Feb 15

Wolverines could be eliminated from mainland United States by the end of the century due to climate change, according to a new study by a researcher from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  

Built to thrive in deep powder snow, springtime snow cover helps protect wolverine dens from predators. However, the new study shows that climate change might endanger wolverines in the mainland U.S. by eliminating springtime snow and significantly increasing summer temperatures.

Photo of North American wolverine standing on wet log in rain

The largest member of the weasel family, the elusive wolverine has a fearsome reputation.

State of the art global climate model 

Some 15,000 or more wolverines are currently believed to roam Canada, and an unknown number reside in Alaska. Only a few dozen to a few hundred are believed to live in the mainland U.S., almost all of them in the mountains of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington State. 

Using a state of the art global climate model, the study’s author Synte Peacock explored possible future scenarios for the Northwest U.S. The model showed that present-day wolverine habitat would probably have no snow cover during many springs after 2050 and that summer temperatures may also increase radically across wolverine habitat.

Photo of wolverine walking in snow

Wolverines are well adapted to their cold habitat, with a thick, bushy coat and broad, hairy paws. The powerful jaws and large teeth are able to demolish frozen carrion and bone.

Wolverines to retreat as snow melts 

“That fast drop in spring snow cover was a real surprise to me, and it’s something you see even in a pretty moderate scenario. Without spring snow, wolverines would have to adapt very rapidly to find new ways of sheltering their young” Peacock said. 

Although it’s unclear exactly how wolverines would respond to such changes, the new simulations suggest that the very low numbers of wolverines currently living in the mainland U.S. would likely decline further in response to habitat deterioration.

Photo of European wolverine in snow covered woodland

Wolverine populations in North America and Eurasia are sometimes divided into separate subspecies, known as Gulo gulo luscus and Gulo gulo gulo, respectively.

Wolverines have a circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere, and are found from the western U.S., Canada, and Alaska to Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Although Peacock’s model was only applied to the mainland U.S. she noted that there are similar concerns about warming temperatures in other countries where wolverines occur. 

Watch 14 videos of the wolverine on ARKive

To read more, see the National Geographic article. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 15

Bored at work? Looking for a distraction? Look no further as it’s time to play ARKive’s Six Degrees of Separation. Let me start by congratulating our winner from last time – Catherine Hayward! Well done! Any chain that involves Darwin immediately gets my seal of approval, especially as it’s Darwin’s 202nd birthday this month.

A Madagascan twist

In honour of the BBC’s fantastic Madagascar series that’s showing in the UK at the moment, I thought my next challenge should involve only those species that occur on this fantastically bizarre island. Nick Garbutt’s recent ARKive blog highlights the bleak future that Madagascar’s wildlife currently faces, with only 7-8% of the island’s forests remaining. I thought I’d take the opportunity to showcase some of the many weird and wonderful Malagasy species by getting from the ferocious fossa to the stupendous silky sifaka in just six steps. Here’s my attempt….


Fossa photo

Being the largest carnivore on Madagascar the fossa can pretty much have its pick of animals to eat. One particular delicacy is the common tenrec. Spikey but tasty apparently!

Common tenrec

Common tenrec photo

The common tenrec is also known as the tailess tenrec. In contrast, one Malagasy species that is famed for its striking tail is the ring-tailed lemur.

Ring-tailed lemur

Ring-tailed lemur photo

Ring-tailed lemurs spend about two-thirds of their time up in the trees. One tree you certainly won’t find them hanging out in is Grandidier’s baobab – the trunk of this tree is too smooth for them to be able to climb it!

Grandidier’s baobab

Grandidier's baobab photo

Grandidier’s baobab is named after Alfred Grandidier, a 19th century French naturalist and explorer who studied the wildlife of Madagascar. He is also responsible for the scientific name of the giant-striped mongoose, Galidictis grandidieri.

Giant striped mongoose

Giant striped mongoose photo

Deforestation means that much of Madagascar’s wildlife has become isolated in pockets of remaining forest. The giant-striped mongoose is only found in a very small area in the southwest of the island, which is also where the blue-legged mantella is found.

