Thursday, 23 April 2009

A non-cryptozoological trip to Redditch

You should all have by now read Ross’ turn of events regarding last Sunday’s auction. Now, I am not going to attempt to pretend that this was a purely cryptozoological trip, far from it; it was a chance for those who went to get their hands on some great new fish. Ross wanted to get his tanks started with something attractive, but easy to keep; Jon wanted anything with a sp. “something” at the end of its name; Emma wanted some fish for her community tanks; and I wanted both anything with sp. “something” (this means that this certain fish has not been scientifically described, but it is probably from the genus before the “sp.” part. So, Cryptoheros sp. "Honduran red point" relates to an undiscribed cichlid from the Cryptoheros genus, probably from Honduras) and something to sit with a couple of other medium sized cichlids in a 3ft tank opposite my chair to entertain me.

After paying the rather high entry fee, we were given a load of free tubs of food, which we worked out as being worth about £5 more than the entry ticket, so I wasn’t too disappointed. After a quick general meeting (which none of our party had much to say, we were not members), we listened to a talk by Bernd Degen, a Discus breeder and show master for over 30 years. He talked about first showing Discus (with some great photos of the massive Japanese shows) and some of the techniques people use to get that “perfect” discus, then he moved on to a talk about keeping discus in a planted aquarium, something I have always advocated.

After a break, the auction began. The first lot was exactly what I wanted, a 4” male Nandopsis salvini, a medium sized predatory cichlid from Guatemala. This is a stunning fish not that often seen in the shops. When it is, it is usual £5+ for a juvenile about 1-2” long. My male over 8 times that size for £8 was a bargain.

From then on in, our table ended up buying about12-15 lots of fish; I cannot even remember what we got! Emma got hold of her community angelfish and an unusual species of Corydoras catfish, Jon got his beloved Rams (at about half the cost of buying from a shop, and better quality) as well as Aequidens sp. “Peru” (a nice smallish cichlid, similar to the hobby staple the Blue Acara, see top photo); whilst Ross ended up with another undiscribed species (Krobia sp. “red cheek” if you are interested) and various other fish to fill his tanks up with. I got myself a group of Thorichthys sp. 'Mixteco Blue' (see bottom photo) which are currently sat in Jon’s local the Farmer’s Arms. These cost me about £3 for 8 youngsters. This is just plain stupid!

Following from the excitement of the auction, we had Alf Stalsberg, a writer and traveller who was speaking about Aequidens sp. “Silver Saum”. Time for taxonomic cock up! Aquarists may well have heard of a fish called a “Green Terror” (why? Because they are generally a metallic green, and are seriously aggressive). Now, this was thought to be a species called Aequidens rivulatus. This was debunked a good few years back, and the hobby’s fish is now known as A. sp. “Gold Saum” because of the gold edges to the fins. A. sp. “Silver Saum” is very similar, but has silver edges to the fins. Stalsberg went out to collect these fish, and found that these three cichlids represented different species. Now, the Americans (his words not mine!) “walked in and think they know everything!” and said that this was rubbish, A. rivulatus was the species in the hobby, and the others were just geographical variants. Well, says Stalsberg, do variants of a species occurring in the same river system breed only with fish with their own colour edging? No says he, they would all breed together. The fact they he has witnessed a separate breeding divide in the wild proves that they are different species. I for one feel that this argument will carry on for a long time...

After a quick raffle, we went home again to get the fish into their new aquaria. The traffic was terrible and I for one got back about an hour later than expected, but hey, if this is the price to pay for such a superb day, then I would gladly do it again.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

THE UNIDENTIFIED FISHES OF YOUTUBE PART TWO: An Unidentified Submarine Object

Round 2 of the unidentified fish blogs. Here, we go all crypto and look at a U.S.O. from a lake somewhere. (Sadly, we have no idea where, which makes things more confusing). In the film, we see a group of small orange-yellow “things” surfacing and dropping repetedly, before dropping and not reappearing. This is clearly not one animal, so the cameraman's idea that it is a manatee is so wrong that I am going to stop midsentence.







Little groups of the things break off from time to time and disappear quickly. Now, I can think of two suggestions as to what it may be, but they both have their faults.

