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Scottish beavers to be 'translocated' to boost population

Scottish beavers to be 'translocated' to boost population

The move will help to establish the species outside its current range.

New measures to boost biodiversity and expand the beaver population have been announced by the Scottish Government.

Under the measures revealed on Wednesday (24 November), ministers will be actively promoting 'translocation', which involves safely trapping and moving beavers to a more suitable area. 

It is hoped the move will reduce or avoid the negative impacts associated with beavers and help establish the species in parts of Scotland outside its current range.

Commenting on the announcement, biodiversity minister Lorna Slater said: “Beavers were driven to extinction in Scotland but have now become an established part of our environment in some areas following their reintroduction, and today’s announcement will help them to continue to expand across the country. 

“Restoring this lost species is important in its own right, but beavers will also contribute to restoring Scotland’s natural environment as they create wetland habitats that support a range of species, and their dams can also help filter sediment from watercourses and mitigate flooding.”

Eurasian beavers are native to the UK, but they were driven to extinction in the 16th century over demand for their fur and meat. In recent years, however, conservationists have been working hard to restore the species to Britain – figures published by NatureScot figures show there are an estimated 602 to 1381 beavers in Scotland alone. 

In some areas, beavers can impact negatively on agricultural land, forestry and infrastructure, but thgough their work conservationists have gained a deeper understanding of how they can manage this now-protected species. They and the Scottish Government will continue to work with landowners to reduce any negative impacts, and the option of translocation will further support this. 

Welcoming the announcement, Sarah Robinson, Director of Conservation at Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Moving beavers requires specialist skills and resources so providing funding and increasing the number of people who are trained to carry out translocations effectively is an important step forward.

“To fully benefit from the return of beavers to Scotland we need to see joined-up thinking. We look forward to working with groups from a range of backgrounds to help shape a robust and forward-looking national strategy for the species.”

Winners revealed for Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Winners revealed for Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Winners revealed for Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards
An image of a Golden Silk Monkey in a painful position won first overall.

The winners of The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021 have been revealed.
The overall winner of this year's competition is Ken Jensen, an amateur photographer from Blackburn. Ken, whose image 'Ouch!' beat out 7,000 other entries for the winning title, captured the photograph whilst on holiday in the Lonsheng Gorge, Yunnan, China in 2016.

'Ouch!' depicts a Golden Silk Monkey playing with his family (who are out of shot) on the bridge that runs over the river Xun. He is sitting on one of the bridge's supporting wires, and making a face that suggests shock and discomfort – though what he is actually displaying is signs of aggression.

On hearing that his well-timed shot earned the winning title, Ken said: “I was absolutely overwhelmed to learn that my entry had won, especially when there were quite a number of wonderful photos entered.

“The publicity that my image has received over the last few months has been incredible, it is such a great feeling to know that one’s image is making people smile globally as well as helping to support some fantastically worthwhile conservation causes.

“I would like to say a really big thank you to everyone who has enjoyed or voted for my image and would also like to thank the competition organisers without whom it would not have been possible. And I absolutely love the trophy!

“Finally, I want to thank my wife Min, for the support and encouragement that she provides in my photography adventures.”

Image (C) Ken Jensen / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021
The Affinity Photo People’s Choice Award went to John Speirs for ‘I Guess Summer’s Over!’

Image (C) John Speirs / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

Arthur Trevino won the Animals Of The Land Category Award with ‘Ninja Prairie Dog’

Image (C) Arthur Trevino / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

Chee Kee Teo won the Creatures Under The Water Award with 'Time For School'

Image (C) Chee Kee Teo / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

The Amazing Internet Portfolio Award went to Vicki Jauron for 'The Joy of a Mud Bath'

Image (C) VickI Jauron / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

Andy Parkinson's 'Let's dance' earned them the title of Highly Commended Winner

Image (C) Andy Parkinson / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

Chu Han Lin's 'See who jumps high' was also highly commended

Image (C) Chu Han Lin / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021

Another highly commended winner was Lea Scaddan with 'Missed'

Image (C) Lea Scaddan / Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021


Rhino's DNA to help species after death

Rhino's DNA to help species after death

Whipsnade Zoo has allowed Clara's tissue to be used for veterinary research and conservation projects.

A rhinoceros at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is helping her species to live on after her death, after tissue samples were taken at her post-mortem to be used for veterinary research and conservation projects.

Clara the 40 year old Southern white rhino was sadly put to sleep on Wednesday 10 November, after examination by veterinary surgeons discovered that her condition was worsening, and would not be treatable. 

