The Nature Games
Last modified: 13 August 2012
As the summer of sport comes to a spectacular end, we're reminding people that the natural world offers its own games – and some of the animal athletes that compete would knock socks off their human counterparts.
Here is our team selection, made up of animals found in Great Britain that are unfortunately under threat.
Red squirrels can leap six metres, the equivalent of a 56-metre jump for man. The current World Record for humans is less than 9metres, which sounds pretty measly in comparison. Unfortunately, our native red squirrel has declined drastically in recent years as the introduced American grey squirrel expands its range across the mainland. Around 140,000 red squirrels are left in Britain, compared to over 2.5 million greys.
The brown hare’s courtship involves boxing, but rather than the fight being between two rival males, it’s actually the females pulling the punches in an attempt to fend off an over-amorous potential mate – perhaps that’s where first ever female boxing Gold medallist, GB’s Nicola Adams, drew her inspiration? Brown hares have been declining badly over the last 100 years, having lost 80% of their numbers. Hares box all the way from February to September in their long breeding season and are also the fastest land mammal in the UK, so would have a good chance of Gold in the 100metres too!
The Arctic tern puts marathon runners to shame with its annual 70,000km (43,000 miles) round-trip. The ultimate long distance migrant, which visits and nests in the UK during the summer, depends on a healthy marine environment and some colonies have been affected by fish shortages leading to the bird being on the Amber list of conservation concern.
Usain Bolt better watch out. The fastest recorded speed during one of a peregrine falcon’s stoops is a breathtaking 100m/second – that’s 10 times faster than the fastest man on earth! The peregrine falcon is seen in towns and cities across the UK, nesting near the Tate Modern in London, in cathedrals in Lincoln and Chichester, and close to Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre. Traditionally associated with wild crags or lonely sea cliffs, peregrines have been forced to adapt to city living due to changing landscapes.
Forget Tom Daley, the gannet is Great Britain’s best diver. The UK’s coastline is crucial for Northern gannets with roughly 60% of the world’s population nesting here. RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs has England’s only mainland gannet colony with around 8,000 pairs returning there every year to breed. You can see the birds showing off their perfect diving skills as they plummet from 40m, four times the height of the top Olympic board, from the sky into the water looking for fish. Although numbers have risen in previous years, the birds are still on the Amber list.
The stag beetle is Britain’s largest beetle and just like their namesakes, the males fight and wrestle each other over territories and food. Named because of the male’s huge jaw, which look just like a stag’s antlers, the stag beetle is becoming more and more rare because of the loss of important habitat, including woodland, parks and gardens that provide the stag beetle larvae’s food source of dead or decaying wood.
Ants use their tiny size to their advantage and are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight with. Relative to their size, ants’ muscles are thicker than those of larger animals or even humans, meaning another Gold for the wildlife team. Narrow-headed ants have declined across the UK and are now entirely restricted to the Scottish Highlands and one remaining site in England. Their decline is thought to be the result of dramatic loss of lowland heathland in England, human disturbance and commercial forestry which destroys the natural habitat structure.
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