1. A group of small fish that are being corralled into a ball by an organised group of predators. Depending on where the footage was filmed, it could be a group of bass (small or large mouthed) or perch that are attacting the small fish. This accounts for the rising and falling of the fish in the water column plus the smaller groups splitting off. The disappearence of the fish occurs when the predators are full, and leave to digest their meal. However, if predators were attacking, there would be some splashes from boh the small fish, and larger splashes from the predaors. Plus, bright orange bait fish? I've not seen many species that are this colour.

2. Snakehead fry. Yay! Snakeheads! When snakeheads spawn and the eggs hatch, the parents push the young up to the surface to fill their “lungs” with air. If the babies don’t inflate their “lungs” quickly, they die. Snakehead fry are bright orange-yellow, which accounts for the colour. They are also not prone to jumping out of the wach much, which accounts for the lack of surface movement. The small groups are quickly herded back into the main group by one of he parents, which accounts for the short-lived nature of the small groups. At 2:21 a small fish jumps out of the water. The orange group drops down again, probably because the adults moved off to get rid of this interloper into their area, before surfacing again when the adults push them back up.

This too has its problems. The only footage I have seen of snakeheads exhibiting this behaviour shows them doing it in shallower water, usually with some cover from plants and rocks. The main argument against it however, is that snakeheads are not found in English speaking countries (as natives), and any local would have no trouble identifying a cresh of baby snakeheads as being so. This could well be video footage of introduced snakeheads in the USA breeding (as if there was not enough evidence), if it is indeed from the USA.

GUEST BLOGGER DAVID MARSHALL: L Numbered catfish

Since my yesterday's posting about the new catfish species, I have had a number of emails asking what I mean by "L Numbered" catfish. To explain, here is an article by David Marshall, reprinted from the 2007 CFZ Yearbook:

In the late 1980's a small variety of loricarins new to the U.K. aquarium hobby began appearing in aquatic retail outlets. All of these fish were given exotic-sounding common names so a small white fish with black stripes was sold as the emperor or zebra peckoltia, a fish with wavy black and yellow markings the scribbled plec, and one with a dark black body and white spots was sold as the vampire plec.

From the scant information that could be obtained, mainly through friendly retailers, U.K. aquarists were led to believe that all of these fish had originated from the Rio Xingu area of Brazil and were vegetarian by nature. It would take sometime for this information to be corrected, and make aquarists realise that these particular loricarins’ natural range extended beyond the Xingu area and that their dietary requirements were actually very varied.

As more of these loricarins began to appear, the sales tickets on their aquaria (first seen in Yorkshire through L 018 - Baryancistrus niveatus 'golden nugget') began to show a sequence that began with the letter L followed by a series of numbers. Shortly afterwards the letters LDA began the sequence with some of these fish. The shape and character of the sequenced species was also starting to change as no longer did they all have the look of a miniature plecostomus, but some resembled whiptail catfish, others large otocinclus, and then came the truly bizarre sight of little loricarins with grey and black marbled patterns - best described as elongated wine gums with fins. What on earth was going on?


Confusion in Germany

When all was revealed, it became clear that these loricarins had been available on the European mainland for some time before we had seen them in the U.K. They were appearing not only from the Rio Xingu, but from many other areas of South America. As each new fish had been discovered, the well known German magazine DATZ had featured their portrait.

Worried about varying common names that had been given to these fish in the trade, the DATZ Editorial staff had come up with a system in which each new fish would be given an L-Sequenced number that would allow it to be universally recognised, until the scientific community could get through the tortuous procedure of giving them a proper scientific name. Going back in their records revealed that the fish U.K. hobbyists would come to know as the `white spot pleco` had been the first to be pictured, so this fish began the L Sequence as L 001 (L1). With some of the new species, it was clear to see that these were only colour, or regional, variants of loricarins already sequenced. So this was indicated, by adding a lower-case letter at the end of their number. Thus L O90d is the fourth known variant of ‘panaque species Peru'.

