Nov 22

Researchers at the Zoological Society of London have revealed the latest species to be added to their list of the 100 most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered (EDGE) mammals on the planet, with a miniature sloth, Asian ‘unicorn’ and scaly anteater amongst the eight new bizarre mammals featured on the list.

Asian tapir

At number 18 on the updated list, the Asian tapir is the largest and most evolutionary distinct of the four living species of tapir.

As part of the EDGE of Existence programme, researchers scoured the planet to rank every mammal species on its amount of unique evolutionary history and its conservation status, with a species receiving a higher score the more unique and threatened it is. The EDGE list aims to highlight nature’s ‘ugly ducklings’ that exhibit  some of the natural world’s most weird and wonderful features, yet are struggling to compete with the ‘poster boys’ of conservation. These forgotten creatures tend to be confined to few habitats and are feared to be dying out as they have received little or no attention from conservationists.

“EDGE mammals are one-of-a-kind and they represent the true diversity of life on earth,” said Carly Waterman, Edge programme manager at the Zoological Society of London.”

“If we let these species disappear, their extraordinary features and unique behaviours will be lost forever.”

Black-and-white ruffed lemur

Another new addition, the black-and-white ruffed lemur is among the world’s largest pollinators as it collects pollen on its fur while sipping nectar from the traveller’s tree.

Thanks to some amazing recent discoveries, several new species were added to the list for the first time. Among them was the kha-nyou, a small, distinctive mammal known only from Lao PDR in Southeast Asia, which is thought to be the sole surviving member of an ancient group of rodents previously considered to be extinct for some 11 million years. Another recently discovered species, the saola, was first described in 1992 and is known as the ‘Asian unicorn’ as it has only ever been seen on a handful of occasions.

Dugong

Despite being more familiar than the other new additions, the dugong has received almost no conservation attention and is threatened by hunting and entanglement in fishing nets.

These new additions are all on the verge of extinction due to a combination of habitat loss and hunting. The Chinese pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, for instance, is hunted for its skin and meat, which are used in Chinese traditional ‘medicines’, while the pygmy three-toed sloth, the smallest and most endangered of all sloths, is confined to just a single island off the coast of Panama and is threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Long-beaked echidna

With the former top-ranking species, the baiji, now considered extinct, three species of long-beaked echidna are now ranked equal first on the EDGE mammal list.

Despite their differences in physical appearance these ‘ugly ducklings’ all have something in common; they are on the brink of extinction and if action is not taken, they could be lost forever. Conservationists are now racing against time to raise the profile of other strange and peculiar species that may be under-rated and misunderstood.

To explore more threatened species, visit ARKive

If you would like to find out more about the EDGE of Existence programme and the new mammal list, please visit:

Alex Royan,  ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 19

On Sunday 21st November, the heads of governments from all tiger countries will gather amid the grandeur of St. Petersburg’s Konstantin Palace for the world’s first Tiger Summit. Backed by the World Bank and hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has made tiger preservation a matter of personal pride, delegates will meet to finalise plans for the Global Tiger Initiative, which aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 – the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.

With tiger numbers having crashed from 100,000 less than a century ago to around 3,200 today, this summit is being billed as ‘the last chance to save the tiger’. Delegates are expected to discuss a range of measures aimed at preserving the species, including greater law enforcement to tackle hunting and habitat loss.

Tiger

The Tiger Summit will be the first time world leaders have met to discuss the fate of just one species.

The run-up to the event, however, has not been without controversy, with the recent killing of a Siberian tiger being a gruesome reminder of the threat to wild tigers, and a report by TRAFFIC showing that as many as 100 tigers are ‘reduced to skin and bone’ each year for the illicit trade in body parts.

Conservationists have also engaged in debate as to the best strategy to conserve the species, with tiger conservation expert Kirsten Conrad sparking off some heated reactions by suggesting that legalising tiger parts through controversial tiger farms could save wild tigers by creating competition with the black market. The Wildlife Conservation Society has also published a recent report arguing that the best strategy to conserve the tiger is to protect 42 key sites, or 6 percent of the tiger’s current distribution, where upwards of 25 females can breed and, hopefully, then repopulate the wider landscape. WWF, however, believe that protecting habitat corridors is paramount to avoid a future where tigers are confined to small isolated reserves.

Tiger

The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) has recovered from the brink of extinction to around 450 animals, but is still highly threatened by hunting.

It is a stark reminder though that if conservationists and politicians fail to reach agreement at the Tiger Summit, this majestic beast is predicted to become extinct in less than two decades. As a flagship species for conservation and an animal that is deeply embedded in human culture and our understanding of the natural world, conserving the tiger is vital in the fight against biodiversity loss.

As Dr Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera, says, the tiger “is the epitome of the wild and wildness…We lose that and it’s the cork out of the bottle – everything else spills out. If we can’t pull together enough to save what is the most iconic living species, then what are we going to do for lesser species?”

Watch ARKive’s slideshow of 88 stunning tiger images here.

If you would like to sign WWF’s Tiger Summit Petition, please visit: http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/donate_now/save_the_tiger/

Alex Royan – ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 19

It’s been over a year since the last instalment and finally, the eagerly anticipated 7th film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is here. And what better excuse is there to take a look at some of the fantastic species that inspired the magical and magnificent creatures and plants in Harry’s world?

Snowy owl

Harry’s owl Hedwig is a beautiful snowy owl. In the wild snowy owls are loyal partners, often mating for life. They have even been known to boldly defend their young from predators such as wolves. Snowy owls are capable of taking prey the size of hares and geese so it is no surprise that Hedwig was able to carry a Nimbus 2000 with ease!

