I once owned "Raptor Red". Not read a Bakker book since (and I loved "The Dinosaur Heresies"!)...

(posted in Evolution)

Dave, the 'classic' ring species is of the lesser black-backed gull / herring gull supercomplex; although as you say, this appears to lack full support for closure: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691675/

Defiinitely a Ctenophora. My suspicion would be for C. pecticornis, as the 'spot' appears to be subcostal i.e. not on the wing front margin (the costa). Very difficult to say!

(posted in Evolution)

Al said: '...(and closely related, of course!)'; which is kind of true, all things being relative.

Great tits and blue tits (plus coal tits, crested tits, willow tits and marsh tits) all used to belong to the one genus: Parus. Now, with increased DNA sequencing, we can see that the divisions between these (previously) closely related species are not as tidy as before.

The (incredibly morphologically similar) willow and marsh tits have been moved to Poecile (montanus and palustris, respectively), the great tit has remained as Parus (major), whilst blue tit is now Cyanistes (caeruleus) and the coal tit is now Periparus (ater), whilst the crested tit is Lophophanes (cristatus).

The point being, that each has speciated away from the others (to a greater or lesser extent) to be able to occupy specific niches, as both David H and Al point out. Nesting preferences for hole size are probably very reasonable factors for blue and great tits (put up a nest box for a blue tit and you'll need a 25mm hole but 28mm for a great tit).

However, feeding position is also likely to be another factor; the slightly larger and heavier great tit having to find food part way along a branch, where its weight can be supported but the smaller and lighter blue tit can get further out to the tips and thereby enjoy a food resource the great tit can't reach. The coal tit is smaller still and can seek a food source that the others can't (this time by utilising the leaves of small coniferous trees). Smaller still but in the same environment is the goldcrest (or firecrest, depending on where you are), which is so tiny it can feed right at the tips of the conifer leaves, where even the coal tit can't reach... So, one can almost imagine a feeding 'cline', from larger bird (great tit) closer to the trunk to tiniest bird (goldcrest) at the very tips, depending on weight.

Finally, blue and great tits look considerably different to our eyes (although you might need a bit of practice)! We humans do have (a lot of!) trouble with other species though, like the willow and marsh tits I mentioned above, plus willow warblers & chiffchaffs and melodious vs. icterine warblers (plus lots of others). They are really only distinguishable to ornithologists through some tiny (and not very definitive) physical features but are completely different through their songs, which seems to provide greater flexibility on speciation events without requiring major morphological changes...

Hi Aini,

Working with mammals is just another subset of the massive world of biology, so you need to refine what it is that you want to do with them! Are you interested in their 'in the wild' conservation? Their phylogenetic diversity? Their functional biology?...

Search our "careers" box up there to see advice on working on any specialist subset of biology...

(posted in Mammals)

I had something similar whilst out at a site on the Thames Estuary a few weeks ago. My first thought was for a bush-cricket but it is far too early for them to start stridulating, so my conclusion was that it must be the call of a common shrew (just in a different pattern to what I've heard before...).

Anything like this?: http://www.avisoft.com/sounds/Sorex_araneus.wav

Hi Maura,

Sorry but it is unlikely we will be able to give you any answer you may want. The decomposition rate has many variables, including soil pH (whether acidic, basic or neutral), oxygen content (how aerated the soil is) and biotic factors (what lives in the soil), all of which may vary somewhat with external and above ground issues, altering the decomposition of the animal.

More to the point, what does it matter if you are going to de-inter this dog anyway? Is there a cut off point where you don't mind 'some gross' but 'some more gross' stops the enterprise??

In terms of safety, I would think that observing basic hygiene measures are sensible (wear gloves, wash all items (including clothing) thoroughly after etc.), unless the ground in which it has been interred is likely to be contaminated (heavy metals, industry pollution etc.), in which case you should probably leave well alone!

Hi Caroline,

This sounds very much like a bee fly. It is a true fly (one pair of wings) that mimics bees (two pairs of wings).

The most common one at this time of year is Bombylius major, a nectar feeder as an adult but the females fly around the burrows of solitary bees and wasps and flick their eggs towards the nest (hence why they mimic bees to get that close!). The eggs swiftly hatch and the first instar grub crawls into the nest to feed on the grubs! By the by, absolutely harmless (to humans), they don't bite but they can have an impact on other pollinators...

