Dear Readers, whilst 2020 has been in many ways the gift that just keeps giving, New Scientist has kept me fascinated and amused with its stories of wildlife and plants, both extinct and extant. This lovely photo of two Fairy Penguins (Eudyptula minor) seems so appropriate for this time somehow. Fairy Penguins (also known as Little Penguins) are, indeed, little – they only stand just over a foot tall. This pair would stand and watch the twinkling lights of Melbourne for hours, according to the photographer Tobias Baumgaertner. The Fairy Penguin colony at St Kilda Pier numbers about 1400 individuals, but the penguins in the photo wanted a few minutes away from the bustle of the colony.
And while we’re on the subject of photography, the world’s largest digital camera, which will form part of the sensor array at the Vera C.Rubin Observatory in Chile, was tested by taking the largest photograph every taken – this 3.2 gigapixel photo of a romanesco cauliflower. The camera is powerful enough to take a detailed photo of a golf ball 24 kilometres away, and will eventually be part of a project that will survey the southern sky for the next ten years.
Now, if you go out for a walk during lockdown in the UK, you are more likely than ever to spot some of these most unlikely creatures – red-necked wallabies.
Wild wallabies have been spotted on the UK on at least 100 occasions during the past decade, according to a study by Holly English at University College Dublin. Originally from Eastern Australia and Tasmania, these animals were popular in collections all across the UK, and have thrived when they’ve managed to jump over the fence. There is a population of about 1750 individuals on the Isle of Man, a breeding population on Inchconnan Island in Loch Lomond which were set free by their owner in the 1940’s, and English believes that there might also be wallabies breeding in Cornwall and the Chilterns.
The native habitat of these wallabies is surprisingly not that different from the warmer, wetter parts of the UK (and of course everywhere is getting warmer and probably wetter with climate change).
There was also a small population in the Peak District, but these died out in about 2009 following big winter storms.
Generally wallabies are not thought to present any problems with regard to native UK species, but they have become invasive in New Zealand, so one to watch I think.
You can read the whole article here.
And finally, Johan Hermans, a botanist from Kew Gardens thinks he may have found ‘the world’s ugliest plant’ in Madagascar. The orchid lives in deep shade in the leaf-litter of a forest in the south-eastern part of the country. Gastrodia agnicellis’s species name, which means ‘little lamb’, refers to its woolly root, and the idea that the flower looks a bit like a lamb’s tongue.
Hermans expected the flower to smell unpleasant – many forest-floor orchids are pollinated by flies, and so smell like decaying flesh. However, this one has ‘a fresh citrussy smell’, and Hermans says that we still don’t know how the plant reproduces. It spends most of its time underground and only emerges to flower and disperse its seeds. Let’s hope that this strange plant, which grows only in a tiny area of the south-eastern forest, where deforestation and burning for agriculture are a constant threat, will survive.
Title Photo from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24833132-300-image-of-fairy-penguins-watching-melbourne-lights-wins-photo-prize/ by Tobias Baumgaertner
Photo Two from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2253897-this-3-2-gigapixel-cauliflower-is-the-largest-photograph-ever-taken/ by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Photo Three By Noodle snacks (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/)Bennett’s Wallaby) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12200847
Photo Four by Rick Burian. Taken from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2263273-newly-discovered-orchid-species-labelled-the-ugliest-in-the-world/