The Poisons Collection Volume 2: Red Backed Beasts

The poisons collection

Hello, last time on my revamp of the poisons collection I spoke about blue frogs today we’re jumping to red spiders. This may not be the best blog for any arachnophobes  particularly if you’re Australian.

Today we’re going to be looking at the highly poisonous Redback Spider.

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Female Redback Spider. Photo Credit – Toby Hudson

Fact File

COMMON NAME: Redback Spider – red-striped spider – red-spot spider – jockey spider

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Latrodectus hasseltii

TYPE: Arachnid

DIET: Carnivore – main sources of prey are insects, small lizards and other spiders

GROUP NAME: cluster or clutter


HABITAT: Widespread across Australia,  particularly common in Brisbane, Perth and Alice Springs. Often found in outside urban areas and webs are often built in sheds, outhouses and even in tyres. Webs are often in dry, dark and sheltered places.

SIZE: Females usually have a body length of about 10 millimetres (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.


I will start off by saying that not all redback spider bites are venomous, if there web is disturbed they might start off by giving you a warning bit. Nevertheless if you think you’ve been bitten by a redback it is definitely best to go and get checked out.

However, venomous bites from redbacks can result in pain, swelling and redness spreading up the limb from the bite site. However 1 in 3 humans bitten will develop further symptoms called latrodectism. Symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, agitation, headache, generalised sweating and hypertension. These can lead to other complications but these are rare. Nearly all the bites that end with these symptoms are from a female redback.

The majority of reported spider bites in Australia are attributed to redbacks, which are responsible for around 2,000 hospitalised bite cases each year. However, not a single death due to redback venom has been reported for 50 years, since the introduction of redback antivenom.

Photo credit: Natalie Saez

Other Facts

Males and females look quite different from each other. Males will often be smaller and have different colouring. They are normally light brown with white markings, but lack the distinctive red stripe that the females have. The red backs mating system is also rather perculiar, Natalie Saez from lifehacker put it perfectly:

During mating, not only does the female eat the male, but the male actually assists her in this process by flipping his body towards her so that he is closer to her mouthparts. Because the cannibalistic process is so slow, mating continues until the male succumbs to his injuries.

Hope you enjoyed this episode, I once had friends in Australia with these suckers living under their house!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!







That’s a lot of Calamari!

An Introduction To Giants

Firstly my apologies for being away for so long! I have been writing and getting ready for next month but unfortunately that has meant less posts as of late. However I am back with another massive beast, I bet you could guess what it is from the title so I’ll just tell you today I’m talking all about the giant squid!

Unlike the last episode of An Introduction To Giants, giant squid are very much alive and in this world today. They come from the genus Architeuthis and are a deep-ocean dwelling squid. When I say they are giant they really are, the estimated size for a giant squid is around 13 metres for a female and 10 for a male when measuring from the from the posterior fins to the tip of the two long tentacles. To put that into perspective a regular squid come in at 60 centimetres long. Giant squid also have the largest eyes of any living creature!

Giant squid have eight arms but use their two long feeding tentacles to seize prey.

Photo credit: Smithsonian

What do they eat?

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Sucker rings on sperm whale skin. Photo credit: Nasa


I joke of course although that does make for a cracking film. Studies have shown that giant squid feed on deep-sea fish and other squid species. They use their powerful tentacles and sucker rings (as shown in the picture) to target prey and they can snatch prey up to 33 feet (10 meters). They then pull the prey into their the powerful beak, and shred it with the radula (tongue with small, file-like teeth). They are believed to be solo hunters.


Where can you find a giant squid?

They live in the deepest oceans making them a particularly difficult species to find. It actually wasn’t until 2012 that a Japanese group of scientists were able to catch the giant squid on camera.

How can they grow so large?

There are many things that grow much larger in the deep sea than they would anywhere else. This concept is known as Deep-sea gigantism or abyssal gigantism. Although the reason for this is not truly known some explanations have been adaptations to scarcer food, greater pressure or the colder temperatures that come with the deep sea.

