RATTLESNAKE BITE




As luck would have it, everything you ever learned from those old cowboy films appears to be true. Well, at least when it comes to venomous snakes. It turns out that after much research, Rattlesnakes are in fact the most poisonous snake in north America.

The Rattlesnake is easily identifiable by the tell-tale rattle on the end of its tail. Rattlesnakes are actually a part of the Pit Viper family, and are capable of striking out at up to 2/3 rds of their body length.

The Eastern Diamondback in considered the most venomous rattlesnake species in North America. Surprisingly, juveniles are considered more dangerous than adults! This is because they are unable to control the amount of venom injected.

Most species of rattlesnakes have hemotoxic venom which destroys tissue, degenerates organs and causing coagulopathy (disrupted blood clotting).

Some degree of permanent scarring is very likely in the event of a venomous bite, even with prompt, effective treatment. In extreme cases this can lead to the loss of a limb or death. Difficulty breathing, paralysis, drooling and massive haemorrhaging are also common symptoms. Thus, a rattlesnake bite is always a potentially fatal injury. Untreated rattlesnake bites, especially from larger species, are very often fatal. However, antivenin, when applied in time, reduces the death rate to less than 4%.

Luckily, rattlesnakes do not view humans as prey and so as many as 50% of bites by rattlesnakes are 'dry bites' where no venom is injected. However, if you have been envenomated symptoms include - but are not limited to - pain, severe swelling, bruising, blistering, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea  dizziness, collapse or convulsions, Yellow vision, numbness of digits, metallic taste in mouth, fasciculations, and/or death.

What to do if you are bitten by a rattlesnake

1. First, look for obvious symptoms. If the area of the bite begins to swell and change colour, the bite was not 'dry' and the rattlesnake has injected you with venom. 

2. Keep the bitten area still. You can immobilize the area with an improvised splint made from a board, magazines, or other stiff material tied to the limb. Don't tie it too tight as you don't want to stop blood flow altogether. 

3. Remove any jewellery or constricting items near the affected area in case of swelling. 

4. Keep the area of the area of the snake bite lower than the heart. 

5. Make your way to a hospital immediately. 

Tips 

If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT use ice to cool the bite.
If bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom.
If bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.

Contrary to what you may have seen on the television, rattlesnakes are not toys, so ry and avoid them altogether. If you see one, don't try to get closer to it or catch it, and keep your hands and feet away from areas where you cannot see - such as between rocks, tall grass or anywhere else rattlesnakes like to rest.

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WHERE DO YOU FIND GREAT WHITE SHARKS?




Great white sharks live in almost all coastal and offshore waters which have water temperature between 12 and 24 °Celsius. However, there appears to be greater concentrations in the United States (Atlantic North-east and California), South Africa, Japan, Oceania, Chile, and the Mediterranean.

Great White Shark Distribution Map
One of the densest known populations of great white sharks is found around Dyer Island, South Africa, where almost all of the shark research is done. The great white is an epipelagic (lives in the top layer of the ocean) fish, observed mostly in the presence of rich game, such as fur seals, sea lions, cetaceans, other sharks, and large bony fish species. In the open ocean, it has been recorded at depths as great as 4,000 ft.

These findings challenge the traditional notion about the great white as being a coastal species.

According to a recent study, California great whites have migrated to an area between Baja California and Hawaii known as the White Shark Café to spend at least 100 days before migrating back to Baja.

On the journey out, they swim slowly and dive down to around 3,000 ft. After they arrive, they change behaviour and do short dives to about 1,000 ft for up to ten minutes. Another white shark that was tagged off of the South African coast swam to the southern coast of Australia and back within the year.

This new evidence refuted traditional theories that white sharks are coastal territorial predators and opens up the possibility of interaction between shark populations that were previously thought to have been discrete.

The reasons for their migration and what they do at their destination is still unknown. Possibilities that may support this idea include seasonal feeding or mating.

A similar study tracked a great white shark from South Africa swimming to Australia's north-western coast and back, a journey of 20,000 km in under nine months.

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WHAT DOES THE GREAT WHITE SHARK EAT?




Many of the shark attacks on man have proved to be the work of one particular species -  the great white shark. This positive identification has been made from tooth fragments recovered from shattered surf boards and damaged boats.

The great white shark is a great prize for a rod and line fisherman, who consider them to be the ultimate in catches.

They are recognised by their dorsal fin - which is high and distinctly triangular, and the crescent-shaped, powerful tail.

Sharks are killed for their sport and for their meat which is said to be tasty. However, they do retain high levels of urea in their body tissue which may be off-putting to some.


What does the great white shark eat?