Blue-legged mantella

Blue-legged mantella photo

It’s fairly obvious where the blue-legged mantella gets its name, and the same is true of the silky sifaka – often called the ‘angel of the forest’!

Silky sifaka

Silky sifaka photo

Over 80% of Madagascar’s wildlife is found nowhere else in the world, so you’ve got plenty of bizarre and brilliant species to choose from! My fossa → silky sifaka chain is a bit mammal-heavy I think, so I challenge you to use less furry and more feathery or scaly species in yours!

If you need some inspiration then don’t forget to watch Madagascar on the BBC, and use ARKive’s ‘Explore by Geography’ to discover the wildlife of this wonderful island.

Bonnie Metherell, ARKive Media Researcher

Feb 15

Another Valentine’s day has passed us by and it seems as though invertebrates have been overlooked. If our spineless friends had the capability to feel emotion, this would surely be a blow to their fragile self esteem.

One of my personal favourite invert groups are the crayfish. At a time of year when couples are demonstrating love for one another by dancing in the manner of a bird of paradise, or showing commitment by fusing with their other half in the in the style of a deep sea anglerfish, these enigmatic Arthropods are simply left out.

In the spirit of ARKive’s Love Species Campaign, I want more people to appreciate crayfish for what they are, so here is why I love them.

Freshwater lobsters

You might have noticed that crayfish strongly resemble lobsters in appearance, and that’s because they are, in fact, very closely related. Both groups belong to the infra-order Astacidea.

Unlike lobsters however, which are marine crustaceans, crayfish only inhabit freshwater systems such as streams and rivers. Generally speaking, crayfish are also a fair bit smaller than your average lobster, but some have been shown to reach truly massive sizes.

Owing to their riverine existence, crayfish are often referred to as freshwater lobsters, neatly leading on to my next point.

Freshwater white-clawed crayfish photo

Funny names

As a group, crayfish are rather cosmopolitan. They exist on a variety of continents and so people have labelled them with a host of interesting names. Focusing on the English speaking world, ‘craw’ seems to be a preferred prefix in the USA. Names there range from crawfish, crawdad and crawdaddy, all the way over to mudbug and my personal favourite; spoondog.

As always, Australia takes the cake for far-flung nomenclature, referring to a variety of crayfish species as yabbies.

Yabbie crayfish photo

The yabbie - crayfish are amphibious, able to traverse stretches of land between freshwater systems such as rivers and streams.

Crayfish plague my heart

Crayfish around the world are susceptible to a nasty fungal disease known as crayfish plague. Europe is currently seeing the worst effects, with the plague being highly lethal to native species such as the now Endangered white-clawed crayfish.

What’s worse, European species are being outcompeted by an invasive called the American signal crayfish. Not only is it larger and more efficient at catching food, but the American signal is resistant to plague. It acts as a carrier for the disease as it spreads across the continent, obliterating native European crayfish when entering new freshwater systems.

Common carp being fed on by an invasive species; the American signal crayfish

American signal crayfish feasting on a common carp. This species acts as a carrier for crayfish plague.

There you have it. I love crayfish because they look like lobsters, have a variety of strange names (bonus name; grave digger) and are threatened by a lethal fungal disease.

It’s all too easy to overlook less aesthetic species in favour of fluffier ones, but I hope this will inspire you to spare a thought for invertebrate life at this lonely time of year.

Robert Morgan, ARKive Media Researcher

Feb 14

A research team from London’s Kew Gardens is coordinating the Orchid Seed Stores for Sustainable Use (OSSSU) project, a Darwin Initiative project designed to establish orchid seed banking around the world.

With around 25,000 species currently known to science, orchids belong to one of the largest, most diverse and most beautiful families of flowering plants. However, it is estimated that close to a quarter of these extraordinary species are at risk of extinction.