Clara's post-mortem not only allowed the Zoo to gain more knowledge of her condition, but it also meant that over 70 different tissue samples could be taken for future conservation and understanding of her species. 

Dr Spiro, ZSL's wildlife veterinary pathologist, said: “With the future of rhinos in such jeopardy, ZSL’s own DNA bank will keep a copy of Clara’s genome to store indefinitely, and the specialist programme The Rhino Fertility Project at the University of Oxford is working to develop ways to grow immature eggs from Clara's ovary and generate mature eggs from them so that they can potentially be fertilised to produce white rhino embryos in the future.

“Meanwhile, a skin sample from Clara’s ear will be treated and cryopreserved by partner organisation Nature’s SAFE, a living biobank, who store cell lines from endangered animal species. Clara’s cells will be used to create an immortal cell line, so that her cells can be used to study white rhino biology and genetics for years to come.”

The Wellcome Sanger Institute will also be using Clara's tissue to investigate the genetics of ageing, and Dr Spiro commented: “By studying her cells to see if they have mutated, scientists may be able to see if rhinos age the same way as humans age, whether they are better or worse at resisting ageing, and use that information to better understand the development of cancers and heart disease.

“Even in death, there can be life. While it is very sad for all of us that Clara’s gone, her tissues will influence the way we look after and protect this incredible species in the wild for years to come. 

“In that sense, Clara will be part of the future conservation of this incredible species in a way that will live on forever.”

Image (C) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Baby sloth born at ZSL London Zoo

Baby sloth born at ZSL London Zoo

The youngster surprised keepers with a quick birth.

A baby two-toed sloth was born at ZSL London Zoo on Sunday 24 October, surprising keepers with a speedy morning birth.

Marilyn, the pregnant sloth, was due to give birth soon, and zookeepers arrived early in the morning to check on her, finding her snuggled up in her den, still pregnant. 

The keepers left to make breakfast for the animals, but on returning to Marilyn's enclosure, they found Marilyn with her baby, having given birth in the short time the keepers had left her, an uncharacteristic speed for two-toed sloths. 

Marcel McKinley, London Zoo's sloth keeper, said: “We knew Marilyn was coming to the end of her pregnancy, so we’ve been keeping a close eye on her, arranging regular ultrasounds with the Zoo’s vet team and checking every day for signs of the new arrival.

“We looked in on her first thing and there was no baby - and no sign at all that she was labour.

“Less than an hour later I spotted something that looked like a tiny arm, tucked into Marilyn’s tummy; I called the rest of the team to confirm my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, and they arrived just in time to see her turn around in the tree and give us the perfect view of her healthy newborn - who she’d quietly delivered, with no fuss at all, while we’d been chopping up sweet potato for her breakfast. She clearly took the whole thing in her stride.” 

The baby sloth has been named Terry, and is reportedly doing very well. Marcel added: “We’ve named the youngster Terry, after one of the Zoo’s longest-serving zookeepers - our colleague Terry March, who has devoted his whole life to caring for threatened species and educating the public about wildlife.”


Image (C) ZSL London Zoo

Digital animal welfare programme released in Japanese

Digital animal welfare programme released in Japanese

The resource has been created by UK-based charity Wild Welfare.  

A digital animal welfare programme has been launched in Japanese by the UK animal welfare charity Wild Welfare.

Produced in collaboration with The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE) at the University of Edinburgh, the free online programme focuses on working with captive wildlife. 

The programme delivers bite-sized online modules on animal behaviour, animal welfare needs and animal enrichment, among other topics, is accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers, and can be taken as a complete course, or one module at a time. 

Simon Marsh, Wild Welfare's acting UK director, commented on the resource: “Ensuring animal welfare resources are available in people’s native languages is vital in helping to make certain our charity’s work really has an impact on captive wildlife in all corners of the globe.

“The Wild About Welfare programme has been designed to upskill staff working with wild animals in captivity and give them the knowledge to be able to deliver good care and welfare.”
Participants of the programme will be provided with practical learning exercises, and will be encouraged to consider species' biology, along with individual preferences, to assist in making positive and productive decisions for each animal's welfare. 

Keiko Yamazaki, executive director of the Animal Literacy Research Institute and member of the Japanese Coalition of Animal Welfare (JCAW) said: “The issues pertaining to captive wildlife in Japan are many. There is no legal definition of zoos. Exotic pets are popular which helps to boost the illegal wildlife trade.

