Being a detective in the natural world of Tenerife in the Canary Islands
Canary Islands detective
Detectives and naturalists have a lot in common. They investigate mysteries and look for clues and answers. Here in Tenerife in the Canary Islands there are plenty of mysteries!
Robber fly and a shrew
The Mysteries of Nature
One thing about Mother Nature is you will never get to understand everything about her. The natural world’s mysteries are part of its power and fascination but I’m the sort of person who likes to get to the truth of a matter.
Do you remember the cult TV series The Prisoner and where Number 6’s captors say, “Information, we want information”? Well, so do I; I want to find out all I can about the plants and animals that live on this mysterious island, and I am not alone in my quest.
If you have been following my column you may have read about a couple I met at Joe’s Bar in Costa del Silencio and about a bird they heard calling at night over the sea. I suggested it might be a Whimbrel but another reader of this paper also had a mystery bird that he didn’t think was this. It was a bird that called with a strange cry that resembled “wotcha-wotcha-wotcha.”
I couldn’t think what this was but now, thanks to Rob Carless who runs Tenerife’s Sun4free.com website I believe we have the answer. Rob had been reading my article and phoned to tell me he thinks it’s a Corey’s Shearwater. He tells me they are fairly common on the coasts and that they fly at night.
He has heard them over Torviscas and he did his impression of the repetitive croaking call, which sounded very similar to the cry I am trying to identify. Not only this but it is a fairly large bird and this fitted the description.
From one mystery that started for me in Joe’s Bar to another that came to light in the very same place: I was talking to Les the barman about my latest idea for this column when singer Ricky Lee, called us to come and identify a large creepy crawly he had spotted.
Fortunately for the insect I was able to say what it was right away and also rescue it from getting exterminated by Ricky who thought it might sting. Indeed, it does look like it might with its long pointed body.
I told them it’s a Robber fly and just what I needed for a story I’m writing. Ricky and Les were only too glad to see it go, so they gave me a container to put it in and I took it home to get a photo.
Ricky was partially right thinking it was to be avoided because robber flies are actually very aggressive predators and they hunt other winged insects, which they capture in flight. They dart out and grab their prey just like robbers might do and hence the name.
I was fascinated to find one living in my neighbourhood and I must say I would much prefer an insect robber to a human one!
Besides this, I had been trying to find out which species of shrew were to be found where I live and I knew there were 3 types found in the Canary Islands. Whichever of these it was, my cat Tiggy had caught and killed several.
The problem for me though, is whilst I might know a shrew from a vole or mouse, the only ones I am used to seeing are the British varieties. Tenerife is a whole new world for me to explore and many of its plants and animals are not those I’m accustomed to.
Having said that, I have found an excellent book - Historia natural de las Islas Canarias – by David and Zoe Bramwell. It has loads of pictures and information about the animals that live here.
I spotted it at a conservation stall in the main square in Puerto. Unfortunately the girl behind the counter wouldn’t sell me it and it turns out the book is out of print, so that’s another quest for me, the tracking down of a copy that I can have.
Never one to give up, I did a bit of research on the Internet and had decided it was possibly an Osorio Shrew, which is a protected species and lives in Gran Canaria. I was hoping I had made a new discovery and would get well known for this and I decided to contact La Laguna University to see if I could find an expert on mammals.
Dr. Aurelio Martín was the man I was looking for because he specialises in studying vertebrates, and after I showed him some photos he identified the species as the Pygmy White-toothed Shrew. It is aptly called “pygmy” because this is actually the tiniest mammal in the world.
It was introduced to Tenerife and isn’t rare or protected like the other species, so no moment of glory for me with a new discovery but another mystery was solved. Another case closed for this nature detective.
Footnote: Originally published in the Western Sun
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.