Mar 21

Twitter logoAs you may or may not be aware, today marks the 5th birthday of everyone’s favourite microblogging site – Twitter! In order to pay homage, here at ARKive we decided to celebrate in the only way we know how, with a countdown of our top 5 blue birds in honour of Twitter’s famous logo!

Kicking off our countdown at number five is the…..

Blue-footed booby

Ok ok, so this bird might not be blue all over, but surely these funky feet deserve a mention? And for the fashionistas out there they even come in different shades!

Blue-footed booby photo

Fluttering in at number four is the…..

Blue jay

The beautiful blue jay is not just a pretty face, this cunning corvid can also copy the cries of local hawks so well that it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which!

Blue jay photo

Making an elegant appearance at number three is the…..

Western crowned-pigeon

The largest and perhaps the most elaborate of all the pigeons, this blue beauty is the size of a small turkey and sports a fan-like crest of lacy light blue feathers.

Western-crowned-pigeon photo

Swooping into the number two spot is the…..

Seven-coloured tanager

With its striking plumage, this colourful character would certainly win the prize for the biggest range of blues on a single bird, with feathers ranging from turquoise to ultramarine!

Seven-coloured tanager

And in at number one we have the….

Hyacinth macaw

With its brilliant cobalt blue plumage, the hyacinth macaw is a worthy winner of our blue bird countdown, although it may be more of a squawker than a tweeter!

Hyacinth macaw photo

Don’t forget that you can follow ARKive on Twitter too for all the latest wildlife news, incredible facts, funny photos and behind the scenes info!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 21

Scientists have confirmed that the world’s rarest albatross, the Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis), is indeed a separate species, ending 20 years of debate on the status of this Critically Endangered bird.

Photo of Amsterdam albatross displaying

This marine albatross spends the majority of its life out at sea, coming to land only to breed.

Genetic analysis 

The Amsterdam albatross is named after Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean, the only place in the world where this species breeds. It was first described in 1983, but the scientific community has since been divided over whether it is a separate species or a subspecies of the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), which also inhabits the Southern Ocean. 

A team of Canadian researchers aimed to resolve this debate by examining the Amsterdam albatross’ DNA. The study, which is published in the Journal of Avian Biology, revealed significant differences between this species’ DNA and that of the wandering albatross, proving that these close relatives are indeed separate species. 

The genetic analysis also showed that the Amsterdam albatross separated from the wandering albatross as long as 265,000 years ago.

Photo of Amsterdam albatross sitting on nest

Nesting occurs on a highland plateau, at 470 to 640 metres, in an area of peat bog that has an ample covering of moss.

Geographic isolation 

Dr Theresa Burg from the University of Lethbridge, Canada, one of the report’s authors, explained how the Amsterdam albatross differs in appearance from the wandering albatross.  

“They are slightly smaller in size” she said. “They lay their eggs at a different time and have slightly browner plumage than the other wandering albatrosses.” 

The report’s authors suggest that this species’ isolation from other albatrosses on the remote, volcanic Amsterdam Island, where it is the only breeding albatross, possibly led to its separation and development as a unique species.

Photo of Amsterdam albatross chick in nesting habitat

Although the population is currently stable, its small size and existence on just a single island means the Amsterdam albatross has a precarious status.

A Critically Endangered species 

With only around 170 individuals remaining, and just 18 to 26 pairs breeding annually, it is hoped that efforts to conserve the Amsterdam albatross will be increased. 

Grazing by livestock on Amsterdam Island, predation by introduced mammals and accidental entanglement in long-line fishing gear have all imperilled this species, which is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

“This is one additional, but important, piece of evidence that hopefully can help protect the remaining Amsterdam albatrosses” said Dr Burg. 

View 20 photos of the Amsterdam albatross on ARKive.

Read the study at the Journal of Avian Biology.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 19

National Science and Engineering Week 2011 Logo

Now in its 18th year, the British Science Association’s National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) is a UK wide celebration of the sciences, which aims to engage people of all ages with science and show how it can relate to everyday life.

The theme for NSEW this year was ‘communication’, so with this in mind we sent our team of intrepid STEM Ambassadors out into schools across Bristol to introduce ARKive and explore the many methods of communication employed by animals.

Communication: the imparting or exchanging of information’

Animals (and plants) communicate with members of their own species as well as with other species via a variety of means – visual, acoustic, physical and chemical. Courtship dances, as seen by the superb bird of paradise and warning colouration are methods of visual communication, while the red deer and the lion both utilise acoustic communication to exhibit their dominance and territoriality. After investigating how and why animals communicate we then challenged the pupils to write an Attenborough-style narration for video clips we provided, each showing an example of a species communicating. Once they had researched their species and crafted their script, the groups had to perform their pieces to the rest of the class.

Alongside our communication workshop we ran sessions tailored to suit the particular needs of the schools. When we were asked to plan a penguin themed lesson for a group of Year 2s we jumped at the chance to get creative – I think we enjoyed making penguin masks almost as much as the kids did!

