Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Exmoor zoo's, reportedly much loved, Humboldt penguin colony (established when the zoo was first opened in the 1980s) has been been completely wiped out by an avian malaria outbreak (Https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/27/penguins-die-at-exmoor-zoo-in-devon). it seems likely that the birds were moulting at the time they were infected by biting insects (making biting easier and it more difficult for keepers to assess the health and vitality of the penguins?). This protozoan parasite fortunately does not infect Mammals (so keepers and visitors were never at risk) but one might ask whether changes in the climate are influencing the activities (and range?) of the insect vectors. Perhaps human malaria will return to the UK of its own volition rather than being an occasional consequence of an 'exotic' holiday?
Sunday, 25 September 2016
It has now been suggested that some ant species may be sources of 'new' antibiotics to counter the development of 'superbug' bacterial strains that have developed resistance to traditional medicines (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/24/ants-solution-to-antibiotic-crisis-superbug-bacteria). It seems that some ant species (notably leaf-cutters) deliberately introduce particular bacterial species to their nests. The bacteria chosen produce powerful antibiotics that deter other species of bacteria from contaminating the nest. The hope is that clinically useful antibiotics can be developed from these cultures to which the superbugs would not have developed resistance (although the chances are that they would do so at a later time?).
Wednesday, 21 September 2016
It has been confirmed that the Asian hornet has arrived in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/20/threat-honeybees-asian-hornet-arrival-uk-confirmed-defra-invasive-species). This is bad news for the already 'stressed-out' honeybee, one of our most important pollinators of crops as well as the producer of honey. The much bigger hornet enters hives to 'steal' the honey and will will kill and eat honeybees. This alien invasive is likely to further decrease the viability of honeybee colonies in parts of this country and could have marked effects on agriculture.
Rats have long been associates of human populations, thriving in the mess that we generally create. Although rats numbers are often over-estimated by media reports, this species has an impressive reproductive rate (a male/female pair could generate around 15,000 offspring in a single year- not that they operate as mum/dad pairs!). Rats can generate substantial losses of stored materials (they can climb and squeeze through very narrow gaps) but their most important detrimental effect on our populations is as carriers of a range of diseases (it has been estimated that these kill around 25 million people, across the globe, annually). Rat catchers (or, as they are now termed, pest control operatives) have tried to deal with rat infestations for hundreds of years but have generally been defeated by the animal's wariness of rat poison bait and the ability of their populations to rapidly 'bounce back'. A new technique has been advocated by the US startup company SenesTech (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/20/man-v-rat-war-could-the-long-war-soon-be-over). This company, ran by a Dr Mayer, has developed a liquid they call ContraPest that interferes with birth control in the rodent. This has been shown to reduce some rat populations by 40% within a few weeks. They might well 'think it's all over' but there might be remaining problems. Bait wariness might mean that the reproduction inhibitor is not ingested by all rats, meaning that the populations could come back (perhaps with increased bait avoidance). The other problem is that ContraPest might end up inhibiting reproduction in some animals (humans?) we would not like to see affected.