May 23

With an office full of biologists it was only natural that given the opportunity to help out at the Bristol BioBlitz many of the ARKive team jumped at the chance to get their hands dirty and swap their computers for cameras and clipboards. BioBlitz is a national event, exploring and recording the biological diversity of an area against the clock, while getting people of all ages engaged and excited about the wonder of wildlife found so close to home.

The team of Wildscreen volunteers

The team of Wildscreen volunteers

There was an extraordinary variety of walks and events to get involved with, from bat spotting to bug hunting and pond dipping to fungal forays, and our volunteers helped with the lot – but what did being a volunteer actually involve?

Becky – Guide

Becky identifying freshwater invertebrates

Becky identifying freshwater invertebrates

I was one of the Guides for the day which involved helping out the Naturalists as they showed school children and members of the public around on various nature walks. I also had a go at pond dipping and identifying some species helping towards the BioBlitz grand total!

What was your BioBlitz highlight?

My BioBlitz highlight has got to be just the Naturalists in general! Their level of knowledge was just phenomenal yet they were approachable and incredibly entertaining! One of my favourite species, discovered while pond dipping, was the palmate newt, which I’ve never seen before.

Helen – Media Team

Helen with camera at the ready

Helen with camera at the ready

My job was to follow the groups going out and about around the grounds of Tyntesfield with a camera, to film or photograph the things they were finding. We wanted to document everything that was going on, what they were getting involved with and how much fun they were having! I was also involved with editing the film footage into the videos for the blog, and in writing blog posts to keep everyone up to date on the latest BioBlitz happenings.  

What was your BioBlitz highlight?

I got the chance to have my first ever play with the Sony Z1 camera which was very exciting! I filmed a group of school children out looking for nibbled hazelnuts in Truckle Woods. They wanted to find evidence of dormice and although we didn’t see any we came across all sorts of other exciting finds, such as the brilliantly named King Alfred’s cakes.

For a more detailed look at the role of a volunteer and to see what we got up to all weekend why not take a look at our film.

This year the Bristol BioBlitz took place at Tyntesfield from 9am on Friday 20th to 3pm Saturday 21st May. During this 30 hour stint the combined efforts of Guides, Stewards, Naturalists and the all important public led to the discovery of a record-breaking species total of 779! This included 121 notable species, (meaning that they have particular ecological significance), 25 that have never been recorded in North Somerset, and 15 species that have not been seen before in the whole of Avon – quite an achievement I hope you’ll agree.

For a full rundown of all the events of the Bristol BioBlitz, including many more videos and photographs, check out the Bristol BioBlitz blog.

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Media Researcher

May 23

Today ARKive is rejoicing in all things shelled and slow-moving by celebrating World Turtle Day!

Hawksbill turtle photo

May 23rd is World Turtle Day!

Turtles and tortoises (members of the order Testudines) have been around for more than 200 million years! But with approximately 50% of all species considered threatened, never has there been a more apt time to celebrate these ancient beauties.

How you celebrate World Turtle Day is entirely up to you. Whether it’s donating money to a turtle charity, or donning your own homemade shell and swimming to work – so long as you’re highlighting the wondrousness of turtles then anything goes. To provide some inspiration for your celebrations, here are ARKive’s top turtle facts just to prove how fantastic they really are!

From the biggest…

The leatherback turtle is the world’s biggest turtle, with the largest recorded individual weighing a massive 916 kgs!

Leatherback turtle photo

Leatherbacks are the giants of the turtle world

…to the smallest…

Weighing in at just 95-165g, the speckled cape tortoise is the world’s smallest tortoise.

Speckled cape tortoise photo

The very tiny speckled cape tortoise

…to the oldest…

The oldest tortoise ever recorded was a radiated tortoise called Tu’i Malila who died in 1965 at the ripe old age of 188! So what’s the key to the turtle’s long lifespan? Genetic researchers are trying to find out by examining the turtle genome for longevity genes. Clever old turtles!!

Radiated tortoise photo

An old and very wise radiated tortoise

…to the fittest…

Green turtles return to the same beach to breed each season. One population in Brazil migrates around 2,250 kilometres across the open ocean to breed on Ascension Island, which is slap bang in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. A swimming performance worthy of the Olympics I think!

Green turtle photo

A green turtle showing off his swimming skills

…to the egg-cellent…

Olive ridley turtles are known for their remarkable mass nestings, when many thousands of females congregate on the same beach. The event is known as an ‘arribada’ which is Spanish for ‘mass arrival’ and can involve around 150,000 females, each of which lays around 120 eggs!