As you would imagine, just about any living creature in the ocean is possible prey for the great white shark - and the larger it is, the better!

Great white sharks are carnivorous and predominantly prey on tuna, marlin and broad-bill swordfish are amongst the great white sharks favourites, while sea lions, seals and dolphins will all make acceptable snacks.

They will also take other sharks, sea turtles, sea otters, sea birds and even objects that they are unable to digest.

Upon approaching a length of nearly 4 metres (13 ft), great white sharks begin to target predominately marine mammals for food. These sharks prefer prey with a high content of energy-rich fat.

Most great white sharks hunt alone, although a number may home in together on dead prey after blood has been released into the water after a kill.

No actual figures are available of just how much a shark will eat in a day for it will depend on each individual shark and what prey is available in the vicinity as well as the temperature of the water.

They tend to take more food in warmer waters, where their metabolic rate increases.

It is thought that the great white shark will feed at any time it comes across prey, regardless of whether it has just had a big meal or not. It can then last for some considerable time - a month or so - without any food at all if need be!

Vital to the great white sharks hunting success is its acute sense of smell, because scenting prey in the water is the sharks primary tool for finding its food.

Within the great white sharks nose-cone are thousands of tiny pin holes which make up the sharks main nerve centre.

Because of its highly developed sense of smell it is able to detect and locate minute amounts of blood in the water.

It is also believed that the great white shake possesses some form of echo-location which it uses to help locate its prey.

While great white sharks have killed humans, they typically do not target them: for example, in the Mediterranean Sea there have been 31 confirmed attacks against humans in the last two centuries, most of which were non-fatal. Many of the incidents seemed to be "test-bites". Great white sharks also test-bite buoys, flotsam, and other unfamiliar objects, and they might grab a human or a surfboard to identify what it is.

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THE STARLING




Starlings - sometimes known as the European starling - are a native to most of temperate Europe and western Asia. Smaller than blackbirds - and with a short tail, pointed head, and triangular wings - starlings look black at a distance, but when seen closer they are noticeably glossy, with a sheen of purples and greens.

Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. Noisy and gregarious, starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks. It is still one of the commonest of British garden birds, but its decline elsewhere in Northern Europe makes it a Red List species.

Be that as it may, the starling is among the most familiar of birds in temperate regions.

Starling identification

The plumage is shiny black, glossed purple or green, and spangled with white - particularly strongly in winter.

Adult male European Starlings are less spotted underneath than adult females.

The throat feathers are long and loose, and used as a signal in display. Juveniles are grey-brown, and by their first winter resemble adults though often retain some brown juvenile feathering - especially on the head in the early part of the winter.

The legs are stout, pinkish-red. The bill is narrow conical with a sharp tip. In summer, it is yellow in females, and yellow with a blue-grey base in males. During the winter and in juveniles, it is black in both sexes.

Moulting occurs in late summer after the breeding season is finished. The fresh feathers are prominently tipped white (breast feathers) or buff (wing and back feathers). The reduction in the spotting during the breeding season is caused by the white feather tips largely wearing off.

What do starlings eat?

The European Starling is insectivorous, and typically consumes caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders. While the consumption of invertebrates is necessary for successful breeding, starlings are omnivorous and will also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectars. Even 'edible' household rubbish if the opportunity arises.

There are several methods by which they forage for their food, but for the most part they forage from or near the ground, taking insects from or beneath the surface of the soil.

Generally, starlings prefer foraging amongst short-cropped grasses and are often found between and on top of grazing animals out to pasture. Large flocks forage together, in a practice called “roller-feeding”: where the birds at the back of the flock continually fly to the front of the flock as they forage so that every bird has a turn to lead .

The larger the flock, the nearer individuals are to one another while foraging. Flocks often forage in one place for some time, and return to previous successfully foraged sites.

There are four types of foraging observed in the European Starling:

Probing: The bird plunges its beak into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. Probing is often accompanied by bill gaping where the bird opens its beak while probing to enlarge a dirt hole or to separate a lump of grass. This instinctual behaviour has been observed in starlings eating garbage from plastic garbage bags—the bill gaping results in the opening of holes in the garbage bags that allow for extrication of consumables.

Sallying: When the starling grabs an invertebrate directly from the air, a particularly successful behaviour among this species.

Lunging: A less common technique where the starling lunges forward to catch a moving target or invertebrate on the surface floor.

Gleaning: When the bird pulls backwards to extricate an earthworm from the soil. Among European Starling, sallying and probing are the most common foraging behaviours.

Starling reproduction

The breeding season begins in early spring and summer. Following copulation, female European Starlings will lay an egg on a daily basis over a period of several days.

