The Tuatara; From the Age of the Dinosaurs



Common name: Tuatara (Northern)

Scientific name: Sphenodon punctatus

Class: reptilia

Order: rhynchocephalia

Conservation status: threatened

Habitat: woodland and grassland of New Zealand

Size: 70-80cm

Weight: 600-900g

Diet: Carnivore, eats insects, birds eggs, frogs and small reptiles and mammals

Lifespan: 50-100 years

Appearance: Grey, green, brown scales along a typical lizard body

Breeding: Tuatara mate every 4-5 years. After a year, the female lays a clutch of egg.  Once eggs are laid, they take around a year to hatch.

Threats: In ancient times, predators were birds of prey. Nowadays, predators are introduced ones, such as dogs, cats and rodents

Other interesting facts:

  1. Males have no sexual organ
  2. Tuatara swim well
  3. Tuatara have a ‘third eye’ which can sense shadows and detect changes in light
  4. They are solitary, nocturnal animals
  5. Active at 7-22°C, only hibernating in colder winters
  6. Sleeps in a burrow, which is self-dug using their claws
  7. Their teeth are extensions of their jawbone. They don’t fall out and when they are worn down, they are not replaced.
  8. Has lived since Jurassic times, not changing m


I decided to do an animal profile on the tuatara because it is one of my favourite animals. Recently I was reminiscing with family and we remembered the time that I met a tuatara!

Anyway, if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to follow me on Twitter, @ShoshShearing



  • Wikipedia

Animal Profile: The Maned Wolf

imagePhotograph credit:


Common name: Maned Wolf

Scientific name: Chrysocyon brachyrus

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Conservation status: near threatened

Habitat: Grasslands and scrub forest of South America, namely Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.

Size: 1m in height

Weight: 20-25kg but may weigh up to 30kg

Diet: Omnivorous, 50:50 diet of plants to meat, but can eat a higher proportion of plant matter. Small mammals are eaten, such as cuis, rabbits and agoutis, plants eaten include many fruits and sugar cane.

Lifespan: 7-10yrs in the wild, but may live up to 15yrs in captivity

Appearance: reddish-brown fur with fox-like markings; large, erect ears (an average of 7″ in length); long, deer-like legs; pointed muzzle; mane on neck which stands erect when danger is sensed

Maturity: 2yrs

Gestation period: 60-65 days

Threats: destruction of habitat; attack spread of disease from domestic dogs

Interesting facts:

  1. Only species in the genus Chrysocyon
  2. less than 2000 left on the wild
  3. nocturnal/crepuscular animals
  4. solitary animals, only coming together for mating purposes
  5. sexually monogamous animals
  6. produce what is known as a ‘roar-bark’, a sound rarely heard by humans




  • Wikipedia
  • Animalogic YouTube channel

Animal Profile: The Manatee


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Common name: Manatee, also known as a ‘sea cow’

Scientific name: Tricheus

Order: Sirenia

IUCN Red List classification: Threatened

Habitat: Water dwelling, found in the Amazon, Africa and the West Indies


Lifespan in the wild: 40 years

Appearance: Thick, grey, wrinkled skin. Large bodies of 2.8-3.0 metres in length.

Weight: 400-550 kilograms.

Diet: Herbivore, eats water grasses, weeds, algae. Has a simple stomach, like a horse.

Manatees are often solitary mammals (with the exception of mother and calf). Fifty percent of their day is spent sleeping. When sleeping, the manatee surfaces for air every 15-20 minutes and when swimming, surfaces every 3-4 minutes.

These majestic creatures are mammals and they have a gestation period of 12 months. The weaning period for calves is a further 12-18 months and so the manatee only breeds once every two years or more.



  • Wikipedia

The Danger of Breeding for ‘Cuteness’

imageImage credit:

After reading an article in Vet Times, I became interested in the breeding of animals and how particular breeds have certain health problems that can be life limiting

I am particularly interested in brachycephaly – having a shorter skull shape than is typical for the species. Many breeders see brachycephaly as a desirable trait and is seen particularly in dogs, such as pugs and french bulldogs.

Brachycephaly is purposely caused by breeders who want to fulfil demand for a ‘cute’ look and is becoming more common in cats and rabbits.

