Weird And Wonderful Animals

The Isle of Man is a place of many interesting factoids, we’ve got the largest working water wheel in the world, we were the first nation in the world to give women the vote and we’re home to one of (if not the) largest population of wallabies outside of the continent of Australia. Wallabies aren’t the only interesting animals on and around the island, there are Manx Cats, Loaghtan sheep and even Basking Sharks. After a wallaby was spotted on Ramsey prom, it’s got us thinking, what other unexpected animals are there in the British Isles?

Yellow Tailed Scorpion – Kent

The only wild scorpion in the UK, the European yellow-tailed scorpion was accidentally introduced to the southern county of Kent in the 19th century. Although it’s not exactly known how the mildly venomous arachnids made their way there, it is widely accepted that they came over as stowaways on shipments of Italian masonry to Sheerness Docks during the reign of Edward VII, why you’d come to live in the UK from Italy I have no idea. There are now thought to be around 10-15,000 of the scorpions, whose stings are milder than a bee’s, in the area where they can be spotted living in the cracks of rocks and walls.

Stick Insect – South West England

Another stowaway, the three species of stick insect found in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are thought to have hitched a ride on plants coming from their native New Zealand. The Prickly Stick Insect was first recorded in the UK all the way back in 1909, followed by the Smooth Stick Insect in 1949 and the Unarmed Stick Insect in 1979. They are notable for the fact that they look like a stick. The females of the stick insect species in the UK really can refer to themselves as independent women due to the fact they are ‘parthenogenic’, meaning they can lay eggs without fertilization. Though the insects are technically ‘alien invaders,’ they mainly keep themselves to themselves and are not thought to have any negative impact on the native flora and fauna.

Scottish Wildcat – Scotland

Though the wildcat population in Scotland is much smaller than it used to be, around 400 actual wildcats are left, the species was once widespread in the country and Great Britain. The cats, which are mainly under threat from habitat loss and hybridization with domestic cats, look very similar to the tabby that lies on your sofa all day, they’re actually better adapted to the outdoors and overall a bit tougher, sorry Tibbles. Their robust skulls and larger bodies allow them to survive in the great Scottish outdoors through cold winters and rainy, well, whole years. They are mainly found in mixed woodland around Aberdeenshire, the Cairngorms mountain range, the Ardnamurchan peninsula and the Angus Glens.

Orcas – West Coast

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales despite being a member of the dolphin family, have been found in nearly every sea and ocean in the world. However, the UK’s resident Orca population consists of just eight of the animals. The group, four males and four females known as the West Coast Community, normally lives in the Hebrides up in Scotland but have been spotted as far south as Cornwall. Though they are likely to go extinct at some point, having not produced a calf for over 20 years, wild Orcas can live up to 90 years. They have, of course, been given names by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust who christened them: Nicola, Moneypenny, John Coe, Comet, Aquarius, Puffin, Occasus and Floppy Fin, who is not surprisingly identifiable by his ‘flopped’ dorsal fin, like in Free Willy, which I’m sure he’s delighted about.

Adder (Common European Viper) – Great Britain

The UK’s only native venomous snake, the Adder is, like its home country, not actually as powerful as it sounds. The greyish creature’s bite is not often fatal and usually just causes inflammation, though medical attention should be sought immediately if you ever find yourself at the sharp end of its fangs. They have been found all over Great Britain including Scotland, Wales and England, though famously not in the Isle of Man, thanks St Patrick, and can grow between 60 to 90 cm long. Despite this, they are very rare to see thanks to their sensitivity to vibrations and tendency to slink off before they can be spotted, you’re more likely spotting one of the UK’s two other native snakes, the Grass snake and the creatively named Smooth snake.

African Clawed Frog/Toad – South Wales

This sub-saharan native can thank pregnant women for its Welsh home and may not actually exist in the area anymore but its origin story was too good not to include. Before the arrival of the pregnancy tests we know now, biologist Lancelot Hogben discovered a method in the 1920s that involved injecting a female African clawed frog with a woman’s urine. If the woman was pregnant then the frog would produce eggs, meaning that the poor frogs ended up being kept at four centres in the UK. It is thought that some of these frogs escaped from a South Wales centre in the 1960s and ended up making a home for themselves, with about 2,000 individuals recorded between 1981 and 2010. However, in 2008 the Welsh government began an eradication programme due to the frog’s tendency to carry a fungus that is deadly to native amphibians. In over 1,200 trapping attempts between 2010 and 2011 though, only one frog was ever caught, an adult male who had been caught and tagged nine times in the counting efforts over the previous five years. This has led most groups to conclude they are likely eradicated, although it is still possible that a small number could remain as they can live for 16 years in the wild.

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