The North American monarch butterfly’s amazing migration, travelling thousands of miles each year from its wintering grounds in Mexico to as far north as the Great Lakes of Canada and back, is done without any internal maps, a study has found. The Independent reports
Scientists have shown that the annual migration of the monarch butterfly is achieved with just an in-built “compass” – based on the position of the sun – which tells the insect which direction it should fly at the appropriate time of the year.
Researchers have long speculated on how the insect, which weighs about half a gram, is able to make the return journey to the mountain forests of Mexico for winter, especially as those born in late summer, would not have made the journey before.
Experts thought they used an internal, genetically encoded “map” to locate their position, as well as a built-in compass to tell them where to fly. But now a study has shown that the butterflies manage with just a compass alone.
“To be a true navigator, you need both a compass and a map. We’ve known for some time that monarchs use external cues, such as the sun and magnetic field, as a built-in compass that can indicate their latitude. But having an internal map requires knowledge of both latitude and longitude,” said butterfly expert Professor Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph in Ontario. “Given the challenge of this migratory journey and the fact that these insects weigh less than a gram, it is a remarkably simple system they use to travel thousands of kilometres to a site they have never seen,” Professor Norris said.
The scientists took monarch butterflies from the Ontario region of eastern Canada and tested their migratory flight patterns in experiments set up 2,500km away to the west in Calgary. They found that the monarch continued to try to fly in the same direction and did not compensate for the geographic displacement.
“The monarchs we tested in Guelph flew south-west, in the general direction of Mexico. When we tested them in Calgary, they flew in the same general direction as if they were in Ontario, suggesting they did not know they had been displaced 2,500km,” said Rachel Derbyshire, who carried out the work published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is likely the butterflies also use landmarks, such as mountain ranges, to help them find their way, and possibly scent when they are near to their final goal, the oyamel trees of the Mexican highlands where they clump together in their thousand to spend the winter season.
- No map, no problems for monarchs (esciencenews.com)
- Monarch butterflies navigate with compass but no map (nature.com)
- Where Have All the Monarch Butterflies Gone? (thefunlifeofsophia.wordpress.com)
- Monarch butterflies navigate with compass but no map (richarddawkins.net)
WILDLIFE : International school project will track ospreys… but is the Government doing away with Nature?
Thousands of children from across Europe and Africa are to be brought together in a pioneering project to create a new generation of conservationists. Yet the Government is planning to reduce the importance placed on learning about the natural environment. The Independent reports.
NAEE is very concerned about the environment being further extracted from the curriculum!
The osprey is being used to capture the attention of pupils. Satellite data showing the progress of the bird along its annual migration routes is being used in an interactive map which allows schools to follow the flights of birds tagged with GPS trackers.
Launched at ospreys.org.uk, it is the expansion of a pilot project in which several schools in Gambia – where the osprey spends the winter – have partnered with schools in England, where some breed each summer.
The pilot project began in 2011, but this year will involve schools from countries along the migration route, said Tim Mackrill, from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, which manages the “flyways” project. “This is the first project to enable schools to link up through the migration of this particular bird,” he said. Schools in Spain, Morocco, Finland, Ukraine, Italy and Estonia have already signed up.
Campaigners are fighting government proposals which would scrap references to children being required to be taught “to care for the environment”. They fear the move will undermine pupils’ understanding and appreciation of nature, according to the Wildlife Trusts. It is appealing for people to oppose the curriculum changes online at: education.gov.uk/consultations.
“It is very worrying if the Government is planning to reduce the importance placed on learning about the natural environment,” Mr Mackrill said.
- Caledonia the osprey living high life in Seville (scotsman.com)
- Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust launches Staunton Country Park courses (portsmouth.co.uk)
- The business of shorebirds (worldwaders.wordpress.com)
- Art the Osprey continues journey home (wmur.com)
- Green Parenting : 5 Kids Wildlife Subscription Gifts (bynature.co.uk)
A real wildlife problem gets a solution that just might work!…. Radical scheme will inject horns with parasiticides and pink dye in bid to safeguard rhino numbers. The Guardian reports
A game reserve in South Africa has taken the radical step of poisoning rhino horns so that people risk becoming “seriously ill” if they consume them.
Sabi Sand said it had injected a mix of parasiticides and indelible pink dye into more than 100 rhinos’ horns over the past 18 months to combat international poaching syndicates. More than 200 rhinos have been poached so far this year in South Africa, driven by demand in the far east, where horn ground into powder is seen as a delicacy or traditional medicine.
“Consumers of the powdered horn in Asia risk becoming seriously ill from ingesting a so-called medicinal product, which is now contaminated with a non-lethal chemical package,” said Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners in Mpumalanga province.
The “toxification” process involves tranquilising a rhino, drilling a hole in its horn then injecting the dye and parasiticides generally used to control ticks on animals such as horses, cattle and sheep; it is toxic to humans. “It’ll make [people] very ill – nausea, stomach ache, diarrhoea – it won’t kill them,” Parker continued. “It will be very visible, so it would take a very stupid consumer to consume this.”