In cats, brachycephaly is mostly seen in breeds such as Persians and Exotic Shorthairs.


Image credit:

From this photograph, it is clear to see that cats suffering from this condition have a greatly shortened muzzle, compared to the typical length. The top and bottom jaw do not align correctly and the teeth and jaw are misaligned. Naturally, this causes dental problems, mouth ulcers and difficulty eating. They are also prone to skin fold infections which are painful, at best.

Rabbit breeds, such as the Netherlands Dwarf and the Lionhead, are also known to suffer from the condition:


Image credit: RWAF

As in cats the jaws of rabbits with the condition are misaligned. In rabbits, it is essential that their jaws align, so as to prevent overgrowth of the ever growing teeth. As this is not possible in brachycephalic rabbits, they are prone to lacerated mouths, abcesses, chronic pain and even death.

These animals also have trouble breathing and will snore in their sleep because of this. Stenotic nares (severe narrowing of nostrils) are also a symptom of brachycephaly and severely inhibit the breathing of animals with the condition. As a result, these animals tend to have sedentary lifestyles and so are more likely to become obese.

Brachycephalic animals also have distorted tear ducts and so tears and puss overflow onto their faces, making the animal very uncomfortable and blocking the animals vision.

Lop eared rabbits, though not necessarily brachycephalic, are also suffering due to inbreeding. They gain middle ear infections and cannot communicate with other rabbits properly, leading to behavioural problems.



Turtle Hospital



Photo credit: Reef HQ

After the distressing topic of my last post, I wanted to write about something more cheerful this week, so I have chosen the magical turtle hospital in Townsville, Australia.

The Reef hospital is part of Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville, Queensland which is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In recent years, James Cook University’s School of Veterinary and Biomedical Science has become a supporting partner of the hospital.

The hospital specialises in the treatment of ill and injured marine turtles and, according to the website, “operates under and promotes the C.A.R.E. philosophy”; Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, Educate.

Marine Turtles are slow-growing and should live very long lives. However due to many threats this is not always the case. Threats include:

  • Fishing nets
  • Boat strikes
  • Litter
  • Plastic bags

Plastics bags particularly threaten these animals because they mistake them for food and usually end up being suffocated. Luckily, the Reef Hospital offers first class medical care for these beautiful creatures and educates the public in an effort to reduce threats to the turtles.

The hospital has had the privilege of caring for a rare hybrid turtle, a hawksbill green sea cross turtle nicknamed ‘Summer’, the first hybrid in Australian waters. The medical facility also cares for turtles suffering from turtle herpes, which causes fibropapillomatosis.

That’s it for this week, a short summary of the amazing work of the Reef Hospital at Reef HQ Aquarium, Townsville.


Dog and Cat Meat Trade in Asia


Photo credit:


This week I had planned to do a post on the cat and dog meat trade in Asia, however I am unable to do a detailed post on the subject as my research distressed me greatly.

Firstly, I had not realised the extent of how often the meat of household pets is consumed, with thirty million dogs killed every year for consumption and an unknown number of cats.

I was aware that this type of meat was consumed, however I didn’t know that the animals were bred with the intention of consumption. In South Korea alone, two and a half million dogs are reared each year for human consumption. There are many farms throughout Asia, however the number of animals farmed is not enough to satisfy the extent to which it is wanted. As a result, strays are taken off the streets and pets are stolen, to meet demand. The demand is so great that there is even a dog meat festival at Yulin in China.

Some countries in the continent have some legislation to protect these animals, such as Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan. However, these laws are not strictly enforced and there is a black market for the meat.

The way in which these gentle animals are killed is incredibly cruel. There is even the belief that the more terrified the animal when it is killed, the better its meat will taste.

If you wish to know more about this terrible trade, I recommend that you go to , and the Humane Society International. However, you are warned that the articles and images are very distressing.

I apologise for the short post this week but my research distressed me so much that I was unable to write about it in a detailed format. Please support the charities attempting to stop this terrible trade, it is a cause well worth your support.

