A quest for the New Zealand mantis

New Zealand is a bitter example of the havoc men can bring upon nature. By purposely or accidentally introducing a legion of alien species to this far-off land, men unleashed destruction and forever altered New Zealand’s unique ecosystems and indigenous wildlife. Rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, feral cats and brushtail possums are the most notorious culprits because they predate on native and endemic ground-nesting birds like the iconic kakapo, kiwi and takahe, and many other less known species like the fairy prion and sooty shearwater, two burrowing seabirds. Introduced predators have driven several bird species to extinction in the past and continue to severely impact bird populations today.

The problem is not limited to the bird realm. The insect world is also in trouble as introduced bugs deplete native populations by killing or out-competing them for food. Non-native wasps are a notorious example: every year, they destroy large numbers of native bugs including bees, spiders, flies and caterpillars like those of monarch butterflies. Wasps are so numerous they threaten birds as well—here is an insightful documentary about the wasp plague in New Zealand.

More insidious, but no less detrimental, is the case of praying mantis.

A single praying mantis species, the endemic Orthodera novaezealandiae, was originally present in New Zealand. Another, Miomantis caffra or “springbok mantis”, was Continue reading

Fifth instar Monarch larvae

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are famous for the epic annual fall migration they undertake to Mexico and Southern California. What is little known is that their range extends beyond North America to the Pacific, as far south as New Zealand. North American and New Zealand monarchs are the same species, so biologists believe that Continue reading

A discrete life by the stream

Wildlife sometimes lives where you least suspect it. You visit a place for months and see nothing until one day something pops up, seemingly out of nowhere. This little water vole inhabits a stream that I have passed many times without ever noticing it, probably because it moves around quickly Continue reading

Paris and Ile-de-France: a parrots’ heaven

If you ever spotted apple-green birds the size of a turtledove with bright red bills during one of your strolls around Paris, you are neither colorblind nor sleepwalking. You merely sighted one of the many rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) that have made Paris and its vast suburbs their home.

Native of India and Sub-Saharan Africa, these tropical birds were named after the faint pink neck-ring—bordered by a thin coal-black line—present in adult males but missing in females and immature individuals. Although rose-ringed parakeets generally display a green plumage, color variations exist and some individuals are completely yellow (see below). Both sexes can mimic human voices, an ability that has made the bird a popular pet since Antiquity where skilled individuals cost more than a slave.

Parakeets were introduced in Ile-de-France by accident Continue reading