Aug 31

A big thank you to everyone who entered our Invertebrate Photography Competition, held jointly with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

With so many amazing photographs of splendid snails, fabulous flies and majestic mantids Wildscreen asked three professionals from the world of wildlife photography to judge the winners. Sophie Stafford (BBC Wildlife magazine Editor), Rosamund Kidman Cox (WildPhotos Producer, editor and writer) and Helen Gilks (Managing Director, Nature Picture Library and Blue Green Pictures) deliberated over the 100s of entries to select 20 finalists and the overall winner.

Overall winner

Six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena carniolica) gathered on grass seed heads

 

View a gallery of the 20 finalist photographs

Aug 31

A staggering one fifth of the world’s invertebrates could be at risk of extinction, according to a new report published today by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in conjunction with IUCN and the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

The culmination of a review of an incredible 12,000 invertebrate species on the IUCN Red List, ‘Spineless: Status and Trends of the World’s Invertebrates’ presents the findings of global, regional and national assessments, and paints a sombre picture of the current status of our planet’s spineless residents.

Long-horned beetle image

The long-horned beetle is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Essential invertebrates

While invertebrates are frequently met with disinterest, or even active dislike, they form the basis of many of the essential services that nature provides. From crop pollination by bees to water filtration by freshwater molluscs, humans rely on invertebrates for survival. However, with the ever-growing demand for resources, invertebrates are being placed under increasing pressure.

Invertebrates constitute almost 80 percent of the world’s species, and a staggering one in five species could be at risk of extinction. While the cost of saving them will be expensive, the cost of ignorance to their plight appears to be even greater,” said Dr Ben Collen, head of the Indicators and Assessments Unit at ZSL.

Elegance coral image

Many corals, such as the elegance coral, are under threat

Status and Trends

The recent report set out to evaluate what is known about the status and trends of marine, freshwater and terrestrial invertebrate populations, and to assess the importance of these species to human beings. This latest research has led scientists to the worrying discovery that invertebrates are just as threatened as vertebrates and plants, with freshwater species faring least well.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s Director of Conservation, explained, “We knew that roughly one fifth of vertebrates and plants were threatened with extinction, but it was not clear if this was representative of the small spineless creatures that make up the majority of life on the planet. The initial findings in this report indicate that 20 percent of all species may be threatened.  This is particularly concerning as we are dependent on these spineless creatures for our very survival.”

 

Noble crayfish image

Invasive species and diseases are placing extreme pressure on invertebrates such as the noble crayfish

Threats

Invertebrates are facing a variety of threats, with species such as the noble crayfish being placed under extreme pressure from the impacts of disease and invasive species. Freshwater invertebrates in particular are at risk from pollution from dam construction and agricultural sources, which affects the water quality of their natural habitat.

The report indicates that the highest risk of extinction tends to be associated with those species that are less mobile and that are only found in a small area, as their ability to disperse to regions of more suitable habitat is extremely limited. For example, one tenth of more mobile species such as dragonflies and butterflies are at risk, whereas a staggering one third of freshwater mollusc species are considered to be threatened.

By understanding the threats to invertebrates, and recognising the growing pressures being placed on them, it is hoped that positive action can be taken.

I very much hope that the expansion of conservation-related information on invertebrates will give invertebrates a much higher conservation profile in future,” said Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Swallowtail butterfly image

Swallowtail butterfly

Looking to the future

The report paints a clear picture of how invertebrate biodiversity is faring, and it is hoped that the findings will enable conservationists and other experts to develop and implement effective conservation plans for the many invertebrate species which are currently struggling to survive.

We need to successfully communicate the significance and value of invertebrate life, if we are to rescue the many thousands of threatened species from the brink of extinction,” said Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen. “This important report highlights the impact we are having on the world’s invertebrate biodiversity, species we all rely on for healthy natural systems, sustainable livelihoods and human well-being.”

 

Read the full report on ZSL’s website.

Explore invertebrate species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Aug 30

Have you ever wondered what the smallest creatures roaming our planet are? Let’s meet some very cute, extrordinary miniature creatures with ARKive’s favourite smallest species.

