Archive for September 9th, 2012

Nature Ramble

Last week we were off to the beach and had a look at sand dunes and plants, this week we are off to the mountains.

I consider myself to be pretty well aware of animals. I know that their are more than just elephants and tigers in the world, but I didn’t know we had the Desman.

“At first glimpse, it looks like a strange mish-mash of creatures – part rat, part mole, part platypus.” – BBC News

Pyrenean desman: On the trail of Europe’s weirdest beast

The BBC’s Rebecca Morelle joined scientist Dr Yolanda Melero on the trail of the Pyrenean desman

It’s the dead of night.

And while the rest of the world sleeps, a team of scientists is wading knee-deep through the fast-flowing streams that cut through the Pyrenees.

I’ve joined them on the trail of a creature that few have heard of and even less have set eyes on: the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus).

This small aquatic mammal only comes out under the cover of darkness. And it’s not easy to find.

Half-submerged in the dark waters lie several tube-shaped mesh traps; the hope is that a passing desman may have swum into one.

The researchers angle their head torches for a closer look. But most of the traps – apart from the odd trout that has sneaked in – prove empty.

Bizarre looks

The desman was once thought to be widespread across mountain ranges in France, Spain and Portugal.

But now Catalonia’s Alt Pirineu Natural Park is one of the last strongholds for this species.

The Pyrenean desman is one of the very last in an evolutionary line

And eventually, we strike lucky: inside one of the traps, a glint of grey catches in the beam of a torch.

As the researchers gently remove the creature from the stream, I’m able to take a look at the odd little mammal.

At first glimpse, it looks like a strange mish-mash of creatures – part rat, part mole, part platypus.

It’s about the size of a hamster, with a glossy grey coat.

It has a huge nose – like a miniature version of an elephant’s trunk – framed with long whiskers and beady little eyes. Its front paws are tiny, but its back feet are huge – and webbed. It’s topped off by a thick, scaly tail.

“It is such a special creature – it really is one of Europe’s strangest creatures,” says Dr Yolanda Melero, who is based at the University of Aberdeen but is working with the University of Barcelona to carry out desman research.

“It’s very well adapted to its environment: it is a very good swimmer.

Finding out more about the desman is the key to saving it, the researchers say.


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