Easy As Falling Off a Bike pt 3151

The Daily Dormouse.
(aka Bike, est. 2007)
Part 3151
by Angharad

Copyright© 2017 Angharad

  
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This is a work of fiction any mention of real people, places or institutions is purely coincidental and does not imply that they are as suggested in the story.
*****

Despite the rigors of cramp and toppling into my wardrobe, I didn’t feel too bad when I arrived at my office. Diane was there as usual providing a cuppa within minutes of my arrival—no wonder I’m letting her borrow my villa on Menorca. Next we ran over my schedule for the week. I asked her to speak with the dormouse team and tell them I want to do some surveys with them to keep my hand in and also validate my licences—the second one being to pit tag them—the electronic devices we usually pop under the skin of dogs or cats.

I checked down the list of other licences I have, newts, water voles, bats and shrews. I’d need to remind myself of the requirements to maintain them—usually to supervise students doing small animal studies. It’s one of life’s little paradoxes that if you’re live trapping small mammals, if you catch any shrews by chance, you don’t need a licence. If however, you set out to trap shrews, you do need one, especially if you intend to take or mark them. As with dormice if any die while being examined, you have to record and report it.

For those not familiar with shrews, they’re small insectivorous animals which need to eat their own bodyweight every day. They are restless and forage practically all day and night. There are even smaller shrews, pygmy shrews, which are like the common shrews but much smaller and we also have water shrews, which are larger than the other two and as their name suggests they are found in or near water, where they dive or swim to feed. Again like the other two, they eat invertebrates like insects and worms.

Water shrews are the rarest of the three and surveys in 2003 by the Mammal Society found that they were found in all sorts of fresh-watery habitats from canals and lakes to rivers and streams. I can’t say I’ve been involved in doing anything with them but I have with water voles, which are very different as they’re a different animal entirely, a rodent which feeds on mainly vegetable matter.

Coming back to shrews, one interesting fact about them is they have red teeth, or red tips to their teeth which isn’t blood or something growing there but deposits of an iron compound which helps to harden the edges of the teeth where the most wear takes place, and chomping on worms, insects, slugs and so forth obviously takes its toll on their teeth. So if you find a small animal the cat has brought in and it has red teeth, don’t be alarmed it isn’t a vampire of some sort but a shrew.

Some shrews have the ability to produce venom, the water shrew does, which apparently can affect bank voles, but doesn’t affect humans. The venom isn’t like snake poison injected by fangs but runs through the teeth from glands under the jaw.

Interestingly, a venomous European snake, the Montpellier, carries venom in its back teeth, they occur mostly in Spain, where I’ve seen them and France. Nature is wonderful in its diversity and adaptability to new opportunities. Those species which are most adaptable tend to survive longest, those which are too specialised or least adaptable tend to perish first.

It is scientific fact that all species have one destiny—extinction. Some will continue for thousands of years possibly even millions, especially those which adapt to changing environments or which mutate into something more suited to new situations, which is how evolution occurs. Sadly those which don’t adapt or make the wrong mutation won’t last very long depending upon how permanent the changes to the environment are.

One of the best examples which every biology student in the UK knows is that of the Peppered moth Biston betularia, which is a black white spotted moth hence its common name. It has a natural variant carbonaria which is practically black. In clean air, the dark form would be seen more easily by predators, mainly birds but during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the air pollution was so bad with soot and dust in the atmosphere and laying on plants and buildings, the dark form actually stood out less than the normal form, which was then decimated by predators. However, after Clean Air Act in the 1950s the air pollution in Britain was reduced dramatically in terms of soot from coal fires, so the dark form was once again more visible to predacious birds and things had gone full circle in showing natural selection in progress.

I’m tempted to ask if an example of this might be shown in the current ascendancy of apparently orange skinned humans in some places of political power in the Western democracies. Perhaps in a hundred years or two some anthropological researcher will demonstrate whether the orange colouration had some biological advantage or disadvantage, if the former it would increase if not then a decrease would be expected.

One of the advantages of biological sciences is how they be applied to any living or once living thing, even fossilised politicians such as the UK House of Lords or the US Senate. I’m not sure I’d want to do a study of either place, the smell of mothballs or other preservatives would irritate my nose.

A mound of paperwork was dealt with in between cups of tea and the afternoon was filled with a meeting of my examinations committee, a process I found tedious but necessary. Each subject obviously has to devise a paper of questions for their examinees to take. They each have their own committee to agree the subjects and the questions they will ask. Once drafts are created, a second is done, just in case something happens to the first such as a leakage. It does happen and it could invalidate any of the papers which were leaked. So we adopt a level of security which I like to think we use right through the examination process, including the marking and awarding of marks or in the case of final exams, degrees.

To listen to the media, people with degrees are two a penny or the degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Don’t you believe it, to our students, who have worked diligently for them, they are extremely valuable—they’ll have paid somewhere in excess of twenty seven thousand pounds for a three year course. To us as the examining and awarding body, we take it all very seriously as well. We’ve invested lots of time teaching and testing each of our students. Some will fall by the wayside en route, it happens. For some you feel very sorry, occasionally enough to give them another chance if extenuating circumstances can be identified. They can resit exams if they fail them, but if they did really badly, it may just indicate they were on the wrong course or not interested. We’ll help anyone who brings difficulties to our attention, sadly some don’t and fail but who might have scraped through if only they’d told us about their problems.

At quarter past three, I was grateful that I had to collect my offspring from school, as I suspect the rest of the committee were. We meet again after the exam results are known to evaluate the outcomes. I suppose it keeps us in jobs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth

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