Is there anything bigger?!

In the squid world there is one bigger than the giant squid which is the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). The largest specimen of this species was caught in  2007 off the coast of New Zealand and it was 495kg and 4.5 metres long. However current estimates are that the colossal squid would measure around 12-14 metres.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





The 4 Ton Sloth

An Introduction To Giants

Hello and welcome to an Introduction to Giants! This is a new series where I’m going to be looking at ten of the biggest creatures that have ever walked, flown or swam this earth. Today I’m starting off with a personal fave of mine.

Sloths are amazing creatures, they spend large amounts of their day sleeping and the rest of the time eating. However they are tiny compared to their ancient cousins, the giant sloth!


These beasts come from the genus Megatherium. They were elephant sized ground sloths that lived from the early Pilocene to the early Holocene or around 4 million years a go. They were endemic to the area we now know as South America and it would have been one of the largest animals around only beaten by mammoths and a few other species.

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Skeleton of Megatherium americanum at the Natural History Museum in London. Photo credit: Ballista

The giant sloth is thought to have weighed around 4 tonnes and was around 6 metres tall. It’s large skeleton and strong pelvis allowed the giant sloth to reach up to heights that other herbivores would have not been able to. It is also thought that this large animal would have walked on the sides of its feet like an anteater due to it’s long claws.

Photo credit: ДиБгд

The reason why we don’t have giant sloths roaming the earth today is that it is thought that somewhere around the mid-Holocene there was a change in the climate. This meant that the area of suitable habitat shrunk and although this wouldn’t have been the sole cause for extinction it would have been a major contributing factor.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first episode of an introduction to giants! Let me know what your favourite giant is in the comments or on twitter!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





The Monthly Round Up: Svalbard Seeds, SophTalksScience and Stuff You Should Know

The Monthly Round Up

February is always a blink and you’ll miss it kinda month for me. This month was a busy one as I had a little holiday to Italy and came back with a cold which put me out of action writing wise. But I’ve also had two blogs come out on TheWoodlandTrust website which you can read here and here! Anyway here are what I’ve been loving in February!



Favourite Science News Story Of The Month:

The Global Seed Bank now has just over 1 million packets of seeds! If you didn’t know about the global seed bank it is an initiative to collect as many seeds from as many plants as possible to stop plants becoming extinct. The vault is in Norway and keeps the seeds at an incredibly low temperature to preserve them. Read more about it here.

Favourite Blog I’ve read this Month:

The wonderful Sophie from Soph Talks Science has been absolutely killing it with her scicomm this month. I found it so difficult to pick a favourite of hers but I’ve landed on 10 Reasons why lab life is actually awesome. I miss being in a lab so much and all the fun times and this blog reminded me of that. It’s also a really uplifting blog if you’re feeling a little down about your life. Sophie is such a big inspiration for my own writing so please do go and check her out!

Favourite Scientific Fact I’ve Learnt This Month:

I think my favourite scientific fact I learnt about was all about how Bees get it on, you can read all about it in my Love in the Animal Kingdom blog!

Favourite Social Media I’ve Followed This Month:

Instagram – Ecoceanic

This is a brand that I absolutely love and their message of improving the worlds oceans is so inspirational! They have a fantastic instagram that you should really follow just for the posts about things you can do to improve the environment.

Twitter – TeaTime Science

This is a collection of phd students posting about their work which I absolutely love, their instagram is also fabulous!

Books I’ve Been Reading:

I took a little holiday to Rome this month and spent some time reading some cheery “chicklit” fiction books. This included  Some Kind of Wonderful by Giovanna Fletcher and now I’m reading The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond.

Podcasts I’ve Been Listening To:

Stuff You Should Know – HowStuffWorks

I’ve recently been listening to some of the extensive backlog of this podcast they have such a wide topic range but all of the podcasts are really well researched and have balanced arguments. I would really recommend the episode where they compare whether marijuana or alcohol is worse for you.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions so please let me know in the comments or on twitter!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





The Little Things – Bug Hotels

the little things


Long time no write, I’ve been down with a cold for the last week but yesterday I ventured out into London for a walk with a friend. I was in the heart of London when I stumbled upon a bug hotel! I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them and they were so close to Regent’s park that I’m sure that they were getting plenty of use. Anyway it inspired me to tell you all about the wonders that are bug hotels!


