Saturday, 29 August 2009

Frogging in Lincolnshire

NOTE: I'm not a biologist, so I might be talking rubbish in this post! You're welcome to correct me!

I was invited to go along to help catch Xenopus frogs not too long ago by Albert. I've long been interested in Xenopus frogs since Sherry kept them as pets. I guess this is a story, in a way, of how I got some. This post is also long overdue.

Xenopus are a type of amphibian.. some people call them frogs, some call them toads, I believe the reason for this is the fact that the terms "frog" and "toad" is a generalisation to what people identify certain kinds of amphibians to.. and xenopus shows characteristics of both if you were to get a checklist and check the boxes as you went. I shall avoid going into the what defines each.... They are from the sub-Saharan part of Africa, the particular species which is so widespread, and the ones we went to catch were xenopus laevis, or the african clawed toad/common platanna. There are other xenopus species out there, like Sherry's x. victorianus.

Unlike the native frogs/toads, xenopus spend almost all their lives in water, and are aquatic. They have been exported worldwide from Africa for the purposes of research, and until not-so-long-ago, pregnancy tests. From what I understand, they are considered a model organism, they exhibit behaviours and resemble the workings of other species, or something like that. By injecting the urine of a pregnant woman, the hormones would cause the xenopus to lay eggs and this was how one could use xenopus as a pregnancy test (goodness knows who discovered this...!). For these reasons, xenopus have become common around the world, and in addition to this, xenopus have become popular as pets (they are considerably easier to keep than other frogs/reptiles/amphibians and are quite hardy).

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I was up in Lincolnshire... we (a group of us) were there trapping frogs for a few days. The story is that a pet shop owner shut his shop some time ago, and wanted to give these frogs a chance so he set them free. We became aware of this particular feral populations (a number of feral populations exist worldwide, e.g. Chile, California, France and even one near Bridgend, UK) when the locals started catching xenopus in the nearby angling pond. The land they are on is an old slag heap site, where there are a number of water bodies. Much of the area we walked around felt like old wasteland which was overgrown - it probably was,... I'm guessing...!?

As usual, I'm no expert photographer, I just enjoy taking pictures to record the moment. That sort of thing... On the first day, we didn't get as much done as we'd like to, as we had the BBC filming. They're putting together a program on Invasive Species. In the pic below, Professor Richard Tinsley is being interviewed on the xenopus. This spot is one which xenopus were previously caught in, and we have decided to put out some traps to catch them. We've nicknamed this bit "Tadpole Nursery".

So during the daytime when we arrived in the area, we set out the traps. It's now night, we went to check them out to see if we'd have any luck. There was the odd one swimming around and a few tadpoles here and there. Here's a xenopus we caught with a net (rather than a trap).

This is one of the traps. It is simply a bucket with poles popped in the lid, and a funnel. The bucket is half-submerged, and baited with liver. The idea is that the xenopus can smell the bloodied water, and they will try and find their way in... so the funnel is for that, they can enter the bucket where the liver is, but not get out very easily. Since xenopus need to come up to the surface to breathe (I believe they have lungs?), it was important that the buckets were only half-submerged... you don't want to drown the little guys! If you look carefully, theres a little one there, trying to find out where the food is.

A selection of some fine specimens... that night.:

A bucket full of tadpoles:

The next day.... we've come back to check the traps. Let's bear in mind that xenopus feed at night, so that's why it was much easier to spot them in the water last night. Look at this catch... a HUGE female! (yeah, I want one... :P )

With the xenopus in the traps, we have to scout the various sites and collect them and bring them back to the car to take them back to the B&B where we will sort them out later. Tadpole Nursery was one of several sites (one of them is, affectionately, named Albert's Pond). This is what it looks like with the water fully trapped.

Our crew - Left to right... Sophie, Gemma, Albert, Me, Kirsten and Professor Richard Tinsley.

We're now back at the B&B that we stayed in during our time there. This is one of the BBC guys, he's a cameraman of sorts. I spoke to him about his kit, and he told me he's a local guy, and is not associated with the presenter (the interviewer in the first pic), who travels around and does various programs - his last one was about steam i believe, as in, steam trains , that sort of thing. So they do a lot, and get around a lot.

Here is Albert sorting out the xenopus into Male, Female and Juveniles. The females were the most important initally as we'd managed to find new "homes" for them, Dundee University wanted 60 plump females... unfortunately the males and juveniles were put to sleep (with anaesthetics) before an "order" came in for 20 various xenopus. Thankfully,Sophie took home 2 little xenopus, and I took home 4 and rehomed another 3 with Sherry's mum.

A few pictures of the village where we stayed. With the afternoon a little free, I ventured (but not very far at all....) into the village's high street.

The pub where we ate served up some enormous sized meals... the perfect dinner for the hard work! ... hey, even I struggled to get a desert down into me!

We're back to frogs now - another reason we were sent to remove these guys from the area was that xenopus is one of the species blamed for the spread of a chytrid fungus which can kill various species of frogs, but xenopus themselves are not affected. It was important that we swabbed the xenopus and native amphibians we saw - these swabs are then sent away to be tested for chytrid.

