Penny Thoughts

Hubert Duprat: Combining Nature and Art

Caddis fly larvae live in the world’s waterways and build themselves protective casings from what they can source in their surrounding environment. Normally this includes small rocks, dirt and vegetation, however, Hubert Duprat left these caddis flies no choice but to choose from some of the finest materials around. The resulting cases, as can be seen, are a one of a kind piece of work sculpted by these larvae.

Hubert provided these flies with the building blocks and the larvae acted as the architects, putting together these parts and creating some stunning results.

Caddis fly larvae aren’t exactly the most beautiful of creatures, and although impressive, their usual casings are rather unexciting. But stick them in a container of gold, pearls and gemstones and you come to appreciate more the skill and work that is put in by these larvae in their incessant need to cover themselves in stuff.

It may seem as if Hubert simply pimped out these fly larvae but even myself, not being a massive bug fan, have to admit to quite fancying a couture caddis..

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Two Worlds Collide in The Mechanical Mind of Justin Gershenson-Gates

Justin Gershenson-Gates’s website, A Mechanical Mind is a treasure trove filled with the unique, the bizarre and all things mechanical.

His robot-like critters are made from a huge variety of mechanical parts, combining nature and mechanics in a way I have never seen before. I find it interesting, as a biologist, to see that the anatomy of these arthropods can still clearly be seen even though it has been replaced by materials very far from the natural.

I always love a bit of nature-themed art, and Justin’s mechanical crawlies are a new and interesting way of recreating nature. Most art projects that have a nature theme tend to use natural, organic materials. Whereas Justin’s methods include using man-made materials and parts to create these bizarre futuristic looking bugs. Maybe his next step could be to make them functional.. this is a bloody big ask but it would be brilliant.

Most of Justin’s creations are creepy crawlies but he also makes some lovely jewellery pieces, including heart pendants and a large variety of brooches. Some of the items are listed on Etsy so you can go and buy these  items for a really reasonable price; they’ll make a truly unique Christmas present!

I couldn’t resist adding a few pictures, there are a couple of jewellery pieces at the bottom too. Enjoy!

Destiny’s Childless: The Pill’s Wanted and Unwanted Effects

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The pill has been letting women grab life by the balls instead of washing those of unwanted children for over 50 years. Roughly 100 million women worldwide take the pill and this has led to improved quality of living across the globe, huge reductions in numbers of deaths during childbirth and an understandably massive decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies.

The pill acts by changing hormone levels to trick the body into thinking that it is already pregnant. This stops eggs being released from ovaries and leads to various gruesome sounding things like increasing your cervical mucus. The main aim is to make the womb a pretty inhospitable place for eggs.

So the pill has been having its way with women’s wombs for a long time and has played an important part in allowing women to have better educations and explore further into the working world. It’s unlikely that many female CEOs and even Destiny’s Child could have been such independent women if it weren’t for contraceptives like the pill.

However, along with these many female-empowering outcomes of the pill, there is evidence that the pill may be altering other choices that females make, including their choice of potential suitors and their sexual tendencies.

Normally, when women are not on the pill, they experience alterations in their mate preferences through their menstrual cycle. Research has shown that when women are ovulating, and therefore fertile, they show a strong preference for more masculine and dominant men. Whereas when women are not fertile they shift their preference to more feminine ‘good father’ type men who can look after them and provide them with resources, be it sandwiches or diamonds. So these changes in women’s instincts lead to the exploitation of men for either their potential to shower you with resources or to provide their fantastic genes.

This cycling has been put down as one of the key reasons why women tend to cheat more on their partners when ovulating. Women also tend to act in a more sexually promiscuous way when ovulating, so single men of the world, maybe it would be in your benefit to show some interest in the ladies’ menstrual cycles. However, these women are generally going to be seriously fertile, so kids… use protection.

Preference changes also occur in men in response to ovulating women. It has been shown that men are actually more attracted to women when they are ovulating, be it because the women are acting more confidently or that men are picking up on some kind of pheromone-type signal. So, what better way to test this idea than send a load of awkward scientists to a strip club? They basically looked at female stripper wages throughout their menstrual cycles and found that they earned on average $150 more when they were ovulating. This pretty ridiculous sounding fact is true; it’s been proven using numerous beloved statistical techniques. Therefore, I conclude that ovulation makes me (and all you other women) $150 sexier. So thank you to you ovulation for fuelling that questionably sexy dancing in clubs all over the world for many years to come.