The Editorial staff of the rival German magazine Das Aquarium had also received photographs of other new loricarins coming out of South America, along with different-looking photographs of some of the L numbered fish, so not to be outdone they created the LDA numbering system for their photographs. Starting this sequence was the gold peckoltia which thus became LDA 01 (LDA1).

So from the start, we had confusion with different L and LDA numbers applying to the same fish. This became even more compounded when regional and colour variations of sequenced loricarins would slip through the system, thus giving them a totally different L number than that already assigned for their kind.

This would become partly to blame for further errors occurring, as other aquatic publications began captioning loricarin photographs with incorrect L and LDA numbers. These problems aside, the two sequencing systems remain the recognised - and best - way to keep a record of all the subject species, until the arduous task of scientifically naming them all is finally completed.


How many L and LDA numbered fish do we know about?

It is hard to keep track of LDA numbered fish through publications available in Britain, but by September 2003 a total of 76 loricarins had been sequenced. Thankfully, information on the L numbered loricarins is easier to come by, and of September 2004 the sequence had reached number 387. According to the Y.A.A.S. Fish Showing Size Guides, a total of 52 L numbered fish have now received valid scientific names, and these are split into a large number of genus classifications. With the LDA sequence, this process appears to be going much more slowly with fewer than 20 of these species having gone through - as yet - the scientific nomenclature process.

The well-known Canadian aquarist and fish collector Oliver Lucanus, while speaking to members of the Catfish Study Group UK, believes that there are many more such fish awaiting discovery, but that this task may become a race against time, as the increasing demands caused by intensive agriculture and search for mineral wealth, threaten the future of many habitats.

On the other side of the coin, a number of communities along the Rio Xingu now make a living collecting just one or two of the most popular L and LDA numbered fish, and such is the conservation concern over this practice, that we have already seen a collecting ban put upon the beautiful zebra peckoltia.

Golden rules

There are four golden rules which apply to keeping L and LDA sequenced fish:

1. Always find out as much information as you can about any of the loricarins that you wish to purchase. Not only do their feeding habits vary greatly, so too do their natural habitats, so we find fish originating from river rapids, lowland rivers, uncharted depths, brackish areas, sandbanks, areas rich in plant growth, and fast flowing rivers where fallen trees provide the cover, all lumped together under the sequencing systems.

2. Never purchase specimens with thin-looking bodies and sunken stomachs, as once many of these species have ceased eating, they may never have the will to do so again.

Although the majority of these fish will take standard catfish food tablets, sticks, and flakes, in aquaria, many are specialised feeders. The best guide we have to establishing the supplementary foods needed in order to maintain their health, is by looking at their teeth (which is not always easily achieved).

4. Basically, those with a single row of thin teeth on each side of their mouths, prefer a vegetarian diet. Those with two rows of impressive-looking teeth, bore into wood, so thus need to be provided with mopani or bogwood. Those which appear to have two sets of woodlice imprinted onto their mouthpad, are omnivorous by nature, whilst those with mouths that show a pattern resembling an Olympic Torch, need to be fed a carnivorous diet - including mussels and shrimps.

As we shall see, it is important to do daily checks, if possible, as to the health of all L and LDA sequenced fish.

A warning

We cannot leave the L and LDA numbers without warning of the main drawback in keeping these particular fish. A number of these loricarins are prone to dying very suddenly and without giving any indications of ill health. When we realise that this has happened, we should remove the body straight away, and make a water change to help clear any pollutant this death may have caused to the aquarium water. Unfortunately many die unnoticed, and this is when the real problem begins, as the flesh of a number of these species can begin to decay very quickly.

As this decay sets in, a 'bacterial soup' is soon formed. This 'soup' badly affects the breathing of fellow tank companions, and when this condition takes hold, it can have devastating effects upon the whole community. Over the years, I have heard a number of accounts of whole aquariums - be they stocked at low or high densities - wiped out through this condition, and - sadly - large water changes and commercial aquarium disease treatments proved no antidote.

Without a properly-conducted scientific investigation, we do not know if this bacteria, or whatever it actually may prove to be, is dormant in the body of a number of these species, or if some of the aquarium foods they are fed - such as mussels - actually cause its fermentation.

Just to reassure our readers, many L and LDA sequenced fish are long-lived, and I had the company of a coffee and cream Plec for close-on eleven years.