“Educating all those involved in the care of wildlife as well as the general public on the welfare of these animals is of paramount importance to the nation. 
“The digital learning program and its accessibility will indeed help to accelerate this education.”

Big-headed turtles born at ZSL London Zoo

Big-headed turtles born at ZSL London Zoo

The species is critically endangered and under threat due to the illegal wildlife trade. 

Three critically endangered big-headed turtles have hatched at ZSL London Zoo, after their parents were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.

The four adult Platysternon megacephalum, or big-headed turtles, were brought to ZSL London Zoo in 2018, after smugglers had attempted to illegally import them into Canada labelled as toys.

Kimberly Carter, ZSL reptile keeper, commented on the new arrivals: “We had the expertise at ZSL London Zoo to give this solitary species the specialist care they individually needed, and we’re pleased that this dedicated work has paid off with these three hatchlings.

“Big-headed turtles may not be conventionally cute to most people - with their oversized heads and long, whip-like tails - but they represent a vitally important and unique branch of the evolutionary tree and have much to teach us about animal adaptions. 

“There is literally no other species like them on earth.”

The three hatchlings have been named Ha, Thuy and Tim, after colleagues from the Asian Turtle Program of the Indo Myanmar Conservation, Ha Hoang, Thuy Thu Nguyen and Tim McCormack. ZSL works collaboratively with the Asian Turtle Program, which helps to rehabilitate rescued big-headed turtles in Vietnam. 

Ha, Thuy and Tim will not be visible to the public for the time being as they grow, however, visitors can visit the four originally rescued big-headed turtles at the zoo's reptile house. 

Bark beetle pest identified in Kent and East Sussex

Bark beetle pest identified in Kent and East Sussex

The Forestry Commission is acting on the discovery. 

New breeding populations of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) have been identified in Kent and East Sussex.

Defra is warning woodland managers, land owners, those in the forest industry and those working in tree nurseries to remain vigilant after several new populations of the beetle were discovered. 

Two breeding populations were initially confirmed in two woodlands in Kent on 25 June and 1 July by the UK chief plant health officer, and 13 further outbreaks have been discovered in Kent and East Sussex following extensive surveillance. 

Nicola Spence, the UK chief plant health officer, commented: “Several outbreaks of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle in areas of woodland in Kent and East Sussex have been confirmed. 

“This beetle poses no threat to human health, but can have a serious impact on spruce trees species and the forestry industry.

“We are taking swift and robust action to limit the spread of the outbreaks as part of our well-established biosecurity protocol used for tree pests and diseases, and legislation is in place that restricts the movement of spruce trees in the area.

“I encourage anyone who suspects a sighting of the bark beetle to report these to the Forestry Commission through the Tree Alert Portal.”

The Forestry Commission is overseeing the necessary eradication measures, and a demarcated area remains in place to restrict movement of conifer material capable of spreading the pest animal. The boundary of this demarcated area has been extended following the recent findings. 

Giant pandas' markings act as camouflage, study finds

Giant pandas' markings act as camouflage, study finds

Researchers use imaging models to show how unique colourings work together to hide the pandas.

Giant pandas’ distinctive black and white markings help them to blend in with their environment, according to new research.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to show that the unique colourings work together to hide the giant panda.

Researchers analysed rare photographs of giant pandas, taken in their natural environment and found that the black markings blended in with dark shades and tree trunks while the white patches matched foliage and snow.

The findings were the same whether viewed by human, felid or canine vision models.

“I knew we were on to something when our Chinese colleagues sent us photographs from the wild, and I couldn’t see the giant panda in the picture,” commented study author Prof Tim Caro, from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences.

“If I couldn’t see it with my good primate eyes, that meant that would-be carnivorous predators with their poorer eyesight might not be able to see it either. It was simply a matter of demonstrating this objectively.” 

As part of the study, the team also analysed disruptive colouration – a second form of camouflage in which visible boundaries on the surface of an animal break up its outline (e.g. the border between the large black and white areas of fur). They found that giant pandas show this form of defensive colouration, especially at longer viewing distances.

Lead author Dr Ossi Nokelainen added: “The rare photographic evidence allowed us to examine the giant panda appearance in its natural environment for the first time. With help of the state-of-the-art image analysis, we were able to treat these images as if the pandas would have been seen by their predator surrogates using applied vision modelling techniques and also to explore their disruptive colouration.

"Comparative results totally bust the myth of giant pandas being overtly conspicuous in their natural habitat.” 