If you don’t know what a bug hotel is it’s a safe haven for lots of different wildlife. It’s a manmade structure built from natural materials that has lots of different sized holes that many different species can hide away from predators or the weather in. They can be hanging like the one I saw yesterday or they can be on the ground. The main theme is that they are made using lots of different materials to create lots of different styles of habitat in a small space.

Bug hotels can come in all different shapes and sizes. They have also been shown to be used by lots of different species. The main guests to a bug hotel are solitary bees and wasps that are sort of like the bachelors of the bee world as they don’t live in a hive with a queen. Butterflies that hibernate have also been seen to use bug hotels for the winter months.

So why is this in the little things series! It’s quite simple really, if you have a balcony, a front garden, a back garden, a window box, or even somewhere at work where you can fit in a bug hotel why not put one in. It’s probably one of the most simple little changes you can make to help the insects out. If you have children they can be excellent fun to make but if you haven’t got the time or space for a large hotel you can buy one’s the size of an average brick.

Then once you’ve got your hotel set up there’s nothing else you need to do other than to sit back, wait and see what guests might turn up at your hotel!

Want to know more about building your own bug hotel just click here for the RSPB guide! If you were looking to buy a small bug hotel here’s a link to one but they are all over the internet, even Waitrose sells them!

 ThatBiologist Everywhere!





Love in the Animal Kingdom!


Happy Valentines Day! I hope you’re having a day filled with gushy romantic stuff from your loved ones. I thought to get into the spirit I would share 5 of my favourite romantic stories from the natural world.

Two elephants create heart shape with their trunks while the sun sets in the background at an elephant camp in the former Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya

“It Could Only Ever Be You”

There’s lots of stories of monogamous couples in the natural world. Lobsters are not one of them (Sorry Pheobe) but another sea creature could be described as the most monagamous in all of the ocean! That is the French angelfish! Most fish do not pair for life but this species does to help protect their territory. They team up and are able to defend a larger area. There is another theory that they pair up because it can be hard to find fish friends to hang out with and make baby fish with so when they find each other they stick together. What hasn’t been proven is that they are sexually monagomous as couples, little minxes (oo-er I’ll try and keep the rest of this blog PC)[1].

Pair of French angelfish

Photo credit: The Smithsonian

“The Birds and The Bees”

This love story perhaps isn’t as sweet as some of the others on this list but bees have a rather unique way of showing other bees they care. Male bees tend to get rather excited when “showing their love” to female bees. Brace yourself for this one, male bees finish off there love making by having their endophallus be torn off and left inside the female bee. Yes, you read that correctly, the bee’s bits get torn off! This is because bee reproduction is a little different in that once a female has the sperm they can hold on to it until they are ready to lay eggs. Bonus for the male is that seals off any chance of another male getting a mating with her [2].

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Photo credit: Alvesgaspar

“The King of the Swingers”

Green anacondas are some of the heaviest reptiles around, they are around 4.6 metres long and the females are larger than the males. They have a rather strange way of getting together. As they mostly live singular lives when a female is ready to mate they lay down pheromones, this attracts MANY males to the female. Then the female mates with all of them in what’s called a mating ball. Breeding balls can sometimes stay together for up to four weeks and females can end up eating some of her smaller partners! That’s love in the green anaconda world [3].

Image result for green anaconda mating ball

“Rocks equal love”

Exchanging of gifts is fairly common on Valentines day, Adelie penguins take this one step further. A male Adelie penguin, living along the Antarctic coast, collects little rare rocks to present to his beloved. The female uses the rocks to line her nest, and if she likes the rock, she will allow him to mate with her, Verdolin says. Unfortunately for the poor male, if he wanders off and another male presents a rock, she will mate with him, too.[4].

