Apr 30

Adaptation is an evolutionary process resulting in changes or adjustments of a species, to better suit its environment. Species are constantly adapting to their environment, evolving features that allow them to have a better chance of survival in their habitat and often exploit new, sometimes challenging environments. 

To better explain adaptation, we have chosen examples of species with features that allow them to live in arid habitats. In these extreme environments, species must battle against the heat during the day and the cold at night, whilst controlling their body temperature and preventing excessive water loss, as well as avoid predators and find food. 

Ouch! It’s a bit hot underfoot

Photo of female ostrich ssp. camelus running across desert

Ostrich

You might think that being big in a desert is a problem as larger bodies are better at holding heat, but this isn’t an issue for the ostrich, the largest of all birds. The ostrich uses its feathers to trap air, which creates a barrier between the outside heat and its body, cooling its body during the day and insulating it at night. 

The lungs also have a well-developed air sac system that prevents over ventilation of the lungs and subsequent water loss, while the ostrich’s urine contains uric acid carried in a mucus-like substance that helps to minimise water loss. 

Big ears are cooler than little ears

Photo of kit fox at night

Kit fox

Another arid environment specialist, the kit fox also has curious adaptations to combat the blazing heat of the desert sun. As blood is pumped throughout the large and highly vascularized ears, the blood cools rapidly because it’s so close to the skin’s surface, regulating the fox’s body temperature. 

The kit fox also has a highly developed digestive system designed for maximum water absorption. It rarely needs to drink because the stomach and intestines suck nearly all the fluid out of its prey. 

Spiny on the outside, succulent on the inside 

Though the kit fox and other animals have evolved water-saving strategies, plants are the true-masters of water-conserving adaptations.

Photo of whitebark pines, dwarfed due to high altitude

Whitebark pine

Conifers, or ‘cone bearing’ trees, like the beautiful whitebark pine, typically have thin needles instead of leaves. The needle’s small surface area and waxy coating prevents water from being released by evaporation. 

Cacti too have a thick waxy coating and shallow roots to help them save water. Found in extremely dry environments, where water is exceptionally scarce, they’ve also added a few extra adaptations for good measure: their prickly spines keep herbivores from feeding on them and depleting their resources. 

Getting legless in the sun

Photo of Mount Cooper striped lerista facial detail

Mount Cooper striped lerista

A member of the aptly named sand-sliding skinks, the Mount Cooper striped lerista demonstrates extreme adaptation to arid environments, as it is specialised for ‘sliding’ through sand. Legs are unnecessary for this sort of locomotion and may even get in the way, so this skink has completely lost its forelimbs, while the hindlimbs are greatly reduced, with just one digit on each. 

Give us your examples! 

The examples we’ve described here are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of adaptations animal, plant, invertebrate, and fungi species have evolved throughout the course of time. Look through the ARKive collection and see if you can identify adaptations in our profiled species; we can assure you, big, small, hairy, scaly, or scary, every species has one! 

If you’d like some more information on adaptations, check out our educational resource “Adaptation: Design Your Own Species” from the ARKive education pages. 

Erin Matyus, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA; Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Apr 28

No matter where you are right now, there is no escaping the fanfare of the Royal Wedding. On Friday, Prince William, second in line to the British throne, will marry Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey. 

As the wedding day approaches, royal fever is gripping the world, with billions of people across the globe expected to watch the royal spectacle on TV. Tens of thousands also plan to descend on London to line the wedding procession. From the bride’s dress and wedding ring, to the wedding cake and guest list, the details of the royal wedding have sparked endless speculation and rumour. 

Here at ARKive we are also keenly following the Royal Wedding plans. As speculation into the ceremony continues, I have delved into ARKive to find some clues on the bride and groom’s plans. Whether it is dancing tips, honeymoon advice or dress suggestions, it seems William and Kate can find all the help they need to organise a Royal Wedding from the animal kingdom. 

Royal Wedding run-through

Photo of pair of Japanese cranes calling

 The first dance of a bride and groom is a traditional affair in most weddings, as couples take to the floor for a waltz or a slow dance. To impress spectators, Kate and William could take some inspiration from the alluring synchronised courtship dance of the Japanese crane, or perhaps they could stun their audience with a mesmerizing routine like this wire-tailed manakin

Photo of great egret preening breeding plumes

While the details of Kate’s wedding dress are still veiled in mystery, we can fully expect her to wear traditional white. This great egret has also embraced a white wedding theme, with brilliant white plumage, as well as a giant veil of wonderful, elegant plumes on its back.