In Part Two of this article, we will take an in-depth look at a number of the most popular L and LDA numbered loricarins.

n Part One of this article we looked at how the L and LDA numbering system for loricarins came about. This time we will focus on the most popular L and LDA numbered fish, looking at their care and breeding.


Ancistrus

Picking out one bristlenose from the sequenced fish was difficult, so I opted for LDA 08 (gold marbled bristlenose or Ancistrus 'species Mato Grosso'), originating from Brazil, which has the scientific name of Ancistrus claro. Growing to 6cm, these fish have a beautiful orange-brown body colour. Males are told apart from females through larger - and thicker - head spines.

LDA 08 prefers a hard water environment with a temperature of 26C. I kept a trio - one male and two females - in the company of swordtails without any problems. Like all Ancistrus they are very quarrelsome, and stake-out territories which are held until feeding time, when the urge to devour flaked foods, algae wafers, catfish tablets, and any brineshrimp, missed by the swordtails brought about a truce in proceedings.

Although these fish are very hardy, and resistant to many aquatic diseases, they are prone to one particular malady - vibration syndrome. When a severe thunderstorm hit the Ryedale area, the thunder caused the shelf, on which the aquarium housing my trio was kept, to vibrate. This caused such panic that I had the heartache of seeing the fish roll over and die in front of my eyes.

To write fully about the breeding procedure and fry care of LDA 08 would need an article to itself: A compatible pair seeks out a cave-like structure. Once the female has spawned, she - rather sensibly - vacates the cave, leaving her mate to guard the orange coloured eggs. An overactive male can do great damage to a female spent of ova, so this is something we must taken account of. About a week after the eggs hatch, the fry will be seen scurrying over the substrate and glass etc. feeding upon algae.

We help their growth through feeding crushed algae tablets, boiled nettles, and by trying to get them to eat live brineshrimp. Unfortunately for those of us who prize the natural forms of fish, some of the sequenced Ancistrus are already showing the signs of commercial breeding programmes, and currently available are butterfly forms of the xanthic-looking L 144 (which is much easier to breed than LDA 08) with such large fins that they find manoeuvring around their aquaria very difficult.


Chaetostoma

This genus is home to the bulldog plecs. So many bulldogs, of various sizes and colour patterns, are arriving in the U.K. at the current time that they appear to have by-passed the L and LDA numbering sequences. Of those which are sequenced, L 188 (white spotted bulldog), and LDA 11 (marbled Mato Grosso bulldog), have lovely body patterns upon importation but, as with the majority of their genus, these patterns often fade to an overall muddy green colour as the fish begin to age.

There are two very important factors to be considered when keeping these fish. Firstly, always quarantine any potential new tankmates, as all bulldogs are prone to whitespot disease, and can become so badly infected that you cannot see the flesh for spots. Secondly, always keep bulldogs as single specimens, as members of a group will often, unseen; wear each other down to a situation where only one survives.
Much debate has ensued about how these fish - some of which are found in brackish waters - should be kept in aquaria. From my own experiences they prefer an aquarium no larger than 60x30x30cm, pH7, airflow just above normal, and plenty of regular water changes.

All standard aquarium foods are eaten with great gusto. I have found that small barbs and platies make good companions.

I have only come across one spawning report for these fish. The aquarist concerned kept two bulldogs in separate aquaria side by side. One day it was discovered that one of these fish had jumped into the others tank, and, when found, was seriously battered. Concerned about the health of the resident bulldog, a search ensued, with the aquarist having the surprise of finding the fish - assumed to be a male - guarding eggs in a crevice between two rocks.


Cochilodon

L 77 (coffee and cream plec.), L 137 (rusty plec.), L 138 (black-spotted 'Bruno' plec.) and an un-sequenced Cochilodon with blue eyes, are all recognised under the tag of Panaque species 'Bruno'. Of all the L numbers, L 77 is probably the one most prone to whitespot upon importation, but - thankfully - this is easily treated by using the old method of raising the water temperature, and scrupulously siphoning the gravel.