All this normal cycling is altered when women are on the pill. Instead of having a change in mate preference, women on the pill are generally stuck in the ‘good father’ preference. As women don’t actually ovulate when on the pill, the switch in preference to dominant, sexy, genetically matched men does not occur or does to a much lesser extent.

The kinds of relationships that form when women are on the pill therefore tend to be with ‘good father’ type males. Questionnaires of these couples showed that they actually tended to be happier in their relationship and therefore they often lasted much longer than couples that met when the woman was not on the pill. However, a huge majority of these couples stated that they were disappointed with their sex lives and weren’t really very attracted to their partners.

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There are even further issues. Say, there is a lovely couple that got together when the girl was on the pill. They go through life fulfilling numerous dating and romantic clichés until finally he pops the question. What wonderful news! NO. Following this apparent joyous news the inevitable baby conversations are going to come up, and the decision to come off the pill commences. Problem 1: when women come off the pill they show a strong preference for the masculine, sexy male type. This is not the type of man our scenario husband is. This means that these kinds of couples have an increased chance of splitting up at this point when the woman comes off the pill. Problem 2: If the couple do stay together, questionnaires have shown that these couples are more dysfunctional, unhappy and have unfulfilling sex lives. So your options here are either, never have children, stay on the pill forever and continue with your lovely relationship, stop taking the pill and break up with partner or finally stay with your partner and grow into an old bitter couple that probably hate each other.

These problems aren’t even the end of it. As more women are on the pill than ever before, more woman are having to face these potential situations, and many are choosing to stay with their “good father” partner and having their children. These men are not as well matched genetically as those men they would naturally chose to make babies with and it has been suggested that this may lead to some detrimental health impacts in the future. Basically, those men that are better matched genetically have more genetic dissimilarities, particularly in term of genes involved in immunity. Therefore, if more women are having children with poor genetically matched men, there are likely going to be more children with worse immune systems than if women were picking men naturally without the pill’s interference. This could mean more allergy prone children and the potential increase in for example, cases of asthma. With the future for health looking already increasingly bleak with ever increasing waste lines and pint glasses, the addition of more sickly children is not ideal.

But please don’t worry, this is not the case for every woman and these negative health effects aren’t predicted to be severe. Also, if you did meet your partner while on the pill, don’t panic! This is not the case for everyone, you may be the lucky exception.

Losing the Polar Bear Battle

Polar bears can be legally hunted in Canada for their fur, fangs and other body parts. This is the only country where this hunting is legal but the US put forward the proposal at this year’s CITES conference to ban this hunting altogether.

Polar bears currently fall into CITES appendix 1 which means legal hunting of these animals is allowed with strict monitoring and regulation. The proposal aimed to bump the polar bears up to appendix 2 which would make hunting of polar bears completely illegal.

This is not the first time that this proposal has been considered, but no success has been seen. There were hopes that the ban would get passed at the CITES conference, but this was not to be. 2/3 of the parties were needed to vote in favour of this proposal for it to be passed. Unfortunately, this was not even nearly reached. 38 voted in favour, but 42 voted against (48 abstained from the vote).

This result served for much disappointment for many nations including the US, Russia and the UK. However, with many important nations like China and Vietnam importing these products from Canada the number of opponents added up.

Canada was also strongly opposed to the proposal as the polar bear market provides the native Inuit people with a stable income. With roughly 600 polar bears being hunted and sold each year at a price of $5000 at auction, it is clear that they are a crucial income source for many Inuit people.

Depressing Future For Polar Bears

Polar bears have become a bit of a poster child for species affected by climate change. This is in part due to their popularity in modern culture and the visibly huge effects climate change is having on their habitat. So it does seem rather counter intuitive that there is legal hunting of this already vulnerable species.

The arctic habitat that these polar bears inhabit has decreased by nearly 20% since 1980 and this decrease is set to accelerate in the future. It is predicted that if we do not get a hold of our CO2 emissions by 2060, the ice caps will be committed to melting. That means no habitat for the polar bears at all.