Photo credit: Robert Nunn / Flickr

“Cuddles and Kisses”

I’ve written about them before but I feel like this list justifies talking about them again. This species spends up to 60% of their time with their other half. It has been scientifically proven that they give their partner kisses and cuddles when they are feeling stressed. And the males will only every stray away from their mate when being plied with alcohol. It is of course the Praire vole. Look at how cute they are[4]!

Photo Credit: Dave Challender

I hope you’re having a truly mushy Valentines day! Let me know your favourite love story from nature in the comments or on twitter!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!






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Big Cats Documentary Review


Yesterday I spoke about how I want to read more non-fiction books, I also really want to watch more documentaries and learn more! The first series of the year that I watched is called Big Cats which was on the BBC in January. You can find the series information here. It was a three part series and was truly fascinating.


Lots is still unknown about the lives of big cats. There are forty different species of big cat and this series does an amazing job in showcasing some of those species. The series is beautifully shot and has some truly incredible scenes. My personal highlights were the rusty spotted cat, the princes cat kittens and the lynx and the snowshoe hare.

The whole series gets you really up close and personal with all of these cats. Many of which are under threat nearing the point of extinction. The third episode introduced the people who are spending their life trying to protect them.

Image result for big cats bbc

I think the main things I learnt from watching this series was that big cats come in so many shapes and sizes but each have the most fascinating features that make them a perfect hunter. The cheetahs are obviously fast but their tails help them turn quickly without falling over to chase prey who don’t run in straight lines. They are incredibly agile! The lynx has large paws that work like giant snowshoes which allows them to catch the agile hares in the snow and jaguars have an incredible jaw strength meaning they can crunch down on a turtle shell as easily as I can munch down on crisps! As for the king of the Savannah, the lion, they live in prides unlike every other big cat species and they are amazingly intelligent.

I also loved the styling of the programmes. The music they used was just as majestic as the big cats and the pacing of the programmes kept me enthralled throughout the whole of each of the three episodes. They showed how the documentary was made at the end of the first two episodes and they gave you all the scientific names for all of these cats (perfect for further research). In the third episode they highlighted how more is being learnt about these cats which for those not in the scientific research world is brilliant. They showed just how amazing and useful camera traps can be and how long and frustrating fieldwork can be.

Image result for big cats bbc turtle eating

Although I’ve always been a fan of the philosophy of look after the little guys in conservation, it’s also essential that we look after these big cats or thy could be lost forever. Like for example the incredibly rare Bay cat that is endemic to Borneo, the documentary highlighted that as soon as the rainforest is turned into a palm oil forest these cats find somewhere else. With a dwindling habitat their population will also dwindle. Documentaries like this really highlight the reasons why conservation is so important and why we need to protect the big cats environment. The third episode particularly left me with a lot of hope for the future for big cats but there is still more work to be done!

In conclusion, this series is wonderfully informing, beautifully stunning and if you have access to the BBC go and watch it now! Here’s a little teaser!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





Book Review of Bizarre Botany


Hello everyone, long time no write but I’m back at it and catching up with my posts. I have a goal this year to read more non-fiction and I thought I would do a few little book reviews once I finish each book. Today I wanted to do a little book review of a Book I read in January and mentioned in my January Round Up. And it’s called….

Bizarre Botany

By Christina Harrison and Lauren Gardiner and the blurb goes a little like this,

Take a journey through a forest of fascinating facts and explore the wonders of the plant kingdom – from the tallest and smallest, to the smelliest and deadliest. This A to Z gift book reveals some of the most quirky and awe-inspiring stories about plants and will give you a whole new appreciation of all things floral.

Basically this book is a 170 page romp through some of the weirdest phenomenon of the botanical world going from A-Z. And it’s really great! It goes through so many different topics which I love and they’re all in short and easily digestible paragraphs. As well as going through the worlds weirdest plants it also highlights many botanists. The “Botany Hero’s” sections were some of my favorite sections of the book as I didn’t know many of the people who were featured.