If you have enjoyed my blog so far, feel free to follow me on Twitter @ShoshShearing

Work Experience

This week I thought that I would tell you a bit about my work experience. To date, I have only one ‘piece’ of work experience under my belt, but I do have a lot more planned.

My work experience took place over five days; the 24th to the 28th of October, 2016 at Summerleaze Veterinary Hospital in Maidenhead. There were many jobs to be done, a lot of cleaning and many pairs of surgical/examination gloves were used.

Day one: I arrived 10 minutes early, at 8.50am, in order to sign a form and get settled in. All the vet nurses were friendly and showed me where I would be working for the week. My first job of the morning was to wash the walls and doors of the corridor and the treatment room with a solution of disinfectant.                                     The next job of the day was to hold a long-haired black cat. This cat was brought into the hospital to be ‘dematted’, i.e. removal of matted hair. Unfortunately, this situation could have been avoided if the cat’s owners had brushed her fur every day. The result of this treatment was a more comfortable cat and a work experience girl covered in black fluff! There were no jobs that needed doing for a few minutes after that, so I got some time to watch a bitch spay through the window into the operating theatre. It was a laparoscopic spay and so was less intrusive for the dog.                                                            Next, I put a load of washing in the washing machine and also put a load into the dryer. When the lap. spay was finished, I cleaned all the surgical instruments and put them into the autoclave to be sterilised.                                                         After a 40 minute lunch, I cleaned out the dog and cat kennels and also wiped down all the treatment tables with disinfectant. I finished the day at 4.15pm, after  hoovering the treatment area, operation theatre, and the x-ray room.                   Glove count: 7 pairs.

Day two: After disinfecting the treatment area and corridors again, I sat with ‘Rolo’, a chocolate laborador in his kennel. Rolo had a broken leg and so had to stay at the hospital to recuperate. However, he greatly missed his family and, as a result, refused to eat any of his food. In an attempt to get him to eat, I sat in his kennel, coaxing him with some meat. More meat got on my clothes than in his mouth!                                                                                                           Next, I cleaned surgical instruments from a surgery that had taken place the night before, put on the dryer and cleaned the preparation room.                         Unfortunately, a french bulldog was brought in that morning, following severe vomiting of blood and vaginal bleeding. This dog had been spayed the previous day, so it was clear that there were some complications. Surgery began almost straight away and lasted for the majority of the day. After her surgery, I sat with her as she was recovering from her anaesthetic.                                                   I also hoovered the prep. room, cat ward, dog ward, x-ray room and utility room and following that I held a miniature poodle that was having its temperature taken. Naturally, he was not happy about this and I got the brunt end; scratches all down both my arms.                                                                                           After an hours lunch break, I held a dog still as he got an ultrasound on his heart. The dog was a small terrier of approx. 14 years old and he had a heart murmur. It was very interesting to see this procedure take place and to hear about the treatment options.                                                                                                       Glove count: 5 pairs.

Day three: On the Wednesday, I disinfected the corridor, prep. room, treatment area, x-ray room and mopped the utility room and the cat, dog and isolation wards. After that, I put away clean washing, and also put another load of washing on (there is always a mountain to be done)!                                                Additionally, I played with a kitten after stocking up the syringe supply. The kitten had fractured her femur and had been signed over to the hospital as her previous owners couldn’t afford treatment. After cleaning out her cage, I sat in on a consultation. In this consultation, a bull mastiff had been brought in with an ear infection in both ears. After a normal health check, I held the dog still while the vet took a sample of the bacteria in his ears. She then proceeded to stain and look at the bacteria under a microscope in hospital’s laboratory, discovering that the culprit was a yeast infection. I was allowed to view the bacteria under the microscope and even calibrate it, which I found to be a fascinating experience!         After the consultation, I returned to the treatment area where I was asked to help hold a dog still whilst a couple of the nurses were trying to remove its catheter. After a lot of whining, the catheter was finally removed.                                           That day, I was also lucky enough to watch part of a sarcoma removal surgery (through the window into the op. theatre).                                                             Glove count: 3 pairs.

