Good hazel dormouse news from the Netherlands

This is a hazel dormouse video.

Translated from the Dutch Mammal Society:

Friday, August 28th, 2015

In the extreme south of the country lives the hazel dormouse. This rare creature lives there hidden in forest edges with lots of blackberries and hazelnuts. In recent years, many protection measures have been taken to expand the habitat of the dormouse. In the Vijlenerbosch forest the Forestry Commission and the IKL have restored several hundred meters of forest edge to create space and light again for the hazel dormouse and on the premises of the Stichting Ark blackberries are encouraged. The dormice have been monitored for more than 20 years, making it clear that the dormouse has benefited greatly from all these actions, with a record number of nests in 2014 as a result. …

On all 48 routes where there was counting no less than 535 (!) nests were observed. A great result compared to previous years, where sometimes only 200 nests were counted.

New plant discoveries in the Netherlands

Urtica membranacea, photo by Ixitixel

Translated from the Dutch FLORON botanists today:

Large-leaved nettle (Urtica membranacea) is a plant with a Mediterranean-Atlantic distribution. Originally it lived across the Mediterranean and in the coastal areas of the Atlantic Ocean from Portugal to Brittany. In 2011 the first case of it growing in the wild was discovered in Belgium. In 2014 this was followed by the Netherlands, with discoveries in Venray and Amsterdam. And this year there are observations at new locations in Amsterdam and Texel.

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia wildlife, new study

This 3 August 2015 video is about a recent study of Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia wildlife.

About this, from Naturalis Biodiversity Center, in Leiden, the Netherlands:

Evolution peaks on tropical mountain

Posted on 12-08-2015 by Rebecca Reurslag

Tropical mountains have an exceptionally high number of animal and plant species. What caused this high diversity?

Mount Kinabalu is such a mountain. The 4,095 meter high mountain is on the world Heritage list of UNESCO and is home to hundreds of unique species. These species, otherwise known as endemic species, do not occur anywhere else in the world. The question how these species evolved triggered an expedition to the mountain in 2012. Are the species on top of the mountain relicts of animals and plants that used to live in the lowlands and valleys? Or are they young, recent evolutionary offshoots from lowland species adapting to the colder climate at the top? The results of the research are published in the high impact journal Nature.

The researchers collected a great variety of organisms: from snails, fungi and carnivorous plants to jumping spiders, stalk-eyed flies and reptiles, both from the summit and the foot of the mountain. All species were taken back home to Leiden to be analyzed in the DNA lab to unravel their evolution.

The researchers showed that most of the species that occur on the mountain are younger than the mountain itself. They also demonstrated that the endemic biodiversity consists of two groups. Some of the unique species drifted in from other areas such as the Himalayas or China, which were already adapted to a cool environment. The other endemic species evolved from local species that occurred at the foot of the mountain and gradually crept up the mountain where they adapted to the cooler conditions.

This is important for the protection of the endemic species on this and other mountains.. The unique species that evolved on the summit are often related to species that were already adapted to a cooler climate. Therefore it is likely that they are not very well able to adapt to climate change.

At the conclusion of a large scale expedition on the island of Borneo, researchers of the Malaysian nature conservation organization Sabah Parks and Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands collected some 3500 DNA samples of more than 1400 species. Among these are approximately 160 species new to science: here.

Birds, flowers and dragonflies

Wild carrot flowers, 9 August 2015

On 9 August 2015, again to the botanical garden. Where in the part of the garden which is a reconstruction of its early seventeenth century past, these flowers grow: wild carrot.

Before we had arrived there, two young herring gulls on a street near a canal. Then, two collared doves. And a great crested grebe couple swimming and diving in the canal.

Small red-eyed damselflies flying just over the garden pond, sometimes resting on water-lily leaves. Males and females in tandem; in two cases, on water plants; females with the lower parts of their bodies underwater, depositing eggs on the plants.

Wild carrot flowers, on 9 August 2015

Then, the part of the garden near the exit, with the wild carrot flowers.

Black-tailed skimmer dragonfly female, 9 August 2015

A female black-tailed skimmer dragonfly not far away.

Black-tailed skimmer dragonfly female, on 9 August 2015

Did William Shakespeare smoke marihuana?

This video from Britain is called Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman. BBC Documentary 2015.

If William Shakespeare did indeed smoke marihuana, then he was lucky not to live in South Carolina in the USA in 2015 …

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Was William Shakespeare high when he penned his plays?

Pipes with cannabis residue were found in the Bard’s garden

Francis Thackeray

Saturday 08 August 2015

State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.

Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright’s garden were analysed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

Chemicals from pipe bowls and stems which had been excavated from Shakespeare‘s garden and adjacent areas were identified and quantified during the forensic study. The artefacts for the study were on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The gas technique is very sensitive to residues that can be preserved in pipes even if they had been smoked 400 years ago.

What were they smoking?

There were several kinds of tobacco in the 17th century, including the North American Nicotiana (from which we get nicotine), and cocaine (Erythroxylum), which is obtained from Peruvian coca leaves.

It has been claimed that Sir Francis Drake may have brought coca leaves to England after his visit to Peru, just as Sir Walter Raleigh had brought “tobacco leaves” (Nicotiana) from Virginia in North America.

