Accepting Change

As we go through life, change is all around us, day by day. I have written about our universe, our sun and the planets, including this Earth which has changed over millions of years. Though it is only a relatively short space of time that as humans we have been recording these developments, with the technology we have developed and the skills we have learned we can look back and see what has occurred. But these changes are continuing and we are having a marked effect on them. This Earth still spins, seasons change, life ends and new life begins. In many species it develops, as it adapts to the changes that are made. But many species are no longer with us. I was watching an item on YouTube about changes being made to the Catthorpe Interchange on the M1 motorway and how newts had been discovered there. As a result, changes were made to the area where they were in order to preserve it whilst they grew and eventually moved. A newt is a form of salamander, which are a group of amphibians typically characterised by their lizard-like appearance, with slender bodies, blunt snouts, short limbs projecting at right angles to the body, and the presence of a tail in both larvae and adults. Their diversity is highest in the Northern Hemisphere. They rarely have more than four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs, but some species have fewer digits and others lack hind limbs. Their permeable skin usually makes them reliant on habitats in or near water or other cool, damp places. Some species are aquatic throughout their lives, some take to the water intermittently, and others are entirely terrestrial as adults. They are capable of regenerating lost limbs as well as other damaged parts of their bodies and researchers hope to reverse engineer this remarkable regenerative processes for potential human medical applications, such as brain and spinal cord injury treatment or preventing harmful scarring during heart surgery recovery. The skin of some species contains the powerful poison tetrodotoxin and as a result these salamanders tend to be slow-moving and have a bright warning colouration in order to advertise their toxicity. Salamanders typically lay eggs in water and have aquatic larvae, but great variation occurs in their lifecycles. Newts metamorphose through three distinct developmental life stages: aquatic larva, terrestrial juvenile (eft), and adult. Adult newts have lizard-like bodies and return to the water every year to breed, otherwise living in humid, cover-rich land habitats. They are therefore semiaquatic, alternating between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Not all aquatic salamanders are considered newts, however. More than 100 known species of newts are found in North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia. Newts are threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and pollution. Several species are endangered, and at least one species, the Yunnan lake newt, has recently become extinct as it was only found in the shallow lake waters and adjacent freshwater habitats near the Kunming Lake in Yunnan, China. The Old English name of the animal was ‘efte’ or ‘efeta’ (of unknown origin), resulting in the Middle English ‘eft. This word was transformed irregularly into ‘euft’, ‘evete’ or ‘ewt(e)’. The initial “n” was added from the indefinite article “an” by the early 15th century. The form “newt” appears to have arisen as a dialectal variant of ‘eft’ in Staffordshire, but entered Standard English by the Early Modern period where it was used by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’. The regular form ‘eft’, now only used for newly metamorphosed specimens, survived alongside ‘newt’, especially in composition, the larva being called “water-eft” and the mature form “land-eft” well into the 18th century, but the simplex ‘eft’ as equivalent to “water-eft” has been in use since at least the 17th century. Dialectal English and Scots also has the word ‘ask’’, also ‘awsk’ and ‘esk’ in Scots used for both newts and wall lizards from Old English, from photo-Germanic , literally ‘lizard-badger’ or ‘distaff-like lizard’. Latin had the name ‘stellio’ for a type of spotted newt, Ancient Greek had the name κορδύλος, presumably for the water newt (immature newt, or eft). German has ‘Molch’, from Middle High German. Newts are also known as ‘Tritones’, named for the mythological Triton in historical literature, and ‘triton’ remains in use as common name in some Romance languages, in Greek, in Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian.

The Pyrenean brook newt lives in small streams in the mountains.

Newts are found in North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia. The Pacific newts and the Eastern newts are amongst the seven representative species in North America, whilst most diversity is found in the Old World. In Europe and the Middle East, eight genera with roughly 30 species are found, with the ribbed newts extending to northernmost Africa. Eastern Asia, from Eastern India over Indochina to Japan, is home to five genera with more than 40 species. As I have mentioned, newts are semiaquatic, spending part of the year in the water for reproduction and the rest of the year on land. Whilst most species prefer areas of stagnant water such as ponds, ditches or flooded meadows for reproduction, some species such as the Danube Crested newt can also occur in slow-flowing rivers. In fact the European brook newts and European mountain newts have even adapted to life in cold, oxygen-rich mountain streams. During their terrestrial phase, newts live in humid habitats with abundant cover such as logs, rocks, or earth holes. Newts share many of the characteristics of their salamander kin, including semipermeable glandular skin, four equal-sized limbs, and a distinct tail. However, the skin of the newt is not as smooth as that of other salamanders. The cells at the site of an injury have the ability to un-differentiate, reproduce rapidly and differentiate again to create a new limb or organ. One hypothesis is that the un-differentiated cells are related to tumour cells, since chemicals that produce tumours in other animals will produce additional limbs in newts. In terms of development, the main breeding season for newts in the Northern Hemisphere is in June and July. After courtship rituals of varying complexity, which take place in ponds or slow-moving streams, the male newt transfers a spermatophore, which is taken up by the female. Fertilised eggs are laid singly and are usually attached to aquatic plants. This distinguishes them from the free-floating eggs of frogs or toads, which are laid in clumps or in strings. Plant leaves are usually folded over and attached to the eggs to protect them. The larvae, which resemble fish fry but are distinguished by their feathery external gills, hatch out in about three weeks. After hatching, they eat algae, small invertebrates, or other amphibian larvae. During the subsequent few months, the larvae undergo metamorphosis, during which they develop legs, whilst the gills are absorbed and replaced by air-breathing lungs. At this time some species, such as the North American newts, also become more brightly coloured. Once fully metamorphosed, they leave the water and live a terrestrial life, when they are known as ‘efts’. Only when the eft reaches adulthood will the North American species return to live in water, rarely venturing back onto the land. Conversely, most European species live their adult lives on land and only visit water to breed.