Asked if he had any moral qualms about harming potentially naive consumers, Parker replied: “The practice is legal. The chemicals are available over the counter. We are advertising it, doing a media run now and putting up signs on our fences. If somebody does consume it, they won’t die and hopefully word will spread that you shouldn’t take rhino horn.”
The dye can be detected by airport scanners as well as when the horn is ground into a powder.
Up to 1,000 rhinos will die this year, Parker said, so bold action was necessary. “Despite all the interventions by police, the body count has continued to climb. Everything we’ve tried has not been working and for poachers it has become a low-risk, high-reward ratio. By contaminating the horn, you reduce the reward and the horn becomes a valueless product.
“If the poacher hacks off the horn, he’ll immediately see it’s contaminated. We’re saying to the poachers: ‘Don’t bother coming to Sabi Sand. You’re wasting your time.’”
But the scheme got a mixed reception from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Tom Milliken, its rhino programme coordinator, said it could act as a deterrent in areas where it is highly publicised but “is impractical in situations involving free-ranging animals in large areas, places like Kruger national park with 20,000 sq km. Thus, like dehorning, it probably has the effect of displacing poaching intensity to other areas, not stopping it altogether.”
Milliken, author of a report on rhino-horn consumption in Vietnam, also expressed concerns about the end-user market: “One wonders if unscrupulous dealers in these markets will not simply employ some means to ‘bleach’ them to back to a ‘normal’ appearance and continue raking in high profits.”
“These dealers are already perpetuating fraud on so many levels in the interest of windfall profits, so it’s hard to imagine that they will suddenly be bothered about putting potentially toxic horns into circulation. The prospect of human suffering deters few criminals and that’s what we are dealing with here.”
South Africa National Parks has backed the initiative but spokesman Ike Phaahla admitted that it would be “virtually impossible” to apply the process to all the rhinos in national parks because of lack of resources.
The government said this week that 203 rhinos have been killed by poachers so far this year, including 145 in Kruger park. Sixty suspected poachers have been arrested.
- Innovation And Toxic Hope (raxacollective.wordpress.com)
- Wildlife Managers Are Poisoning Rhino Horns to Stop People From Eating Them (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Mozambican rhino poacher jailed for 15 years (thezimbabwean.co.uk)
- Rhino horn worth $2.75 million stolen from ranch (wildlifenews.co.uk)
- South African minister backs legalisation of rhino horn trade (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
Conservationists in clash with the government over Lodge Hill, once used by MoD to train soldiers, now home to nightingales. The Guardian reports
The nightingale, praised in Keats’s famous ode as “pouring forth thy soul abroad / In such an ecstasy“, has flown into a cabinet-level row over a proposed £1bn housing development which threatens the bird’s most important UK site.
The nightingale’s song has been feted, but its numbers in the UK have crashed by 90% in the past 40 years. However, it has established a stronghold on a former Ministry of Defence site, Lodge Hill in Kent, once used to prepare soldiers for service in Northern Ireland and for bomb disposal training.
But the 85 male birds that stake out their territory in the ancient woodland and scrub face the advance of property giant Land Securities, developing the site for the MoD, and Medway council, which says the 5,000 homes planned and the associated jobs are badly needed.
The clash of a major housing development, a central part of the government’s plan for economic revival, with a small flock of birds has ruffled feathers at the highest level, with prime minister David Cameron telling environment secretary Owen Paterson to fix the problem, the Guardian has learned. The intervention follows George Osborne’s reported complaints about other “feathered obstacles” to development.
The poet Sir Andrew Motion, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and a biographer of Keats, says the cultural importance of the nightingale’s “art” – its song – endures: “It is such a small, brown bird that only presents itself at night, it could hardly be more humble. But when it opens its beak this absolutely ravishing sounds comes out” which matches a British sense of what art should be. “We don’t approve of peacocks,” he added.
Motion said there were now many places where housing developments and wild places were in conflict and said using old urban and industrial sites, rather than those rich in wildlife, must always be the first priority: “When you concrete over green spaces, that is England gone.”
The row intensified this month when Natural England, the government’s statutory wildlife adviser, declared Lodge Hill’s nightingales and wild flowers to be a site of special scientific interest, raising the barrier to development even higher.
Tory-run Medway council condemned the decision as “astonishing”. A spokeswoman said: “We have the absurd situation of a government agency, Natural England, stopping a government department, the MoD, from proceeding with their plans to relinquish their former training grounds. We are deeply unhappy with this decision.” The council, which will appeal against the SSSI decision, said the site was “littered with munitions and, due to delays, has become overgrown”.
But Owen Sweeney, from the Medway Countryside Forum, said: “The place is a treasure, a real jewel. I have taken my grandchildren up there to hear their first nightingale and it is a joy to watch their faces enraptured by the song.”
He said the blackthorn and bramble scrub, as well as the coppiced ancient woodland, was a wonderful habitat for the extremely shy bird, which spends 12 weeks or so on the 815-acre site before wintering in west Africa. “These are the remaining green lungs amid the sprawling development around: Medway is full,” said Sweeney.