If an egg is lost during this time period, she will lay another egg to replace it. The eggs (4-5) are small elliptical blue - occasionally white - eggs that commonly have a glossy appearance to them.

Incubation lasts 13 days, although the last egg laid may take 24 hours longer than the first to hatch. Both parents share the responsibility of sitting on top of the eggs. However, the female spends more time incubating the eggs than the male, and is the only parent to do so at night, while the male returns to the communal roost.

The young are born blind and naked, and develop light fluffy down within 7 days of hatching, and sight within 9 days. The young remain in the nest for 3 weeks, where they are fed continuously by both their parents.

Pairs can raise up to three broods per breeding season, frequently reusing and relining the same nest. Within two months, most juveniles have molted and gained their first basic plumage. Juveniles acquire their adult plumage the following year.

Starling conservation

Overall, the European Starling is listed by the IUCN as being a species of least concern. However, it has been adversely affected in northern Europe by intensive agriculture, and in several countries, it has been red-listed due to declines of more than 50%.

In the United Kingdom, it declined by more than 80% between 1966 and 2004, although populations in some areas such as Northern Ireland are stable or even increasing. Those in other areas - mainly in England - have declined even more sharply.

The overall decline has been attributed to a loss of food-rich permanent pasture, leading to the low survival rates of young birds.

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DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE




The western diamondback rattlesnake is one of North America's largest venomous snakes. An excitable and aggressive creature, it causes more deaths in the United States than any other species of snake.

This species of rattlesnake is famous all over the world for its appearance in countless cowboy films. It produces its sinister, dry rattling sound by vibrating the loose, horny rings on the end of its tail. Although this is a warning signal, the rattlesnake does not always rattle before striking.

Humans have always regarded the western diamondback rattlesnake as dangerous, despite the fact that that it only bites when provoked.

Snakes and humans

Rattlesnakes are herded together each year in the Southern states of the USA during special 'round-ups'. Huge numbers of snakes are collected, and then butchered, skinned and eaten.

The snakes are brought to the round up in crates and transferred into large large pits for selection.They are often left in the crate for days.

Round-ups were originally thought of as a way of ridding public places of these potentially dangerous snakes, but collectors now travel far and wide to kill them.

Where do rattlesnakes live?

The western diamondback rattlesnake is found in south-western North America - from California in the west to Arkansas in the east, and south into Mexico.

During the cooler parts of the year the rattlesnake is active during the day, when the sun can warm its body.

Throughout the summer the rattlesnake becomes increasingly night active, usually emerging after dusk.

When a snake is not active, it spends its time in holes in the ground, in rocky crevices or under dead cacti or large boulders. In the coldest winter weather, 30 or more snakes may hibernate together in an underground den.

What does a rattlesnake eat?

Mice, rats, rabbits, gophers, ground dwelling birds, lizards and other small animals make up the diet of this snake. However, almost any animal that is small enough to be swallowed is prey for the rattlesnake. Even a metre long specimen can easily swallow a half-grown rabbit.

When hunting, the rattlesnake either sits and waits under a bush for a victim to pass by, or actively searches for prey by investigating burrows, plants and crevices.

It hunts using a combination of sight, smell and heat detection and can even track down prey in complete darkness.

Although, like all snakes, the rattlesnakes does not have ears, it can sense slight variations in temperature and can 'feel' the vibrations of animals moving nearby through its body.

Rattlesnake reproduction

Mating takes place in the spring or autumn and can last for as long as 24 hours. the eggs gestate inside the female's body, then she gives birth to live young.

Giving birth to young in this way is called ovoviviparity. This enables the young to be protected form the extremes of temperatures before they are born.


 There is no eggshell as such, only a thin membrane which either bursts when the young emerge or which the young have to break through.

The size of the brood depends on the size of the female, but can contain up to 24 young - each about 30 cm long.

Rattlesnake facts

1. Most rattlesnakes have a rattle of about 8 segments. This is generally considered to give the best sound. The rattle comprises of a number of horny segments of old skin. 

A new segment is added each time the snakes sheds its skin, and they fit over each other in a chain. This is attached to the body by a small 'button'. When the snake reaches full size, its rattle ceases to grow  as old segments tend to drop off at the same rate as new ones develop.

2. More people in the USA are bitten by the western diamondback than any other rattlesnake, but the Mojave rattlesnake is 20 times more lethal.

3. The western diamondback rattlesnake is an agile swimmer and will pursue its prey through water.

4. The rattlesnake performs a kind of dance which was thought to be a courtship ritual. It is now known to be a combat or trial of strength between rival males, although they never harm one another.

5. The western diamondback rattlesnake can reach an overall length of up to 7 feet, and can live up to 15 - 20 years in captivity.  