Did it look like this (that I took in one of our woodlands last week)?

The only other thing I can think of is if the pond is shaded. Frogs will lay spawn (preferantially) in shallow water on the southfacing sides of ponds, as the heat will speed spawn development. Any issues with shading (or fish?)

Otherwise, there may be issues with local carrying capacity in the population but this is so tenuous with the information provided that I'm really just throwing it in!

You won't be able to reply to this thread (if you have more info. to share) but you can start a new one.


Yes, almost certainly millions of species over the course of insect's existence on Earth.

If, however, you mean have any become extinct as a result of human influence, I can't think of any that have been made extinct at a global level but there have been extinctions at a variety of scales. For instance, here in the UK, we have had widespread extinctions of, for instance, woodland butterflies, due to changing woodland management practices since WWII. These have been at site, county and regional level i.e. they have been lost from a site they were previously found at, then lost from a number of sites within a county and then lost from a number of counties that make up a region (like the south east).

A species of butterfly (the large blue) became extinct in the UK in 1979, due to changes in chalk grassland management and quality. It has subsequently been reintroduced from European stock but this is the only example I can think of where a whole species has become extinct in a country. For pest species, in general, their life history is such that they can withstand heavy losses, so are even more difficult to eliminate.

Personally, I pretty much disagree with Dr. Hone.

For the large predators generally discussed (lynx, wolf, brown bear), the vast majority of habitats that would be suitable within the UK are, in general, so vastly depleted in size, quality and connectivity that viable populations of these creatures could not exist.

For parts of the (relatively) remote Scottish wilderness, there could be the possibility of re-introducing lynx into the Caledonian pine forests. However, as David says, the political (and more importantly, the landowner) climate is not (and probably never will be) ready for the reintroductoin of a large predator. The largest open spaces, like upland moors, are often owned by a small number of very rich and powerful landowners, who have a large influence on land-use policy. Look at the influence the NFU (National Farmer's Union) has had on the recent badger culls and CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform. Look at the devastation of birds of prey on upland moors within England, simply because there is a risk they'll take some landowner's profits from a game shoot.
A series of compensation schemes would have to be agreed upon and administered, all costing the taxpayer money for very 'elusive' (not to mention 'dangerous'!) creatures. The whole outcry over the alleged fox attacks on children or the media furore over false-widow spiders generally suggest that the UK public are in no way ready to have large carnivores knocking about (or even if mildly positive, the red-top media would almost certainly destroy any rational discussion).

The reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver as a trial in part of southwest Scotland took so much time, faced so much opposition and is still being assessed and that is just for a small(ish) herbivore!

I'd love to see large carnivores reintroduced (and the countryside would certainly benefit in some ways - such as reducing deer browsing on regenerating woodlands that have had coppicing reintroduced: http://suttonnature.wordpress.com/2014/ … oppicing/) but I don't see it happening on our crowded little island, not when rational thought, science and risk strategy is constantly undermined by the most popular media outlets...

Hi Steven,

Thanks for the question but no, a golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos is far too small to tackle something the size of a full grown human (or even a bijou human, like a child!). They generally tackle the 'larger small mammals', such a rabbits or hares (technically, "Lagomorphs", rather than rodents (rats and mice)), as well as some birds, including a variety of waders (like redshank, golden plover), as well as grouse and other game bird species etc. but generally, in much lower numbers than their typical mammal prey.

<h1>At the realms of possibility, an unaccompanied (very small) child on a moor inhabited by golden eagles without a 'normal supply' of food *could* be at some risk from a golden eagle (or any other predator, like a fox) but there are no confirmed kills, at least in the UK, as far as I am aware of (dehydration and exposure are the big killers for humans in these kinds of situations!!). Tackling deer and wolves is soooo not a UK experience (except maybe red deer in the Highlands of Scotland)! It may occur in NA and some parts of Europe but; for wolves, it is more likely to be a scare tactic to ensure prey dominance of a carcass and for deer, much more of a 'scare and hope' tactic to see if they fall off something high!</h1>

Similar myths are promulgated about large avian predators, like the white-tailed sea-eagle, taking lambs, pets and even children but again, there are no confirmed reports of any of these events made by specialists (i.e people who's identification of the creature is beyond dispute).