What is this on my finger? 

Photo of minute leaf chameleon

This charming minute leaf chameleon is one of the smallest reptiles in the world. As expected for its tiny size, it consumes minute prey, including small fruit flies, white flies and springtails. If threatened by a predator, this clever little creature will drop to the ground like a piece of dead wood and feign death until the danger has passed. How does a predator even spot such a tiny thing!

This is the perfect little hideout for me!

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

Awww now this one is a real cutie! Described as a new species in 2000, the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is believed to be the world’s smallest living primate! This nocturnal forager has extremely large, forward-facing eyes dramatically improving its night-vision. Weirdly, during the dry winter months, it undergoes a daily period of torpor, lowering its metabolic rate for a few hours. This causes its body temperature to drop, thereby conserving water and energy. Not just a pretty face that mouse lemur!

Where are you little mites, I’m coming to get you…!

Edmond’s ground beetle photo

Edmond’s ground beetle is just 2mm in length – can you imagine? I challenge anyone to find this beetle, which lives within wet moss on the edge of bogs! It is one of the smallest ground beetles in the UK and believe it or not, it is actually a predator, feeding on mites and springtails. You certainly won’t feel the need to run away from this mini-beast.

I’m not sure if this whole hiding thing is working out for me.

 Denise’s pygmy seahorse photo

This delicate little critter known as Denise’s pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest of all seahorse species, typically measuring less than 2cm in height! It is a master of camouflage, with its yellow colouration exactly matching the stems of its gorgonian sea fan ‘home’. What a dinky sea creature!

Oh no, I’m too high up…my legs are starting to feel like jelly.

Savi’s pygmy shrew photo

The adorable Savi’s pygmy shrew is the smallest land mammal in the world, growing to a maximum size of just 8cm! It has an exceptional metabolism, with a heartbeat of over a thousand beats per minute which means it cannot survive for more than a few hours without food. To satisfy its high energy requirements, this velvety, miniature shrew can consume as much as 1.3 times its body weight in a single day. If only we could eat that much and stay that small!

Put me down…

Hooked thread snake photo

One of the smallest snakes in the world, the hooked thread snake is rarely seen due to the fact that it lives underground and grows to a maximum of 24cm. Owing to its miniature size, extremely slender body, and pink skin; it is often mistaken for an earthworm. I’d rather come across this tiny snake than a king cobra, that’s for sure!

Up a bit, down a bit, left a bit….

Bee humingbird photo

The diminutive bee hummingbird has the incredible accolade of being the smallest living bird in the world, measuring just 6cm in height. Despite its tiny size, it is capable of beating its wings around 80 times a second in a figure-of-eight pattern, giving it the ability to hover and move with amazing agility. Even more astonishingly, the female lays a clutch of 2 tiny eggs, no bigger than 6mm in length. It’s a miracle they don’t get squished beneath her!

Ok this wing stretch exercise is really starting to ache now…

Kitti's hog-nosed bat photo

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence! Its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet. The body of this miniscule bat reaches just 33mm in length. How this researcher managed to catch this little thing is a mystery!

I’m definitely worth more than a pound, even if it doesn’t look like it!

Partula faba photo

This little critter is joint smallest of our top ten smallest species with Edmond’s ground beetle! The 2mm long Partula faba is one of the most endangered of all the tree snails and is currently on the edge of survival. It is Extinct in the Wild due to the introduction of invasive snails in the French Polynesian islands in the 1970s. The last remaining population of these snails can only be found at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Let’s hope they manage to reintroduce these adorable tiny snails into the wild!

Any minute now, I am going to jump right outta here!

Gardiner's tree frog photo

Check out this tiny frog, it’s smaller than a fingernail! The Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the smallest frogs in the world, growing to only 11mm in length! Unlike most frogs, the young do not hatch as tadpoles, but as fully formed small adult frogs. So the babies are even smaller versions of this little guy – how is that even possible?

Can you find any other tiny species on ARKive? Let us know.