The book was written for and by members of Kew so they really do know their stuff. They give away some more unknown facts about the Royal Botanical Gardens but you should be aware that it is very plug heavy. I didn’t mind though because personally I think Kew are a pretty amazing organisation.


Highlight from the Book!

It’s really hard to pick one section from the book that I loved the most. However, the Darwin Botany Hero’s section was truly stunning. That and the section on vegetable sheep! I won’t give anymore though.

To sum up this book is great for anyone with a basic interest in the botanical world. It was easy to read and fitted perfectly in my bag to read on the commute to work! It’s now made its way to live with the rest of my favourite Biology Books. If you would like to read Bizarre Botany here’s the link to buy it!*

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





*Not sponsored, I just love the book!

The Monthly Round Up: Squirting, Studies and Superheros

The Monthly Round Up

Hello and welcome to my new monthly series. Last year I had The Monthly Species and the year before that I had The Monthly Scientist. This year I fancied doing something slightly different. I really enjoyed writing my BAM series and letting you all in on my day to day life. I wanted to bring back an element of that with this monthly series. The Monthly Round Up will be kind of like a favourites blog but with a very scientific theme and well I’ll let you read on to the rest of this blog for it to explain itself.


Favourite Science News Story Of The Month:

I am friends with a few people who are guilty of humblebragging. If you’re not familiar with what humblebragging is, it’s when someone will say something like “Oh I’m amazed at how great I am at my new job” or “Wow, I never have anything nice to wear since I lost all that weight”. A new study has revealed (what I already knew to be true) in that humblebragging is way more annoying than just regular bragging or even self-promotion! You can read more about it here.

Favourite Blog I’ve read this Month:

I guess this technically isn’t a blog but I found this piece by the Washington Post through the amazing blog Nothing In Biology Makes Sense (well worth a follow). It’s all about the carbon footprint of superheros, turns out in terms of saving the worlds environment they would definitely not be the good guys! I definitely would suggest reading this one, or at the least looking at the poster they produced! You can find it here!

Favourite Scientific Fact I’ve Learnt This Month:

This has to come from the book that I’ve been reading (listed below) and that is about the squirting cucumber or Ecballium elaterium. When its fruits are ripe they actually explode and send their seeds in a “torrent of mucilaginous goo”. It can cause the seeds to be ejected up to 7 metres away from the parent plant! Just be careful because this cucumber is poisonous! Here’s a slo-mo video of them in action!

Favourite Social Media I’ve Followed This Month:

Instagram – This one has to go to Sophie from The Scientific Beauty – She’s got a killer sense of style and a PhD. What more could you want from an insta feed. Honestly I just love her posts and her red theme, you can find her at @sciencebeaut

Twitter – This month I’ve got to give a shout out to Alex Evans. I interviewed him last year but his twitter is something else to behold. He holds a great game called Guess The Crest which I have only got right once but also has the best retweets. You can find him on twitter @alexevans91

Books I’ve Been Reading:

Bizarre Botany by Christina Harrison and Lauren Gardiner – I won’t give too much away because I will be doing a full book review soon but it’s well worth picking up and taking a look at!

Podcasts I’ve Been Listening To:

Level up human – I’ve been listening to some of the older editions of the podcast and they make me laugh, smile and think about the world. They always have really funny and interesting guests and I strongly encourage you to go and check it out!

I’d love to know your answers to these questions so please let me know in the comments or on twitter!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





Top 10 UK Mammals

Top 10s

Mammals are often the main driver for conservation campaigns. You always see things like lions, tigers, pandas and elephants as the poster animals for organisations like the WWF. Well, if you didn’t know the UK has some pretty incredible mammals of its own. Here are ten of my favourites that are all native to the UK!

1 – Grey Seal – Halichoerus grypus

Grey seals are found all over the UK. They feed on all kinds of fish and live in large colonies. In the past the seals were once hunted almost to the point of extinction, particularly in the US. However now in the UK grey seals are protected under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 however this does not apply in Northern Ireland. The picture below is of the seals in Stiffkey in Norfolk which I got to see as part of my masters degree!