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THE FLYING SQUIRREL




There is no single species of flying squirrel, in fact they are almost a global phenomenon made up from 44 known species. Found in heavily wooded areas such as ancient woodlands and forests, they feed on a wide variety of foods such as Acorns, nuts, berries, fruits, seeds, buds, blossoms, insects, birds, nestlings, eggs and occasionally, carrion.

Where can you find flying squirrels?

If you are looking to see flying squirrels in the wild then there are plenty of countries that hold native populations.

The greatest range of species are as follows:

1. North America and the Pacific coast

2. Southeast Asia

3. Malaysia, Indonesia, Souther Tailand, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula 

4. Southeast Asia, India and Bangladesh 

5. Japan, China and more specifically north-eastern China 

6. Finland and the Baltic coast


What do flying squirrels eat?

As you would expect, flying squirrels have a varied diet. Ranging from fruits, nuts, and fungi to insects, snails and bird eggs

Unlike their non-aerial cousins, flying squirrels can easily forage for food in the night where they make good use of their highly developed sense of smell.

Flying squirrel reproduction

The mating season for flying squirrels is during February and March. When the infant squirrels are born, the female squirrels live with them in maternal nest sites. The males do not participate in nurturing their offspring.

The mothers will continue to nurture and protect their offspring until they leave the nest.

At birth, flying squirrels are mostly hairless, apart from their whiskers, and most of their senses are not present. Their internal organs are visible through the skin, and their sex can be identified.

By week five of their lives, they are almost fully developed. At that point, they can respond to their environment and start to develop a mind of their own. Through the upcoming weeks of their lives, they practice leaping and gliding. After two and a half months, their gliding skills are perfected, they are ready to leave their nest and are capable of independent survival.

Do flying squirrels really fly?

Related to our more commonly seen tree squirrels, flying squirrels are not capable of powered flight. Instead, they glide between trees using a specialised skin membrane that are connected between their front and hind limbs.

They are capable of obtaining lift within the course of these flights, and are able to reach distances as far as 300 ft! The direction and speed of the animal in mid-air is varied by changing the positions of its two arms and legs, largely controlled by small cartilaginous wrist bones.

This changes the tautness of the skin membrane - known as the patagium, a furry parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle.

It has a fluffy tail that stabilizes in flight. The tail also acts as an adjunct aerofoil, working as an air brake before landing on a tree trunk.

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WHERE DO RATTLESNAKES LIVE?




The western diamondback rattlesnake is one of North America's largest venomous snakes. An excitable and aggressive creature, it causes more deaths in the United States than any other species of snake.

This species of rattlesnake is famous all over the world for its appearance in countless cowboy films. It produces its sinister, dry rattling sound by vibrating the loose, horny rings on the end of its tail. Although this is a warning signal, the rattlesnake does not always rattle before striking.

Humans have always regarded the rattlesnake as dangerous, despite the fact that that it only bites when provoked.

Rattlesnakes are herded together each year in the Southern states of the USA during special 'round-ups'. Huge numbers of snakes are collected, and then butchered, skinned and eaten.

The snakes are brought to the round up in crates and transferred into large large pits for selection.They are often left in the crate for days.

Round-ups were originally thought of as a way of ridding public places of these potentially dangerous snakes, but collectors now travel far and wide to kill them.

Where can you find rattlesnakes?

The western diamondback rattlesnake is found in south-western North America - from California in the west to Arkansas in the east, and south into Mexico.

During the cooler parts of the year the rattlesnake is active during the day, when the sun can warm its body.

Throughout the summer the rattlesnake becomes increasingly night active, usually emerging after dusk.

When a snake is not active, it spends its time in holes in the ground, in rocky crevices or under dead cacti or large boulders. In the coldest winter weather, 30 or more snakes may hibernate together in an underground den.

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BLACK WIDOW SPIDER BITE




Black widows are notorious spiders identified by the coloured, hourglass-shaped mark on their abdomens.

Black widow spiders are found within the family Theridiidae, which contains 32 recognized species. The common name, widow spiders is due to the rather morbid behaviour seen in some of the species where the female eats the male after mating.

Several species answer to the name, and they are found in temperate regions around the world. This spider's bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake's.

In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage—let alone death. But bites can be fatal—usually to small children, the elderly, or the infirm.

Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are non-aggressive and bite only in self-defence, such as when someone accidentally sits on them. The animals most at risk from the black widow's bite are insects—and male black widow spiders. Females sometimes kill and eat their counterparts after mating in a macabre behaviour that gave the insect its name.