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Researcher

Aug 26
Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) photo

Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus)

Species: Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting fact: The Atlantic halibut is the largest flatfish in the world.

Like other species of flatfish, the Atlantic halibut is curiously adapted to life on the ocean floor. They have evolved to lie on one side of their body, flattened sideways. The Atlantic halibut lies on its left side and both eyes tend to migrate the right side of the head during development.

The Atlantic halibut is found in the cold waters of North Atlantic coasts. Larvae can be found drifting within the water column, and will migrate to the ocean floor when they reach about 4 centimetres. The Atlantic halibut has a relatively slow growth rate and can live up to 50 years. Young Atlantic halibuts feed on crustaceans, while older fish tend to hunt other fish, such as cod, haddock, herring and skate.

The slow growth rate and late onset of sexual maturity makes the Atlantic halibut extremely vulnerable to the effects of overfishing. Over the last two centuries the Atlantic halibut has suffered massive declines throughout its range due to overfishing. Today, population levels are still in decline. They are now too low to sustain target fisheries, but the Atlantic halibut is still caught as bycatch by bottom trawlers and longliners.

There is currently no management plan in place for this fish and it is thought that numbers of Atlantic halibut will continue to decline. The recovery and survival of this Endangered flatfish species depends on reducing bycatch in other highly exploited fisheries.

Find out more about this endangered flatfish on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

See images and videos of the Atlantic halibut on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Aug 23

International Bat Night is happening this weekend, an event that hopes to inspire people across Europe to understand more about how bats live and why they are so important to conserve. A series of presentations, exhibitions and bat walks are happening in more than 30 countries, including the UK – check out the bat walk at Harcourt Arboretum in Oxford this Thursday.

To join in the celebrations, we have delved into the ARKive collection to come up with some truly batty facts to get you in the mood for International Bat Night and to hopefully inspire you to take part in an event near you!

Batty Fact No. 1

Vampire bats use infrared sensors to detect veins on their warm-blooded prey.

Common vampire bat photo

Common vampire bat

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers found that vampire bats have evolved specialised heat-sensitive nerve channels around the nose, allowing the bats to home in on “hot spots” on their prey, where the veins run close to the skin’s surface. In other animals, including humans, these nerve channels are used to detect heat that would be damaging to the body at temperatures above 43ºC. However, in the vampire bat the channels in the nose have evolved to activate at a much cooler 30ºC, allowing the bat to detect the body heat of its prey. Clever stuff!

Batty Fact No. 2

The ‘smallest bat in the world’ prize goes to Kitti’s hog-nosed bat!

Photo of Kitti's hog-nosed bat being held by researcher

Kitti's hog-nosed bat being held by researcher

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence, weighing a maximum of just 2 grams! It is also the sole living species of the family Craseonycteridae, meaning that its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet.

Batty Fact No. 3

Brazilian free-tailed bats form the largest warm-blooded colonies in the world.

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at sunset

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at sunset

The Brazilian free-tailed bat exhibits some spectacular behaviour, emerging to feed at dusk in huge columns of several million individuals. Their flapping wings create a sound equivalent to a white-water river and their numbers are great enough to be detected by airport and weather radars. Feeding for longer each night than any other bat species, it travels as far as 31 miles from roosts to feeding grounds. The Brazilian free-tailed bats of Texas are estimated to consume from 6,000 to 18,000 metric tons of insects each year, many of which are agricultural pests – so in actual fact, they are doing us a favour!

Batty Fact No.  4

Bat guano is used as a fertiliser!

Brazilian free-tailed bat photo

Despite its name, the largest and most well-known populations of the Brazilian free-tailed bat are found in Mexico and Texas, USA.

When large numbers of bats live together in single caves, such as the Brazilian free-tailed bat, there is a huge build up of guano or bat droppings. This nutrient-rich mixture was once commercially extracted from caves on a large scale, to be sold as fertiliser. In the early 1900s it was the largest mineral export from Texas after oil, and it continues to be sold commercially although to a lesser degree.