Olive ridley turtle photo

Arrival of olive ridley turtles at Ostional beach, Costa Rica, for mass nesting event

…to the weird and wonderful…

In some species of turtle, the incubation temperature of the eggs determines whether they develop into males or females. Unfortunately, this means that turtle populations are extremely vulnerable to any increase in global temperature as a result of climate change.

Photo of green turtle hatchlings heading towards the sea

Green turtle hatchlings heading towards the sea

Let the celebrations begin!

Now you are fully aware of how fantastic turtles are, you can go ahead and start celebrating World Turtle Day! To get involved, you can visit the World Turtle Day Facebook page, donate money to American Tortoise Rescue which sponsor the day, and of course there’s always ARKive’s collection of turtle photos and videos for you to marvel at.

Bonnie Metherell, ARKive Media Researcher

May 22

Charlie Whittaker, ARKive Media ResearcherI’ve been looking for pictures of cute animals for a living and asking people very nicely to let us use them for ARKive since August 2008. I also work on ARKive Education and helped set up the STEM Ambassador scheme at Wildscreen, creating new teaching resources and running ARKive-themed workshops in schools.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just been moonlighting as a film producer with Nick, our film editor, putting together some “ARKive News” films about conservation in Madagascar and the Galapagos Islands. These were filmed by students at a school in London as part of a workshop we ran with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, one of our supporters. We’re jazzing up the best ones with some extra footage and music and will be presenting these back to students shortly.

What animal skill would you most like to have?

I always used to think that I wanted to be able to fly but I think for my weight, my wings and keel would have to be huge and look rather ridiculous. So I think it would be to have gills. My background is in marine biology and I’d love to be able get down without SCUBA gear.

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

If it were the ultimate dinner party then I assume that the other guests attending would be the ultimate guests – so I’d probably take three of my closest friends to share in the experience.

Where in the world would you most like to go?

The Coral Triangle, simply for its marine life. I’d definitely want the gills for that trip. I’d probably come back via Easter Island too – stone heads and a stern lesson in environmental mismanagement are right up my street!

Which celebrity do you most look like?

Apparently it used to be Nick Grimshaw, from BBC Radio 1 – but now I have short hair I am apparently more similar to John Torode of UK Masterchef infamy. It’s the large jaw.

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

When I was 17 I did an Earthwatch project studying sea otters in Alaska. We stayed in small log and canvas cabins by the side of Prince William Sound. One day whilst loudly complaining of “the lack of bears in Alaska”, a HUGE male black bear walked past the window, less than 2 yards away. The thing is, he looked so soft and cuddly I wanted to run outside right there and then. I doubt he would have been as pleased to see me, though.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

One of the things I love about ARKive is that it displays wildlife in all of its glory, but also at its most grisly. The natural world is a tough place and the survival strategies that have evolved never cease to amaze/horrify me… I just try not to judge it from a human perspective.

Tell us an animal related joke.

Q:         What do you call a bovine animal on all fours who likes singing the Eurythmics…

A:         A kneeling ox

May 20

Welcome to the party! It’s ARKive’s 8th birthday and today we’re celebrating in style with our best contributors – the species themselves. We asked you to use the Like buttons on each species profile to show us which you think should be invited to the celebration. We’ve had a great response – the following all had at least 50 Likes and have made our special species guestlist…

The Red (List) Carpet

Tiger – Panthera tigris

ARKive Bengal tiger photo

Who better to start the line-up of guests than the tiger? Padding up the catwalk is the true king of the jungle. As well as looking handsome, the cryptic coat of the largest of big cats makes it an excellent “stalk and ambush” predator in tall grass and forest.

Satanic leaf-tailed gecko – Uroplatus phantasticus

ARKive satanic leaf-tailed gecko photo

With amazing camouflage, you would be forgiven for mistaking the satanic leaf-tailed gecko for some crispy old foliage if you saw it in the wild. Despite the sinister name it is actually quite harmless – must be the red eyes!

Aye-aye – Daubentonia madagascariensis

ARKive aye-aye photo

Definitely a guest that would only come to an evening party, the aye-aye is as utterly charming as it is bizarre! This Madagascan primate has almost cult status in biology classes for its spidery fingers, perfectly adapted for extracting grubs from trees.

Purple frog – Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis

ARKive purple frog photo

Although not the prettiest of amphibians, the purple frog’s bloated anatomy is perfect for its subterranean habit; it snuffles for termites using its conical head and sensitive snout. It is also the sole surviving member of a group of amphibians that evolved 130 million years ago, so we’re privileged to have it with us!

