The Black Fox

Hi blog.

This first came to my attention several days ago, but no English language version seemed forthcoming.  Then, on a whim, I did another net search today.

From The Asahi Shimbun:

Video captures rare black fox in Hokkaido; origin still a mystery

By AYA AMANO/ Staff Writer

October 9, 2017 at 14:55 JST 

SHARI, Hokkaido–Experts identified a black fox in a video taken in this mountainous town in northeastern Hokkaido, but they could only guess at the origin of the extremely rare animal.

A motion-activating camera shot the video of the completely black Ezo red fox walking on a road around 3 p.m. on Sept. 23.

“At first, I thought it was a dog,” said Takahiro Murakami, 47, curator of the Shiretoko Museum, which set up the camera. “(But) I thought its tail was far too fluffy for a dog and found out later that it was a fox.

“It was the first black fox I have seen in my around 10-year career at the museum.”

Murakami said the rare color of the fox could be a result of a genetic mutation.

He also noted that black foxes were imported for their fur during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) and Showa Era (1926-1989) from Canada and elsewhere, and they may have become feral and passed down their genes.

Koji Uraguchi, 59, a senior medical zoology researcher at the Hokkaido Institute of Public Health, said there are several Ainu words referring to “black fox.”

“Black foxes could have existed (in Japan) since ancient times, but they are very rare,” Uraguchi said. “I have been observing foxes in the wild for about 30 years, and I have seen only two (black foxes) so far.”

Article ends.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Very Green Caterpillar

Hi blog.

We are well and truly into autumn.  The cicadas stopped singing long ago, the crickets taking their place as nature’s muses.  The red spider lilies have fallen, and my scant crop of persimmons is nearly ready for harvest.  Not to mention the chilly mornings and the early arrival of night.

This is a brief post, just a whim, about some caterpillars on our mandarin tree.

A very green caterpillar, after its final moult.

These are the larvae of swallowtail butterflies, several species of which specialise, or nearly specialise, on citrus trees.

As the larvae develop and reach their final moults, it becomes possible to identify the species of butterfly they belong to.

In this case I think I can safely say that they are the caterpillars of the spangle (Papilio protenor) – kuroageha (黒揚羽) in Japanese –  a common swallowtail with a large range across Asia.  There is a possibility, however, that they may be the closely related Papilio macilentus, long tail spangle – onagaageha (尾長揚羽) in Japanese.

Either way, the adults of both species are fantastic to watch in flight, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the larvae have a certain charm about them too.

Their pattern is rather attractive, isn’t it?

Nearly ready to metamorphose.

The other day we found that one had climbed down the tree, crawled under out air conditioning unit, and morphed into a pupa.


This one may overwinter, so we’ll see what happens.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Red Rodent

Hi blog.

No, Wild in Japan hasn’t died a sudden death.  September has been a ridiculously busy month – the new school term is dominated by preparations for sports day, the music festival and – for me at least – the English speech contest.

Leaving home each morning at least 15 minutes earlier than normal in order to give my candidates some practice for the speech contest cut into my computer time.  Not to mention arriving home later than normal too.  I was also doing my own sports day preparation for the staff relay team – by running with the ekiden squad.   This gave me muscle pain which lasted several days each time, but built up strength to sprint the 100 metres without damaging myself.  (The average age for the team was 35, twenty-one years older than the kids we were to race against.  My own age is another ten years on top of that…)

Opportunities for encounters with wildlife dropped, as did my energy levels.  I’m sneaking in this post on a day off, in between writing a minor thesis.

This post takes me back to my days working part time at Shichiku Garden in Obihiro, Hokkaido in the spring and summer of 1991.  The garden was still largely under construction then and admission was still free.

I was was dismantling a pile of blocks one day when what appeared to be a small rat dashed out.  The pile contained a nest and several babies, still pink.  I assumed the mother would abandon the young, but my supervisor told me to leave things alone for a while and watch.

The mother, to my pleasant surprise, did in fact return and collected each of the babies to take them to a safer place.

Fast forward to a September morning in 2017…

Drizzle and forecasts of rain had made me decide to take the train to work.  As I neared the school I saw one of the students up ahead looking at something near the side of the road.  I approached to see what was holding her attention, and saw a reddish-brown rodent.  This one didn’t seem to be particularly afraid of the two humans watching it.  I was even able to get close enough to get some (shaky) video footage on my mobile phone.

This time, I inherently knew the Japanese name of the rodent in question.