Batty Fact No. 5

There are probably more bat species than you think…

Hoary bat

The hoary bat is one of the most wide-ranging bat species in the Americas

Over 1,100 bat species are known in the world which is about one fifth of all mammal species. Bats are widely distributed across the globe, with only the Arctic, Antarctic and some Oceanic islands being without them! The biggest diversity of species is found in the tropics, with about a third of the world’s bat species inhabiting Central and South America.

Batty Fact No. 6

All British bats use ‘echolocation’ to find their prey!

Greater horseshoe bat hunting a moth

Greater horseshoe bat hunting a moth

The greater horseshoe bat is the larger of the two horseshoe bats found in Britain and can live for up to 30 years! They are so-named from the horseshoe shaped nose ‘leaf’, used as part of the bat’s echolocation system. Bats are not blind as was once popularly thought – they have good eyesight but rely on echolocation to navigate and to detect their insect prey. Echolocation allows bats to orient themselves at night; they emit bursts of sound that are of such high frequencies they are beyond the human range of hearing and are called ‘ultrasound’. They then listen to and interpret the echoes bounced back from objects, including prey, around them, allowing them to build up a ‘sound-picture’ of their surroundings.

Batty Fact No. 7

Female bats can recognise the individual call of their pup

Bicoloured leaf-nosed bat

Bicoloured leaf-nosed bat

The bicoloured leaf-nosed bat gives birth to one pup each year, which it must locate in the crowded roost after foraging trips. The mother does this by calling to her pup and listening for its reply. Once nearby, she uses pheromones to identify it. She will suckle it for some weeks before it learns to fly and forage alone.

Batty Fact No. 8

What is a megabat?

Lyle's flying fox with wings outstretched

Lyle's flying fox with wings outstretched

Megabats are in the family Pteropodidae and are often referred to as fruit bats. They have large eyes and often a long muzzle resembling a dog or fox. Unlike British bats, they do not use echolocation to find food, but rely on their vision and sense of smell to find fruits and flowers to feed on. An example of a megabat is Lyle’s flying fox which feeds mainly on ripe fruit and occasionally nectar, pollen and blossom. Its primary sense when foraging is vision and it has well developed teeth which are used to chew fruit while spitting out most of the seeds and pulp. Unlike other bat families, fruit bats do not hibernate. Instead, Lyle’s flying fox produces heat by shivering, which keeps its body temperature between 33 and 37 ºC.

Batty Fact No. 9

Bats have evolved to live in toxic caves!

Schreiber's long-fingered bat colony roosting

Schreiber's long-fingered bat colony roosting

Bat caves are widely known to contain noxious gases, but this is actually a result of carpet beetles (Dermestidae) that feed on bat guano and fallen bats. These beetles multiply so rapidly as a result of such a constant food supply that the whole floor of a cave may be ‘carpeted’ with them. They produce waste that combines with water vapour to make ammonium hydroxide which is poisonous to most animals. However, bats have adapted to this potent atmosphere by lowering their metabolic rate, which causes the level of carbon dioxide dissolved in their blood to rise, thus neutralising the ammonia.

Batty Fact No. 10

A deadly fungus is threatening bats in North America

Indiana bat

The Indiana bat is found in the Midwest and eastern United States

North America’s bats are dying in record numbers from white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus which is spreading across the United States and into Canada. First identified in 2006, white-nose syndrome is a fatal disease which infects the skin of hibernating bats, turning their snout frosty white. It is unclear exactly how the disease kills the bats, but it is thought to affect their ability to hibernate, causing infected bats to use up their fat reserves. The disease has already killed over a million bats of at least six different species, including the Indiana bat, little brown myotis, gray myotis and the cave bat. Unfortunately scientists still know very little about this worrying disease, so we can only hope they start to find the answers soon!

Hopefully this blog has made you go batty about bats, so if you want to learn more and find out about bat events in the UK, take a look at the Bat Conservation Trust.  And if it’s a rainy day and you are feeling creative, have a go at making ARKive’s very own vampire bat mask!

Rebecca Sennett,  ARKive Media Researcher

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