Day four: Usual morning cleaning and disinfecting but I also got to sit in on a screw-tail amputation which was thoroughly exciting! After putting on some scrubs (and feeling very grown-up!) I held the particular dog as he was being sedated. The dog was called ‘Pig’ and was a pug. Due to inbreeding, however, his tail had grown in a cork-screw shape, but was growing in towards his rear, causing irritation and infection, therefore requiring an amputation (and probably a change of name!). The operation lasted an hour and a half and there was a lot of blood covering the floor. The surgeon, after ‘unscrewing’, to some extent, and pinning the tail cut through one of the upper coccygeal vertebra, to remove the tail, with the vet nurse monitoring the dog’s vital signs. Following the surgery, the dog needed to be taken downstairs to recover and I was asked to carry his saline solution bag and drip as he was being carried.                                           The rest of the day was spent wiping down examination tables and hoovering the theatre and dental rooms. I also checked the blood pressure cuffs to make sure that they were all working.                                                                             Glove count: 2 pairs.

Final day: Day five started with an endoscopy on a Labrador, who was had been vomiting blood though the night. Although unpleasant for the dog, it was very interesting.                                                                                                                            Next, I disinfected the corridors, treatment area, dental room, utility room and prep. room. I also cleaned out a dog kennel and a cage that had contained a pigeon. I was asked to clean out the pigeon cage after a vet nurse had come in from outside, saying that she had “released the pigeon” and that it should have flown home by that evening.                                                                                                                    I then did some washing and drying and cleaned some surgical instruments.          After that, I cuddled a cat called ‘Tommy’, who had been bored all day. Tommy was a stray that had been brought in to the hospital after the person who had been feeding him saw that he had an infection in one of his eyes. Unfortunately, his left eye could not be saved and was removed. Although he was confused at first, Tommy soon settled down, but remained quite an active cat, loving attention and being fussed.                                                                                         My next job was to hold a greyhound racer. This greyhound was fairly old and had pain in his hips, which is not uncommon among his breed and job. It was heart breaking to hear him whine and see him cringe when the vet examined his hind legs and muscles.                                                                                                                  My final jobs of the day were to mop and vacuum all the floors, as well as to check the breathing tubes, making sure that there were no blockages and rearranging them according to size.                                                                                                    Glove count: 4 pairs.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Summerleaze and, although it was very tiring, I gained a new respect for the work of veterinarians and veterinary nurses, and the environment that they work in. The pride that they take in their work is something that everyone should strive towards.

For those people thinking of getting work experience in a veterinary clinic or hospital, here are my ten tips, based on my experience and what I learned:

  1. Expect cleaning. Lots of it. After all, it is essential and supports the whole practice.

2. Be confident, but respectful of your ’employers’ wishes.

3. Accept every task with a smile.

4. Offer to do jobs for the vet. nurses.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask to sit in on a consult, or to watch a surgery, or even just to ask what is going on.

7. Have common sense and try not to get in the way.

8. Be helpful.

9. Ask questions.

10. Most importantly, enjoy it and have fun!

Shout out to Summerleaze veterinary hospital, thank you again!

Liked this post? Why not follow me on Twitter where I will keep you informed of my latest posts.

Gas Exchange in Fish

Gas Exchange in Fish

There are two main groups of fish; cartilaginous and bony. As the names suggest, cartilaginous fish have a skeleton made of cartilage and bony fish have a skeleton made of bone.

Sharks and stingrays are examples of a cartilaginous fish:


Bony fish are the most numerous of aquatic vertebrates:


Firstly, all fish are active and require a good oxygen supply. Both types of fish have gills for gas exchange. Gills have a one-way current of water and have a large surface area, due to their many folds. Having a large surface area is very useful for gas exchange and in fish, this is maintained by water flowing through the gills as the density of the water prevents them from collapsing on top of each other. Therefore, it is possible for both groups of fish to die if their gills collapse. This usually happens if they are removed from the water.

Although both cartilaginous and bony fish have gills, cartilaginous types have gills in five spaces (gill pouches) on each side of their body which open out at gill slits.
In contrast, bony fish have four pairs of gills that are not open to the outside, but instead are covered by the operculum.