Whilst we were there, we managed to trap and catch a large number of xenopus - this is what a netful of them from a big binful of them looks like!

And this is what a trapping-bucketful of them looks like!

When frogs mate, they get into amplexus. The female lays eggs which the male then fertilises with his sperm. Xenopus have an unusual position, in which the male grabs the female by the "waist", rather than just under the arms (the wikipedia has a few pictures of other species of frogs). When we collected the xenopus from the traps around Grass Pond (the name of a pond we found xenopus in..), this frisky male attached himself to this female. What was impressive, was that by the time we carried the bucket (water swaying and everything, mind you!), put it on the car, drove back to the B&B and unloaded the buckets, the little guy was there still hanging on! We had to pull him apart unfortunately, but it was pretty amazing to see.

Well that's it - we removed some 120+ (no idea what the exact numbers are....) xenopus from there, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was really great to meet some other people to learn more about this species. Although not pictured (I forgot to take a pic!), Angela, our host at the B&B was the loveliest person ever, it felt almost, but only a little, uncomfortable settling into such a cosy surrounding and being treated like friends in a way. The rest of the crew have known her longer than I did so I rarely felt out of place... only in my experience (or lack of) did it show. Jim, the Natural England man, who came to meet us and learn more about the situation gave the group the go-ahead for funds to carry on with this work in removing xenopus from this area. He was an interesting guy to talk to, and was very knowledgeable about reptiles and amphibians (much like Albert :P ) With that, hopefully I get to go again at some point in the future, and see and learn more! What a change it was, from anything else I've done before.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Rye and Camber Sands

I've been absolutely awful lately - I've written nothing in July, and I really should be working on my coursework and dissertation as I speak. But I figure I should actually put something down as I'm travelling too much.... I've since covered East Sussex, Lincolnshire and a random hour or two in North Somerset... and ofc a number of trips back to Swansea (of that lot, I'll cover the first two).

I'd wanted to visit the south coast (namely Brighton - although that never happened) for some time, and we did so in early July, just a week after the lovely week of sun.... it was good weather (but not beach weather... boo.). If you remember, the week before was the week everyone was on about and was lovely. If only we'd gone then - commitments here in Swansea kept me back.

We visited Eastbourne, Hastings (briefly..) and Rye/Camber... and of these, I feel that Rye is worth writing about the most. I've seen pictures of Rye, and considering it was "en-route", we stayed there, in the Ship Inn. Although it was £90 per night, I felt it was one of the loveliest places I've stayed in - I rank friendliness/cosiness over luxury, and the website portrays it almost as true as it actually is (good job to the web designers!). It was hard to fault. It felt very British, the bed was very comfy, the bathroom comforts (such as the rubber ducks and Burts Bees products), the rustic wooden floor, the [rather cute/girly] decor and the fact that there was a pub downstairs (strangely enough, it was not noisy at night). The guy who served us and showed us round was really nice too. I can't say I particularly enjoyed the local perry, but the breakfast the next morning after our stay was very filling.

Our B&B

We visited the Camber Sands beach in Camber. Camber is a small village, pretty recent in history I guess - to put it into perspective, Rye used to be a port, and once famous for it's smuggling gangs (you can almost imagine pirates running up and down the steep cobbled streets... at least, I could =/ .. ). Camber lies towards the east of the River Rother (and again, to put into perspective, on the other side, the west, Henry II's Camber Castle soon became useless due to the river silting up - Rye was an important part of the Cinque ports, a series of defences). Camber is what you can regard as a proper beach. It's got sand, plenty of it, and is used for wind and water sports.. this didn't dawn on me much, until I realised this use was the reason we found it particularly windy.

A beach as far as the eye can see... with sand dunes too.

I needed a Dan-sized sandcastle project... here is my sandcastle-sized fortress =D

It's very big!

On the brow of the dunes... you can see the village and wind turbines in the distance

I particularly enjoyed Rye for it's cobbled streets and old buildings. A book I read on it, described it as stepping out into the 1950's with a lack of streetlighting... I think that's close! The tea houses, whilst slightly touristy, was where we decided to munch on fish and chips the next day.

Just outside Rye... £1.50 a punnet for locally grown loganberries,
blackberries, raspberries, cherries and strawberries - bargain.

Mermaid Street is one of the well known ones in Rye, it's cobbled and lined with old buildings.

Mermaid Street. Don't I look dashing? *cough*.

This is the Mermaid Inn, built 1420.

I like the bike... it's made with some fibre.... not sure what. very cool.

At one end of West Street is St. Mary's church, which offers a lovely view of the town and surrounding area. You pay £1 to get to the top. It's a bit scary, but you can see the pendulum moving and the bells. The climb up to the top of the tower wasn't made for visitors I reckon, so there's steep staircases and narrow corridors.

The view from St. Mary's church - the tower is the Ypres tower and that's the Rother there.

Cat vs. Japanese tourists

What a lovely florist...

Admitedly, there's a number of things we didn't check out... we totally forgot to visit the windmill in Rye, the customs house, Ypres tower, and there's probably a handful of other things I haven't mentioned here. Hopefully, I can find time to visit them one day.

That's it - for now, until I write up my Lincolnshire trip (this one's taken me 1 hour+).

Take care all.