Regulated Hunting

Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, argued that their hunting methods are sustainable and that they “hunt for subsistence”. He explains that the polar bears are needed to make money and put food on the table. Cows, chickens and pigs etc are not available to them; they are working with what they have.

This point is fair, however, there is no doubt that the hunting is having detrimental effects on the polar bear populations. Although this hunting has not been a huge problem in the past, it is likely that the combined effect of climate change and hunting in the future will only drive the polar bear populations down further.

My concern is that as the populations inevitably fall and therefore prices of polar bear products increase in price, we will have a situation very similar to that currently seen in the rhino horn trade. I have already written a post relating to these issues so I won’t delve into the details but you can find it here.

I feel that this may be another case of the powers of the world continuing to act in a reactive manner rather than a proactive manner. Yes, right now, the effects of polar bear hunting aren’t having a hugely dramatic effect, but we will not be able to say the same in the near future. Will it then be too late?

If you have any opinions on this or the rhino post, please share.. I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are..

Threatened Species of the Week: The Cretan Orchid


You may have noticed that this week’s threatened species is very different to all others I have chosen; it is a plant. Generally when people think about threatened species the first images that come to mind are animals like tigers, pandas and rhinos. I imagine an incredibly small proportion of people would think of for example, a plant or a fungus.

Although an enormous number of non-animal species are at risk of extinction they receive a disproportionately small amount of media coverage and attention. So I thought that this would be a good platform on which to expose a few of these relatively ignored threatened species.

The Cretan orchid (Orchis sitiaca) is endemic to the small Greek island of Crete. The orchid mainly grows on slightly acidic to alkaline soils in the central and eastern mountains of the island.

This area over which they are found is already small and is becoming smaller with the increasing threats of habitat loss. The grasslands are no longer being grazed to maintain them and are therefore developing into more shrub/ forest land; a habitat unsuitable for the Cretan orchid.

Another threat to these orchids is tourism. Crete is one of the most popular Greek islands and with more people comes more picking and more trampling. Although people are encouraged not to pick these orchids, their beautiful appearance can commonly be too tempting for some.

Currently no figure has been estimated for the population size of the Cretan orchid, but due to its already small range and the threats facing it, the IUCN Red List criteria have classed the Cretan orchid as endangered. Without populations figures it cannot be determined whether the population is increasing or in decline; however it is incredibly likely that the latter is the case.

All orchids are protected under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and this means that certain actions are recommended to ensure their protection. These actions include habitat protection, fencing vulnerable sites, raising public awareness and monitoring and surveillance programmes.

These actions can be effective, but with already small and fragmented populations it can be extremely difficult and expensive to carry out; and usually the required funding is not available.

This species of orchid is predicted to suffer increased intensity of threats over the coming years. Although there are actions in place to protect the Cretan orchid and others like it, they are still at risk of extinction. So next time you see a pretty flower when you’re wandering about resist that temptation to pick it out of the ground, you never know how precious it could really be.

Poisonous Rhino Horns: The Answer to a Difficult Question?

This year over 200 rhinos have been illegally slaughtered to feed the incessant demand for rhino horn coming from the East. The huge majority of this demand is coming from China where the horn is used for traditional medicine and the ivory for numerous products including artworks and weapon handles.

One kilogram of rhino horn can fetch up to $68 000 on the black market making it worth more than its weight in gold. This clearly lucrative business attracts a lot of people and devalues the potentials costs associated with being part of an illegal industry.

There have been endless attempts to try to control this illegal poaching but with very little success. The number of rhinos being poached is rising each year and the future is looking ever darker for rhinos around the world. A ban has existed since the 1970s but is providing little protection to these heavily targeted creatures. Due to this, alternative approaches have been considered.

I have already written a post about the attempt to legalise the ivory trade to enable more control of the industry. This idea was based on the fact that rhino horn is made out our keratin, like our finger nails and therefore can regrow. So essentially rhino horn harvesting could take place. If you want to read more about this really interesting idea follow this link.

This year, another alternative method of control is being carried out in a game reserve in South Africa; Sabi Sands. It is targeting the medicinal use of the rhino horn which is ingested. The rhino horns are being injected with a mixture of parasiticides and an inedible pink die. If ingested, this cocktail of chemicals will make the consumer very ill, leading to “nausea, stomach ache, [and] diarrhoea.”

Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association has stated that the poison will not kill people just make them very ill. The pink dye will also be very obvious and therefore should act as an obvious visual deterrent. This dye will also make it very obvious to poachers that the rhino horn is poisoned and should prevent continued hunting of rhinos in those regions. It will also serve as a very good indicator for border control forces who will rapidly be able identify rhino horn in its whole or powder form.

So what is actually in this poisonous cocktail of chemicals. The parasiticides used are generally used to control mites on livestock like horses, sheep and cattle. This is mixed with the dye and injected into a hole that is bored into the rhino horn when the rhino is sedated. This “toxification” has already been carried out on over 100 rhinos in South Africa, and work is continuing to toxify even more.

This process does seem like a good idea, however, it does bring up some moral concerns. This process is acting with the intention of causing harm to consumers. Yes, these consumers are acting illegally, but does that justify this kind of action? In my opinion it does. These people aren’t going to die, but it will serve as a lesson to not consume this illegal product. The lesson may be harsh, but the current “weaker” attempts are not working. Maybe these consumers deserve this kind of action and considering the product will be bright pink they would have to be pretty stupid to go on and eat it.

Another concern is that this may not bring an end to poaching or even reduce the levels, it may simply displace the poaching to other places. Poachers may be put off from poaching in certain regions due to this action, however, these people are likely to just target other areas to obtain their income. This method could be effective if carried out throughout a

ll/the large majority of the rhino’s distribution; unfortunately, this is really not a possibility. Many rhinos do reside within reserves and parks, but a large proportion of these parks do not have the people, the materials or the funds to carry out this kind of work. Also, many rhinos do not live in parks and therefore it would be extremely complicated to toxify all rhinos.

Maybe with significant funding and support, a campaign could be carried out; this is unfortunately pretty unlikely too. A huge amount of lobbying and campaigning would be required, with research and trials to determine whether this method would be a possibility. This would all take quite some time, and maybe too much time for the rhinos.

There is also concern that the rhino poachers simply wouldn’t care. These people are criminals, if they can still fetch a decent amount of money it is very likely that they will continue to poach these rhinos until the horn completely devalues. Devaluing may occur if this toxification can be rolled out across the world driving down global demand, but as has been mentioned, this is a lot easier said than done.

The Sabi Sands reserve want to tell poachers that they have no place being in their park as their rhinos are pointless kills. I do worry about this message; a few years ago some parks were shaving the horn off rhinos so that the poachers had no access to the horn and therefore, no profit. However, the poachers retaliated and many rhinos were slaughtered in response.

Overall, I think this is a good idea. Measures in place aren’t working and so new, alternative measures are having to be considered. This approach does come with some ifs and buts, but in my opinion, every little helps. However, it may reach a point  where our greed seals the fate for rhinos, where investing effort into saving them would be rendered pointless. Some people already think this is the case. I do still think there is some time, but that window of opportunity is ever shrinking and action needs to be taken now before it’s too late.

Are You A Slave To Your Inner Parasite?

You would think that you’re in total control of your thoughts and behaviours, but for some, this is not always the case..

These pretty pathetic looking purple things to the left are parasitic individuals known as Toxoplasma Gondii. The parasite causes Toxoplasmosis and can infect many hosts, but I will mainly be concentrating on the cat/rat life cycle and the potential to impact humans.

Basic Lifecycle of T. gondii:

Let’s start with the feline host. If an infected cat (pet or wild) defecates it releases oocysts into the environment. Oocysts are spores which contain the parasites; they can be very long lasting in the environment and become infective within a few days. If a rat comes along and ingests food contaminated with these oocysts, the parasite has entered its next host. Within the rat the oocysts quickly develop into tachyzoites which are the mobile and asexual form of the parasite shown here in the picture. These move through the rat until they locate neural or muscle tissue where they develop into bradyzoites (tissue cysts).

If this rat, containing potentially huge numbers of tissue cysts is ingested by the cat, the parasite has returned to another feline host. In the cat, the bradyzoites eventually develop into the oocysts and are released into the environment and so completing the life cycle.

For an illustrated version of the Toxoplasma Gondii life cycle or any other parasitic life cycle DPDx do great, visual diagrams.

