Jan 27
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What’s New: 27 January 2011

More photos, videos and texts are added to ARKive every alternate week. To keep you up to date with what’s new, here is a summary of today’s update:

The stats

  • 244 new species
  • 44 new videos
  • 1,088 new photos
  • 60 new media donors
  • 37 new texts

What’s new – our favourite new species

Photo of the Tonkin bug-eyed frog

Photo of a Hispaniola crowned frog on leaf

The Critically Endangered Hispaniola crowned frog had not been seen since 1991, before these photos were taken.

What’s new – our favourite new videos

Photo of reindeer bulls fighting for dominance in rut

Eight new reindeer videos have been added to ARKive.

Photo of a barn swallow sitting on barbed wire

Seven new barn swallow videos have been added to ARKive.

Get involved!

If you have any photos, footage or species information that you think we should add into ARKive please let us know. There are many ways to get involved with ARKive, from contributing your photos to just spreading the word about us – every little helps!

Full details

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Jan 27
Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on Delicious Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on Digg Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on Facebook Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on reddit Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on StumbleUpon Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on Email Share 'Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?' on Print Friendly

Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?

One of the world’s largest wildlife surveys, the Big Garden Birdwatch, is being launched in the UK this weekend by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Taking place on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th January, this annual event brings together bird lovers up and down the UK to record the bird species visiting the nation’s gardens and parks. Anyone can take part, and the results will provide the RSPB with vital information on how the UK’s bird populations are faring.

Photo of female house sparrow

Although it occurs in almost two-thirds of UK gardens, the house sparrow is undergoing a worrying decline in the UK.

Important bird trends revealed

The Big Garden Birdwatch is now in its 32nd year, and has already given important insights into some of the UK’s favourite birds. Despite being the most commonly recorded species last year, house sparrow numbers have fallen by a startling 62 percent since 1979, while the starling, which last year was the third most common species, has plummeted by 79 percent.

Photo of European starling

The European starling was recorded in over half of gardens in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, but its UK population is in dramatic decline.

However, it’s not all bad news, with species such as the long-tailed tit and goldfinch doing well in recent years, and most gardens still being home to favourites such as blackbirds, blue tits and robins.

Photo of male goldfinch on gorse

Food provided in garden feeders benefits many birds, and may be contributing to the recent success of species such as the goldfinch.

Impacts of a cold winter

The results of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will also be useful in helping scientists understand how the coldest December on record has affected bird numbers in the UK. Small birds are particularly vulnerable to harsh weather, and last year’s cold winter saw big declines in species such as coal tits and goldcrests.

Photo of redwing eating sloe berry from blackthorn tree

A cold winter last year saw a 185% increase in redwings visiting gardens. The coldest December in the UK for 100 years means more unusual sightings are likely to be recorded this year, too.

The recent bad weather may also see more unusual species visiting gardens, with the possibility of spotting redwings, fieldfares and even the odd waxwing.

According to the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Mark Avery, “The really cold weather began quite early in December, and this would have been when natural food sources became scarce. By now, these birds could have been making the most of our hospitality for over a month, meaning even more unusual sightings this weekend.

Photo of a greenfinch in threat posture

Unlucky for some? The greenfinch came in at number 13 in last year’s survey, but outbreaks of the parasitic disease trichomoniasis have seen its numbers plummet.

Will you be taking part?

In last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, over one million participants helped to spot a staggering 8.5 million birds, with 73 species recorded across nearly 280,000 gardens. This year’s event looks to be just as big, and the results will continue to help conservationists to monitor the health of the UK’s garden birds.

Are you taking part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? What’s the most unusual species you’ve seen in your garden? Do use the comments below to let us know how you get on!

Visit the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for details of how to take part.

View a selection of British birds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 27
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The white swan

Think of a graceful species. What comes to mind? The Andean flamingo with its charming courtship dance?  Perhaps the springbok with its agile leaping?  Or even the effortless movements of the Atlantic spotted dolphin?

Yet it’s the charm and elegance of the swan that has been made famous for centuries through the ballet Swan Lake. With the recent release of the Oscar nominated Black Swan captivating international audiences, these emotive species have been winging their way back into the spotlight. So what is it about these species that has led them to become romantic icons rather than just ugly duckings?

Pairing up

Their charming courtship display may play a part in it. The bending together of their longs necks creates the famous heart-shape pose, surely appealing to all romanticists out there.

mute swan photo

Mute swan pair displaying

Faithfulness

Usually mating for life, swans form a strong bond when they partner up. When a pair of Bewick’s swans ‘separated’ last year at the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre, it made big news.

Bewick's swan photo

Pair of Bewick's swans courting

Family love

We may think of them as ugly ducklings, but swans take their parental care seriously. Both parents play a part in the upbringing, even carrying the cygnets on their backs when swimming.