Anna Heslop, an RSPB casework officer, blamed the council for the impasse. “The problem is not the SSSI designation, or that nightingales are on the site, the problem is that Medway council are not going through the proper procedures to look at whether there is any alternative or whether this is the only place this housing can go.” She said the RSPB was not anti-housing and worked with builders to make developments as wildlife-friendly as possible where there was genuinely no alternative.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Growing the economy is the government’s top priority and we can do this at the same time as we improve the environment.” She suggested that “biodiversity offsetting” – where new habitat is created elsewhere to compensate for a habitat destroyed – could be a solution.: “Lodge Hill presents a strong opportunity to test this policy to allow development while ensuring wildlife and habitats thrive.”
But Chris Packham, naturalist and TV presenter, said: “The bird migrates all the way to Africa and then it comes back to exactly the same tree. The idea that we can make a new habitat 20 miles away and expect the birds to go there is nonsense.”
He added: “Sadly, the nightingale is a bird that more people know about than ever will hear, because of its catastrophic decline. Most of the sites I grew up with have fallen silent now.” Only 6,000 singing males remain in the UK. Land Securities declined to comment.
The row comes at a delicate time for Natural England, whose future isunder review by Defra, and which has been lobbied hard by all sides. The minutes of the meeting at which the SSSI was approved reveal a lengthy discussion about whether NE had any discretion to reject the SSSI, but it concluded it did not, because the scientific case was clear: any bird population representing more than 1% of the national total automatically qualifies.
The decision means Lodge Hill is now an SSSI, although final confirmation will not come till later this year, after further consultation. The planning decision over Lodge Hill is likely to be referred to Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, once Medway has submitted its final plan to the planning inspectorate.
The government’s loosening of planning laws caused a fierce row in 2012 with conservation and countryside groups including CPRE and the National Trust. But the resulting National Planning Policy Framework still requires strong protection for SSSIs, saying development “should not normally be permitted”. NE said it would carefully consider any offsetting proposal.
Only a mother or a fanatical birder could call the drab little brown nightingale beautiful – but the heartstopping beauty of its song has made it an emblem of love, longing and loss to poets for thousands of years, from Ovid through Shakespeare and Milton to A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, a 1930s hit repeatedly re-recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Twiggy (below) and Rod Stewart.
Most authors have heard a profound melancholy in the bird’s liquid notes. The oldest legend is a brutal tale of Philomel escaping the aftermath of rape and mutilation by being transformed into the sweet singer. In John Keats’s famous Ode to a Nightingale – the tree in which the poet heard the song is said to be still growing in his Hampstead garden – he listens “half in love with easeful death”, just two years from his own death of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821. In Oscar Wilde’s story The Nightingale and the Rose, the bird dies, pressing against a thorn to turn a white rose red with her blood, for a student to give to his beloved. A duet between the cellist Beatrice Harrison and the nightingales in her Surrey back garden was a pioneering BBC live outside broadcast in 1924. She received 50,000 fan letters, and the experiment was regularly repeated – though a recording in 1942 was abandoned because of not just birdsong but the ominous rumble of Lancaster bombers.
- WILDLIFE: Nightingales may scupper plan for 5,000 new homes in Kent (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Call me an Ent, but I want better protection for trees! (wtcampaigns.wordpress.com)
- Thousands quizzed over future of airport (kentonline.co.uk)
- Defence chiefs try to block plan for £1bn mine (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
India Monday lost its ninth rhino to poaching so far this year within the northern state of Assam. ENN reports
The greater-one horned, or Indian rhino, was found shot dead with its horn removed in Kaziranga National Park. Seven other rhinos have already been killed in the park during 2013, and an additional rhino was poached last month in Manas National Park.
Officials are concerned about the increasing use of sophisticated weapons by poachers. Many of the Assam’s rhinos have been gunned down by Kalashnikov rifles. The state has approximately 2,500 rhinos remaining after losing 21 to poachers last year.
The use of high-powered weapons enables poachers to kill the rhinos quickly, cut off their horns and flee before the forest guards can get to the scene.
The proximity of Assam to India’s porous international borders with neighbours such as Bangladesh and Myanmar is believed to contribute to availability of arms and also enables poaching gangs access international criminal syndicates engaging in wildlife smuggling.
The primary destination for rhino horns is Viet Nam, where new medical and social uses have emerged in recent years. According to a recent TRAFFIC report, consumers in Viet Nam are willing to pay extremely high prices for medicines made with rhino horn in the mistaken belief that it can cure a number of diseases.
Rising illicit demand for rhino horn has pushed poaching of African rhinos to crisis levels. Poaching statistics released recently by the South African government reveal that a record 668 rhinos were killed across the country in 2012, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from the 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011.
- Kaziranga National Park begins promised rhino survey (wildlifenews.co.uk)
- Poachers already killed 15 rare rhinos in northeast Indian preserve in 2013 (rawstory.com)
- Poachers kill rare rhinos in India’s remote northeast (dawn.com)
- Poachers kill rare rhinos in India’s remote northeast (terradaily.com)
- Assam national park fails to protect rare rhinos from poachers (thetimes.co.uk)
- Horn Please! Rhino on the horizon (thehindu.com)
- Poaching to Cause Fall in Rhino Population within Two Years (scienceworldreport.com)