probably inoperable. He will always be remembered for his extreme affection, especially in his later years, and his funny ways. Here follows a biography I wrote about Sapphire back in 2008 on this blog:“Sapphire is a big neutered male 12 year old shorthair cat we have had since he was 2 months old. Scarlett and Saff (as he is known for short, or Saffy) have never liked each other, and pretty much can't stand being in the same room together, except if it's a big room. He is the greediest of the three cats and eats more than his fair share.He hasn't had as many misadventures in his life as Scarlett, for example, he's never been pregnant, but has had poor health over the last few years to with the bladder, and is slightly overweight so he is on a diet (less food less often). Once his collar got stuck in his mouth, and we thought he broke his jaw. The name comes from the fact that his eyes were once blue but turned greeny.Saff's funny habits include preference for paper above plush carpet to sleep on, peeing in the bath, sleeping near the toilet, dribbling while he "kneads", sleeping with his head in people's slippers, sounds like ET when he's unhappy. His favourite human food is carrots, and likes playing ice hockey with carrot tops in the kitchen, and also likes food meant for other animals, such as algae-based catfish food.”Since I wrote that, I also wrote this, which appeared in the “blook” I self-published a couple of years back:“Sapphire is now a world-famous racecar driver, and has brought out a range of fragrances for men and women called Essence. He’s also become very affectionate of late, and will sit on anybody’s lap.”Here are a few photographs from throughout Sapphire's life:Sapphire sheltering from the rain under the barbecue2002Sapphire lying on my newly-fitted bedroom carpetc. 2000Sapphire as a kitten1996Sapphire letting us know he wants to come in!c. 2000Sapphire having a roll around in the gardenc.2003Sapphire lying in a basketc. 2003Sapphire as a kitten1996Sapphire waiting for dinner2000Sapphire resting on one of his favourite spots2005Sapphire on my bed2005Sapphire and Dolly on my bed2005Sapphire under the delusion he can fit inside a shoe box2007Sapphire up close and personal2007Sapphire resting on a book2009Sapphire sitting on my printer2010Sapphire, 1996-2012[...]

Celebrity Plant Quiz - Answers


Sorry it’s taken a while, but here are the answers to the Celebrity Plant Quiz from two months ago:

1 K – Olive (Oyl) – photo of Olea europaea
2 E – Hazel (Blears) – photo of Corylus avellana
3 L – (Rose of) Sharon (Stone) – photo of Hypericum calycinum
4 S – (River) Phoenix (the genus of date palms) – photo of Phoenix dactylifera
5 H – Rosemary (Clooney) – photo of Rosmarinus officinalis
6 C – (Sweet) (Prince) William – photo of Dianthus barbatus
7 W – (Condoleezza) Rice – photo of Oryza sativa
8 B – (Black-eyed) Susan (Sarandon) – photo of Rudbeckia hirta
9 V – (Aloe) Vera (Lynn) – photo of Aloe vera
10 I – (Leslie) Ash – photo of Fraxinus excelsior
11 M – (Weeping) Willow (Rosenberg) – photo of Salix babylonica
12 U – Joshua (Tree) (Jackson) – photo of Yucca brevifolia
13 A – (Buddy) Holly – photo of Ilex aquifolius
14 X – Ginger (Rogers) – photo of Zingiber officinalis
15 O – Apple (Martin) – photo of Malus domesticus
16 D – Heather (Mills) – photo of Calluna vulgaris
17 F – Basil (Fawlty) – photo of Ocimum basilicum
18 Q – (Dog) Rose (Nylun) – photo of Rosa canina
19 G – Lavender (Brown) – photo of Lavandula angustifolia
20 P – (Neneh) Cherry – photo of Prunus subhirtella
21 J – (Princess) Jasmine – photo of Jasminum officinale
22 T – (African) Lily (Allen) – photo of Agapanthus africanus
23 N – (Common Dog) Violet (Beauregarde) – photo of Viola riviniana
24 R – Rowan (Atkinson) – photo of Sorbus aucuparia

Well done to Ed Gill for getting them all right.