The point being that, in the UK, these (and most other raptor species) are highly monitored by a (relatively) huge number of volunteers and staff. If there was ever a threat to human life, I'm pretty sure that 1) someone would intervene and 2) if it was impossible to save a human life, we'd have more dependable records as to this behaviour (which doesn't exist!).

Short answer: there is no credible threat to human life from any native British species!

(posted in Genes, Genetics and DNA)

In answer to your questions in order: yes, no, maybe.

The viability of DNA replication is evident in its consistency over around 4, 000 000,000 years. The rate of errors is very low, per replication but there are, obviously, enough errors (most minor, some major) that effect the overall genome.

These errors are then subjected to a variety of pressures, through natural selection, sexual selection and random genetic drift that either propogate, act deleteriously or have neutral impact on the abundance of that specific gene within a population.

Of course, there are an increasing number of detected genes that seem to be, if not reliant, certainly 'happier' in the company of certain other genes and less 'happy' in the company of other gene combinations, which may effect their chances of propgation under the above pressures.

In short, DNA replication is more akin to digital replication than analogue (if you're old enouigh to remember those issues!).

Based on the above, there may be a point where a 'general gene set' is no longer viable but what that might be we can only consider in hindsight i.e. the 'general gene set' for gills in humans has modified to such a degree that is is no longer viable (or, 'fit for purpose') for what the organism needs to undertake to propogate its genetic material.


Not to endlessly repeat Heidi & John but this: http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers … p?id=10507 and this:http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/from_th … tion-works are some of my thoughts on the subject...

It is very unlikely we'll be able to get to species level for this spider based solely on this one photograph. Detailed photos or descriptions of the eyes, legs, spinerettes etc. are required to differentiate to species level.

One of our antipodean members may be able to narrow this down for you...

Hi Jessie,

Based on your desired fields of ecology or ethology AND to participate in field research, the answer, at least as far as I am concerned, is either pathway is sufficient.

I'm sorry and I know that is a rubbish answer but both of these fields can be undertaken at whatever 'level' one wishes to partake in.

Ecology (in the UK) certainly has a massive debt to long-term 'citizen science' observations from 'amateurs' (who may be highly skilled but are not paid professionally to undertake surveys etc.).

However, (and this is quite a big BUT), to find paid employment to undertake work in ecology or ethology (whatever level this may be to you at a personal level) often requires both elements.

For instance, one can, quite happily, spend hours observing the behaviour or interactions of a common garden bird. Knowing what to do with those observations often requires at least a degree-level understanding of what you are observing and how that relates to other questions and observations, many of which are obvious, some of which are not.

Personally, I found that after my MSc, I was equipped with the, shall we say, scientific acumen but my field skills were rather lacking. I did think they were pretty good, until I started at the RSPB (as a volunteer) and was swiftly set straight that I knew almost nothing! Sad at the time but at least I knew what level I needed to reach and proceeded to attain such to find gainful employment...

My personal recommendation would be that, if you can, you start to volunteer with a local wildlife charity. Be interested, ask questions and make your desire for progression into the field known. You'll soon find out if you are cut out for the field (in general and for outdoor work in particular) and what your level is. There is no substitute for experience, you just have to get out there and look at critters (and plants and fungi and everything else!). In terms of starting your ID training, pick something you are REALLY interested in, to start off with. This may be birds or Odonata or Hemipterans but the principles for learning any species group are roughly the same.

There are also, obviously these days, remote learning programmes run by many institutions (just look at the ads. in British Wildlife to get a feeling for what is out there!); a new one (of which I have no knowledge of the standard but assume 'A' Level / undergrad. foundation kind of level) is run by FutureLearn with the OU, who are running a free online course on ecosystems: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/ecosystems.

This, again, may help determine as to whether this is the right career path for you; ultimately, you have very little to lose by undertaking the course but potentially, quite a lot to gain (even if it is just confirmation that you enjoy what you do (or at least, are starting to do!)).

It may be that you can get by with voluntary experience and a variety of distance courses, particularly as you should come at the subject with motivation and previous transferable skills (like data analysis, stats(?), research skills, critical evaluation skills etc.).

I hope that this helps, please do get back in touch if you want to discuss any aspects of this further (you will need to start a new thread though, as you can't reply to this reply!).

Best of luck.