What to do if bitten by a black widow spider

The black widow spider produces a neurotoxic protein venom that affects the victim's nervous system. Some people are slightly affected by the venom, but others may have a severe response. The first symptom is acute pain at the site of the bite, although there may only be a minimal local reaction.

Symptoms usually start within 20 minutes to one hour after the bite. Local pain may be followed by localized or generalized severe muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremor. Large muscle groups (such as shoulder or back) are often affected, resulting in considerable pain.

In severe cases, nausea, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties may follow. The severity of the reaction depends on the age and physical condition of the person bitten. Children and the elderly are more seriously affected than young adults.

In some cases, abdominal pain may mimic such conditions as appendicitis or gallbladder problems. Chest pain may be mistaken for a heart attack. Blood pressure and heart rate may be elevated. The elevation of blood pressure can lead to one of the most severe complications. People rarely die from a black widow's bite. Life-threatening reactions are generally seen only in small children and the elderly.

The decision to seek emergency care should be made early. If the person who was bitten by a black widow spider has more than minor pain or has whole-body symptoms, seek care at a hospital's Emergency Department. If symptoms are severe, call for emergency medical transport so that evaluation and treatment can start en route to the hospital.

In general, extensive medical evaluation is not necessary. The exceptions are when the history of a black widow bite is not clear, if the bite was not witnessed, and when associated symptoms require the exclusion of more serious disorders, such as heart attack.

The options for home care are limited. Both cold and warm compresses have been recommended, as have hot baths. Obviously, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be of value in mild cases. Folk remedies have not proven to work.

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HOW TO FEED HUMMINGBIRDS




Hummingbirds are among the smallest of all bird species. They are known as hummingbirds because of the sound created by their beating wings. They achieve this by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second, at this speed hummingbirds are able to hover in mid-air.

You can help to attract these gorgeous birds into your garden by offering an easier and more reliable source of food. Luckily, feeding hummingbirds is an easy, inexpensive and rewarding pastime. All you need is a suitable hummingbird feeder, granulated sugar, and some water.

How to feed hummingbirds

With the exception of insects, hummingbirds in flight have the highest metabolism of all animals, a necessity in order to support the rapid beating of their wings. However this comes at a high price as hummingbirds need to consume more than their own weight in nectar each day. They achieve this by visit hundreds of flowers every day.

Nectar is a highly valuable source of energy which is found in the form of simple sugars, and these sugars fuel the hummingbirds intense flight.

However it is unrealistic for people to harvest their own nectar from flowers in order to attract hummingbirds, but a simple 'nectar replacement' is easily manufactured.

Mix 4 parts volume of water to 1 part volume of granulated sugar in a pan - do not use any other ingredients, substitutes for the sugar or anything else that you may think of. Just natural sugar and water, nothing else.

Bring the solution to a boil then remove from the heat. Stir it while it is heating until all of the sugar is dissolved. Don't boil it for long because that will change the ratio as water is boiled off.

The reason for boiling is not to make syrup, but to drive out the chlorine in the water and to kill any fungal or yeast spores that might be in the sugar. This will help make the nectar last longer both in the feeder and in your refrigerator.

Cover and allow to cool before using or pouring into a sterilized storage bottle and storing it in the refrigerator. This makes refilling the feeder so easy that you won't mind doing it every few days.

When it comes to selecting a suitable hummingbird feeder, the most important things to consider are that they are easy to clean and easy to fill.  This is because when it come to feeding hummingbirds your feeder must be kept as clean as possible and full of fresh nectar.

Make sure that when you are comparing hummingbird feeders you purchase one that easily comes apart and exposes all surfaces for cleaning - do not underestimate the importance of this.

Hummingbirds will eat from anything with nectar in it, but first they must be able to find it. Most hummingbird feeders have red colouration on them because hummingbirds are generally more attracted to red than to other colours.

If your feeder does not have red colouration on it, and you feel that it may be a problem, tie a piece of bright red ribbon or nursery tape on it to attract them. The birds will then explore around and find the nectar once they discover the feeder. Some feeders have perches and some do not. Hummingbirds do not need perches on feeders, but they will use them if they exist and you will get to see a special treat - a hummingbird sitting still!

What do Hummingbirds eat?


In the wild, hummingbirds drink the nectar from flowers, and like bees, they are able to assess the amount of sugar in the nectar they eat. In fact, hummingbirds reject plant species whose flowers produce nectar that is less than 10% sugar.

Unfortunately  nectar is a poor source of nutrients, so hummingbirds meet their needs for protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals by preying on insects and spiders.

Hummingbirds do not spend all day flying as the energy cost would be prohibitive, so the majority of their activity consists simply of sitting or perching.

