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The Thin End account of COVID Lockdown

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A time for every purpose

All life moves. Or, more precisely, all life moves purposefully.  This is true even for trees and plants.  Movement is essential for maintaining life.  Animals migrate; plants disperse.  Some form of migration is an ingredient of all life.  For many organisms, it is a key function of reproduction.  We don't reproduce merely to create a new organism, but also to disperse the population - finding new fertile ground, or resources. Reproduction is a form of migration. Reproduction isn't merely to replicate. Reproduction produces change and diversity.  While we may have strong resemblences in families, we also have differences.  Creating a difference is how evolution works.  In this sense, nature is a continuous exploratory process, finding what works best.  Nature senses change and responds.  Some of this is immediate and physiological or behavioural; some of it is over generations. If we look at a forest over long periods of time, we would see that it shifts. There is a movement …

A weaver's tail - the harvest mouse

Living in the grass is a tiny mouse: the tiny harvest mouse, with a wonderful scientific name that sounds like the title of a Charles Dickens Novel, Micromys minutus.   It is the only British mammal with a prehensile tail. It uses its tail to hold on to the slender grass stems, at the tops of which it builds a nest.
These tiny mammals (just around 5 cm long) build a spherical nest of tightly woven grass at the top of tall grasses, in which the female will give birth to about six young. In the fields, we see cows and horses brushing away flies with their tails; often they will stand side-by-side and end-to-end, and help each other.  Two tails are better than one!  In nature, tails are put to good use.  Just as a tight-rope walker uses his pole for balance, so for some species, a tail provides balance. When running, a squirrel uses its tail as a counterbalance to help the squirrel steer and turn quickly, and the tail is used aerodynamically in flight.  But many animals, such as monkeys a…

Moths whispering sweet nothings?

When I was a student of zoology at university, we used to jangle our keys and watch as a moth would suddenly plunge to the ground.   No surprise that moths would respond to sound, but what they are really responding to is the greatest threat to a moth.  It is the sound we cannot hear - the sound of a bat. Emitting tiny pulses of ultrasound, bats use radar - echolocation - to 'see' where they are flying and to detect their prey - moths.  But in evolution, moths have fought back in the acoustic war. It is a battle as intense and vital as the Battle of Britain in World War 2.  Moths can avoid the bat's radar.Some eared-moths have developed sound-producing organs, warning, startling and jamming the attacking bats, and also communicating with other moths.  Many species of moth have sound-producing organs - tymbals - on the metathorax.This a war in the sky, a battle of life and death.  But all is fair in love and war, and some moths also make love with the sound they make.Recent…

Making Sense

Greening international supply chains?

The Thin End is more often critical of government than supportive.  But we should be supportive when governments make positive moves to protect the environment and combat climate change. Last month plans to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests were published by the United Kingdom government.  They went virtually unheralded in the media.   The publication is part of consultations for a  new law to clean up the UK’s supply chains.  If the government is sincere in its intent, and if they don't let them fall in the pursuit of dodgy trade deals, then they are a bold move that should be welcomed.  As we have repeatedly said on the Thin End, it is world trade that drives the destruction of rainforests.  This move is an acknowledgement of that fact.  How is more important than whether we trade.  Our rainforests are essential to our living planet.  So, what would the UK government's plan do?The proposals would prohibit larger businesses operating in the UK from us…

Whales talk but can we listen?

Our forests and oceans are filled with sounds.  These are not incidental, they carry meaning and significance.  If we humans stopped making such a cacophony of sound, we would better understand what these noises mean.  Hush!  We frequently wonder where people are, uncle Tom Cobblie and all.  They are there, or somewhere. We place people.  It is perhaps a part of our knowledge, a reducing of uncertainty.  We can fret about where people are and whether they are safe.  Have you seen John lately? He was very unwell.  Last I heard he is travelling somewhere.  I saw him post on social media.  This knowing or placing is a significant part of ecological integrity.   It is one reason why we make a noise, and a great deal of our language is about such knowledge. 
Whales use three types of sounds to communicate: clicks, whistles and pulses.   But this is a bit like saying humans use grunts, whistles and clicks.  It belies the versatility of the language.  Just as with humans, their language is cu…

The Orangutan - People of the Forest

These are the People of the Forest - the Orangutan, natives of Indonesia and Malaysia, inhabiting the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.  Their long arms and short legs, and their hands and feet are adapted for agile life in the trees.  The most solitary of the great apes, they nonetheless have an acute social intelligence, with distinctive group cultures. 
Their intelligence is shown by their sophisticated use of tools.  They are toolmakers, these people of the trees. If aliens from another world ever came to the planet earth, they would recognise this intelligence.  But another aspect of their intelligence would also be evident.  They communicate abstract concepts. This is particularly so when mothers are teaching their young.  Not only do they inform the young about the presence of danger, but they will also teach them that something that has happened was dangerous.  This, of course, is what we do with our children. 
Learning isn't all work and no play.  It can be fun being an or…