Oct 31
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Trick or Treat?

Happy Halloween!

Humans are not the only tricksters in the animal kingdom. Other species have developed some very clever and sophisticated tricks to get what they want. To celebrate Halloween we have put together a selection of some of the best tricks the natural world has to offer.

False Alarms

Within groups of black-capped capuchin monkeys there is a strict social hierarchy with dominant individuals gaining better access to rich food sources. It has been observed that when highly prized foods are available, the lower ranked individuals  produce fake alarm calls to trick the dominants into thinking they are in danger so run into hiding, allowing the lower ranking individuals to get their hands on the food!

Black-capped capuchin photo

A Deadly Trap

The margay, a small cat found throughout Central and South America, has been documented imitating the calls of some of its prey species. Margays have been recorded imitating the calls of baby pied tamarins. This attracts the attention of the adult tamarins causing them to investigate the sound, but as a result they just move closer to the predator! This could improve the chances of the margay capturing its prey.

Margay photo

Do it like a lady

Young male Broadley’s flat lizards have developed the ultimate disguise – better than any Halloween costume! They imitate being females so they can get a chance at mating. Male flat lizards have a high level of sexual dimorphism – the males are brightly coloured whereas the females are plain brown (see image below). Some young males only develop the bright colours on their stomach, so they are hidden away, with the rest of their body being the same brown colour as the females. If the young males developed bright colours all over their body, the larger males would chase them away from the females. As they appear to be females, it allows them to get close enough to the actual females so they have a chance to mate.

Broadley's flat lizard photo

Toxic Assassins

Assassin bugs have a whole bag of tricks depending on their prey target. The spider eating assassin bug taps a spider’s web mimicking the vibrations caused by prey trapped in the web. This gives the spider a real fright when it approaches expecting to find a tasty meal but ends up becoming dinner itself! The feather legged assassin bug uses another trick. It lures its ant prey by producing an irresistible secretion from its trichome, a hair like structure found on its abdomen, which ants find irresistible. This clever secretion also paralyses the ants allowing the assassin bug to then inject the ant with a toxin which kills it!

Feather-legged assassin bug photo

Feathery Fisherman

A small percentage of green herons have been observed using bait to catch fish. They drop small pieces of bait, which can include insects, bread and other treats, into the water and wait for fish to approach the bait. The fish get tricked into thinking they are going to get a nice meal but end up being grabbed by the heron and becoming food themselves. Some have even been witnessed catching smaller fish to use as bait to catch larger fish.  

Green heron photo

A bloody treat!

It is not only tricks you find in the natural world – some animals choose to treat.  Female vampire bats tend to live in small groups where individuals all know each other. Vampire bats are at high risk of dying from starvation if they go a couple of nights without blood. If one member of the group has not managed to feed, other bats in the group will regurgitate some of the blood they obtained from their feeding to increase the likelihood of survival of the other individual.

Common vampire bat photo

However the reason for this behaviour is not thought to be due to the bats just being nice to each other, but is due to reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism is defined as; when an animal acts in a way that is costly to itself but benefits another, as they expect the individual they are helping to act in the same way if the roles are reversed. If a bat tries to trick the others and avoid giving any blood back when the roles are reversed, they will not be helped next time they need some blood – so it does not always pay to be a trickster!

We would love to hear if you have any other examples, tricks or treats, please either leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

And don’t forget to check out our free Halloween activities  for monstrous masks, spooky quizzes and gory games!

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

Oct 29
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ARKive Geographic: Halloween’s Heritage

What will you be dressing up as this Halloween? A cat? A bat? A giant wolf spider? For those of us who celebrate this unique holiday, creating our costume is more than half the fun and it got us thinking, where do our Halloween traditions stem from?

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, held at the end of October. This day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter. To celebrate, people would dress in animal costumes and tell each other’s fortunes. When the Roman Empire moved north from the Mediterranean Basin and conquered Celtic territory (including northwestern Spain, France, southern Germany, and up through the United Kingdom), they brought with them the festival of Pomona which honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, invoking the tradition of trick-or-treating.

This month, ARKive would like to highlight species from the European countries that inspired this spooky holiday, and perhaps offer up some great ideas for your Halloween costume!

Gliding Gladiator

Lammergeier photo

Perhaps you would like to dominate the skies this Halloween night as a commanding bird of prey. The lammergeier, or bearded vulture, is a majestic bird with a wingspan commonly reaching over 2.5 meters. This skilled glider rarely needs to flap its wings in flight, and specializes in feeding on bones. They are known for their technique of picking up large bones and dropping them onto rocks in order to extract marrow out of the shattered pieces. Lammergeiers prefer high-altitude mountainous regions of southern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

Celestial Swimmer

Mediterranean monk seal photo

If underwater wonders are more your thing, you could consider posing as a Mediterranean monk seal. Currently one of the most endangered mammals in the world, this pinniped was once abundant across the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and northern coast of Africa. It was so popular it was the emblem for one of the first Greek coins made around 500 BC, shortly before the Roman Empire spread into Greece. Deliberate killing and habitat encroachment are largely responsible for their decline, with likely less than 500 individuals remaining.