Hummingbirds feed in many small meals, consuming many small invertebrates and up to twelve times their own body weight in nectar each day.

They spend an average of 10–15% of their time feeding and 75–80% sitting and digesting. Hummingbirds are typically very territorial when it comes to food so once a hummingbird finds a consistent source of food - such as an artificial feeder - it will fight off other hummingbirds to achieve dominance over the food source.

It is a fine balance as hummingbirds are continuously hours away from starving to death, and are only able to store just enough energy to survive overnight.

To conserve energy while they sleep or when food is scarce, they have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate.

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HOW TO GROW ECHIUM FROM SEED




As handsome as these impressive plants are, they can be difficult to locate and expensive to buy. However, they are easily grown from seed.

Sow Echium pininana seed 3mm deep in good seed sowing compost - such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' - from late May to late July. Germination takes 7-14 days at 18-20 degrees Celsius.

Echium pininana seedlings
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into 3 inch pots containing John Innes 'No. 3' compost and over-winter in a cool greenhouse, conservatory or on a well lit windowsill with a temperature of around 7 degrees Celsius. Provide adequate ventilation when the temperature exceeds 13 degreed Celsius.

Plant Echium pininana out the following spring 4ft apart, into a sunny site with a light, dry, well drained soil.

Although this species is proving to be quite cold hardy, its best to cover the base of the plants with a little bracken or similar over the winter.

INSECT EATING BIRDS




These are bleak times for our native wildlife. Each year the struggle to survive becomes increasingly difficult as mounting odds continue to stack up against them. Over the past 70 years, changes in our farming practices have reduced their natural habitats drastically and Britain’s once abundant sources of food for over-wintering species have become ever more depleted. The question is this – are you prepared to tolerate a minimum level of insect damage on your edible and ornamental crops, or would you rather see a continual decline in our native wildlife until we start to see the reality of extinction.

It’s all about trying to keep a balance. You can’t complain about caterpillars eating your cabbages, and then lament about the loss of butterfly’s once commonplace in your childhood. If you want to truly witness the damaged caused to our environment through over half a century of insecticide and molluscicide (slug killing) use, look to their top predators, the birds. If we can change our gardening practices to such a point that the populations of insect and mollusc eating birds decline no further thEn we would have already achieved something worthwhile.

This isn’t about feeding the birds with ever more fancy nuts and berry recipes, or how fancy your ceramic topped seed and nut feeder is because the birds that are attracted to this type of food are not the ones in danger. In fact, populations of seed and nut eating birds have never been better; while the insect eating birds are suffering their worst declines on record.

The key here is not to subsidise insect eating birds with non-indigenous grubs bought from your local pet shop, it’s about protecting and developing sustainable levels of our native insect species so that the birds can feed themselves throughout the year.

In many people's minds insects are the enemy, and while it's true that certain varieties will make your roses look a bit untidy, if you are prepared to work with nature you can always attract the beneficial insects that feed on them.

The most important thing that we can do in our gardens is to stop using blanket insecticides that will kill anything and everything. Chemicals such as brand Provado contain the active ingredient imidacloprid, and although predominantly marketed as a vine weevil killer it will kill most insects that ingest it. What makes it worse is that it can remain active within the plant for up to three months at a time on a single application.

However, when applied as a soil drench Provado 'Vine weevil Killer 2' becomes an even bigger threat by remaining viable within the plant for up to four months. Slug pellets, which usually contain the active ingredient of metaldehyde, are just as bad with its active ingredient moving up through the food chain as predators digest poisoned slugs and snails.

Although there are no figures for the death of native birds, reptiles and mammals through metaldehyde poisoning, the population of every native creature that eats molluscs as part of their diet is either in decline, in serious decline or near to extinction.

If you insist on using insecticide then at least try and stop before the autumn comes, bearing in mind that most of the plants you will be spraying will soon be dropping their leaves anyway. The insects that are causing the small amount of damage at this time of year are the same once that the birds are fattening up on in order to survive the on coming winter.

During the late autumn your visiting birds will be feeding on all kinds of garden pests, be they snails, slugs or aphids so given the chance they can be a great help to the garden. Depriving them of their last ‘harvest’ will guarantee fewer birds returning next year.

To help build up insects populations in your garden is relatively easy and can be dealt with in a number of ways. The most obvious is to practice organic methods which will at least stop the local destruction of insects, but it’s just as important to create the natural habitats that will support insects through each stage of their life cycles.

Planting schemes are vitally important as these can be designed to include a suitable range of plants that can supply nectar throughout the year. Without these, bee, butterflies and other pollinating insects will struggle as they use the nectar as their main source of energy.