(posted in Evolution)

Corwin, Brent;

Many thanks, two very insightful and yet, almost completely disparate, thoughts!

I'm now so intrigued as to how olfactory responses are tested in baleen whales; fantastic stuff!! :)

(posted in Evolution)

I'd suggest it is likely to be a down to two main reasons: 1) a hangover from our bilaterally symetrical nature and 2) having two nostrils (like two ears and two eyes) may have provided an advantage in determining the direction of smells in our forebears. So, scent molecules are likely to adhere to the receptors in different concentrations in either nostril, providing directionality.

I await further comments from my more learned colleagues as to whether this is the consensus...

Hi Shena,

Not much to go on, I'm afraid!

Based on size and behaviour, the top candidates are: one of a number of species of goose (they're not all the same!), one of a number of species of gull (possibly lesser black-backed or herring gull) or, a large wader (which is likely to be either a godwit or, more likely, curlew).

As the M54 isn't near the coast, I'd plump (if they definitely weren't geese) for lesser black-backed gulls, as there is a large inland colony around the Birmingham conurbation...

I've not heard of any records in the UK (and certainbly not so close to me!), as this is a rather scarce and endangered species in Central to Eastern Europe. That said, it is not impossible that it could have been imported in timber but rather unlikely.

I would suggest that you are more likely to have seen a UK longhorn beetle but without a photo, we can't say for certain what it is you've seen! Also, it isn't really the season for our native beetles, so I really don't know!

Not that useful, I know! Sorry!

I'm afraid that I don't have a guide to southern European Orthoptera, so I can't ID this for you but this is a male bush-cricket, possibly a relative of the north European saddle-backed bush cricket Ephippiger ephippiger (maybe even a colour morph, although I'm not aware of one for this species).

Perhaps some of our more widely travelled experts can help?

To put your mind at ease, this is definitely not the right sort of body shape for a bedbug or other exoparasite. Without a highly detailed macro-picture or a very detailed physical description (or where you are on the planet!), we can't really say much more with what you have, I'm afraid.

The general body shape does remind me somewhat of a ground beetle though...

(posted in General Biology)

'Rape' is a human construct, so isn't applicable to any other species.

There are, however, a large number of 'non-consensual' intercourse examples across taxa.

For example, of the UK species of bats, most of the males of the resident species will engage in non-consensual sex with females as they are hibernating. Males and females will hibernate together but sometimes males wake up and have sex with sleeping females.

Dolphins, chimps and many other social animals will often 'rape' as a reinforcement of power and status, whilst some insects (in particular gall and fig wasps) have males that will mate with females that haven't even hatched from their egg!

However, in many of the cases of non-consensual sex, there are often valid reasons why these behaviours are likely to have evolved...

(posted in Fossils)

I'm not sure I follow. The evidence is highly suggestive of an avian / dinosaur relationship, as you note above.

As far as I am aware, in the last 10 years or so, the main arguments against the bird / dinosaur link have been refuted. Consequently, the arguments for the 'reptile' (i.e. basal archosaur) / bird link are either outdated (subsequently refuted by more compelling evidence) or based on subjective opinions (and therefore of little / no scientific validity).

Thus, what are you trying to get out of looking for these arguments? It is always scientifically valid to ask 'what if' questions or to test a hypothesis to destruction but these appear to have been undertaken and found wanting for the basal archosaur / bird link.

As I recall, Feduccia (sp.?) was a big proponent of a basal archosaur / bird link through the developmental biology of the digits for birds and theropod dinosaurs and claimed that because of this, there was no way they could be related. This recollection is of material over 12 years old now, so I may be slightly mis-representing his position but a search engine of your choice may reveal more of his hypotheses...

In fact, a quick Google for "Feduccia bird" came up with loads of stuff, so start somewhere there and here: http://discovermagazine.com/2003/feb/br … lRrAtJhCo8

Obviously, if you really are interested in this, you have to understand and balance what Dr. Feduccia is saying with what other palaeontologists are saying about his arguments, which takes time and dedication. I hope you'll critically evaluate the arguments for and against a bird / dinosaur link and understand the reasons why the consensus is as it is, rather than pick a side and try to make the evidence fit...