Stunning Serpent

Meadow viper photo

Consider a costume guaranteed to grant you respect! The meadow viper is a small, attractive venomous snake, displaying a beautiful and intricate zigzag pattern marking the length of its back. Feasting primarily on crickets and grasshoppers, this reptile is found in Italy, France and a few other eastern European countries. Habitat destruction and over-collection account are current threats to this vulnerable species.

Vermillion vixen

Red fox photo

Who can resist a fabulous fox? The red fox is an attractive member of the family Canidae, and is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. They are unique in that they can produce 28 different vocalizations, and are the largest species of true fox. In ancient Celtic tradition, the red fox was honored for its wisdom.

Frequent Flyer

Black pennant photo

If bugs with big eyes are calling you, you could consider transforming into a black pennant. This dragonfly is slick and smart, predating on smaller insects, it is also capable of posturing its body to cool down in hotter temperatures. This little insect is found throughout several Mediterranean countries, as well as central Asia and northern Africa.

Finned Funnyman

Arno goby photo

If you want to feel like a rare find, go trick-or-treating as an Arno gobi. This vulnerable freshwater fish is endemic to Italy, and is only found in six river basins and two lakes in the Tyrrhenian catchment of Central Italy, a region which played a significant role in Roman culture. With a large head, elongated body and oversized mouth, this species is known for its active acoustic communication.

Haunting Hooter

Long-eared owl photo

The long-eared owl no doubt had a presence in early Halloween festivals, as the subspecies Asio otus otus was found throughout both Celtic and Roman territories. Owls have long been considered ethereal species, and their calls can be eerie and haunting . Not only does this bird of prey possess special feathers to remain silent during its stealth hunting missions, it can also swallow prey whole!

Why not share your favourite wildlife Halloween costume ideas with ARKive, and post them on our Twitter or Facebook page?

And don’t forget, if you’re looking for something to entertain your little monsters this halloween, ARKive has a whole host of free, fun-filled Halloween activities.  From monstorous masks to spooky games and quizes, there is something for everyone, so be sure to check it out!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant

Oct 28
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Endangered Species of the Week: Queen of the Andes

Species: Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii)

Queen of the Andes  (Puya raimondii) photo

Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Queen of the Andes may take as long as 80 to 150 years to flower and will only flower once before dying.

The Queen of the Andes is best known for its spectacular flower spike, which can reach up to 10 metres high. These spikes bear over 8,000 whitish-green blooms, which turn purple with age. The Queen of the Andes is a monocarpic species, meaning that it will die after flowering for the first time. These plants produce as many as 8 to 12 million seeds, but if conditions are not suitable few seeds will survive to germination. This means that a plant that is more than a century old may never actually reproduce successfully. The Queen of the Andes grows in the harsh, high-altitude environment of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. This highly adapted species produces an anti-freeze chemical in its sap to survive freezing temperatures.

Today, the Queen of the Andes has an extremely fragmented distribution. Vegetation destruction, grazing by livestock, fires, and the introduction of exotic species all threaten this species. The Andean region is regarded as a priority for plant conservation, meaning action is urgently required to preserve this unique ecosystem and its important vegetation.

Find out more about the Queen of the Andes on the IUCN Red List website.

See images and videos of the Queen of the Andes on ARKive.

Oct 27
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Halloween Guest Blog: Ben Garrod and his skeletons

Photo of Ben Garrod

© Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

My name is Ben Garrod and I am an evolutionary biologist. I work with animal skeletons (mainly primates) to see what they can tell us about a species’ evolutionary history.

Looking at skeletons has taken me around the world; from beluga whale skeletons in the Arctic to chimpanzee skeletons in Uganda. I’ve looked for lost species in the Caribbean and have even discovered which animals were buried with emperors in ancient tombs!

Apart from being the main guest at any cool Halloween party, skeletons and especially skulls can tell us a lot about an animal’s diet, behaviour, lifestyle and even its environment.

To find out more about my skeletons you can visit my website, follow my BensBones page on Facebook or find me on Twitter.

 

Spooky Skull Quiz!

For Halloween, ARKive has asked me to design a spooky skull quiz (cue scary laugh – mwa ha ha ha ha ha)! Look at the pictures and use the creepy clues to guess which species the skulls belong to. They may look scary and ghoulish but they all come from amazing creatures. So test your ‘skull’ and let us know how many you get right!