Photo of cape fur seal males sunbathing by sea

 After their wedding, many couples like to escape the frivolities by taking off on their honeymoon. Perhaps William and Kate could make like these brown fur seals and find a scenic spot at the coast for a spot of sunbathing.

Photo of an Atlantic royal flycatcher displaying crest

 Rumours suggest that Kate is to wear the Queen’s tiara on Friday, perhaps as the ‘something borrowed’ part of her attire. This diamond-adorned accessory is likely to turn a few heads, but is it as spectacular as the ornately decorated crest of the equally regal Atlantic royal flycatcher?

Photo of European bee-eater offering prey as a courtship gift

Instead of receiving lavish gifts from their handpicked guests, William and Kate are to donate their wedding favours to charity. The male European bee-eater is equally generous during courtship, as the female laps up food gifts given to her by the male.

Photo of male and female buff-cheeked gibbons

While William and Kate will vow to remain together for the rest of their lives on Friday, being monogamous is actually a rarity in the wild. However, its not just the royals that commit, and perhaps the couple should look to their primate cousins for relationship advice. The buff-cheeked gibbon is the poster primate for extreme fidelity, as breeding pairs remain together for life, until death do they part. 

If you know of any other animals with characteristics or behaviours suited to a royal wedding, let us know! 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Apr 27

American pika extinction rates have increased nearly five-fold over the past ten years as a result of global climate change, according to a new study published in Global Change Biology. 

Analysing data on pika distribution across 110 years, as well as 62 years of data on regional climate, the study’s authors demonstrated that the American pika’s distribution throughout the Great Basin is changing at an increasingly rapid rate.

Photo of American pika collecting vegetation

American pika collecting vegetation

Retreating to higher altitudes 

The American pika (Ochotona princeps), a small, hamster-like animal of the rabbit family, commonly occurs on rocky slopes and lava flows throughout the western U.S. This endearing mammal is well-adapted to cold climates, with dense, silky fur. However, it is acutely sensitive to changes in the climate, and if pikas are unable to seek shelter, hot temperatures can lead to mortality. 

The researchers found that movement up to higher altitudes by pika populations had increased by 11-fold in the past decade, with their range having moved up an average of 145 metres, equal to the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt’s tallest pyramid. During the 20th Century the American pika’s range moved up about 13 metres per decade. 

After examining pika population extinctions over the past 110 years, it has become clear that nearly half of extinction events in the Great Basin have occurred since 1999.

Photo of American pika emerging from den in winter

American pika emerging from den in winter

Climate change indicator species 

Climate change appears to be the only major threat to the American pika’s survival, as it is not experiencing significant habitat loss or degradation and it is not hunted. This allows researchers a unique view of how the changing climate is impacting the world’s wildlife. The American pika may also act as an ‘early warning’ indicator of how species’ distributions may change in the future in response to climate change.

Photo of juvenile American pika

Juvenile American pika

In view of this recent research, the status of the American pika may have to be reassessed; the U.S. government recently denied listing the species as Endangered on the Endangered Species List, despite the threat of climate change. 

Learn more about the American pika on ARKive

Find out more about climate change on ARKive’s new climate change pages.

Read the full study at Global Change Biology.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Apr 27

The recent release of the Roman conquest film, ‘The Eagle’, has got me thinking about the spectacular diversity of birds of prey, from speedy falcons to powerful sea-eagles and acrobatic goshawks. With many species demonstrating extravagant plumages, curious behaviours and a great variety of shapes and sizes, as well as brilliant aerial ability and cunning hunting strategies, these fantastic birds deserve to be put in the spotlight. 

Having trawled through ARKive’s extensive collection of brilliant birds of prey images and profiles, I have highlighted some of my favourites for you to marvel at. 

An inquisitive creature

Photo of striated caracara

With an inquisitive demeanour and an opportunistic diet, the striated caracara has a broad range of feeding habits that includes digging seabirds out of burrows and attacking weak livestock. This intelligent raptor also has the southernmost breeding distribution of any bird of prey. 