When a scientific classification comes along, it may well be that all the four 'Bruno' species are given the same scientific name, because they are so alike in features, that only slight differences in body and eye colour tell one from the other. These fish originate from Brazil, where they reproduce inside the trunks of decaying trees, and can reach a size of 30cm. Although their sucker-like mouths are adapted to chewing at wood, they take standard aquarium foods with great enthusiasm. Keep at a pH of 7 and a temperature of 26C. They will accept various tankmates from Corydoras through to large Synodontis.


Hypancistrus

This genus was erected in order to accommodate the beautiful ice-blue and white striped fish Hypancistrus zebra (emperor or zebra Peckoltia). Although there are several other similar shaped and coloured L numbers, the true zebra is L 046. Also worth looking out for is the queen arabesque, L 260, which is widely tipped to make an official appearance in the Hypancistrus genus in the near future.


Panaque

Of the several colour forms of Panaque nigrolineatus (royal or pin-striped Plec/Panaque) which carry an L number, and derive from Southern Columbia, my favourite is L 191 which, when young, has a brilliant black-coloured background to its body. Although capable of growing to 25cm, those seen in aquaria rarely reach this size.

An aquarium of at least 90x30x30cm is needed to house a nigrolineatus. They make good tank companions, but dislike the company of their own kind. Although soft, slightly acid to neutral water is recommended, they will tolerate some deviation from this. Keep at a temperature of 25C. Bogwood or mopani wood must always be included in the set-up, as they take various enzymes from this wood which aid digestion. These fish need much vegetable matter to be included in their diet, so we turn to algae wafers, and vegetable-based flake foods

Panaque have the strangest life expectancy of any loricarin that I know. As their teeth are worn down, through munching at wood, several new sets are regenerated. Once the last set is used the fish are no longer able to feed so - sadly - starve to death. Their end, therefore, comes not through age but through how much wood they have consumed.


Pseudancistrus

To show how both the L and LDA systems can have numbers relating to the same fish, we will talk about the beautiful Pseudancistrus leopardus (leopard Acanthicus) identified by the numbers LDA 07 and L 114. They come from fast running water courses, and are natives of Brazil. Depending upon their mood, the plec-like body shows either a yellow or orange background, with a beautiful foreground of black spotting and bars. The tail is a bright orange-red.

Although I have not tried this, I am reliably informed that it is possible to keep several of these fish in one aquarium. This aquarium would need to be of a fair size, as these fish can reach a total body length of 35cm. Filtration needs to be of a high quality, as the catfish will start to fade away if their aquarium is not in pristine condition. Keep at a temperature of 27C. Although these fish are primarily vegetarian, taking lettuce and pieces of raw potato. They will take commercial catfish pellets, and large-sized flake foods.

The sexes are distinguishable, as the edges of the pectoral fins are thicker in males, who also tend to be the more aggressive. We have few pointers as to how these fish actually reproduce, but it is believed that they may follow the Cochilodon way of making nesting sites in the wood of decaying trees.

Finally we must mention the loricarin species sold as L 128 (blue Pleco.) and L 200 (green Plec.). These fish, which originate from the Rio Orinoco, have become the basis of cottage industries for several villages, with young boys diving to great depths in order to catch the best specimens. There was a time when all of their catches were exported almost exclusively for the Japanese aquarium market, but now these beauties are appearing more often in the U.K. So close in characteristics are these two forms, that in the near future they may both carry the same scientific name.

Friday, 17 April 2009

THE UNIDENTIFIED FISHES OF YOUTUBE - Part Three

Time for a slight change now I feel. We can now look at a number of different videos showing undiscribed fish. First is this handsome fellow:

It is another cafish, but this time it is from the family Aucheripteridae, or the driftwood catfishes. These are a cracking group that is rarely seen in captivity because few people want a catfish that sits under driftwood all day and is generally of a nervous disposition. I, obviously, love them to bits.

I have no idea what this fellow is, so that will do for now on taxonomy. There is one interesting footnote to this specuies though. The chap in the film is a male which is shown by a very strange modification. If you look at his anal fin, he first few rays of it are modified into a copulatory organ much like that seen in fish like guppys and platys. This family of catfish are the only ones to have evolved such a device, making them a very interesting group indeed.