Changing Behaviour

It is common to underestimate the effects single celled organisms can have on our health and wellbeing, I mean, what can one cell do that is so bad? Well the answer to that is A LOT. To help ensure that their life cycle is completed the parasites change the behaviour of the rat host. Rats have innate instincts and characteristics which cause them to avoid potential predators like cats. For example, if a rat can smell the odours given off by cats they will actively attempt to get as far away from this smell as possible or take shelter in a safe place. However, when infected with the Toxoplasmosis parasite this instinct changes, and rats instead are attracted to this smell and will persue it to get closer to the feline in question. So the parasite is actually changing the brain of the rat host so that its normal instincts are not only forgotten but also replaced by completely different and life threatening ones.

M. Berdoy,  J. P. Webster and D. W. Macdonald conducted a study investigating these behavioural changes brought about by the T. gondii parasite. The rats tended to show much more risky behaviour when infected with the parasite than without and in doing so increased their chances of being caught and eaten by a cat. These changes to the brain are considered to be the work of the bradyzoites in the neural tissue in the brain. By altering the behaviour of the rat host so that it is no longer as acutely aware of risky behaviour, places and stimuli means that the parasite is increasing its likelyhood of getting into its next host and surviving. The parasite has taken control of its host and is driving them to danger and potential death to ensure its long term success.

Changing Human Behaviour

The prevalence of Toxoplasmosis in the human population is between 20-80% depending on the region, which is potentially a very large proportion of some populations. It is predicted that roughly 80% of French people are infected, which is a huge amount of people. Cats are a hugely popular pet across the globe and have become one of the most widely invasive species in existence. With our relationship with cats becoming increasingly close the T. gondii parasite has found itself inside humans instead of its normal host range. Humans can become infected in a number of ways for example, by ingesting contaminated water or food (spores or cysts in undercooked meat), through organ transplants or from their mothers via the placenta.

alg_road-rageSo it comes to question whether these odd behavioural changes brought about by the parasite could potentially occur in us humans when infected. This concept has been studied quite a few times, but one good study was done by J. Flegr et alin which they performed a personality test (specifically Cattell’s questionnaire) on 224 men and 170 women. They found that the men and women who did have Toxoplasmosis did have altered behaviour. The characteristics that were seen to change as a result of the infecti0n were “Superego strength” (conscientious, moralistic), “protension” (suspicious/ jealous), “affectothymia” (outgoing/ warm), “shrewdness” and a “high strength of self sentiment” (controlled/ over powering). These behaviours are being brought upon by the parasitic cysts found in the brain tissue and like in rats are leading to more risky behaviours. Another study by J. Flegr et al. looked further into this concept at more specific situations and found that people infected with T. gondii are significantly more likely to get involved in car crashes than uninfected people.

Toxoplasmosis in Foetuses:

Besides these personality changes, an infection with Toxoplasma has no serious effects on those infected unless you are immunosuppressed. The big issues come in pregnancy. A normal infection is controlled by cells of the adaptive immune response, including crucially, cytotoxic T cells. These act by destroying cells that are infected with the parasite and so regulate the infection. The problem is that foetuses do not have these cells as they cannot be passed from mother to foetus, but the parasites can. Therefore, the infection cannot be controlled in the unborn child and this can have severe effects. If the mother has a T.gondii infection before or soon after conception the foetus is in nearly all cases miscarried. If an infection occurs later in pregnancy the chance of still birth is hugely increased. If the child does survive birth it is likely that the child will soon die and if not they  generally will have impaired vision and severe learning difficulties.

As these effects are so severe there are measures in place to detect T. gondii infections so don’t worry too much! Women are routinely checked for the infection when pregnant. If a woman does have an infection it is generally caught before the parasite could have spread to the foetus. These women are given drugs like spiramycin to control the infection and decrease the chance of spread to the foetus.

So next time you’re feeling particularly aggressive or risky maybe take some time to consider whether it is in fact you driving these emotions or if your inner parasite is taking control..

Threatened Species of the Week: The Spiny Seahorse

This weeks threatened species of the week is the Spiny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix)!

The spiny seahorse is considered vulnerable to extinction under the IUCN classification system due to destruction of their habitat, their trade popularity and vulnerability as by-catch. If you aren’t sure of the classification technique used by the IUCN Redlist then have a look at this post which explains the ins and outs of this system.