The Pacific newt is known for its toxicity.

Many newts produce toxins in their skin secretions as a defence mechanism against predators. ‘Taricha’ newts of western North America are particularly toxic and the rough-skinned newt of the Pacific Northwest actually produces more than enough tetrodotoxin to kill an adult human. In fact some native Americans of the Pacific Northwest used the toxin to poison their enemies! However, the toxins are only dangerous if ingested or otherwise enter the body, for example through a wound. Newts can safely live in the same ponds or streams as frogs and other amphibians and most newts can be safely handled, provided the toxins they produce are not ingested or allowed to come in contact with mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. I have also learned that newts, as with salamanders in general and other amphibians, serve as bioindicators and this is because their thin, sensitive skin and evidence of their presence (or absence) can serve as an indicator of the health of the environment. Most species are highly sensitive to subtle changes in the pH level of the streams and lakes where they live. Because their skin is permeable to water, they absorb oxygen and other substances they need through their skin. This is why scientists carefully study the stability of the amphibian population when studying the water quality of a particular body of water.

But of course that is just one example of changes on this Earth and this to me is why it is so very important to be aware of change. I know that change occurs all the time, change is healthy in so many ways. But so often people make changes in a very selfish way, with no thought as to what impact it may have, whether it be on the people around us, on the plants and animals, even to Earth itself. It has been said that many years ago an animal was left on an island, albeit by accident perhaps, but but that single animal then preyed on a species local to the island and wiped the species out completely. But the animal could not have been brought to that island without human intervention. We have very strict controls on our borders, as most if not all countries do, and yet there are those who flout the rules, not thinking that the rules should apply to them. A while ago I learned of Birds Nest soup, called the ‘Caviar of the East’ but rather than being made from twigs and bits of moss, it is made from the hardened saliva from Swiftlets and dissolved in a broth. It is a Chinese delicacy, is high in minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium and is extremely rare and valuable. However, because it is an animal product, it is subject to strict import restrictions, particularly with regard to H5N1 avian flu, which could cause an epidemic if brought in to another country. But some people attempt to bring this item over from such places as China, hiding it in their luggage, even though they are warned not to. It is potentially dangerous to bring such items into another country because of the harm it can do. Nowadays we travel around the world far more easily, we can get on an aircraft and be on the other side of the world in a matter of hours, a trip that would at one time have taken us weeks. I was fortunate enough to have a superb holiday a few years ago which took me around the world to Australia and New Zealand, then up to the United States of America, with a number of superb stopping-off places in between. A few years before I had flown to the U.S.A. and wherever I went, the same strict border controls were in place. In fact, prior to my long cruise I had to have a few vaccinations, with proof that I had done so and whilst boarding at Southampton a few passengers were not permitted to travel because they had not been vaccinated. As a result, they had to make their own way to our next port of call, which was Tenerife, after they had been. Right now we are still in the midst of a pandemic, though there are those who have differing views on it, both in terms of its effect and its treatment. Only time will tell. As expected, it is having a marked effect on us, on our daily lives, the health and welfare of everyone. It is changing how we live, how we interact with family and friends and how we cope. Some I know are coping better than others. There is no doubt that we all have a collective responsibility to manage in these troubled times, to believe the people who are skilled in medicine and not be swayed by the people who only think selfishly of themselves. As I wrote in a blog post last year, some folk want the newest, the latest things, they treasure possessions whilst others consider money itself to be important. It does not matter what country they are from. There are those who say that money is the root of all evil, but they are in fact misquoting from the Bible, as the correct version is “For the love of money is the root of all of evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. ~ 1 Timothy 6:10. So it is not the love of money, it is what is done with it that matters. We read so often how people seek both peace and contentment and it is often those who lead a simpler life without many possessions who are, as they have enough food and clothing for themselves and they do what they can to help others. They give thanks every day for all things in their lives, the good and the not so good. Such folk are content. But if those who have money would share it with those who have less, even if it was to simply increase a worker’s basic wage, it would make such a tremendous difference. That is a change which many would gladly accept.

This week I was reminded…
Of a large shop in Peterborough which, many years ago, clearly had a central cash office. As I recall, to pay for goods your money was handed over to an assistant who put it, along with an invoice, into a plastic container. This was placed into a pneumatic pipe system which went between departments, the container whizzed along, your cash was taken and a receipt returned in the same way. I believe that in some areas, even telephone exchanges used them. It is nothing like the electronic systems we use today!

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