In a recent issue of a Country Life magazine, Mark Griffiths has stimulated great interest in John Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597 as a botanical book which includes engraved images of several people in the frontispiece. One of them (cited as “The Fourth Man”) is identified by Griffiths as William Shakespeare, but this identification is questionable.

Possibly, the engraving represents Sir Francis Drake, who knew Gerard.

Gerard’s Herbal refers to various kinds of “tobacco” introduced to Europe by Drake and Raleigh in the days of Shakespeare in Elizabethan England.

There certainly is a link between Drake and plants from the New World, notably corn, the potato and “tobacco”. Furthermore, one can associate Raleigh with the introduction of “tobacco” to Europe from North America (notably in the context of the tobacco plant called Nicotiana, from Virginia and elsewhere).

What we found

There was unquestionable evidence for the smoking of coca leaves in early 17th century England, based on chemical evidence from two pipes in the Stratford-upon-Avon area.

Neither of the pipes with cocaine came from Shakepeare’s garden. But four of the pipes with cannabis did.

Results of this study (including 24 pipe fragments) indicated cannabis in eight samples, nicotine in at least one sample, and in two samples definite evidence for Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves.

Shakespeare may have been aware of the deleterious effects of cocaine as a strange compound. Possibly, he preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties.

These suggestions are based on the following literary indications. In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about “invention in a noted weed”. This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use “weed” (cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (“invention”).

In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with “compounds strange”, which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean “strange drugs” (possibly cocaine).

Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part to drugs (compounds and “weed”), and in part to a style of writing, associated with clothing (“weeds”) and literary compounds (words combined to form one, as in the case of the word “Philsides” from Philip Sidney).

Was Shakespeare high?

Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th-century clay “tobacco pipes” have confirmed that a diversity of plants was smoked in Europe. Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

This has also begged the question whether the plays of Shakespeare were performed in Elizabethan England in a smoke-filled haze?

One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoked clay pipes filled with “tobacco”.


This piece is based on an article published in the South African Journal of Science in July 2015.

Francis Thackeray is Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Studies Institute at University of the Witwatersrand.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Invasive giant hogweed in Britain

This video is called ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1′ Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

The beast in the beautiful giant hogweed

Friday 7th August 2015

An invasive plant, first introduced to Britain by aristocratic garden owners, is now seriously disturbing the delicate balancing act that is our native flora, says PETER FROST

Many of the tabloid papers have been carrying lurid stories of a Russian giant over 12ft tall attacking people on canal towpaths all across England. Sadly this time they are true.

The plant, giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a native of the Caucasus mountains, has many aliases such as cartwheel-flower, giant cow parsnip, hogsbane or giant cow parsley. Children might call it giant rhubarb or simply a triffid.

This plant is phototoxic and its sap causes phytophotodermatitis in humans, resulting in blisters, long-lasting scars and if the eyes are affected blindness, sometimes permanent.

The worse cases, which can result in hospitalisation and have even been known to be fatal, occur only when exposure to the sap is combined with long periods in bright sunshine. On cloudy days irritation from the sap is usually much milder or even non-existent.

The recent bright sunny summer days with in some cases record temperatures and hours of sunshine are the real culprit in the recent crop of headline-making cases.

Perhaps because of its size, or its rigid huge hollow stems, children find the plant fascinating. They use the stems as toy telescopes or peashooters. The former gets sap in the eyes the latter in the mouth and lips.

Giant hogweed can grow as much as 18ft high although between six and 12ft is more normal.

Full-grown plants are hard to mistake for anything else but smaller immature plants can be misidentified as common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), garden angelica (Angelica archangelica) and many other similar lacy-flowered umbrella-shaped common towpath and wasteland plants.

Key clues to accurate giant hogweed identification are stout, brightgreen stems and leaf stalks frequently with dark red or purple spots and sturdy bristles. The hollow stems can vary from an inch to three inches in diameter.

Giant hogweed is biennial, usually flowering in its second year from late spring to mid-summer, with numerous white flowers clustered in an umbrella-shaped head 2-6ft in diameter.

A single plant can produce 100,000 seeds. It is illegal to plant or transplant the species but the giant hogweed doesn’t know that.

Like so many of our unwelcome invasive species it was first introduced by aristocratic garden owners importing exotic-looking plants from all over the globe with no thought of disturbing the delicate balancing act that is our native flora and fauna.

To grace their expensive estates they imported exotic species such as grey squirrels and various small deer including the notorious muntjac.

In the plant world perhaps the biggest environmental disaster was the importing of Rhododendron ponticum, which has become a vast problem in the woodlands of the west highlands of Scotland, in Wales and on heathlands in southern England.

The huge plants spread by suckering and crowd out our more delicate native flora.

Massive clearance strategies have been developed, including the flailing and cutting-down of plants with follow-up herbicide spraying. But in reality this beautiful but unwelcome species seems to be winning the battle in most places.

Three huge and out-of-scale plants, giant hogweed, gunnera, and Japanese knotweed — are all common escapees and have the size and stature to turn our rivers and canal banks into a passable replica of an Amazonian jungle.

Children need to be kept away from giant hogweed and warned about its dangers. Adults cutting or uprooting plants should wear protective clothing including eye protection and stout gloves.

If sap does get on the skin the affected area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and the exposed skin protected from the sun for several days.

If blisters do start to develop seek urgent medical attention.