Spiny seahorses were previously classed as data deficient. However, after an investigation of the species it was found that they were in decline and this bumped their ranking up to vulnerable. Studies estimated that the world population of spiny seahorses has declined up to 30% in the last 10-15 years, suggesting that they have been under extreme pressure over the last few decades.

The first culprit for this decline is the massive demand for these creatures as pets and for traditional medicine. The populations are being exploited to fulfil this demand and as a result the existing populations are struggling to maintain their numbers. It has been predicted that each year more than 200 000 individuals are traded in parts of the seahorses range and this level of trade is set to continue and potentially increase.

Surveys have also shown that the spiny seahorses are not only becoming rarer, but they also seem to be shrinking. The seahorses that are being caught are smaller than they used to be and this is likely due to the fact that most adult seahorses are rapidly removed from the populations. This leaves more of the smaller juveniles to be caught as many individuals do not survive long enough to reach full maturity before they are caught.

The second major pressure on the spiny seahorse populations is the ever growing issue of by-catch. By-catch are all those unwanted living organisms that are caught in the process of fishing and trawling in the ocean. A huge number of these seahorses are being caught as by-catch throughout the species’ range.

The huge majority of spiny seahorses caught as by-catch are caught as a result of trawling. Trawling involves dragging huge and heavy structures along the seafloor to catch creatures like mussels, clams and oysters. This method is incredibly damaging to the sea floor, basically destroying and removing everything in its path. The spiny seahorses that exist at these depths are swept away with the rest of the sea floor.

By-catch can and should be returned to the ocean. However, due to the huge demand for these seahorses they are generally considered a pleasant surprise as they can be easily sold into the medicine and pet trade. Less damaging trawling methods do exist, however, the majority of these seahorses are being caught in the oceans of developing countries that rarely use these trawlers.

The third threat to these seahorses is habitat destruction; possibly the biggest threat to all biodiversity across the world (but that is another story for another day). As mentioned, these seahorses exist close to the seafloor; specifically at depths of 6-20m. They live on various substrates including sponges, weedy rocky reefs, soft corals but mainly on seagrass beds.

The biggest habitat loss is being seen in seagrasses which are declining as a result of numerous factors. So the first big threat to seagrass is our good friend trawling. Trawling removes the seagrass like it removes the seahorses; leaving the seafloor baron of seagrass. So trawling is threatening spiny seahorses in multiple ways and it could be argued that this is the threat that is the most important to target.

Another threat to the seagrass is eutrophication which occurs when for example fertilisers and sewage leak into water systems. This leads to a massive increase in algae and plankton and therefore an enormous increase in the levels of photosynthesis in these water systems. This removes a significant proportion of the oxygen from the water and therefore starves the other living organisms (including seagrass) that need this oxygen to survive.

Other threats to the seagrass include coastal building which is removing much of the seagrass habitat in those regions. Invasive species are also threatening seagrass; with foreign plants outcompeting the native seagrasses and invasive wildlife consuming it. Overall, the seagrass habitats are under great threat and as a result, so are the spiny seahorses that call these grasses home.

All the threats that face spiny seahorses are predicted to not only continue, but also to worsen. The seahorses may be categorised as vulnerable currently. but it is likely that it will not be too long until they are bumped up to threatened.

Methods are in place to attempt to reduce the impacts of these threats, including stricter control on the seahorse trade. However, with a huge majority of the seahorses being caught as by-catch, it is incredibly difficult to control this trade. More protection is needed for our sea beds, however, the enormous demand for sea life for food, pets and medicinal purposes is meaning that more and more of our seabeds are being trawled and damaged each day.

Threatened Species of the Week- Pangolins: One of Conservation’s Hidden Stories

It’s that time again where I reveal the chosen threatened species of the week.. well strictly this week it is 2 species but you’ll forgive me for that I’m sure.

There is a great deal of media coverage surrounding numerous threats to wildlife, including polar bear hunting, the ivory trade and the timber industry. However, these problems are only part of a much larger and concerning set of challenges that the world’s wildlife is facing.