Dr. Hone, over to you to demolish Dr. Feduccia's arguments, if you have time! ;>)

And conversely, females of far more species / taxa are larger than males. Most birds and invertebrates have females that show significant sexual dimorphism against males.

The two main reasons given for this are:
1) Higher investment in reproduction (i.e. females often need to attain sufficient body mass or fat reserves to be able to produce healthy or sufficient numbers of offspring, the investment in which is likely to be higher than that of the males with their (often) relatively small contribution to mating (although cf. spermatophyla in bush-crickets, which can be a significant proportion of their body weight);

2) Niche selection - for many species (not usually mammals, which David has covered above), males and females of the same species take different trophic routes. For example, in raptors (diurnal birds of prey), the female is around 1/3 larger than the male so that they do not compete for prey items. For the Eurasian sparrowhawk Accipter nisus, this means that the male goes mainly for blue and great tit-sized prey, whilst the female goes for larger thrush and pigeon-sized prey. By taking larger prey items, this may well assist with 1) above...!

I see what you are driving at but the question you have to ask yourself is 'what advantage would that have?' Mammals (in general) are highly optimised to moderate their temperature through dense filamentous extrusions from the epidermis (i.e. lots of hairs per square inch (or square cm, if you prefer metric)). Avians and their theropod relatives appear to have achieved something similar (in terms of thermoregulation) through a 'downy fluff', that was then co-opted into a more specialised function in some but not all species (i.e. 'self-zipping' feathers with a leading edge and asymmetrical rachis that provides aerodynamic properties).

In terms of chemical properties, I understand that feathers and hair are basically the same thing (keratin), so they did evolve from a 'common ancestor' but 'chose' two different ways of achieving the same (thermoregulatory) goal. For one to 'converge' with the other, you'd have to find some pretty good reason why hair, or feathers (in their multitude of guises), were less efficient than the opposite...

'Thinner animals'? Well, thinner in what way? Based solely on skeletal remains? (i.e. lack of robusticity in the skeletal remains?) Perhaps the discovered skeletal / dessicated corpses don't fully represent the subcutaneous fat layers that improved their surface area vs. volume heat retention properties (cf. Cetaceans)?

Or, as it appears that the main heat exchange mechanism for African elephants, at least, is based more on large surface area / low volume ears, rather than a whole body adaptation, perhaps that helps explain their environmental optimisation (if they truly are 'thinner' than modern day relatives), as noted by David above.

Another alternative is that the 'woolly' coat provided enough protection that a whole scale morphological change was not required. One of our other experts may be able to comment on the skeletal adaptations of, say, yaks vs. more temperate /lower altitude bovids, rather than their physiological adaptations (heart & lung size, persistence of foetal haemoglobin, thick subcutaneous fat layers etc.) and whether this can help draw appropriate analogues...

To be honest, I think there are a lot of variables that need proper investigation before we can settle on one answer. I'm sure optimal ratios played a part but how they are / were defined needs greater definition to answer this with greater consideration...

Hi Jenna,

I'm afraid that we are mostly a UK based site, so we are going to stuggle on questions on North American fauna! Is there a chance it is the scat of a deer / pronghorn antelope?

By no way my area of expertise(!) but there were a number of pelagic trilobites; unfortunately, I can't say if they were within the Cambrian without looking more deeply but if I were you, I'd be hunting down anything by Richard Fortey of the NHM to start my investigations!

This was, essentially, the error Haeckel's Biogenetic Law (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) made; that animals, whilst developing (ontogeny) go through successive stages resembling or representing the evolutionary pathways of their remote ancestors on the 'evolutionary ladder' (their 'phylogeny). So, humans may resemble 'less derived' species / phyla during our ontogeny but we don't fully manifest their attributes (gills, tails etc.)...


Without anything clearer to go on, such as a detailed (i.e. biological) description or a series of very clear photos, I'm not sure there is much we can say! You say that it is a ground beetle but did you check the coxa to make sure it was, otherwise it could have been another small beetle? Without these specific details, we're really limited. You also don't say where you are in the world, which doesn't help narrow it down!

I see no reason to suggest that the fats in the soap were not attractive but most modern soaps are unlikely to be made with the kind of organic fats critters may find attractive, so that depends again...


In archaeology, this study is known as osteopathology, looking at the growth and often trauma evidence on skeletal material to make judgements about how the individual lived (and possibly died).