The study was conducted by the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä. 

Critically endangered pine hoverfly larvae released

Critically endangered pine hoverfly larvae released

The project is led by the RZSS and RIC project.

Thousands of critically endangered pine hoverflies are being released into the wild this week by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the RSPB-led Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (RIC) project.

After a hugely successful breeding season for the rare native species at Highland Wildlife Park, over 3,000 pine hoverfly larvae will be released in three forest habitats in the Cairngorms National Park. 

The first three of the releases occurred on Wednesday 20 October, at Forestry and Land Scotland's Ryvoan, Glenmore site, while the other two releases will happen in the coming days. 

Pine hoverflies have not been seen in their adult form in the wild in Britain for over eight years, and play an important part in maintaining healthy ecosystems. 

Dr Helen Taylor RZSS conservation programme manager, commented: “This is a very exciting day for pine hoverfly conservation in Britain. Following habitat loss over the past century, our pine hoverflies are on the brink of extinction, with the majority of the known native population being cared for by our charity’s dedicated team at Highland Wildlife Park.

“It is absolutely incredible to be in a position to release over 3,000 pine hoverfly larvae into the wild this year after just 25 larvae were brought into our conservation breeding programme in 2019.

“Thanks to a huge amount of collaboration and support from our partners, funders and other conservation champions, including visitors to our parks, the future is starting to look brighter for one of Britain’s most endangered species.”

RIC project manager Genevieve Tompkins, said: “The key thing about the sites where we’re releasing the larvae is that they are owned by organisations that are committed to managing that particular land for biodiversity benefits, meaning that the pine hoverflies we release will have the best chance possible.

“There has been some amazing work from the landowners, volunteers, and all our partner organisations in terms of identifying the best release sites to creating artificial pine rot holes at those sites to house the larvae.

“With another release planned for March, this really is a significant effort to establish vital new populations of this species, providing a lifeline before it’s too late.

“We’ll have to wait until we conduct surveys next September to see whether our work has led to successful breeding in the wild, but everything is looking a lot more hopeful that it did 12 months ago.”

Baby mangabey born at ZSL London Zoo

Baby mangabey born at ZSL London Zoo

The new arrival is the zoo's ninth mangabey.  

ZSL London Zoo has welcomed a new arrival, a baby white-naped mangabey, born three weeks ago.

Born to parents Achimoto and Lucky, the baby is one of the world's rarest primates, and is a very important addition to the European Breeding Programme for Endangered Species (EEP).

The baby mangabey has been named Sheila, after dedicated ZSL volunteer Sheila Smith, who has volunteered at the Zoo for 13 years.

Dan Simmonds, ZSL's head of primates, said: Sheila Smith has been a devoted volunteer at the Zoo for more than a decade, and the primate team have always been grateful for her support and dedication to ZSL.

“We decided to name our latest arrival after Sheila to recognise her years of hard work with the primates; she often carries a camera with her when she volunteers, so she’s able to quickly snap amazing images of our new arrivals.”

Images © Sheila Smith ZSL London Zoo

Endangered turtle receives lifesaving operation

Endangered turtle receives lifesaving operation

WVI helped Valentine by removing a hook from her oesophagus. 

Veterinary professionals from Wildlife Vets International (WVI) performed a lifesaving operation on an endangered turtle at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Greece.

Valentine, the endangered loggerhead, had arrived at the Archelon rescue centre weak and in poor condition. She has a thick fishing line hanging out of her cloaca, and an X-ray revealed that she had a large fishing hook embedded in her oesophagus.

Matthew Rendle RVN, veterinary surgeon Tania Monreal, and Archelon's lead biologist and rehab coordinator Eirini Kasimati, decided that anaesthetising Valentine to remove the hook was her only option.

After Valentine was given strong painkillers, along with a combination of anaesthetic drugs, Tania made an incision at the top of Valentine's thorax, and after locating the hook, was able to gently remove it with artery forceps.

The team were unable to remove the fishing line, however, since it had been cut from the hook, Valentine was able to pass it three days later.

Following her recovery, Valentine was released back into the sea, and now has the chance to breed successfully.

Executive director of WVI, Olivia Walter, commented: "We are delighted that Animal Friends was able to support the work of our Turtle Team and  are so happy that Valentine was able to be released back into the sea so soon, where, as a breeding female, she should be able to do her bit to ensure the future of her amazing species.”