Fish specialist

Photo of African fish-eagle catching fish

With distinctive plumage and an evocative cry, the African fish-eagle is probably the most familiar bird of prey in Africa. This iconic species is armed with razor-sharp talons and a sharp, hooked beak, which are both essential for grasping onto its slippery fish prey. 

Success story

Photo of Mauritius kestrel in habitat

A real conservation success story, the Mauritius kestrel was brought back from the brink of extinction. Numbering just 6 individuals in 1974, the Mauritius kestrel population is now estimated at between 800 and 1,000 individuals. 

Striking colouration

Photo of Steller's sea eagle landing

One of the largest of all birds of prey, Steller’s sea eagle is marked with a striking colouration of black and white, set against the contrasting yellow of its feet and the large, powerful bill, which is used for tearing the flesh of its fish prey and the carcasses of seals.

Sheer power

Photo of Philippine eagle, head detail

Otherwise known as the monkey-eating eagle, the Philippine eagle has developed a taste for monkeys,  as well as flying lemurs, palm civets and flying squirrels. As the largest eagle species, it has the armoury to accommodate such a diet, with power, ferocious talons and a sharp bill. 

A sociable one

Photo of red-footed falcon pair perched, male on left

Displaying marked sexual dimorphism, the rusty orange and blue female red-footed falcon is considerably brighter than the slate-grey male, although the male is no less attractive. This sociable creature is typically found in large numbers, roosting and nesting in their hundreds. 

What is your favourite bird of prey on ARKive? 

So there were my favourite birds of prey. But there is such spectacular diversity of these marvelous aerial predators that I have undoubtedly left out many equally magnificent birds of prey. 

If you have a favourite bird of prey, why not share this with us by using the comments below.  

Ben Morris, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Apr 26

Nepal’s rhinos are on the increase, according to recently released data from a three-week National Rhino Census in Nepal by WWF. There are now 534 rhinos in Nepal, marking an increase of 99 rhinos from the 435 recorded in the last census in 2008.

Photo of Indian rhinoceros covered in mud, with mynah birds along back

Indian rhinoceros covered in mud, with mynah birds along back

Conservationists recently spent 3 weeks riding elephants to count rhinos in the forests of Chitwan in southern Nepal and Bardia in the southwest. The surveys were a combined effort by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation of the Government of Nepal, WWF Nepal and the National Trust for Nature Conservation. 

Of the total 534 counted rhinos, 503 rhinos were recorded in Chitwan National Park, 24 in Bardia National Park and 7 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.

Photo of Indian rhinoceros wallowing in water

Indian rhinoceros wallowing in water

Poached for traditional medicines 

The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), or greater one-horned rhinoceros, was once widespread throughout the northern floodplains and nearby foothills of the Indian sub-continent, between the Indo-Myanmar border in the east and the Sindh River basin, Pakistan, in the west. 

Threatened by habitat loss and the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat a variety of ailments, today the remaining 3,000 Indian rhinos are found only in a few protected areas in north-eastern India and lowland Nepal. Although international trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES, the demand for rhino horn remains high. 

The rhino population in Nepal suffered particularly severely during the decade of fighting between government troops and Maoists rebels. During the conflict, soldiers were pulled out of conservation duty to fight the insurgents, leaving the forests unguarded and allowing poachers to hunt the rhinos with little resistance. 

Since the end of the fighting in 2006, soldiers have been redeployed to keep poachers out of protected areas, and the government has introduced programs with villagers living near the forests to preserve these vital ecosystems.

Photo of Indian rhinoceros grazing in habitat

Indian rhinoceros grazing in habitat

Success for conservation 

The recent increase in Nepal’s rhino population reflects the success of conservation efforts for this species, which includes increased rhino protection measures and the improved management of rhino habitat. 

This is a fine example of working together where all conservation partners and local communities are contributing to the conservation efforts of the Government of Nepal”, said Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. 

Support received from WWF Nepal is appreciated and we are hopeful that this support will continue in the coming years with more vigor”, Mr Acharya added. 

Yet, even though the current census shows a rise in rhino numbers in Nepal, conservationists are warning against complacency. Nepal has already lost one rhino to the illegal rhino horn trade in 2011, meaning continued conservation efforts to improve rhino protection and habitat will be required to ensure the preservation of this iconic animal. 

Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive

Read the full story at WWF – ‘Nepal rhino census shows increase 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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