Monday 14 December 2009

British Wildlife: W

Westlothiana lizziae Smithson et al., 1994
Family incertae sedis; Order incertae sedis; Class incertae sedis; Phylum Chordata

Westlothiana was a lizard-like tetrapod dating to the early Carboniferous (c. 350 million years ago) rocks of eastern Scotland, not far from Edinburgh. It has so far proven impossible to know whether Westlothiana was a reptile or not. Reptiliomorphs are a group of not-yet-reptiles but no-longer-amphibians that falls outside of the Amniota clade (the members of which group have shelled eggs - this includes mammals, which ancestrally had shelled eggs). Since eggs of Westlothiana are unknown, it can't be placed with any confidence in any class, order or family.

Westlothiana lizziae fossil
Cambridge Zoology Museum
June 2009

The specific epithet, lizziae, appears to come from the informal name the holotype was given - Lizzie - due to the resemblance of the animal to a lizard.

Barred hook-tip moth
Watsonalla cultraria Fabricius, 1775
Drepanidae; Lepidoptera; Insecta; Arthropoda

The drepanids are a family of around a thousand species of moth, mostly drably-coloured. The name comes from the Greek word for 'sickle', for the shape of the wing. The barred hook-tip is found throughout most of Europe, and the larvae eat beech (Fagus) leaves.

(Dartford) Warbler
Sylvia undata (Boddaert, 1783)
Sylviidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata

Dartford is either a town in Essex or a borough of south-east London, depending on your view. It is known for the eponymous tunnel that carries traffic on the London orbital motorway, known as the M25 (or, more sardonically, Britain's biggest carpark) under the Thames Estuary (at least when travelling north - south-bound traffic now goes over the river courtesy of the Queen Elizabeth II suspension bridge).

The area has also given its name to a scratchy-songed passerine - the Dartford warbler. Sylvia undata is endemic to western Europe and northwest Africa. It looks similar to several other species of the same genus found across the Mediterranean region into Asia. Dartford warblers are heathland birds, preferring coastal regions. They are uncommon in the UK, and are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, since much of the world population occurs in England. Harsh winters have been known to cause local extinctions, as the warbler is non-migratory and just has to put up with the British soggy winter climate and its lack of insect food, or die.

Next week, X (oh yes, I have found three species for X!): a wood-loving bee, a sauropod known only from a partial vertebra, and a bee-like fly with a larva that has a dung-snorkel.


Peter Bond said...

Nice one! At W already!? What are you planning to do once you finish on Z? ... Can I suggest Canadian Wildlife? :)

m said...

I have a few serleses planned starting in the New Year, and I won't be avoiding Canada completely!