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Stoats and weasels

Some of my work at Manchester University includes teaching all the first year Zoology and Biology students. Apart from my interest in amphibians and reptiles, I also have a huge interest in animals of every kind, including fish, birds, insects, and of course mammals. I find it extremely rewarding to share my knowledge with others so interested in the subject. Apparently my interest in animals, and sharing it, started really early in my childhood and Im told that by the age of  7 my party piece was to recite the latin names of all the British mammals – which I admit must sound pretty geeky to some 🙂 I do actually remember going on a junior school trip to Ribchester  when I was about that age – and rather than coming home with a head full of Roman History I brought back a tiny torpid bat I found clinging to a wall in my sandwich box. To my Mum’s dispair it hung on my bedroom curtains for several days and nights, and after feeding it up with mealworms in an effort to help it survive I released it some days later. I still remember my pleasure in watching it fly away. It seems that since then, rescuing little creatures has come to be somewhat of a pastime for me, and I’ve raised many different injured or orphaned wild mammals over the years, including baby opossums, weasels and stoats.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested to hear about a couple of things relating to mammal rescues. Just this week, Becky Cliffe has returned from Costa Rica, where she has been spent a year on a research placement. You will be hearing more about Becky’s work in my next post, and of an opportunity to hear all about her experiences in a special presentation to be held at the Manchester Museum.

This summer I have also had my fair share of caring for wild mammals after being asked to help a young orphaned stoat whose mother and siblings were killed by a fox, leaving it totally helpless. I ended up raising it to the point where he could fend for himself. After getting quite attached to the little creature it was a really hard call to know when to release him back to the wild, particularly as I know he will probably only live for a quarter of the length of time in the wild, if he is lucky – either through persecution from gamekeepers or through a particularly nasty parasite that can be passed on through the shrews these animals like to catch and eat. However, I am still a great believer that wild animals belong in the wild.

Below is a clip showing what the parasitic nematode worm can do to a skull of a stoat or weasel, and to watch a couple of clips of the little stoat I reared please CLICK HERE




One of the main areas we focus on highlighting in the Vivarium is Madagascar. This large island, which is situated in the Indian Ocean just off the Southeast coast of Africa, is home to some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet; It’s the fourth largest Island in the World and has one the highest levels of endemic plants and animals known. Many of these unique species are severely threatened due to massive habitat losses and other severe impacts on their environment by humans. The previous post featured a Panther Chameleon from Madagascar, and as part of  the Museum’s living collection we also display some beautiful giant day geckos and tiny brightly coloured Mantella frogs. These are displayed in an effort to give our visitors a first-hand glimpse of how incredibly special these animals are, and to also highlight the dire need for protection of their habitats. Our Golden Mantella frogs (pictured) are similarly displayed to highlight the importance of captive-breeding initiatives that have been established ex-situ in order to help save such Critically Endangered species from extinction.
Madagascar really is a herpetologist’s paradise, and over the past 3 weeks Adam has been traveling through the Eastern side of the country looking to see some of the many different amphibian and reptile species that occur there.  He is just back and has had a really fantastic trip. Apart from the many herps he came across, he also got to see some amazing mammals too. He saw a variety of different lemurs on his visit, including the Indri, a large and rare tail-less lemur that only lives in one forest. These tree-dwelling lemurs make a real eerie sound when they call, and the way they bounce from tree to tree is amazing. Adam also tells of the smallest lemur he came across in the forest while looking for reptiles, a tiny mouse lemur with huge eyes that blink independently – they must have been fantastic to see! One of our zoology student volunteers, Xaali, also finds lemur’s fascinating, and before she started working with us volunteered on a Lemur project in Madagascar where she had a superb time studying these wonderful creatures in the wild. Madagascar is one special place, but it is heartbreaking to hear of the habitat destruction that continues…
To hear more about Adam’s amazing trip to Madagascar, from the man himself, and see images and videos of some of the fantastic things he saw, please follow this link: Adam’s Page
                 The Rainforest Trust         Sponsor a Golden Mantella Frog

Deadly 60

Today we were pleased to welcome the CBBC Crew from Deadly 60 to film in the Vivarium. You may need to turn up the sound, but here is short clip of the presenter, Steve Backshall, with our Chameleon. This beautiful male Panther Chameleon specimen was kindly provided to us by Jamie and Laura at Chameloco.  Also, although she doesn’t work in the Vivarium, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the amount of work Rebecca Machin from our Zoology department put into preparing specimens and information for the visit.

More clips featuring Chameleon’s here


I’ve not watched it in some time, but I use to love Fawlty Towers)) Thinking of a title for this post got me laughing out loud as I thought of an old episode where the hotel’s kitchen is on fire – if you haven’t seen it you should, it’s priceless!

Corsican Fire Salamander (C) A. Gray

Anyway, Fire, what’s the tenuous link?)) Well, at the moment I have had my interest in salamanders well awakened by the prospect of visiting Corsica soon for an autumn break. This beautiful French Island is home to a very special Fire Salamander, Salamandra  corsica, and what a spectacular fire salamander it is too! Apart from the Corsican Brook newt, Euproctus platycephalus, it’s the only other member of the salamandidae family on the island and is quite different from any other European fire salamander. It really is stunning. Think of a salamander as bright as any poison dart frog – jet licorice black with the brightest orange-yellow markings, and you have it, they are So cool.

This species of salamander takes 3 or 4 years to reach maturity and the adults are a little stockier that the normal form of fire salamander. They also seem to have a slightly shorter tail, but their colourful marking pattern makes them one of the most beautiful salamanders I think I have ever seen. I am sooo looking forward to the possibility of observing them or their larvae in their native habitat, and promise to capture the moment on video for you if and when I do. Until then, here’s a clip of salamanders at the museum which includes two stunning young captive-bred fire salamander specimens: So why are they called Fire Salamanders?


See Also: Hunting Salamanders in Atlanta