Bony fish also have a specialised ventilation mechanism, which cartilaginous fish don’t have. In bony fish, pressure differences force water over the gill filaments maintaining a continuous, unidirectional flow of water. In this way, the operculum acts as a valve and as a pump, to push water past the gill filaments and to let water out. Additionally, the mouth acts as a pump. This all ventilates the fish.
Contrastingly, cartilaginous fish have no such ventilation mechanism. Instead, they must swim constantly to force water over the gills and maintain ventilation.

Another difference between the two groups is water flow.
Cartilaginous fish maintain what is called parallel flow, where water and blood travel in the same direction. Oxygen diffuses from the where it is in high concentration (water), to where it is in low concentration (blood), but only across part of the gill lamellae, until the concentration in oxygen and blog is equal.
On the other hand, bony fish practice counter-current flow, in which water flows in the opposite direction to the blood in the gill capillaries and oxygen diffuses across the whole length of the lamellae. This is a much more efficient system than that of cartilaginous fish as more oxygen diffuses into the blood (80% of the oxygen from the water).

image image

To conclude, bony and cartilaginous fish have many similarities and differences, but, in general, the system of bony fish for gas exchange is much more efficient than the equivalent of cartilaginous fish.

Enjoyed this post? Then why not follow me on Twitter to get the latest updates? @ShoshShearing


  • Eduqas Biology for A level Year 1 and AS textbook.


Lambing 101

As I am (hopefully) going to get some work experience lambing soon, I thought that this week I would do a post about just that; lambing! What’s normal, what isn’t and a bit about a deadly virus.


The gestation period for ewes is 5 months and they usually reproduce just once a year.

Unfortunately, with pregnancy comes risks, for example pregnancy toxaemia, also called ‘twin lamb disease’. This is caused by the ewe having not enough minerals for metabolic processes to take place. If the ewe has to expend a great amount of energy, for example if she has two or more lambs, she may be at risk of this disease which, if treatment is not quickly administered, can be fatal. However, usually ewes that are being fed correctly don’t develop it.

Pre-birth changes: Normal.

Several weeks before labour is due, you should notice some physical changes, namely the vulva swelling and becoming quite pink and also the udder swelling with milk for the newborn.

Other early signs of labour may include:

  • signs of internal discomfort
  • isolating themselves from the rest of the flock
  • moving away from the feeding area
  • territorial behaviour
  • changes in body shape
  • scratching at the ground and turning around

It must be noted, however, that behavioural signs vary from ewe. Older ewes generally give birth with very little fuss but make their feelings well known and younger ewes tend to have more trouble than the older ones, but are less obvious with pre-parturition behaviour.

Signs of internal discomfort are usually quite obvious; difficulty getting comfortable when lying down, stamping back feet and rolling onto their sides. Some ewes also hike themselves up on the front limbs, thrusting their heads upwards and outwards.

Older ewes are particularly known to demonstrate territorial behaviour and often claim and defend their favourite lying space. Some dominant ewes have been known to defend rather large areas and clear such areas of younger girls.

Additionally, some signs, such as self-isolation and moving away from feeding areas, are also signs of ill health, so one must be careful not to misjudge what these behaviours are indicating.

Changes in body shape are caused by relaxation of pelvic ligaments, resulting in a lower rump. This happens to allow more room for the birth of the lamb.

During birth: Normal.

If the birth is progressing normally, the ewe will scratch at the ground at turn around for quite a while, as well as standing up and down, on the same spot. Signs of pain will make themselves more clear (eg. curling upper lip and stretching legs out) and shortly, a water bag will protrude from her vulva. She will continue this behaviour until the bag bursts after which she will preoccupy herself by licking up the fluid from said bag.

After this, the real work begins, with the ewe lying down and pushing. However, it may take some time to reach this stage, upwards of an hour not being uncommon in young ewes. If the lamb is in the correct position, you should see a nose and front hoof protrude from her vagina. After more straining, the lamb will be born and the ewe should proceed to licking her baby, to encourage breathing and establish a bond.

What is not normal:

  • No behavioural changes but strong contractions. This could be a sign of a vaginal prolapse.
  • Contractions but again, no behavioural changes, a lack of appetite and a yellow looking water bag. This could be a sign that the ewe will abort the lamb.
  • The nose and front hooves being visible, but no further progress. Assistance may be required; administering an injection of calcium borogluconate loosens pelvic muscles.
  • The labour not progressing as it should, following breaking of the ewe’s ‘waters’. If the ewe has not settled down to begin pushing and is, instead, hunching over this could be a sign of mal-presentation, i.e. the lamb being in an incorrect position for birth.

