British mammal photo contest winners

April 3, 2014 • 12:19 pm

by Greg Mayer

The Mammal Society, a membership society devoted to the conservation and scientific study of the mammals of the British Isles, has recently released the top photos from its second annual Mammal Photographer of the Year awards, and there are quite a few absolutely fabulous photos in the competition. This year’s first-prize winner is Stuart Scott for a brown hare (Lepus  europaeus).

Brown hare by Stuart Scott.
Brown hare by Stuart Scott.

Brown hares were introduced into Britain during Iron Age times; they generally live further south in Britain, and at lower elevations, than the native mountain hare (Lepus timidus).

My favorite finalist, which was ranked “highly commended” by the Mammal Society judges, is this vole with English oak acorns (Quercus robur; you can tell it’s English oak by the pedunculate acorns). (Voles were among my earliest interests here at WEIT; you can read up on the British ones at Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology).

Bank (?) vole by Phil Winter.
Bank or field vole by Phil Winter.

I’m not sure if it’s a bank vole (Myodes glareolus) or a field vole (Microtus agrestis). The easiest way to tell the two apart is that bank voles have longer tails, which can’t be seen in this photo. Bank voles are a richer brown, and eat more seeds, which makes me lean bank, but the small ears are more “fieldy“: I hope some naturalist readers in Britain can enlighten us!

The rest of the winners, plus the winners and finalists from the 2013 competition, can all be seen on the Mammal Society’s flickr page. There are several sets, and they are quite worthwhile browsing through. The BBC also has some of the photos, including some not on the flickr page– my favorite of these is the young Sam Baylis‘s picture of a water vole (Arvicola terrestris) holding some vegetation in its ‘hands”.

Water vole by Sam Baylis
Water vole by Sam Baylis.

Caturday cricetid

March 7, 2009 • 12:42 pm

by Greg Mayer

To give a little equal time to other trophic levels, this Saturday we have a meadow vole, a member of the rodent family Cricetidae.


Nicknamed ‘Voley’, this Microtus pennsylvanicus was rescued from a mechanical access shaft into which it had fallen and become trapped. What many people think of as ‘field mice’, and what many house cats bring home, are actually voles: they can be distinguished by their short tails, and smaller eyes and ears compared to other mice. Evolutionarily, meadow voles are known for being geographically variable, with many described subspecies, including a number restricted to small islands off the coast.  Since most of these islands are land-bridge islands, isolated from the mainland only since the post-glacial rise in sea level, the differentiation of the voles inhabiting them is quite recent. The most distinctive of these small island derivatives of the meadow vole is a distinct species, the beach vole, Microtus breweri, found only on Muskeget, a very small island to the west of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. (My friend and colleague James ‘Skip’ Lazell calls it “defiantly” distinct from the meadow voles on nearby islands.) They have been isolated on Muskeget only 2000-3000 years, and are thus an example of rapid divergence. Jerry deals with  the nature of species and species formation in chap. 7 of WEIT, and in much more detail in his 2004 monograph with H. Allen Orr, Speciation.