 

SKULL ONE

Skull photo © Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: This scary looking beast is more of a rare ocean wanderer than a monster from the deep!

Clue 2: This deep-diving ocean mammal sounds like it has a birds ‘nose’.

Clue 3: A mirror might help solve this anagram to find this mysterious animals’ name ELAHW DEKAEB S’YBREWOS.

Answer

SKULL TWO 

Skull photo © Bjorn Vancampfort, bjornvancampfort@hotmail.com

© Bjorn Vancampfort, bjornvancampfort@hotmail.com

Clue 1: This big fish hangs round in big schools.

Clue 2: At more than 4m in length, this animal sounds like a cross between a DIY tool and a scary fish.

Clue 3: The head is actually used to pick up tiny electrical signals released by prey buried beneath the sand.

Answer

SKULL THREE

Skull photo © Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: These demonic-looking ovids  are kept by rare breed collectors but are expensive – not a baaaar-gain, by any means.

Clue 2: Not named after the famous ghost that hounded Scrooge but they do share the same names.

Clue 3: If you’re having issues with the name, it does have another name;  what  might you call a sheep with many horns?

Answer

SKULL FOUR

Skull photo © Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: This beaked beast really is a ‘living dinosaur’.

Clue 2: These big flightless birds pack an awesome kick.

Clue 3: The casque… no-one really knows! Maybe a sound amplifier, a weapon or to attract a mate.

Answer

SKULL FIVE 

Skull photo © Jake McGowan-Lowe www.jakes-bones.co.uk

© Jake McGowan-Lowe, www.jakes-bones.com

Clue 1: This ocean predator sounds as though it enjoys a spot of fishing.

Clue 2: Its other name implies this species likes easy ‘pray’.

 Clue 3: This fish is just angling for some attention!

Answer

Don’t be ‘afraid’ to let us know how you got on, I’m sure there will be ‘stiff’ competition for the skull crown!

Ben Garrod, Conservation Biologist and bone expert.

Happy Halloween!

Have a frightfully scary time this Halloween with ARKive’s spooky Halloween activities. We’ve created a wild Halloween package of critter crafts, creepy crawlie computer games, bizarre blog posts and monstrous movie clips to take you and your Addams family on a spooky adventure through the natural world.

Oct 25
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Pygmy Hippo Foundation Launched


Pygmy hippopotamus photo

Good things come in small packages - the pygmy hippopotamus

Last night the Natural History Museum in London hosted the launch of the Pygmy Hippo Foundation in a spectacularly glamorous fashion – a charity champagne reception, dinner and auction. Richard Edwards, Chief Executive, Wildscreen, was there to dine in style in the great hall under the watchful eye of ‘Dippy’ the museum’s famous replica Diplodocus skeleton. During the launch evening guest speakers gave talks to raise awareness of the plight of the Endangered pygmy hippopotamus and its rainforest and swamp habitats in western Africa. ARKive supplied footage of this elusive species on behalf of Marco Polo Productions, helping to bring the talks to life.

Pygmy hippopotamus and calf

Pygmy hippopotamus and calf

The Foundation’s Work

The Pygmy Hippo Foundation aims to preserve and protect the remaining wild pygmy hippopotami (Choeropsis liberiensis) population which is thought to be as low as 2000 individuals. One of the main projects of the foundation is the development of Sapo National Park in south east Liberia, where the majority of the wild population of pygmy hippopotami live. The foundation also engages with the local community through education programmes and conservation initiatives as well as petitioning the Liberian government on the importance of conservation.

Deforestation in west Africa

Deforestation in west Africa

(Not So) Mini Hippos

The pygmy hippopotamus is reclusive and is mainly active at night when it ventures out of the water to feed in the forest. Though not dissimilar in appearance to the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) it comes as no shock that the pygmy hippopotamus is significantly smaller and unfortunately is at an even higher risk of extinction.  Wide-scale deforestation of the pygmy hippopotami’s forest habitat poses a major threat for this species. The pygmy hippopotamus depends on the rainforest for its diet of leaves, roots and grasses as well as swamps and rivers for a water source.

There's nothing mini about those teeth!

A Brighter Future …

It’s not all doom and gloom though: fortunately the pygmy hippopotamus breeds well in captivity and the captive population has increased greatly in recent years. Couple that with the fact that  the Pygmy Hippo Foundation are taking an active role in preserving the wild population by sponsoring direct research and ranger training for Sapo National Park, the pygmy hippo has a good chance at pulling through.

Looks like the pygmy hippopotamus will just about keep its head above the water for now!

Find out more about the pygmy hippopotamus and its conservation on the Pygmy Hippo Foundation website.

George Bradford, ARKive Researcher

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