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Subject: ‘Animals’

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Nature’s colour coding for poison

Posted in Animals, Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 13 February 2016

This edited article about poisonous creatures originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1018 published on 12 September 1981.

ladybird, picture, image, illustration

The colourful but poisonous ladybird is avoided by birds

Green, amber, red . . . we are all familiar with traffic lights, and understand that green is safe, amber a warning, and red emphatically means “Stop!” Traffic lights are a relatively recent invention, but warning colours are far from new, and have evolved over millions of years. In nature, vivid colours – particularly red – often warn of danger, and it can be as wise to stop well away from an animal or insect with bright warning colours as it is to obey the red traffic light.

In Britain there are few dangerous or poisonous creatures, but if you think carefully you might well recall some examples. The wasp’s bright yellow and black stripes warn of its nasty sting, just as the zig-zag pattern on the back of an adder hints at its venom. In contrast, the harmless grass snake is green. However, have you ever wondered why ladybirds are red and black, or why certain moths, such as the garden tiger and red underwing, have bright red underwings?

The answer, of course, is simple. Ladybirds are poisonous, and their colouring warns birds to leave them well alone. Starlings feed their young on insects, but in a study in Holland it was found that out of 16,484 insects taken to feed nestling starlings by their parents, only two were ladybirds, so their coloration really does protect them.

An interesting aspect of the ladybird’s defence is its ability to ooze blood from its leg joints when attacked. This is called reflex bleeding.

Ladybirds are not the only British beetles to display warning colours, for the cardinal beetle does so too. This crimson-red beetle receives its name from the similarity of its colouring to a cardinal’s robe; like the ladybird, it is also distasteful to birds.

Most moths, when at rest, have cryptic colouring which helps them merge with their background. However, certain species, when disturbed, suddenly reveal bright red underwings, which has the effect of alarming a predator.

This display is called flash coloration, and is often found among grasshoppers, cicadas, moths and butterflies. One of the best examples is the garden tiger, which is a common moth in Britain and often flies by day, even in bright sunshine. Glands in the tiger moth’s thorax secrete a poison, and birds soon learn to avoid this species.

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Condemned pig

Posted in Absurd, Animals, Historical articles, History, Law, Oddities, Religion on Sunday, 31 January 2016

This edited article about legal systems first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 527 published on 19 February 1972.

Animal justice, picture, image, illustration

Top: A sow and her piglets are summoned to appear before the court; Bottom: A court official reads out the charges to a cow accused of trampling a boy to death

Imagine your surprise if you saw a pig, a cow or even a wild animal such as a fox or a badger, being led into court to be tried by a judge and jury! If you had lived on the Continent in medieval times, such a spectacle would not have surprised you in the least, for in those days it was quite common for both domestic and wild animals to be brought to court, there to be tried, sentenced or acquitted, according to the jury’s verdict.

These animal courts were not staged for fun. They were conducted in all seriousness, with eminent lawyers acting for plaintiff and accused, exactly as they do when people are tried in our courts today.

Not long ago a bird was blamed for causing a thatched cottage to be burnt to the ground. It was suggested that the bird had taken a still smouldering cigarette end into the thatch for use as nest-building material. If the same thing had happened in medieval times it would have been the solemn duty of the ecclesiastical court to publicly declare the bird to be under notice to quit the district forthwith.

Fantastic, admittedly – but none the less true. The position was that civil courts had jurisdiction over all domestic creatures, including farm animals, whilst the church, or ecclesiastical courts, could call to trial and pronounce sentence on all forms of wild life, from wolves and rats down to insect pests such as ants and house flies.

One of France’s most eminent jurists, M. Chassensee, made his name for his masterly defence of the rats in the Diocese of Autun, in the 15th century. The rats were accused of appearing in great numbers and annoying the townspeople and were therefore summoned to appear before the local ecclesiastical court.

The defendants were described as “dirty animals of grey colour living in holes.” As the rats failed to appear in answer to the summons, the prosecution demanded sentence right away. But Chassensee argued that All the rats in the diocese were interested parties and they, too, should be called to give evidence. The curate of every parish was therefore commanded to issue a general summons. Still no rats turned up.

Contempt of court? Certainly not, argued Chassensee. Some were too old and some too young to make the journey. The rest of his clients, he explained, were quite willing to attend, but were afraid to come out of their holes because of “evilly disposed cats belonging to the plaintiffs.” This resulted in a stalemate and the case was therefore adjourned, sine die, or indefinitely!

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Rodents are not just rats and mice

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Sunday, 31 January 2016

This edited article about rodents originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 155 published on 2 January 1965.

coypu and water vole, picture, image, illustration

The Coypu and a water vole, large and small rodents

When we hear the word “rodent” we immediately think of rats. But the rat is only one of many different kinds of animals which zoologists class as rodents.

“Rodent” is a group name for about 2,000 species of animals distributed over nearly all parts of the world, including rats, mice and rabbits, and unfamiliar ones like the porcupines, the jerboa and the mink.

The name “rodent” comes from the Latin word rodo, meaning “I gnaw,” and it is this habit of constant gnawing that distinguishes the rodents from all other animals.