Here is another Loricariidae catfish. Nothing to say here other than it is a male again.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stWLsqJFfRs

THE UNIDENTIFIED FISHES OF YOUTUBE PART ONE

Youtube is a powerful tool. I spent some time this morning looking around its archive to try and find something interesting to witter about for a bit. So here we are, a look at the undescribed species of Youtube.

We had best start with some fish. First we have this very attractive Loricariidae, or, a plec. These are common inhabitants of aquariums, but they are either one of the huge species which are sold as “only growing to “4”” and the size of the tank”, or one of the stunning “L-numbers” which are almost always wild caught, very pretty and astoundingly expensive. £30 is about what you need for one of the more common species, but individuals selling for multiples of hundreds are fairly commonplace. This is an adult male, so at about 7cm he is one of the smaller species. The thickened first ray on his pectoral fins show him to be a sexually mature male, ready to defend his site from all comers.

It is a Venezuelan species, which in itself is nothing unusual, but if in the video you look closely 26 seconds through, you should notice fronds on the front if he fish’s sucking mouth. These are modified sensory barbels which help in the search for food. Not many Loricariidae have these, so this species is unusual in having them. It is thought to be from the genus Leporacanthicus, but appears to be the smallest species in the group: the others all get over 20cm in length. Its dorsal fin appears to be much more triangular than all the other species in the genus, but hey, I am not a taxonomist.

Yet.





Thursday, 16 April 2009

KOUPREY KAPERS


Let us start from the off by saying this: Bovids are cool. My personal favorities are the large wild species like Bison, Indian Water Buffalo and Guar, but the most interesting from a crypto point of view are Kouprey, a huge species from (mainly) Cambodia growing just shy of one ton for a bull.

They live primarily in deep forests, and their thin bodies are an adaptation for moving through dense woodland. Like most large bovids, they are diurnal and only feed in the daytime. They are not closely related to any other species of wild ox, but they are placed in the genus Bos (species sauveli) along with most wild cattle. The males have a huge dewlap which is probably used in sexual selection: for Kouprey this works better than large horns (although, the male’s horns are faily large) for attracing a mate, because the thin dewlap helps the male move in dense forest; horns would get in the way!

As the worlds rarest large mammal, they are a critically endangered species. Only 250 are thought to remain in the wild: although some people claim that they have not been observed since 1957 (possibly 1983) tracks and skulls for sale on local markets can help to esimate the population. The IUCN has this to say about the species:

“This species is listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The total population is unknown, and the species is most likely to be extinct. At most, there could only a few individuals remaining, certainly many less than 250 mature individuals, and almost certainly less than 50 mature individuals. The high level of hunting in the region has led to a significant decline, estimated at over 80% in the last 30 years”

They are thought to live in Vietnam where a group of park rangers spotted what may have been 3 Kouprey (but could have been a small group of Banteng or Guar) with the forward pointing horns typical of the species. The Vietnam group supposedly gets much larger than the Cambodian (up to 1.5 tons), putting it in a position to get the title for the “worlds largest Bovid”, beating the Guar by a few hundred kilogrames. It has however not been cirtified that this group exists, so more researech needs to be done in the area.

The Kouprey sat in a small grey zone for a while after it was discovered that the species shares an awful lot of DNA with the Banteng (anoher species of wild ox), such that the scientists who made the discovery asserted that the mating between the Banteng and probably the Zebu could only have occurred in the last 50 years, perhaps to produce a new variant of very tough cattle to survive in harsh conditions. This view was very trendy for a while, until someone unearthed a Kouprey skull just under 100,000 years old.

The hybrid argument was dropped.

The Kouprey is interesting to us cryptozoologists because it was only discovered in 1937. Why on earth the Okapi is trotted out so ofen as being a very large species of mammal which survived until the 20th century without having being “discovered” by science, when the Kouprey is 4 times the size, and was first described 36 years later, I just don’t know!


