Sunday 20 September 2009

British Wildlife: K

Kuehneotherium praecursoris Kermack, Kermack and Musset 1968
Kuehneotheriidae; clade Symmetrodonta; clade Mammaliaformes; Chordata

Kuehneotherium is only known from teeth and jaws, so my reconstruction is almost entirely frivolous. I expected the closest relatives of the mammals to look something like this. Badger-coloration was a complete frivolity, though.

Kuehneotherium is known from Wales and England within the UK, but also France, Luxembourg and Greenland. All remains date from the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic Periods, a time when there was a mass extinction.

It is hard to place the Kuehneotherium into a definite order and class because of the sparsity of remains. The Symmetrodonta are distinguished by their multi-cusped teeth which are symmetrical in shape. It may not be a true order, however, and Kuehneotherium has also sometimes been placed in the order Pantotheria, itself considered a waste-basket taxon (the name given to a group into which organisms of uncertain affinities are 'dumped' until further study can put them elsewhere).

Sharp-leaved cancerwort
Kicksia elatine (L.) Dumortier
Scrophulariaceae; Lamiales; Magnoliopsida; Magnoliophyta

What's this? A plant? Well, yes, it is, and as the only native British anything with a scientific name beginning with 'K', I had no choice but to include it. For a British plant, it is rather pretty, with flowers reminiscent of a snapdragon (Antirrhinum spp.). I don't have anything interesting to say about it, not even anything etymological.

(Eurasian) Kingfisher
Alcedo atthis
Alcedinidae; Coraciiformes; Aves; Chordata

Kingfishers of the family Alcedinidae are found almost all over the world: they are present in the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, Australasia, and even many Pacific islands. Only one, however, occurs in the British Isles, and that is Alcedo atthis, known in the UK simply as 'the kingfisher'. It is an unmistakable bird, smaller than you expect, with plumage of azure blue, tangerine orange and a wisp of pure white. Often, all I ever see of this is the brightest turquoise of the rump as the bird flies away from me.

Kingfisher on a river boat on the Cam in Cambridge
December 2005

The above (crappy) photo is the only one I have of a wild kingfisher: the only reason why I even had a camera on me at the time was that I was doing a photography assignment on movement and went to the river to get shots of boats, cyclists and pigeons. I hadn't expected this guy to turn up, but it was at the other side of the river to me and I didn't have a zoom lens.

Kingfishers aren't songbirds, so they don't have a pretty song (I've never heard them call, either), and they don't make nests in trees. They will create a burrow in a riverbank and lay their eggs in there. Males can be told from females by the bill: the mandible (lower jaw) of the male is black, as is the upper jaw; in females, the mandible is orange.

Kingfishers don't have to rely on fresh water bodies, as I recently discovered. Although I didn't see any in Cyprus, relatives have, and in several cases, they have been seen fishing in harbours, notably in Kyrenia. This is probably because, I suspect, there is a lack of fresh water. All of the lakes I have visited on the island are stagnant and algae-covered, and also have a lack of tree cover in which the bird can stalk its prey. The coast provides clean water, a cornucopia of fish, and plenty of boats and piers on which to stand.

Letter 'L' (a pliosaur, a wader and a lagomorph) will be slightly late next week, as I'm going to Bristol tomorrow for SVP, and will try to fit in trips to Bristol Zoo and Slimbridge while I'm in the area. I would schedule a post to appear in my absence, but the last time I tried it went wrong, and I figured you could all wait anyways!

1 comment:

traumador said...

kingfisher YAY!

they are tricky to photograph aren't they... i've had to stalk them fairly obsessively everywhere to snap a few pseudo descent photos (out of hundreds of attempts)

the australasia sacred kingfisher will catch prey in none fresh water. i have a great picture of 10 on a single phone line above an estuary outside of Dunedin. They were catching whitebait (can't remember the other name for the fish at moment) a salt water fish and were pretty close to the estuary's mouth.

i also happen to know kingfishers will eat out of swimming pools (aka chemical laced water)... my first encounter with Kookaburras was over the swimming pool of the place i was staying at. at 5am i was awoken by them calling outside my house, and so i rushed outside to try and see them. while waiting around i noticed the pool had collected a bunch of frogs over night. "foolishly" i while waiting caught and released all but one of the frogs. i was about to rescue the last frog, when the kookaburras showed up. rather then go for the pieces of mince meat i left out as bait they swooped in and fought over the last frog i was going to rescue after they left!