Unlike the horse and the cow, which chew their food, and the dog and tiger which tear it, rodents chop their way through their food in much the same way that a carpenter shaves off wood with a chisel.

Rodents do not have on each side of the jaw the large, fang-like teeth, called canines, of the dog and cat. Instead they have in front of the jaw powerful teeth called incisors, which are shaped like curved chisels – and are quite as sharp.

As fast as the tops are worn down by constant gnawing, they continue growing upwards from the roots.

If a rodent cannot have something to nibble at all the time, its incisors will grow to an extraordinary length.

Should an incisor break off, the one opposite to it goes on growing and eventually forms a curve round the animal’s head. The unfortunate rodent is then unable to open its mouth to eat and dies of starvation.

Sometimes when a top incisor breaks off, the bottom one will grow upwards until it pierces the animal’s skull and kills it.

It is this constant struggle to keep their incisors short and sharp that makes rodents so destructive. Most of their gnawing is not done for eating, but to prevent their teeth from growing too long and killing them.

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The best pictures from educational trade cards, 107

Posted in Africa, Ancient History, Animals, Best pictures, Boats, Educational card, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Myth, Politics, Ships, War on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Hercules capturing the Cretan Bull.

Cretan Bull, picture, image, illustration

The capture of the Cretan Bull

The second picture shows the Sicilian Plebiscite for union with Italy, 1800.

Sicilian Plebiscite, picture, image, illustration

Sicilian Plebiscite

The third picture shows the Vandals led by Genseric land on the coast of Africa, 428.

Vandals, picture, image, illustration

The Vandals led by Genseric land on the coast of Africa, 428

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 99

Posted in Ancient History, Animals, Arts and Crafts, Astronomy, Best pictures, Educational card, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Literature, Philosophy, Plants, Rivers, Science, Transport, Travel, War on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Hannibal crossing the Rhone with his army and elephants, 218 BC.

Hannibal, picture, image, illustration

Hannibal crossing the Rhone with his army and elephants, 218 BC

The second picture shows Ancient Egyptian papermakers.

papyrus, picture, image, illustration

Ancient Egyptian papermakers

The third picture shows Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist.

Aristotle, picture, image, illustration

Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 97

Posted in America, Ancient History, Animals, Best pictures, Bible, Bravery, Customs, Educational card, Famous battles, Flags, Geography, Geology, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Myth, Religion, Saints, Sea, Ships, Travel, War, Weapons on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Jason making a sacrifice to the Gods to aid the Argo in its voyage.

Argo, picture, image, illustration

Sacrifice to the Gods to aid the Argo in its voyage

The second picture shows gold prospectors in Alaska.

Gold prospectors, picture, image, illustration

Gold prospectors, Alaska

The third picture shows St James the Great, patron saint of Spain.

St James the Great, picture, image, illustration

St James the Great, patron saint of Spain

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 91

Posted in America, Animals, Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Best pictures, Famous landmarks, Farming, Fashion, Historical articles, History, Weapons, Wildlife on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows buffalo hunting in North America.

hunt, picture, image, illustration

Hunting buffalo in North America

The second picture shows the Pailou arch in Peking.

Peking, picture, image, illustration

Pailou arch in Peking

The third picture shows Panama Hats being made.

Panama Hats, picture, image, illustration

Panama Hats Being Made

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 89

Posted in Animals, Art, Artist, Best pictures, Boats, Educational card, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Industry, Invasions, Religion, Sea, Ships, War, Weapons, Wildlife on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Raphael working on his portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi.

Raphael, picture, image, illustration

Raphael working on his portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi

The second picture shows William the Conquerer falling onto the sand of Pevensey Bay in 1066.

Normans, picture, image, illustration

The conquest of England by the Normans, with William the Conquerer, having fallen onto the sand of Pevensey Bay, at which he exclaimed, 'By the splendour of God, I have taken seisin of England! – I hold its earth in my hands!'.

The third picture shows whaling off the coast of South America.

Whaling, picture, image, illustration

Whaling off the coast of South America

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 84

Posted in America, Animals, Arts and Crafts, Birds, Educational card, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Industry, Nature, Plants, War, Wildlife on Wednesday, 25 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows the Battle of Tippecanoe.

battle, picture, image, illustration

The Battle of Tippecanoe

The second picture shows doll makers.

dolls, picture, image, illustration

Dressing and painting dolls

The third picture shows Perroquets Aras and Fleur de la Passion.

birds, picture, image, illustration

Perroquets Aras and Fleur de la Passion

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 65

Posted in Actors, Ancient History, Animals, Best pictures, Birds, Communications, Customs, Educational card, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Legend, Music, Mystery, Theatre, Wildlife on Wednesday, 25 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Paganini’s mother recounting her dream in which it was predicted that he would become famous.

Paganini, picture, image, illustration

Paganini's mother recounting her dream in which it was predicted that he would become famous

The second picture shows a mediaeval mystery play.

mystery play, picture, image, illustration

A medieval mystery play

The third picture shows the Capitoline Geese.

Geese, picture, image, illustration

Geese of the Capitoline hill

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.