This question does sound awfully like a homework question but David above alludes to the fusion rates of epiphyses (the growing ends of long bones). In humans, there is a fairly standard rate at which these fuse between and within the sexes, starting with the bones in the skull at around 2 years old. The femur (thigh bone) epiphyses will turn from cartilage into 'proper' bone at a certain age, as will the various parts of the sternum (breastbone). By comparing the variety of bone fusion patterns on an individual (assuming you can determine that it is an individual as you excavate it from the ground), you can make educated guesses about age at death (what you refer to as "forensics" in your question).

I'm sure a search engine of your choice for any of the items mentioned by David or I will provide more information on what you are looking for...


I'm guessing you are in the USA?

If so, this is the wheel bug Arilus cristatus. It is a member of the assassin bug group, which, as the name suggests, are highly predatory. I'm sure a search engine of your choice will provide more details...

This is a member of the Sarcophagidae (flesh flies) but as far as I am aware, species ID is generally done on through looking at the male genitalia under a microscope, so it may be that we can't give you a species. We also don't know where in the world you are and there are some 2,500 or so species of flesh fly globally named!

Brian Butterworth argues for a certain amount of 'hardwiring' (through things like "numerosity") and gives a good account of pre-Arabic (base 10) number systems, particularly those from Papua... http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Mathematica … 0333735277

(posted in Mammals)

Hi Collin,

This is an example of evolutionary differentiation. 'Fish', as you rightly say, have vertical caudal (tail) fins. However, when the vertebrates started to colonise the land, a number of significant morphological changes had to occur.

Amongst those changes were the arrangements of muscles and how the spine flexes. Mammals have spines that flex dorso-ventrally (stomach to back), with limited medio-lateral (side-to-side) movement. Other terrestrial vertebrates have varying degrees of dorso-ventral & medio-lateral movement (see amphibians, snakes and crocs in water, for instance).

As the major terrestrial groups of vertebrates have evolved to their particular niches, mammal movement evolved into an up-down flex of the spine to run (cf. cheetah videos), as this is a more efficient method for this particular locomotion style. When the ancestors of cetaceans (whales) first started moving back into the water, they were limited to this dorso-ventral style, hence the horizontal tail flukes. The modification of the terminus of the tail into something similar to fish (and overall body shape) is a matter of convergent evolution (they both fulfill the most efficient way of propelling a body through a dense medium) but the way that marine mammals have to move in water is a product of several hundred million years of modification to an efficient method of moving on land.


This is a lovely common toad Bufo bufo. The main distinguishing features for a common toad versus a common frog are the bumpy skin, more blunt face, parotid glands behind the eyes, the lack of a tympaneal mask and the lack of raised parallel lines down the back.

Froglife or ARC Trust have more information on our amphibian fauna, if you are interested...

Hi Mark,

This is a comma butterfly Polygonia c-album. The name 'comma' comes from the little 'c' shaped white mark on the underside of the hind wing. This species is one of the few that is actually not doing too badly here in the UK.

In answer to your last question, yes, there *can* be marked variation between males and females but it is mainly species dependent (although some groups, like the 'blues' often have marked colour and pattern variations between males and females).

Have a look at the Butterfly Conservation website for more information on our native species: http://butterfly-conservation.org/679/a … flies.html


Unfortunately, the photo is rather blurry and doesn't pick up some of the most important identification features. Nor do you you let us know where in the world you are or the general variety of habitats that are nearby, all vital pieces of information!

Based on the photo you supply, I'd hazard a guess that this is a species of Hemiptera (the 'true' bugs) but as there are around 80,000 global species, without more information, we are unlikely to be able to narrow it down more than this!

I think you're going to have to be a lot more specific, the term 'animals' covers over a million different species, I'm not really sure what you mean!

In general, 'animals' that don't particularly use parts of their anatomy tend to loose them, such as the male Lycaenidae ('blue' butterflies) but questions on 'weakest' and 'strongest' relate to many variables, including biomechanics and relative to comparable species.

Plus, why, exactly, do you need lists? Seems a bit of a odd request.

I'm, no means, an expert on bees but I would suggest that this is likely to be a queen red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. However, I can't make out any of the particularly critical identification characteristics, so it could be another similar species (like a cuckoo bee).