Meadowbrook Primary School children with their penguin masks

Another class of penguins © Meadowbrook Primary School

Examining mini-beasts and their adaptations was also a big hit and our ‘Create your own mini-beast’ activity yielded some extraordinarily imaginative organisms, including an ocean-dwelling, toe-eating critter and a chameleon-inspired flying insect able to change colour to match the sky at all times – an awesome example of camouflage in action.

In total the ARKive STEM team have worked with over 600 children this week, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we definitely have a newfound respect for teachers! Our expanding team of fully-fledged STEM Ambassadors have now got the taste for teaching and are raring to go, so if there are any schools out there that like the sound of an ARKive-inspired lesson please do let us know!

Thanks to,

Meadowbrook Primary School, Bradley Stoke

Begbrook Primary School, Stapleton

Broadlands Secondary School, Keynsham

Kingsfield Secondary School, Kingwood

City Academy, Bristol

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 18

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has suspended oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, home to endangered mountain gorillas, following campaigns by environmental groups.  

The Environment Ministry issued a statement saying that all activities would be put on hold until the environmental impact of such a project was thoroughly assessed.

Photo of mountain gorilla silverback

Mountain gorilla silverback

One of the most bio-diverse places on earth 

Established in 1925, Virunga National Park was Africa’s first National Park. It is thought to be one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, containing a world famous population of mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, as well as important populations of forest elephants, chimpanzees and hippos. It is also listed on the UN’s list of World Heritage sites in danger

Despite its evident importance for the preservation of numerous endangered species, UK-based companies SOCO and Dominio intend to drill for oil throughout the park. This has raised fears amongst conservationists that drilling would damage the park’s ecosystem, as well as increase tension in a politically volatile area where numerous armed groups continue to operate.

Photo of forest elephant herd in deep jungle

Forest elephant herd in deep jungle

A commitment to long-term prosperity 

However, the Environment Ministry has rejected the companies’ Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), branding it “premature and superficial.” Minister José E.B. Endundo said he would not allow work within the park for now, and said his government would initiate a thorough and transparent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to decide whether such a project could be considered in one of the world’s most precious and fragile nature parks. 

In a WWF press release, Allard Blom, Director of WWF’s Congo program, said “we applaud the Environment Ministry for recognizing the value in preserving natural resources in Virunga National Park, reflecting their commitment to long-term prosperity over the short-term profits of oil companies.” 

“What we hope to see next is a firm declaration guaranteeing there will be no exploration in this pristine park now or in the future. Allowing oil exploration in this iconic park would set an extremely dangerous precedent that even the most precious places on earth are open for oil and gas development.”

Photo of mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Drilling to continue in Uganda 

Oil drilling is still expected to proceed in the Ugandan owned part of the National Park despite the Congolese decision, leading WWF to call for the companies to respect the law and abandon the harmful exploration plans. 

Read the WWF press release 

Watch 24 videos of the eastern gorilla on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 18

The animal kingdom is full of silly schnozzles, bizarre beaks and nutty noses so in recognition of Red Nose Day today here in the UK, ARKive presents its top ten hilarious hooters! 

When pigs…swim?

What a nose! It is more suited to a pig than a reptile! The pig-nosed turtle’s nose acts as a snorkel, whilst the body remains underwater and out of sight. With a face like that, it’s probably a good thing!

Photo of a pig-nosed turtle

A well-adapted schnozzle

The saiga antelope’s enlarged conk is used to warm up cool air in the freezing winters of its range, and filter out dust during the dry summer migrations. Impressive for a large nose!

Photo of a saiga antelope

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

This enlarged hooter may be used in sexual selection. Larger noses produce stronger vocalisations therefore, the male proboscis monkey with the largest nose is thought to be more attractive to females.

Male proboscis monkey photo

Looking at this nose leaves you starry-eyed!

The star-nosed mole’s extraordinary muzzle is covered with sensory receptors, used to detect its food underground. Talk about sniffing out lunch! 

Star-nosed mole photo

I think I need a dentist!

This unusual snout looks rather painful! The Sulawesi babirusa’s top tusks are actually its upper canines, that have pushed through the skin of the snout. Imagine your canines pushing through your upper lip!

Photo of a male Sulawesi babirusa

Does my bill look big in this?

From just taking a glance at the shoebill, it is easy to tell that this is a well adapted predator. The large, powerful beak is tipped with a sharp spike, handy when grasping slippery morsels.

Shoebill photo

Pinocchio

This peculiar, elongated snout either acts as a sensory organ, or helps to channel plankton into the mouth. The paddlefish as a filter feeder is unusual, because it is found in freshwater.

Paddlefish photo

Who you calling funny looking?

Doing his part for Comic Relief, the mandrill is dedicated to Red Nose Day, sporting a bright red sniffer all year round!

Photo of a male mandrill

Oh my neck!

The rhinoceros hornbill must get neck-ache holding that weighty beak and appendage up!

Photo of a male rhinoceros hornbill

Is there something on my face?

When the male hooded seal displays to females, a strange balloon-like membrane pops out of one nostril. Very attractive don’t you think ladies?!

Photo of a male hooded seal

Ben Morris, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

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