Relatively unknown creatures are being overshadowed by poster-children of conservation campaigns, regardless of the often intense levels of exploitation they face.  With little media coverage and poor public interest, there is almost negligible drive felt by governments and policy makers to take action. This is why I am doing this feature, to increase the awareness of those species under great threat that the majority of us are completely unaware of.

So what is being overlooked? The simple answer is: an awful lot, and this weeks threatened species of the week is the Pangolin. Strictly there are actually 8 species of pangolin, of which 2 are listed as endangered under the IUCN criteria; the Sunda Pangolin and the Chinese Pangolin.

Pangolins were ranked the most illegally trafficked animal in Asia in 2011, yet most people are completely unaware of them, with them receiving little media coverage. Pangolins are related to anteaters and are found across Africa and Asia. They are covered in thick, hard scales made of keratin; the same material that makes up our finger nails and the precious horn of rhinos and tusks of elephants.

Although the pangolins are protected under international law, little success is being seen in the conservation of these docile creatures.

Population numbers are decreasing in all eight species of pangolin, and two species are listed as endangered under the IUCN Redlist criteria. These declines are being driven by the increasing demand for these unique animals’ meat, scales and hide.

The biggest demand for pangolins is coming from Asia. In some Asian cultures the pangolin scales are believed to have unique medicinal properties.

With countries like China becoming increasingly wealthy the demand for these scales is ever increasing. This rapidly rising demand is pushing up prices and tempting more people into the illegal poaching trade.

This increase in poaching popularity is driving the population numbers way down. Pangolins are now so rare that they can be sold for as much as $1000 on the black market.

The co-Chair of the Pangolin Specialist Group, Dan Challender has stated that “…tens of thousands of illegally traded pangolins are seized each year”. This is still likely to be a massive underestimate with a huge number of poached pangolins escaping identification and inclusion in these figures.

As this trade is illegal there is very limited market data available, making appropriate targeting of conservation strategies increasingly difficult

If the situation remains as it is for pangolins and many other species of concern, the future for wildlife does not look bright. Nature interacts in a multitude of ways and it is not just the poster animals that are of importance; everything matters.

Sublime Science: Teaching Kids the Wonders of Science

Looking for an exciting and truly unique kids part experience? Get in touch with Sublime Science! Some great names and institutions have been raving about Sublime Science, including the BBC, ITV, the Telegraph and more.

Having finished my degree at Imperial I came home for some well deserved time off in the sun. After a couple of weeks of stress-free living I could ignore my dwindling bank balance no longer and it was time to start looking for a job.

I had entered these holidays with no intention of getting right into a high-climbing, high-paying job; I really just wanted something to get me by; whether that be in the field of science or not. I had a search about, looking at working in retail, or a bar.. I was open to most things. However, on my search I stumbled across something that appeared to be my perfect job.

This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, and seemed far too good to be true so I had a look at the details. The job is with an entertainment company called Sublime Science who work to get kids interested and involved in science. The position was as a presenter, which involved going to kids parties, schools, nurseries etc and doing a show full of awesome tricks and experiments.

A week or so later I was told that I had an interview which was amazing news. I went along and after a light drilling of questions I was told that I had the job. I couldn’t believe my luck; I had found the perfect job for me right now, just 3 weeks after leaving university and had successfully got the jobAs I plan on getting into a career in science communication this seemed like the perfect job to start that journey. I also love performance and have worked with kids before so the perks just kept coming. So obviously I quickly filled out the application form and waited to hear any news.

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I got my training schedule in and today I attended my first session. The training basically involves going to see other presenters do their shows and each time taking over the show a little at a time until I run the whole shabang. got my Sublime Science tshirt and was told that my training schedule would be sorted asap. Obviously I was a very happy lady and decided to strut about the house in my new tshirt even if it was just the cat and my mum who were enjoying the show.

As today’s session was my first I simply had to go to a lovely 8 year old boy’s birthday party and enjoy the show! I think I loved it as much as the kids. From slime and sweet making to amazing science tricks and experiments, I almost forgot I was “working”.

The kids absolutely loved it, and so did the parents. I’m so glad something like this exists, getting kids excited about science rather than intimidated or bored.

Hopefully the rest of my training will go well and I’ll soon be running my own show with Sublime Science. If you have kids or work in a school/ nursery etc you must get in contact with Sublime Science and book a party! In a few weeks time it might even be me coming round and making slime.