Westley Pearson chief executive officer at Animal Friends Insurance, which supports the Turtle Programme, added: “Wildlife Vets International is playing such an important role in successfully rehabilitating endangered turtles threatened by record levels of plastic pollution in the sea.

“The critical veterinary support, sharing of knowledge and the training they provide to endangered turtle rehabilitation centres, is ensuring more people on the conservation frontline are able to use veterinary science so that majestic turtles like Valentine can survive and thrive.”

Hermit crab behaviour affected by microplastics

Hermit crab behaviour affected by microplastics

The microplastics impede the crabs' ability to attack and defend. 

New research from Queen's University Belfast has discovered microplastics affect hermit crabs' ability to fight during shell fight contests, which are vital for the species' survival.

The study expands upon previous research by Queen's University which demonstrated that hermit crabs were less likely to touch or enter high-quality shells when exposed to microplastics. 

Published in Royal Society Open Science, the study explores how hermit crabs' behaviour is effected when exposed to microplastics, and discovered that the microplastics impair both the attacking and defending behaviour of hermit crabs during contests, affecting their ability to secure the larger shell necessary for growth and survival. 

The research process involved keeping hermit crabs in two tanks, one containing polyethylene spheres, and one with plastic for five days. The researchers stimulated the environment to encourage a hermit crab contest through placing pairs of hermit crabs in an arena, and giving each crab the wrong sized-shell to encourage a fight.

Crabs exposed to the plastic displayed weaker attacking behaviour during fights than those not exposed to plastic, and it was found that the microplastics also reduced the crabs' defending ability to properly assess their attackers during contests. 

Mánus Cunningham, one of the paper's lead researchers, commented: “These findings are hugely significant as they illustrate how both the information-gathering and shell evaluations were impaired when exposed to microplastics.

“Although 10% of global plastic production ends up in the ocean, there is very limited research on how this can disrupt animal behaviour and cognition. 

“This study shows how the microplastic pollution crisis is threatening biodiversity more than is currently recognised.”

Dr Gareth Arnott, principal investigator of the project, added: “This study provides an insight into the potential for microplastics to alter important aspects of animal behaviour that are critical for survival and reproduction.

“We need to further investigate how microplastics affect their behaviour and the consequences, armed with this knowledge to advocate for change to protect our ecosystem.”

Project underway to protect new oyster species

Project underway to protect new oyster species

The species was discovered in the Muar River, Malasia.

A project is getting underway to protect a new species of oyster discovered in Malaysia.

The new species, named Crassotrea (Magallana) saidii was identified in the Muar River during a collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and Universiti Putra Malaysia.

While local fishermen have been aware of the species since the 1860s, it has not officially been named until now. Scientists were unconvinced that it differed from similar, more common species until they conducted a DNA test.

Dr Julia Sigwart from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s, a mollusc taxonomist, explained: “You can’t protect a species unless you know it exists through scientific validation, so it was important to make that distinction between it and any other species. 

“Official validation helps manage sustainability as scientists have more influence in encouraging the government and those who fish to protect it. It also ensures it has the best possible market value when it is sold as food.”

The new species has a relatively flat shell with brown scales and is around 120mm by 6mm in size. It is named after local businessman Md Saidi Bin Mohamed, who has been actively promoting research and conservation for the sustainability of the oyster since 2013. 

Concerned about whether local fishing practices in the Muar River were sustainable, he contacted the Universiti Putra Malaysia to see if they could help. Currently, the oyster lives in one tiny estuary and may be threatened by urbanisation.

Dr Sigwart said: “The population does seem stable, but it’s worrying that the only known occurrence of this species in the world exists in such a small area,  and we don’t know what is coming downstream that might threaten it.

“Tropical Southeast Asia is a very biodiverse region and this particular area of the Muar River is a rich and important habitat which can tell us a lot about climate protection and global biodiversity.”

Dr Leena Wong from Universiti Putra Malaysia, who sent the samples for DNA testing, added: “Our research group at Universiti Putra Malaysia, which has specialist local knowledge of biodiversity, is now working to develop aquaculture approaches to increase the Crassotrea (Magallana) saidii oyster population.

“We are pleased that experts from Queen’s University who have extensive knowledge of global biodiversity are supporting us in this important work.”

Image (C) Queen's University Belfast.

Brown crabs affected by underwater power cables - study

Brown crabs affected by underwater power cables - study

The cables mesmerise the crabs and cause biological changes.

A study by Heriot-Watt University has discovered that underwater power cables for renewable energy sources mesmerise brown crabs and lead to biological changes which could affect migration habits.