Photo by Duncan Harris

2 – Greater Horseshoe Bat – Rhinolophus ferrumequinum

This fantastic bat species can be found across the UK. They can often be seen foraging in woodlands and pastureland and nest in underground caves. The best time to see most bats is in the summer around dusk. These bats have been in decline due to fragmentation of their habitats but there has been a massive effort to conserve the species and populations have been stabilizing in the UK.

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Photo by Prof. emeritus Hans Schneider

3 – European Otter – Lutra lutra

One of the most adorable mammals in the UK is the otter. They are found around many different kinds of aquatic habitat and feed on mostly fish, eels and crayfish. They were once only found in Scotland but with conservation of water systems signs of otters have been found throughout the UK.

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Photo by Bernard Landgraf

4 – European Badger – Meles meles

This fantastic mammal is instantly recognisable. Badgers are found across the UK in countryside and woodlands. They are a nocturnal species that feed on a wide range of animal and plant matter but their favourite is earthworms. They live in family groups of four to seven individuals and live in setts underground. They are fully protected by the law but recently periodic culls have been allowed in the aim to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis.


Photo from Pixabay

5 – Wood Mouse – Apodemus sylvaticus

Otherwise known as the long-tailed field mouse or common field mouse, these guys are undeniably adorable. They live in woodlands and farmland. They have the perfect teeth to dig into all kinds of different seeds. Their upper front teeth have a smooth inner surface which distinguishes them from the house mouse.

Image result for Apodemus sylvaticus

Photo by Hans Hillewaert

6 – Hazel Dormouse  – Muscardinus avellanarius

Now although all the mammals on this list are great I think this little mouse is my ultimate favourite! The Hazel Dormouse is the only species in this genus and is found in the south of England. It is also the only dormouse that is native to the UK. Dormice live predominantly in the trees and is found in hedgerows, deciduous woodland and farmland. It feeds on flowers, insects, seeds and fruits.

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Photo by Haruta Ovidiu

7 – European Hedgehog – Erinaceus europaeus

This mammal is distinctive feature of the UK countryside. It has been shown that hedgehogs thrive in many man-made habitats such as gardens, orchards and farmland. These prickly guests love it if you leave a section of your garden to grow a bit wild!

Image result for Erinaceus europaeus

Photo by Nicolas Zea P.

8 – Common Pipistrelle Bat – Pipistrellus pipistrellus

This bat is found all over the world but does make it’s home in the UK. They live in colonies of around 20-50 individuals in the summer and in the winter they go it alone or in small groups. It forages in a variety of habitats including open woodland and woodland edges, Mediterranean shrubland, semi-desert, farmland, rural gardens and urban areas. It feeds on small moths and flies.

Image result for Pipistrellus pipistrellus

Photo by Evgeniy Yakhontov

9 – Eurasian Water Vole – Neomys fodiens

This water vole is quite large growing up to 10cm long. This species is semi-aquatic with water repelling fur. It occurs in a wide variety of wetland habitats, both freshwater and coastal, including lakes, rivers, streams, marshes, bogs, damp grasslands, humid woodlands, sea shores and intertidal wetlands. It is the most aquatic of all European shrews. It hunts on land and in water for invertebrates, including crustaceans, and occasionally takes small fish and amphibians.

Image result for Neomys fodiens

10 – Eurasian Beaver – Castor fiber

The beaver was once a UK mammal species but in the 20th Century it was hunted to extinction. However there have been several projects to reintroduce the Beaver! Beavers are adapted for a semi-aquatic life, using a variety of freshwater systems, including rivers, streams, irrigation ditches, lakes, and swamps. They generally prefer freshwater habitats surrounded by woodland, but may occur in agricultural land.

File:Castor fiber vistulanus.jpg

Photo by Tomasz Chmielewski

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little list, there are so many mammals that didn’t make the list so there might be a part two! Send me a cheeky tweet or a comment with your favourite mammal!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!