The OSSSU project will see scientists from countries around the world contribute to a five-year, £2 million programme to protect at least 2,000 orchid species by 2015.

Photo of Paphiopedilum tigrinum in flower

Paphiopedilum tigrinum

British scientists leading efforts to set up the network

Philip Seaton, the OSSSU project manager based at the Seed Conservation Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said that orchids provide an important warning of ecosystems in crisis.

“Orchids are indicator species: if forests are in trouble then orchids will be one of the first things to go.”

Photo of Paphiopedilum fowliei in flower

Paphiopedilum fowliei in flower

The OSSSU project currently focuses on collecting seeds from orchid hot spots in the Asian and the Central and South American regions. Work initially began in 2007, after a grant was given by the UK government to develop seed banks in biodiversity hotspots.

Countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, China, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines have already agreed plans to conserve seeds. The OSSSU network now aims to grow to 30 countries, with India, the USA, Italy, Canada, Kenya and Cameroon all poised to come on board.

Saving the species

Orchid seeds are tiny, and because of their microscopic size they do not store the same amount of food reserves as most other plant species. Because of this, orchids have developed an unusual relationship with certain types of fungi in the wild, as they provide the necessary nutrients required for the orchid seed to germinate.

The drive to protect orchids and store their seeds is an insurance policy against growing threats of deforestation and climate change.

Orchid seeds that are collected during the project will be dried and stored in freezers at -20˚C. This process allows the tiny seeds to be stored for many decades without killing the embryo, enabling scientists to use them in the future. Scientists are also able to grow orchids in the lab by germinating the seeds on a nutrient-containing gel, which for most species, eliminates the requirement of the fungus.

Teams of researchers working on the project will be able to use some of the stored seeds to gain a better understanding of different orchid species. They will be able to track the rates at which different species germinate and grow, and can monitor seeds for signs of deterioration. There are also plans to collect samples of the pollen and fungi that the individual species need to flower in the wild.

Photo of Darwins orchid

Darwin’s orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale

According to Professor Hugh Pritchard, OSSSU’s project leader based at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, “This project is about helping to establish a network of orchid seed banks around the world in an attempt to save the species.”

Orchids account for almost one in eight of the world’s flowering plants, and with a growing number of these species being threatened with extinction it is becoming increasingly important to act now to save this fascinating group of plants.

Find out more about the OSSSU project.

Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website.

Explore more photos of orchids on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 14

Here in the UK, February brings with it the possibility of Spring, the first snowdrops and of course Valentine’s Day. Call me unsentimental, but was ever a more commercial festival invented?

This year, I’m refusing to conform, avoiding the pink hearts and over-priced roses. Instead I am going to tell the world what species I love the most as part of ARKive’s Love Species Campaign.

So, which species is my absolute favourite? It’s a tough choice. Emperor penguins? Nope, Morgan Freeman got there first. Blue whales? Intimidatingly big. Pandas? Yawn, bo-ring.

Have a look at the following photos and see if you can work out my favourite animal…

Paw print photo

This species is most commonly found in the African savannah, but also lives in southern Asia.

Can you guess the species?

It is an excellent hunter and is camouflaged amongst the long grass of its savannah habitat.

Can you guess the species?

This furry species has a beautiful spotty pattern on its coat.

Have you guessed yet? It is of course the leopard!

Why I love leopards

People say the lion is the king of beasts, but the leopard is much more regal. It’s elegant, stealthy and the most secretive of all large carnivores, which makes it a real privilege to see one in the wild.

Leopard photo

Faux fur leopard print is in again for 2011. Each leopard’s fur pattern is unique. East African leopards have circular spots, but in southern African leopards the spots are squarer.

Photo of female African leopard grooming cub

The adults are striking, the cubs are cute and they’re very mysterious. What’s not to love?

So there you have it. The leopard: best of all the animals! Check out ARKive’s leopard pictures and see for yourself.

Which species do you love? Tweet us @ARKive and join in our Love Species Campaign!

Ruth Hendry, ARKive Media Researcher


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