Published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, the study found that the cables for offshore renewable energy, which emit an electromagnetic field, attracts brown crabs and causes them to stay still.

The decreased movement means that the crabs are spending less time looking for a mate and foraging for food, as well as leading to changes in their sugar metabolism – storing more sugar and producing less lactate. 

In a study of 60 brown crabs at the St Abbs marine station, higher levels of electromagnetism were found to cause cellular changes in the crabs, which affected their blood cells. 

Alastair Lyndon, associate professor at Heriot-Watt University's centre for marine biology and diversity, told The Guardian: “Underwater cables emit an electromagnetic field. When it’s at a strength of 500 microteslas and above, which is about 5% of the strength of a fridge door magnet, the crabs seem to be attracted to it and just sit still.

“That’s not a problem in itself. But if they’re not moving, they’re not foraging for food or seeking a mate. 

“The change in activity levels also leads to changes in sugar metabolism – they store more sugar and produce less lactate, just like humans.”

Kevin Scott, manager of the St Abbs facility, told The Guardian: “We found that exposure to higher levels of electromagnetic field strength changed the number of blood cells in the crabs’ bodies.

“This could have a range of consequences, like making them more susceptible to bacterial infection.”

Warning that this behaviour could have repercussions for the fishing industry, Lyndon told The Guardian: “Male brown crabs migrate up the east coast of Scotland. If miles of underwater cabling prove too difficult to resist, they’ll stay put.

“This could mean we have a buildup of male crabs in the south of Scotland, and a paucity of them in the north-east and islands, where they are incredibly important for fishermen’s livelihoods and local economies.”


Asian hornet spotted in Berkshire

Asian hornet spotted in Berkshire

The National Bee Unit has confirmed the sighting and is monitoring the situation. 

Defra is asking beekeepers and members of the public in the Berkshire area to remain vigilant after an Asian hornet was spotted in the Ascot area.

The sighting has been confirmed by the National Bee Unit, and the vicinity is being monitored for any further Asian hornets.

This is the first confirmed UK sighting in over a year – with the most recent confirmed sighting occurring in Gosport, Hampshire in September 2020. 

Nicola Spence, Defra's Chief Plant and Bee Officer, commented: “While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.

“By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets. 

“That’s why we are working at speed to locate and investigate any nests in the area following this confirmed sighting.”

Defra has said that anyone who suspects that they have seen an Asian hornet should report it using the phone app 'Asian Hornet Watch', using this online report form or emailing alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk

Identification guides, along with further information, are available here, and Defra is advising members of the public to ensure that they do not approach or disturb a nest, as Asian hornets are not generally aggressive towards humans, but can become aggressive when they perceive a threat to their nest. 

Nicola added: “Please continue to look out for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online.” 

Birds learn to avoid plants harbouring toxic insects

Birds learn to avoid plants harbouring toxic insects

Researchers show that birds learn that ragwort flowers are a cue for danger. 

Birds can identify which plants play host to toxic insects, according to new research.

Building on previous studies that show young birds learn the colours of dangerous insects, this new study reveals birds also learn the appearance of the plants such insects live on.

The study was led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal, Current Biology.

Co-author Prof Nick Scott-Samuel said: “Our findings suggest that insect herbivores that specialise on easily recognisable host plants gain enhanced protection from predation, independent of their warning signal alone.” 

In the study, scientists exposed artificial cinnabar caterpillars, distinguishable by bright yellow and black stripes, and non-signalling fake caterpillar targets to wild birds by presenting them on ragwort and bramble, a non-toxic plant. 

They found that both types of caterpillar survived better on ragwort compared to bramble when exposed to the birds.

Next, the team was keen to find out whether birds use the bright yellow flowers of ragwort as a cue for avoidance. To test this, they removed spikes of flowers from the ragwort and attached them to the bramble. 

In this experiment, only non-signalling caterpillars survived better on plants with ragwort flowers, compared to the same plant type without the flowers. The survival of the cinnabar-like target was equal across all plant treatments.

Lead author Callum McLellan, a graduate student at the School of Biological Sciences, said: “Cinnabar caterpillars have this really recognisable, stripey yellow and black appearance. They also only live and feed on ragwort, which itself has distinctive yellow flowers. 

“We have shown that birds learn that the ragwort flowers are a cue for danger, so can avoid going anywhere near toxic prey. It’s more efficient to avoid the whole plant than make decisions about individual caterpillars.” 

Image (C) Callum McLellan