“Akanezumi” (赤鼠)

What I didn’t know, just as I didn’t know on that day in 1991, I was looking at a mouse.  (I was caught out by the size – only being used to house mouse sized mice – and by the Japanese language’s failure to distinguish rats from mice – both are loosely termed “nezumi” (鼠)

The large Japanese field mouse (Apodemus speciosus) certainly lives up to the “large” part of its name, reaching a body size between 80 and 140 mm and a tail almost the same length.  This mouse lives in a variety of environments from river banks, lowland forests, grasslands and alpine areas.  It is mostly nocturnal, and feeds mostly on seeds and bulbs.  They are known for storing acorns in rock crevices and holes.

A tell-tale sign of this endemic species is the presence of walnut shells with two holes gnawed through them.

Several subspecies exist, and it is likely that the one I saw in Hokkaido was in fact A. s. ainu, which tends to grow slightly larger than the ones in Honshu.

Interestingly enough, its Japanese name translates as “red mouse/rat”, which, given the colouring of the animal, is perfectly apt.  Now, if I can just get the Japanese to come up with a term to distinguish a rat from a mouse!


Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Poison Holidays

I got the poison, I got the poison
I got the poison, I got the poison

The Prodigy


Hi blog.

As summer draws to a close, I’d just like to take a moment to reflect over the summer holidays.  On a nature front, news over the last 42 days has been dominated by either typhoons –  some both very slow moving and destructive –  or news reports following poisonous or venomous wildlife.

The continuing saga of the fire ants gave the media plenty to talk about even when there were no new developments.  And when that finally ran out of steam, they resorted to warning us about regulars such as hornets and less common venomous denizens such as the red stingray.  (A dead specimen washed up on the beach we were playing on in Chiba)

A dead red stingray which washed up soon after we left the water.

A story that didn’t make the mainstream English language news was the one about a group of men in Nagoya having a barbeque in a park who decided to cook and eat some mushrooms they found growing in a grassy patch.  It turns out that the mushrooms were Chlorophyllum molybdites, or false parasol, but which also has the common name vomiter – not by accident.  Within an hour, all three men were suffering from diarrhea, and needed to be hospitalised for several days.

But the one that did make the English press was a snake story, one that involves the tiger keelback.

From the Japan Times:

Hyogo boy, 10, passes out after being bitten by a venomous snake


 JUL 31, 2017

A 10-year-old boy in Hyogo Prefecture lost consciousness after being bitten by a venomous snake Saturday, police said.

The boy, a resident of Itami, was with a friend on a path to a temple in neighboring Takarazuka when he was bitten on the wrist by what appeared to be a tiger keelback, the police said Monday.

After returning home, the boy’s mother called an ambulance a few hours later because the bleeding wouldn’t stop and he complained of having a headache. After arriving at the hospital, he passed out but later regained consciousness.

His symptoms suggest the snake was a tiger keelback, the police said.

The snake was captured by the boy’s friend and handed over to the police.

Article ends.

Stay safe.


Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Back from extinction?

Hi blog.
It looks like I will get a second post in this month.
As the greater Tokyo area was experiencing its 18th consecutive day with rainfall, a short but hopeful article popped up on my newsfeed.
The Japanese river otter was declared extinct in 2012. Now there is a very slim chance that natural history will be re-written.

From the Japan Times:

Wild otter filmed alive in first Japan sighting since 1979


 AUG 17, 2017

A wild otter was caught on film on Nagasaki Prefecture’s Tsushima Island in February, marking the first sighting of the mammal in Japan in 38 years, a University of the Ryukyus team said Thursday.

It is not known whether the observed otter was a Japanese river otter — which was once found across Japan but is believed to have gone extinct — according to the team of researchers. A river otter was last spotted in 1979 in the city of Susaki, Kochi Prefecture.

Hunting for otter fur and pollution in river habitats had caused a sharp decline in the animal’s population.

The Environment Ministry said an analysis of excrement samples collected on Tsushima Island in July suggested the presence of two Eurasian otters. One is believed to have come from South Korea or Russia’s Sakhalin island, but the origin of the other animal remained unknown.

The team said a camera set up for an ecological survey of the Tsushima leopard cat captured the otter. In the footage, the otter is of adult size and appears to be in good health and nutritional status, the researchers told a news conference at the ministry.

The team said the animal could either be a Japanese river otter that has survived, a Eurasian otter that has crossed the sea from South Korea about 50 km away, or a species that has been brought by humans.

There are more than 10 species of otter in the world. Records show that Japanese river otters lived all over the country until the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and on Tsushima Island during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Article ends.

And from ANN News:

I am not holding my breath just yet – it could well be an individual that somehow swam across from the Korean peninsula, an escaped or abandoned pet, or one unintentionally brought to the island.

We can only hope.  In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting to hear the results.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The other triangle

Hi blog.

I apologise for my lack of blogging – only one post last month, and this may be my only post this month.  Finding time and energy to locate, move and re-link the photos from older posts is not always easy.  I have managed about half at this point.