The other interesting point is that there is supposedly a smaller species/regional variant which is hinted at on some webpages, but despite my best efforts I just can’t find anything on it at all. The main reason for writing this is so that I could show you this cracking video which I found by fluke. (when and how it was taken when the creatures have allegedly not been seen for fifty two years I cannot say) Enjoy!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

SCORP STORY

I have a thing for arthropods. I had guessed that you, dear reader, had already grasped that fact, but just to reiterate it, here is the funny tale of just one of Britain’s top tiny pond predators, the common water scorpion.


First, a little taxomony. Water scorpions are insects (ED: no, really Max? Tell us something we don’t know) from the family Hemiptera. A colloquial name for most small insects is a “bug”, but this name is actually the common name for the Hemiptera. Hemiptera are called so because they have two pair of wings, the front of which is very thick and serves as a sort of armour. Hemi= half, ptera=wing. Get it?

As well as the wing thing, bugs are distinguished by having an incomplete life cycle (where the young pass through stages of being nymphs before full adulthood, just like cockroaches, Phasmids, grasshoppers and mantids) and sucking mouthparts. They are known as a “primitive” order because they have an incomplete life cycle, but they still have more than 60,000 species described, more than any other primitive order. They are infact the only inscts to be found in the open ocean (a funny group of water striders, you know, the funny fellows which sit on top of the water in your pond in summer). Some common bugs (other than those mentioned) include: assassin bugs, leaf/stink bugs, backswimmers and leaf-footed bugs.

Water scorpions come from the family Nepidae, which is very similar to the family Belostomatidae, or the giant water bugs. They both fullfill very similar niches in their environment: highly cryptic ambush predators who stalk the upper reaches of ponds, lakes and streams. Both families are always a shade of brown (kinda hard to look like a dead leaf if you are not brown) with large and very stong raptorial front legs. With these they grab onto prey before injecting them with a cocktail of venom and digestive juices, and then sucking out the mush. There are two species of water scorpion in British waters, the common (the short fat fellow) and the stick (the long thin one). I have never seen a stick water scorpion, but the other day I found my first common waterscorpion for about a dozen years.

I am currently wrighting a huge piece of Geology coursework. To avoid it killing me, I try to get out every day if I can. On Friday, I decided to go out to a local garden centre or two to have a look around. Now, thanks to some interesting benefits of competition which I am not going to discuss here, in one place on my route there are two large garden centers right next to each other. In front of the larger one there lie a couple of large ponds. I have never bothered to look at these before, but seeing as I walked right passed one on my way to the other garden centre, I had to take a look. It must have been about 35ft long, 8ft wide, but only 1.5ft deep. There was thick reed growth, but oddly, no other aquatic plants. This made it great for looking into, and in about 3 seconds, I had seen my first newt of the day. A possibly smooth, possibly palmate female. This was followed by about 15 more, so I got bored of looking for newts, and mumbled to myself: “Ooo, this would make prefect water scorpion habitat”. I looked, but to no avail.

Until I moved to a different side of the pond and immediately found one. I was slightly surprised; I have said “Ooo, this would make prefect water scorpion habitat” to myself more times than I can remember, but never seen one, so I thanked the giant water bugs in the sky, and began the tricky process of getting the beggar to walk onto a reed stem so that I could pin it down with another piece and transport it back to the car...

In which I had a plastic bag filled with water and some small snails I had got (for free) from the garden centre. There was nothing for it, I had to take my new fiend home with me in this bag. So I did so.

He is currently sat in a small tub on my desk, and I have managed to persuade him to eat a dead baby cockroach, which bodes well for his future life in captivity. He is living with some small snails and is doing rather well. A handy thing about water scorpions is that they don’t have gills, instead relying on a pair of tubes coming out of their back end to reach up out of the water and breathe. This means they can easily acclimatise to different waters (temperature still remains an issue however) and thus they can settle down in captivity very easily.


What I would really like to have now is a couple of giant water bugs. Forget the inch that my water scorpion is, the larger giant water bugs get to over 4 inches, tha largest even hits 6”, making them easily able to make a meal of newts, fish and very large fat snails. What has this got to do with cryptozoology? Could a giant water bug/water scorpion account for sightings of a huge aggressive preadator that lives in the congo and has been known to take down hippos? Err, no. This story has nothing to do with cryptozoology. But hey, I bet you all learnt something from that tale did you not?