Giant panda – Ailuropoda melanoleuca

ARKive giant panda photo

This monochrome mammal hardly needs an introduction – it is probably the most famous threatened species on the planet, mainly for eating shoots and leaves! Make way for the giant panda!

Komodo dragon – Varanus komodoensis

ARKive Komodo dragon photo

The world’s largest, most powerful land lizard. Known for its voracious appetite, scientists also recently discovered that the Komodo dragon is poisonous, subduing its prey with slow-acting venom. Better not get in this one’s way at the buffet.

Pygmy three-toed sloth

ARKive pygmy three-toed sloth photo

The pygmy three-toed sloth is the most endangered of sloths, confined to one island off the coast of Panama. Perhaps more a fan of a pool party, this species is as happy in the water as it is in the trees of its mangrove habitat!

Kakapo – Strigops habroptila

ARKive kakapo photo

The world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo, has suffered heavily for its defenseless nature and now only survives on a few isolated, predator free islands off New Zealand. It also has reason to celebrate – since its relocation, Kakapo populations have been steadily increasing.

Polar bear – Ursus maritimus

ARKive polar bear photo

Perhaps more whale than bear, the polar bear can swim for miles at a time and is more of a marine than a terrestrial species. Its preferred habitat is the annual ice of arctic coastlines, where it mostly hunts mammals such as seal, narwhal and beluga. I think the polar bear might have to make do with cake at our party, though!

So that was our glamorous guestlist for the ARKive 8th birthday party! It’s sure to be a great shindig – now all we have to do is keep the guests from eating each other…

Don’t forget to keep Liking and sharing the species you find most interesting on the ARKive website.

If you know any other species you think should have been on the guestlist, please let us know by leaving a comment below or posting on our Facebook page!

Charlie Whittaker,  ARKive Media Researcher

May 19
Extinction rate calculations are overestimating the role that habitat loss has on species, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.   

The most widely-used method for calculating species extinction is apparently “fundamentally flawed” and can overestimate extinction rates by as much as 160 percent. However, the authors of the study add that habitat loss is still the main threat to biodiversity.

Photo of male golden toad

The golden toad has not been seen since 1989, and is believed to be extinct.

Predicting extinctions 

As there are few ways of directly predicting extinctions, scientists use a mathematical model called the ‘species-area curve’. This starts with the number of species in an area and estimates how many species there will be as the area is increased. The calculations can then be reversed to estimate how many fewer species there will be when the amount of land decreases due to habitat loss. 

However, the authors of this new study say that this method is too simplistic and fails to take into account the full complexity of what influences species numbers. 

Co-authors Professor Stephen Hubbell, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Professor Fangliang He, from Sun Yat-sen University, China, said “estimates based on this method are almost always much higher than actually observed.” 

This may go some way to explain why past predictions of extinction rates – such as the 1980 US National Research Council report which predicted losses of millions of species by the year 2000 – have not been realised.

Photo of mounted skin of female Falkland Island wolf

First encountered in 1833 by Charles Darwin, the Falkland Island wolf became extinct 50 years later after the arrival of permanent settlers.

Situation not as dire as believed 

While the results of this study show that the problem of species extinction caused by habitat loss is not as dire as many conservationists and scientists had believed, some are concerned about the way the results could be interpreted. 

Jean Christophe Vie, the IUCN’s Species Programme deputy director, said that it was good that it was a clear effort to “get the science right”, but that he is “worried about how this report could be used by people who are reluctant to take environmental issues seriously.” 

What is the actual concern is the rate of decline in populations,” he went on to say. “You do not see that many extinctions, but you do see many more species that are ending up with very small populations. So, focusing purely on extinctions is – to me – a problem.”

Photo of quagga in enclosure

The quagga roamed the plains of South Africa until the late 19th Century, when persecution for sport and the leather trade drove it to extinction.

In their paper, Professors He and Hubbell warned that their study must not “lead to complacency about extinction [as a result of] habitat loss”, which was a “real and growing concern”. 

The good news is that we are not in quite as serious trouble right now as people had thought, but that is no reason for complacency. I don’t want this research to be misconstrued as saying we don’t have anything to worry about when nothing is further from the truth”, said Hubbell. 

We have bought a little more time with this discovery, but not a lot.” 

Read more about this at Nature – ‘Hidden assumption hypes species-loss predictions’.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author


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