With this description and without you providing a photo, this is an almost impossible challenge! However, take a look at something like the pigeon wood wasp; this seems to be quite a common 'what the £$*~ is that?!' answer for the US: http://amazingnature.us/insects/pigeon_horntail.html

If this is nothing like what you saw, please do try and tell us exactly why it isn't...


There are various explanations for colour prevalence, of which you postulate on two, that of morphological (physical) change or movement to a particular substrate (i.e. as you say, gravitate to areas on which they blend in). The third (major) explanation for colour form dominance, particularly in insects, is that of predation (i.e. is one colour form more likely to suffer, on average, higher levels of predation in a given area than another colour form?).

Generally, these are difficult questions to answer. One detailed study on grasshoppers in East Anglia suggests that there is more likely to be a higher emphasis on movement and predation levels than on morphological change. This is, of course, unlikely to be true for all insect species but apart from a small number than have (in general) well known powers to change colour, it is more likely to operate on, in particular, critters like weevils and shield bugs.

I find that shield bugs (of which there are over 50 UK species) in particular are generally rather host specific and are not prone to a great deal of colour change within the same species (unlike many grasshoppers, for instance).

Short answer, yes, some insects can and do change colour but the majority probably are the result of a mixture of movement (although, if they are laid, grow and pupate on the larval host plant, they aren't reallly going anywhere!) and predation levels...


As a general rule of thumb, for European amphibians, frogs hop and toads crawl. However, the physical differences between common frogs and common toads have not been elaborated on in your post, nor is there a picture. It is thus hard for us to say what you may have seen!

The 'darker stripe running above its eyes' is not prevalent in either common frogs or common toads. It may be, however, that this 'darker stripe' was the parotid gland (a raised 'line' curving 'above' (medially i.e. more towards the centre of the animal)) the eyes of common toads.

Based on this alone, my suspicion is that you saw some toadlings...

Sorry John,

This is a female Roesel's bush-cricket Metrioptera roeselii. The long antennae and shape of the ovipositor distinguish it as one of the Ensifera (crickets and bush-crickets) as opposed to the Caelifera (grasshoppers and groundhoppers).

This particular female is a long-winged (macropterous) female (form diluta). Roesel's are now very common in the south-east but macropterous individuals are not that common (I see plenty of Roesel's but I've not seen a long-winged one, yet!), although at the boundaries of their range, they are more common (some good evidence of range expansion in Essex demonstrates this...).

Hi Anne,

You mean the Burren?

At this time of year, we get a lot of these kinds of questions, many of which turn out to be either feamle broad bodied chasers http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers … p?id=10137 or giant wood wasps http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers … ?id=10156. Have a look at the links and see if these are about right; by the sounds of it, a wood wasp is perhaps more likely...

Worth a punt, I suppose! I've just uploaded a photo of T. sudeticus, so see if this is more or less like your critter than the chaser: http://www.flickr.com/photos/suttonnature/9342249701/


We get quite a few questions like this over the summer months and they almost invariably turn out to be female broad-bodied chaser dragonflies Libellua depressa http://www.flickr.com/photos/suttonnature/9086964043/. Certainly, there is no other insect in the UK that is a likely candidate from what you describe.

Dragonflies take smaller (usually) aerial invertebrates and will not suck the blood of your horse, they do not have the mouthparts for it.

Hi Ziga,

It is a shame your photo isn't clearer, as many insects require very detailed examination to sort them to species level.

However, my guess would be that this is the longhorn beetle Rosalia alpina. It is a rare species of mainly beech upland woodlands. Have a look for this on the internet and see if it matches what you saw...

Hi Dave,

Good work on the hiding! ;>)

You are, likely, looking at the poplar hawkmoth Laothoe populi, in flagrante delicto. The odd shape of the critters (for there are obviously two!) is due to the hindwing being anterior (towards the head end) than the forewings (which take the classic moth 'V' shape). This species of moth does not have a frenulum, which is a hook and catch mechanism on the anterior (front) edge of the hindwing and the posterior (to the rear) of the forewing, hence the hindwing slips / projects under the forewing at rest.

Why this species should have such a distinctive rest 'shape' where the hindwing slides forward, due to its lack of a frenulum and other species, which also lack a frenulum (like all the butterflies, bar one Aussie skipper (not Michael Clarke!) and some other moths), do not, I am not sure...