Different Presentations:


Sadly, there is a virus, commonly called ‘schmallenberg virus’, which is around this year and is infecting sheep, goats and cattle. it is thought that 50 flocks of sheep are infected in just England and Wales alone and it is believed to be transmitted by midges. Schmallenberg virus causes birth defects that fatal; joints that don’t bend and twisted necks are examples.

Most ewes, however, tend to give birth normally and it is advised to interfere as few times as possible, but to make sure of maximum observation, before, during and after the birth.


Country Smallholding magazine: Lambing Special


Why Do Whales Beach?

                                           WHY DO WHALES BEACH?


As many of you have probably heard, there was a  mass stranding of pilot whales recently, in Farewell Spit, New Zealand. Upon becoming aware of this, a curiosity made itself known amongst the sadness and anxiety that I felt; why do cetaceans beach en mass?

Last Thursday (9th Feb.) was when the stranding started that has turned out to be the third largest of it’s kind in the country’s history; 415 pilot whales, 250-300 of which were found to be dead. Thankfully, 500 volunteers came to the rescue of the living victims, keeping them cool with wet towels and sheets and trying to refloat them. Many of these volunteers are still there now, trying desperately to prevent the pilot whales from beaching again. Human chains were even made, physically stopping this from occurring. Many if these beautiful creatures have been successfully refloated, thanks to the help of hundreds of volunteers and charities such as ‘Project Jonah’, a charity dedicated to the conservation of marine life.

Furthermore, an autopsy on one of the dead pilot whales discovered that the whale had a stomach full of plastic waste: packing, shopping bags. It is thought that because of this, the whale believed that it had enough food, when in fact is was gaining no nutrients and died from malnutrition.

Why Do Cetaceans Beach Themselves?

Reasons for beaching are well documented for single mammals. Reasons for mass strandings however, are less well known.

It is thought that single cetaceans beach themselves when they are ill. Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia has suggested that genetic mutations, parasites and infections are to blame for these events. They also suggest that old age, injuries from predators and even entanglements with fishing gear play a part.

Surely an entire pod of whales cannot beach for these reasons though?

Indeed, it is unlikely that an entire pod of whales have serious injuries, so why did a stranding of this large size occur?

imageOne proposal is the shape of Farewell Spit. As can be seen from the photograph, the beach has an unusual shape and it is thought that its shallow water could impair the echolocation of whales.

Another idea is that these creatures are affected by rapid changes in water pressure, caused by underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or even seismic testing. These events can damage the middle ears and sinuses of whales, hence preventing them from feeding and diving which can then lead to illness and navigational error.

Navigational error is also thought to be induced by sonar from boats. These underwater sonar pulses startle and disorientate a cetacean, hence disrupting its ability to navigate and to communicate. Also, some people believe that, due to being disorientated, the cetacean may even be scared into the safety of shallow waters, therefore making itself more likely to beach.

Mass strandings are even a phenomena that has caught the eye of NASA, who believe that solar storms may be the cause. Solar storms are eruptions of mass and energy from the solar surface, caused by massive bursts of harmful cosmic rays fired at the Earth’s magnetosphere by the sun. They disrupt this magnetosphere and this is thought to confuse cetaceans, who used the Earth’s magnetism in order to feed and to navigate.

The moon’s gravitational influence on tides is also thought to force whales and dolphins into shallow waters.

The most agreed upon cause however, remains social cohesion. Marine mammals tend to be very social and stay in large pods both for protection and company. These social bonds and sense of kinship are so strong that when members of the pod try to come to the aid of another member, they end up beaching themselves, staying with the injured member.

In July, I will be taking a course in order to become a Marine Mammal Medic. I urge you all to do the same, so that you can assist injured marine mammals that need our help.

If you liked this post, you can follow me on Twitter: @ShoshShearing where I will let you now when a new post is published.

Thank you for reading!