The winter is the most difficult time of the year as there are only a few native plants in flower. Consider planting winter flowering heathers, Daphne mezereum and odora, Viburnum bodnantense and Viburnum tinus, and Mahonia ‘Charity’. In autumn plant Mahonia x media, aquifolium and japonica varieties.

Not only will they produce flowers and valuable nectar in late autumn, they will also provide berries from winter through to early spring as food for other bird species. If it's berry eating bird you want to encourage then you can't go wrong with planting Cotoneaster, Pyracantha and the mature form of Hedera helix.

If you are considering planting up a hedge, one of the best to choose foe the wildlife gardener is the wild dog rose - Rosa rugosa. Not only is this plant known to be able to support over 200 different species if insect, its dense thorny framework of branches also make it ideal for nesting in.

Wildlife ponds planted with native aquatic plants are a great environment for creating new insect life while log piles are not only valuable for overwintering insect larvae and adults. They also provide sought after protection for native lizards, amphibians and smaller mammals like hedgehogs and voles.

The reasons why our native insect eating birds are in decline are well documented, but then so are the steps that need to be taken to help reverse them. What needs to happen now is for the countries population to look at their gardens and open spaces and work them with a different ethic in mind. An ethic that doesn't strive for an unnatural pursuit of perfection, but one that benefits not only ourselves but nature at large. If we continue to ignore our place in the environment – particularly as we are now top of the food chain - then it is only a matter of time before the human population goes into decline

ECHIUM pininana



Echium is a genus of 40 species of hardy and half-hardy annuals and biennials - the biennials within this family will actually flower from seed in their first year if sown early enough in the spring. However, of all the Echium species in cultivation today, the one that attracts the most interest is the magnificent Echium pininana.

Echium pininana, also called Tree Echium, Pine echium and Giant Viper's bugloss, is a plant native to La Palma in the Canary Islands. Even though its 'roots' are clearly sub-tropical, Echium pininana is now successfully grown in the gardens of Britain and Ireland - be it with a little cultivational help.

Echium pininana x wildpretii
Be that as it may, Echium pininana is in reality half-hardy, but it will readily self-seed to form clusters of new plants. It has been suggested that - over time - a hardier variety will emerge by natural selection .


When grown from seed, the Echium pininana will produce a stem 2 -3 ft tall, with lanceolate, deep green, rough hairy leaves.

In the follow second or third year, the key feature of this plant is its enormous flower spike which pushes the over height of the Echium pininana to over 12 feet. With this in mind, if you are planting multiple Echium pininana in your borders then they should be planted 4 ft apart.

Echium pininana has long been confused with Echium wildpretii - a rare species with silvery, hairy leaves and shorter, red flower spikes.

However, a hybrid exists - Echium pininana x wildpretii which produces pink flowers. It is a more compact specimen, reaching a height of appropriately 9 ft.

KOMODO DRAGON FACTS



The Komodo dragon is the largest true lizard that is alive today. Related to monitor lizards, they can reach up to 3 metres in length. Also known as the Komodo monitor, the Komodo dragon lives exclusively on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, padar, Flores, Gill Mota and Oewada Sami to the north of Australia.

These small islands are all quite hilly and sparsely covered in rainforest. However, Komodo Dragons prefer hot, dry places, and typically live in dry, open grassland, savannah  and tropical forest at low elevations.

As an ectotherm - an animal which gains its heat form its surroundings, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat.

In common with most other reptiles, the Komodo dragon sleeps through the night, resting among tree roots or in sheltered caves or hollows among rocks. As the sun rises and and warms its blood, the Komodo dragon becomes more active and sets out in search for food.

Despite its great size, the Komodo dragon is an agile creature and moves quickly over the ground. It can out-pace a human in thick cover.

The Komodo dragon can sometimes take to the trees where it grips the the trunk and branches with its strong claws. The Komodo dragon likes water, and swims with forceful strokes of its long tail.

Despite being a solitary creature most of the time, when two Komodo dragons do meet, they follow an established pecking order, with a smaller dragon giving precedence to a larger and more aggressive one.


Komodo dragon facts

1. An adult Komodo dragon can eat most of a deer in one go. After which it will then sleep for a week in order to digest it.

2. A young Komodo dragon emerges from a leathery, goose-sized egg as a small, but fully formed version of its parents.

3. The Komodo dragon was officially named in 1912. earlier reports had described it simply as a 'land crocodile'.

4. The Komodo dragon's tail accounts for half of its total length.

5. Like a snake, a Komodo dragon is able to 'taste' the air with its forked tongue.

6. As a punishment, criminals were once taken to the Komodo Islands, where they were left to defend themselves against the dragon.


