Nest building kittiwakes

Over the last few weeks, kittiwakes – or Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) to give them their full name – have been very busy building their nests here in Scarborough, north Yorkshire. There has been a constant stream of kittiwakes flying to and fro between their nests and the harbour at low tide. They come to collect…

World Bee Day

On World Bee Day (20th May 2020) I can do no better than recommend the excellent novel, The Bees, by Laline Paull. The book tells the story from the point of view of a honeybee (Flora 717). It is a novel, rather than a biology book, but conjures up the life of a hive of…

Peek-a-bug: insects lurking in flowers!

The last 20 years have seen a remarkable revolution in photography (below). I often think how lucky I am have been to have lived, and taken photographs, throughout the transition from analogue to digital cameras. There should be a name for Baby boomers like myself who have straddled the digital divide! My first digital camera…

Bog asphodel and toxic saponins

Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum,is a perennial herb (5 -40 cm tall) which typically grows on short wet grasslands on acid soils. It occurs in the British isles, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Northern Spain and East Portugal. I first got to know it in the form shown below, when it is in fruit, at…

Insect cuticle

We mammals are quite fortunate in having bones! They reside inside us, and our skeleton grows as we grow. Insects on the other hand, have an external skeleton, or exoskeleton, and must shed it periodically, as they enlarge in size. The insect cuticle is secreted by a single layer of epidermal cells that covers the entire…

Seagulls in lockdown

I like seagulls! But I know that Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) are not universally loved. They are a bit like marmite; love them or hate them! Like us, their world suddenly changed on the 23 March 2020, and they had to adjust to a new way of living. In this blog, I discuss media reports…

Butterflies with black wings

Black. We all know what it is. The absence of light; the opposite of white. But are there gradations of black? Are some blacks blacker than others? The answer is most assuredly yes, and scientists have recently developed super black products with incredibly efficient light absorbing properties. For example, Vantablack – a material developed by…

Iridescent feathers of pigeons

Rock doves, or common pigeons (Columba livia), like those shown here have iridescent green and purple feathers around their necks. Both males and females show these iridescent colours, although females tend to have less iridescence than males. Iridescence means that the colours change according to the angle of view (or angle of illumination). So as the…

Order, order! Insect diversity.

If insects could talk – English preferably! – I would like to ask them what they think is the key to their great success! In particular, I would like to ask a member of each Order of insects, to describe the main innovations and adaptations which have led to the success of their particular group.…