Black-necked swan photo

Cygnets riding on adult black-necked swan's back

Graceful when on the water, they may not be the most elegant of fliers. The fact that they can take to the skies at all is impressive: the mute swan is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.

Mute swan photo

Mute swan in flight

These avian species surely are the epitome of grace!

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 26
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Spotlight on: The Portuguese man o’ war

Portuguese man o' war photo

The float of a Portuguese man o' war.

It’s Australia Day today, giving us the perfect excuse to explore one of Australia’s most unique and interesting species – the Portuguese man o’ war

While not an exclusive Aussie resident, anybody who has taken a dip in Australian waters will surely have heard of this intriguing species. 

Famed for its potent sting, the Portuguese man o’ war is often mistaken for a jellyfish. However, if you take a closer look at the biology of these animals, you’ll quickly see that they are very different. 

Portuguese man o’ wars, known in Australia as bluebottles, are colonial organisms which belong to the order Siphonophora. While true jellyfish each constitute an individual animal, bluebottles are the product of many individuals of the same species working together in close association. 

Called polyps, these individuals are highly specialised and would be unable to survive without one another. 

Probably the most familiar member of this colony is the float, a single oversized polyp filled with gas. Known as a pneumatophore, it is able to regulate the amount of gas within itself to control the depth of the whole colony. Its also the polyp responsible for the man o’ war’s unusual name, resembling the sails of man-of-war battleships in both appearance and function. 

A fearsome reputation 

While the pneumatophore accounts for the species’ namesake, the tentacles are what give the species its fearsome reputation. Packed with venomous stinging cells called nematocysts, the tentacles are large dactyzooid polyps. Primarily serving to entrap prey items such as fish, dactyzooids also function as an effective form of defence and may reach lengths of more than 20 meters. 

Portuguese man o' war photo

Fish prey caught among the animal's dactyzooid tentacles.

Digestion is taken care of by a large number of small gastrozooids, while reproductive polyps are called gonozooids. Within each colony, gonozooids may be either male or female, releasing sperm or eggs into the water during the breeding season to join with those of another colony. As larvae grow, they divide asexually into the four polyp types (zooids) to form an adult colony.

Portuguese man o' war photo

A close-up of the bluebottle's reproductive gonozooids.

So there you have it, a quick look at the incredible biology of the Portuguese man o’ war. If anybody tries to claim they are a jellyfish again, you’ll know exactly what to say! 

And by the way, if you are ever in an area where the Portuguese man o’ war is likely to be around, make sure you know the appropriate first aid techniques in case of a sting. 

Take a look at the ARKive profile to see more incredible images of the Portuguese man o’ war. 

Rob Morgan, ARKive Media Reseacher

Jan 26
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In the News: Tiger numbers could triple if large landscapes protected

 

Tiger populations could increase to more than 10,000 – three times the current number – if Asia’s reserves were managed as large-scale areas that allowed movement between breeding sites, according to a new study in Conservation Letters

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

Commitment to doubling tiger numbers 

A series of tiger conservation measures were approved at last year’s ‘Tiger Summit’ in Russia to double the wild tiger population by 2022, including a ban on construction in breeding places and a crackdown on poaching by using global police agency Interpol and the United Nations. 

But the study argues that this commitment to double tiger numbers is not only possible, but can be exceeded if global efforts are made to preserve tiger breeding areas and create habitat corridors. 

Some 20 priority tiger conservation landscapes with the highest probability of survival could support more than 10,500 tigers, including about 3,400 breeding females, the study said. 

“We absolutely need to stop the bleeding, the poaching of tigers and their prey in core breeding areas, but we need to go much further and secure larger tiger landscapes before it is too late,” said Eric Dinerston, Chief Scientist at WWF and one of the study’s authors.

Photo of a Siberian tiger

Maintaining tiger habitat corridors

The authors also looked at historical examples to prove that a doubling or tripling is possible using large landscapes. Tiger numbers in the jungles of lowland Nepal, for example, crashed during civil conflict between 2002 and 2006. But tigers did not disappear as forest corridors between reserves in Nepal and India likely allowed for replenishment from India. 

In contrast, tigers disappeared from India’s Sariska and Panna reserves in 2005 and 2009 because of poaching, with natural replenishment impossible as the reserves had no links to others.

Photo of a juvenile Siberian tiger

Face of biodiversity conservation 

While many tiger habitats are under potential threat from Asian infrastructure projects, estimated by the study to be worth $7.5 trillion over the next decade, preserving broad swathes of land will provide other benefits. 

“Tiger conservation is the face of biodiversity conservation… by saving the tiger we save all the plants and animals that live under the tiger’s umbrella,” said study co-author Dr. John Seidensticker of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

View a slideshow of 88 stunning tiger images on ARKive

To read more on this story, see the WWF article.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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