7. The Komodo dragon is the largest living lizard. The largest verified specimen reached a length of over three metres and weighed 166 kg. 

8. The Komodo dragon can run briefly at speeds up to 13 mph. 

9. Komodo dragons are venomous and is the only lizard species to hunt and kill prey larger than itself. Dragons kill large prey by rushing from ambush along game trails, biting at legs and tendons, maiming the animal and then trailing the injured animal until the venom or septicaemia sets in and kills it.

10. Komodo dragons sometimes eat their own young. To avoid being eaten, baby Komodo dragons hide up in trees or may even roll in faecal matter to assume a scent the adults avoid. 

Komodo dragon reproduction

The Komodo dragon mates in late June or July. The male Komodo dragons often come into conflict at this time as they seek to defend their territory and attract a female.

The larger and better placed the territory, the more likely that a female will wander into it.

When a female does appear, the victorious male licks her head and neck, before clambering onto her back and gently bite her.

Five weeks after mating, the female digs a hole in the warm, moist soil in which to lay her eggs. the number of eggs laid increases with the age and size of the female.

After laying the eggs, the female covers them and leaves them to incubate unattended. She relies on the sun to keep them at the right temperature.

About eight months later, the juvenile Komodo dragons hatch and struggle to the surface. barely 20 cm long, the young lizard is now at its most vulnerable. Why? Because almost every predator on the island - from snakes and birds of prey, to larger Komodo dragons - will happily snap it up!

Those that survive will grow quickly. After three years the Komodo dragon is nearly 1 metre long, and more than a match for all predators - except for larger Komodo dragons. After five years it will reach a length of about 2 metres and will at this point begin to fill out become thick and heavy bodied.

After about 6 years, both male and female Komodo dragons will reach full maturity and be able to breed themselves.

Komodo Dragon Conservation

The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species and is found on the IUCN Red List. There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild. Their populations are restricted to the islands of Gili Motang (100), Gili Dasami (100), Rinca (1,300), Komodo (1,700), and Flores (perhaps 2,000).

However, there are concerns that there may presently be only 350 breeding females. To address these concerns, the Komodo National Park was founded in 1980 to protect Komodo dragon populations on islands including Komodo, Rinca, and Padar. Later, the Wae Wuul and Wolo Tado Reserves were opened on Flores to aid with Komodo dragon conservation.

AGAPANTHUS AFRICANUS




Agapanthus species are a family of hardy and half hardy perennial plants which grow in compact clumps, and have fleshy roots. About ten species are botanically recognised, but due to their readiness to hybridize between species classification of all agapanthus can be confused.

Agapanthus 'Headbourne Hybrid'
Most of the species in common cultivation, and particularly the well-know hybrids are hardier than generally supposed and can be grown outdoors in the south and west of Great Britain - areas where the warmer blooded Agapanthus africanus would struggle.

In colder regions, these hardier hybrids will still require a sheltered, sunny border in order to thrive. They will also need protection over the winter period.

With regards to the popular Headbourne Hybrids, the widely to narrowly funnel shaped flowers are 1-3 inches long, and are produced in round umbels. Flowering begins in July and continues until August, sometimes September depending on the weather and variety.

The Agapanthus africanus

Agapanthus africanus
The Agapanthus africanus is a very reliable and popular garden plant except in colder regions.

The individual flowers within the Agapanthus africanus umbel are thick in texture, open faced, and range in colour from light to mainly deep blue. Rare sightings of white flowered plants have been recorded in its native habitat.

Bush fires will stimulate profuse flowering and after a recent fire in the Silver Mine Nature Reserve on the Cape Peninsula, a single white flowered plant was noted amongst thousands of blue flowered ones.

The Agapanthus africanus  flowers late in the year - mainly from December to February in its native Cape province, but this relates to June onwards in European regions.

The leaves of the Agapanthus africanus are evergreen and strap like, about 15 mm wide with an average length of 350 mm. The flower stalk is usually under 70 cm tall. This subspecies is quite common and because of the fairly inaccessible terrain its survival is assured.

Agapanthus africanus cultivation

Agapanthus africanus
Agapanthus will thrive in any fertile, well drained soil so long as they have a sheltered position - especially in colder areas. If you have purchased bare-root agapanthus then these can be planted outdoors in April, setting the crowns about 2 inches below the soil level. Do not disturb the roots after planting!

Water well during the growing season and cut back the flowering stems after flowering - unless the seeds are required for propagation.

In cold areas, protect the root system from October to April with  a 6-9 inch deep layer of bracken, weathered ashes or course sand.

AGAPANTHUS 'BLACK PANTHA'
How to Overwinter Agapanthus