I’ve mentioned the Winter Triangle in a previous post, but now it’s time to feature its counterpart.

Two of the stars of this asterism are literally the stars of the Japanese Tanabata legend  – based on the older Chinese Qixi legend – Altair (the cowherd, most commonly known as Hikoboshi 彦星 in Japanese) and Vega (the weaver maiden, most commonly known as Orihime 織姫 in Japanese).

The pair of star-crossed lovers are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet one night a year.

The third star is Deneb, the tail of Cygnus.  This star doesn’t feature in the Tanabata story.

Finding the Summer Triangle is often part of summer holiday homework for kids.  My own son is supposed to go out with a parent and look at it five times during the holidays.  However, the weather has not been favourable at all!

Can you find it without help?

In case you were having trouble finding it, here it is.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Under Repair

Hi blog.

Right now, much of Wild in Japan looks like this:

not the pictures

These are not the photos you are looking for. Move along.

When I first started Wild in Japan, I was (in retrospect, foolishly) concerned about the amount of storage on the free WordPress sites – I thought I would run out of storage very quickly and so instead uploaded my photos to an online photo hosting site I already had an account for.

The photo hosting site was often slow, its user interface was sometimes unresponsive, and it kept opening ads.  I was willing to overlook these simply because it was free.  Then, as of June 27th, that hosting site ceased to allow free third party hosting – i.e. displaying a photo stored there on another website (such as Wild in Japan).  For that, I would have to pay for one of their plans.

Wild in Japan is just a little hobby on the side – I can’t justify putting any real money into it.  I was maybe willing to pay a few hundred yen per month to keep it up and running. However, the hosting site wanted US $399.99 per year to allow third party hosting!

I actually considered closing the site or deleting all my old posts and starting again from scratch – most of my posts represent and investment of only an hour or so.  However, a few are the result of considerable research and work.

The other option was the long and tedious task of relocating all the photos to another hosting site and re-linking them, one by one… and hoping that whatever site I hosted them on would not suddenly and arbitrarily change its terms of service.

WordPress currently offers 3GB of media storage on its free sites.  After some calculating, I have concluded that my best option is to move all my media content over to WordPress and keep everything on the one site.  If I run into storage issues, I can consider a low-cost plan.

So please bear with me as the images are moved and re-linked.  This will take some time.


Posted in Suburban wildlife | 6 Comments

The Third Wave…

Hi blog.

Once again I thought a second post this month was going to be impossible.  Talk about being saved by the bell.

Just a word of warning:  I expect to be busy next month and can’t guarantee any posts.  Furthermore, my online photo storage provider has decided not to allow 3rd party hosting (e.g. linking my photos stored there to this blog) on its free service.

Anyway, another article about an invasive species.  From the Japan Times.

Third fire ant infestation confirmed at Nagoya port


 JUN 30, 2017

A third fire ant infestation has emerged at Nagoya port, following two similar discoveries last month in Kobe, the Aichi Prefectural Government said Friday.

The aggressive reddish-brown ants, highly invasive and native to South America, are feared for their painful stings. The pest, formally known as Solenopsis invicta, is commonplace in United States and reportedly in China and Taiwan.

Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto said the ministry will conduct further inspections for the ant at the seven major ports — Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hakata and Naha.

Following the first discovery in Hyogo Prefecture, authorities inspected ports across the country but did not find any more.

According to the Nagoya port authority, seven fire ants were spotted on the wall of a container at the port’s terminal gate and were exterminated on Tuesday. It also said the container in question had stopped in Tokyo and Yokohama ports before reaching Nagoya.

The container arrived on June 23 from Nansha port in Guangzhou, China — the same port of departure as a previous container that was found with fire ants when it reached Japan.

The operator of the terminal in Nagoya submitted two samples of the insect to the port authority and the ministry’s regional office because the color and other features matched those of red imported fire ants — another name for the species.

The ministry sent the samples to a specialized institute for examination.

The reddish-brown ants have a blackish-red belly and range from 2.5 to 6 mm in length. They are known for a sting that can cause anaphylaxis in some people, leading to breathing problems.

The venomous ants were first discovered in a container that arrived at Kobe port before being unloaded at Amagasaki, also in Hyogo, in May. They were confirmed as fire ants the following month.

They were discovered a second time in a container yard in Kobe port and exterminated.

Article ends.

I noticed that some of the TV news coverage failed to mention that the fire ant is also an invasive species in China.  (Again, China must be the bad guy.  Not to mention the failure (again!) to distinguish invasive vs. native instead of Japanese vs. foreign)

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

University Boar

Hi blog.

Although the rainy season is officially upon us, the rain has been noticeably absent.

I have been at a loss for things to post about.  I thought I was going to strike it lucky when I spotted a woodpecker in a tree, but I wasn’t able to get a photo or video.