Snowy owl 

Common butterwort

Plants with magical properties are an integral part of potions classes at Hogwarts and many real species of plant were once thought to have supernatural powers. The common butterwort is so called as it was thought that when the juices from the leaves were rubbed onto cows’ udders it would protect the milk and (and resulting butter) from evil influences. 

Common butterwort

Plumed basilisk

In Harry’s world the basilisk is a fearsome venomous serpent whose gaze can kill those who look directly into its eyes. While it’s real life namesake isn’t nearly as fierce, it does have the seemingly magical ability to run short distances across water using its feet and tail for support, earning it the nickname “Jesus Christ lizard”.

Plumed basilisk

Common holly

Harry’s wand is made of holly, a plant which has long been associated with the supernatural. Holly is considered a symbol of resurrection and it is still widely considered extremely bad luck to cut down a whole holly tree. Ancient civilizations believed holly could protect you from lightening and poison and it was also thought to protect a house from witchcraft and goblins!

Common holly

Komodo dragon

Although the dragons in Harry’s world are considered rather dangerous, Hagrid has a particular soft spot for them. While the Komodo dragon may be flightless and significantly smaller than its fictional counterparts, it is nonetheless a rather fearsome beast. It has recently been discovered that the Komodo dragon is venomous and this venom helps it to take down prey as large as buffalo. It is also able to consume 80% of it’s own bodyweight in one sitting.

Komodo dragon

 

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Nov 17

What’s so important about freshwater fish? For a lot of people, thinking about this particular group probably evokes visions of what ichthyologists themselves refer to as ‘little brown jobs’. But anybody who has seen an episode of River Monsters will know that the diversity of these animals goes far beyond this. There are over 15,000 known freshwater fish species, with scientists describing new species in their hundreds every year. 

Giant catfish

The Critically Endangered Mekong giant catfish is a real River Monster, reaching lengths of up to 3 metres.

ARKive recently attended the 4th International Zoo and Aquarium Symposium, held in conjunction with the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group Annual Meeting. Experts from around the globe gathered in Chester in the UK, to discuss the problems of conserving these species and protecting their delicate habitats. 

People heavily utilise resources from freshwater ecosystems; millions depend on them for food and water, and there is an ever growing need to exploit these systems for energy. However, they are also cradles of biodiversity, with fish making up a massive part of this. The incredible pressure placed upon freshwater systems is now taking its toll on freshwater fish populations, and given our dependence on them, this could potentially backfire. 

Bedotia sp.

A beautiful Bedotia species from Madagascar

Recognising that both field work and captive programmes have huge roles to play in protecting these species, Professor Gordon McGregor Reid, Chair of the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group pointed out: “Each year, more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide – a bigger attendance than all football games! Because of this, zoos and aquariums give $350 million annually directly to field projects. What we need to know is how to take the most effective actions, in the most important areas.” 

From the challenges of protecting migratory fishes – which do not recognise international borders – to the issues faced in maintaining healthy populations in aquaria, we heard about cutting edge projects from the very people working to save some of the most threatened species. 

By working more closely with the conservation biologists, research scientists, and specialists present at the symposium, we’re hoping to really increase our freshwater fish coverage on ARKive. Many of those present at the symposium were keen to start contributing images, and I even encountered several who had already done so! 

Unga

Dr. Jörg Freyhof spoke at the symposium and also contributed this image of the Critically Endangered unga to ARKive.

To find out more about the symposium, see the IUCN’s press release

Rob Morgan, ARKive Media Researcher 

Nov 16

I never thought I’d be one to get all excited about plants, but when Fauna & Flora International (FFI) this week released news of a new species of carnivorous pitcher plant, Nepenthes holdenii, in Cambodia’s remote Cardamom Mountains, I decided to challenge many people’s preconceptions that plants are boring, and delve into the world of these meat-eating wonders.                                                                                  

Carnivorous plants use trapping mechanisms to catch their unfortunate prey – typically unsuspecting insects that fall foul of the plants ingenious capture methods. I searched ARKive to find out more about the ways in which some of these highly unusual species get hold of their next meal…

Pitfall traps

The pitfall traps of tropical pitcher plants, sometimes known as ‘monkey cups’, have modified leaves which create enormous flasks, filled with liquid. The waxy surface inside the pitchers ensure that any insects lured to these plants cannot grip the surface, causing them to tumble to an untimely demise in the pool of liquid below. In most pitcher plants, such as Nepenthes rajah, enzymes or bacteria will dissolve and digest the body of the ill-fated prey.

Nepenthes rajah

The gigantic pitcher of Nepenthes rajah is said to capture rats, frogs and lizards as well as insects.

Flypaper traps

Covered in numerous mucilage-secreting glands, the leaves of flypaper trap species, such as the common butterwort, are coated in sticky fluid. Insects landing on the leaves become stuck to the surface, and the plants respond by growing quickly, often by curling or rolling the leaf inwards to trap and digest the prey. Some species have secreting glands at the ends of long, mobile tentacles which grow with exceptional speed to aid the trapping process.

Common butterwort

By secreting a glue-like substance over its leaves, the common butterwort ensures that insect prey meets a sticky end.

Snap traps

In snap traps, small hairs found on the surface of the open leaves act as triggers when touched, causing the trap to snap shut at the hinge and pin the prey between the two spiny leaf lobes. The Venus flytrap, famed for its unscrupulous capture of insects and other small animals in its razor-edged traps, is perhaps the most well-known example of this rapid and effective capture method. In order to activate the trap, the prey must make contact with two out of the three trigger hairs within 30 seconds.

Venus flytrap

The Venus flytrap is activated by trigger hairs…two strikes and you’re out!

 

Plants? Boring? Most definitely not!

To find out more about the new carnivorous plant discovered in Cambodia, take a look at the FFI website: http://www.fauna-flora.org/news/new-species-of-carnivorous-plant-discovered-in-cambodia/

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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