Saturday 28 September 2019

Small British Mammals: Hares

Brown hare
The most visited post on this blog remains that explaining why rabbits are not rodents (their incisor teeth may look like those of rodents, but there are differences, and they have an extra set). I've also discussed, briefly, how rabbits manage to digest tough plant matter without the extra stomach chambers found in cows and similar animals by using the large bowel as a second stomach, and then eating the food twice.

All of these things are, of course, also true of the close relatives of rabbits, hares. There are two species of hare living wild in Britain, of which the more common is the European or brown hare (Lepus europaeus).  Like rabbits, they were only introduced to Britain during, or perhaps slightly before, Roman times, but they are now widespread across England, Wales, and Scotland.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Miocene (Pt 16): Giant Camels and High Llamas

One group of animals that you might expect to have done reasonably well as the climate dried out in the later stages of the Miocene epoch were the camels. Camels, of course, are not found wild in North America these days, but, back in the Miocene, it was the only place that they were found, having first evolved on that continent millions of years before.

Indeed, camels had been diverse in the Early and Middle Miocene, inhabiting a number of habitats that we would not associate with the animals today. Once those habitats changed with the shift into the Late Miocene, however, many of them failed to adapt, and a number of earlier forms died out. These included the stenomyline "gazelle-camels", the short-legged miolabines, and the floridatragulines, which had been adapted to the subtropical forests of the southern coasts.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Unravelling the Bushbuck

Three years ago, I wrote a series of posts on the various species of bovine. This was using 'bovine' in the wider, technical, sense than it's everyday meaning, essentially including all animals more closely related to cows than to sheep or goats. This obviously includes all the really close relatives of cattle - bison, buffalo, yak, and so on - but it also includes a number of animals that are more accurately described as 'antelopes'.

Most species of these 'bovine antelopes' belong to the genus Tragelaphus, collectively known as 'spiral-horned antelopes'. Especially if we include the large cow-like elands (sometimes given their own genus, Taurotragus) these are a fairly diverse range of animals, including some adapted to open woodland or savannah, and others adapted to dry scrub, mountain slopes, dense jungle, or swampland. Perhaps because it seems to be the most adaptable of the species, the most widespread of the spiral-horned antelopes is the bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus).

Sunday 8 September 2019

Small British Mammals: Rabbiting About Rabbits

Over the course of the last two thousand years, a number of native British mammals have been driven to extinction. These were mostly the larger ones that were considered either dangerous (wolves) or tasty (wild boar). But we have also managed to introduce a few, mostly smaller, animals that were not originally native to the islands but are now widespread. The grey squirrel, being relatively recent, is probably the best known of these, although the brown (or "sewer") rat is another, only arriving in the 16th century.

Another example was first introduced in Roman times, and so has been here rather longer - but, still, it could be argued that it's not technically native. This is the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

Sunday 1 September 2019

The Many Kinds of Extinct Marsupial

Simosthenurus, a short-faced kangaroo
Last week, I looked at the diversity of marsupial species that can currently be found in the world and, in particular, how the increasing use of molecular analysis over the last quarter-century or so has improved our understanding of their relationships. We don't have such an advantage when it comes to looking at fossil species and it doesn't help that the fossil record is necessarily incomplete. Indeed, the latter is particularly true in Australia, which, perhaps partly just because it's a smaller continent, doesn't have as wide a selection of rock deposits of the age we're interested in here as some others do.

Nonetheless, because marsupials have been around for a very long time, we do know a fair bit about their fossil history. So, with the aid of the same review that I used last week, let's take a look at some of the kinds of marsupial that are no longer with us.