Then this article appeared on my newsfeed.  I still have to encounter a wild pig, although I hear that they make regular appearances in Kobe.

From the Japan Times:

Man injured after wild boar enters Kyoto University dorm grounds


 JUN 14, 2017

A wild boar entered the grounds of a Kyoto University dormitory in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward Tuesday where it caused a minor injury to the leg of a bike rider in his 60s before being captured.

According to police, the roughly 1-meter-long wild boar appeared to be a female. Before it entered the Kumano dormitory grounds, a passer-by saw the animal running on a street at around 4:40 p.m. and reported the incident to the police.

The wild boar ran around the dormitory grounds for about an hour before hunters shot it with a tranquilizer gun.

“I have been living around here, but I’ve never seen it before,” said a surprised man in his 20s.

Another wild boar entered a hotel in May in the city’s Higashiyama Ward.

Elsewhere, in Kobe on the same day, a 70-year-old woman was bitten by a wild boar on the buttocks on a street in the city’s Higashinada Ward, suffering a minor injury.

The police said the woman saw the animal on her way home and tried to take a picture when it suddenly turned around and attacked her. The wild boar ran away toward the mountains, the police said.

Article ends

And from Japan News:

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Do not pass Crow (do not collect $200)

Hi blog.

Here is an interesting article from late last month.

Crows have a poor reputation, but I think part of the problem is that humans don’t know how to deal with a vastly intelligent animal that is using that vast intelligence to survive in a world we keep changing.

I’ve seen crows pick up the yellow netting used to cover garbage – they don’t have to be able to see through the netting to know that there is garbage under it.  (Apparently crows can not see the yellow spectrum well and the net is supposed to disguise the garbage)

But here is a case where people make use of the birds’ behaviour to avoid conflict.

‘Crows do not enter’ signs keep the winged pests at bay in Iwate


May 23, 2017 at 10:00 JST

Photo/IllutrationKatsufumi Sato hangs “Crows Do Not Enter” signs from a pipe in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on April 12. (Yusuke Hoshino)

OTSUCHI, Iwate Prefecture–Since the “crows do not enter” signs went up at a university research center here, the pesky birds have quit raiding it for nest material.

Katsufumi Sato, a professor of ethology, put up the first set of signs in 2015 after taking advice from his friend Tsutomu Takeda, a researcher of environmental medicine and “crow expert.”

Takeda suggested putting up the warning signs at the International Coastal Research Center (ICRC) of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the University of Tokyo.

Sato first thought his friend was kidding, but he gave it a try. In no time at all, the crows stopped targeting the research center in northeastern Japan.

The professor expected the lull was perhaps temporary and down to luck, but, no, the crows continued to stay away.

In mid-April, Sato was hanging the new warning signs for the spring that prohibit crows from coming into the building that were written on sheets of paper. They were hung on broken window frames and pipes on the ground floor of a research center building that was inundated with water after the tsunami spawned by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

This year was the third “round” of his so-far successful war against the bothersome birds.

The foul avians target the insulation material covering the pipes, tearing it off and flying away with their “loot.”

“Crows take it for their nests,” said Sato with a bitter smile.

The predecessor of the current research center opened in 1973 as a base for international marine research, but on March 11, 2011, the tsunami hit, reaching even the top floor of the three-story building.

The third floor was later repaired for temporary use, but the first and second floors were not and after debris was cleared, they became warehouse space.

The crows’ first full-on invasion took place in the spring of 2015, according to Sato.

The insulation material on the pipes along the exposed ceiling of the first floor were torn away but there was tell-tale evidence of whom the guilty party was–crow feathers and bird droppings scattered about.

The houses around the research center were all destroyed, and the residents have moved to other areas.

As the ICRC building’s windows and doors had been left without glass panes on the bottom two floors, it was easy pickings for the airborne marauders.

Sato was consulted by research center staff, but could not provide a decisive solution.

In a flap, he turned to Takeda, who works at the Center for Weed and Wildlife Management at Utsunomiya University.

So, have the crows been reading books and studying written Japanese? Not quite.

Takeda said the crows are actually scared off by ICRC staff and students looking and pointing their fingers at them after seeing the strange signs.

“People gaze up at the sky (looking for crows), you know,” said Takeda.

This year, Sato put up a few dozen signs. There are few crows flying around. People coming to and going from the center see the signs and look up to the sky.

“The effectiveness will increase if there are more people looking at the crows,” said Sato. “So please feel free to visit us!”

Article ends.

TV news was a little more forthcoming with information in that wild crows don’t like being pointed at or stared at – gosh, they’re just like me – and will avoid areas where they a the centre of unwanted attention.

Avian psychology wins!

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged | 4 Comments
%d bloggers like this: