Feb 21

Turtles took over @ARKive’s Twitter account yesterday when turtle expert Professor Brendan Godley answered your burning questions about sea turtles. We loved Brendan’s guest blogs about his turtle research and leatherback turtles, so we were delighted when he offered to take time out of his busy research schedule on Ascension Island to tweet about turtles (in temperatures of 35 °C).

And Brendan wasn’t just feeling the heat on Ascension, but also on our Twitter stream. You tweeted some tricky questions to test his expertise, but we think you’ll agree that he came up turtle trumps! Here are just some of the #turtletweet highlights:

Photo of female flatback turtle digging nest

Female flatback turtle digging nest

Turtles on Ascension

@JellicleKat You’re out on Ascension Island at the moment…how long is the nesting season, and how many females nest there? #turtletweet

In the 1930s it was down to a few hundred but now about 5000 per year. 6 month season. #turtletweet

@inthefieldnews  Sea turtles return to the same beach where they hatched as juveniles to breed…but where do they go in between?

They go to one or more foraging areas that can be many thousands of miles. eg here on Ascension its Brazil #turtletweet

Top Turtle Facts

@eldenney: what’s your most interesting turtle fact? Thanks! #turtletweet

The fact that green turtles can rest at the bottom of the Mediterrannean sea for as long as 10.5 hours #turtletweet

@eldenney Cool! I can’t stay underwater for much more than 30 secs! Green turtles are impressive #turtletweet

Photo of green turtle with turtle barnacles

Green turtle with turtle barnacles on its shell

@clairecjl: Hi Brendan, I was wondering how long it takes leatherbacks to reach full size? #turtletweet

This is still debated, with work to be done but anywhere between 10 and 20 years seem the best estimates to date. #turtletweet

What’s the difference between a turtle and a terrapin?

@lillashaw Hi Brendan, we were debating this in the office the other day… What’s the difference between a turtle and terrapin? #turtletweet

Its semantics N america everything can be a turtle, in UK turtle is sea, terrapin is freshwater, tortoise on land. #turtletweet

Turtles and fishing

@Jess_Cripps Do you think more could be done by fisheries to reduce the bycatch of turtles in their equipment? #turtletweet

I do. Much has been done already TEDS (trawlers), Circle hooks (longlines) and these can be improved #turtletweet

One of the great ongoing challenges is that of how to minimise bycatch in gillnets #turtletweet

Photo of a green turtle trapped in fishing net

Green turtle trapped in fishing net

Which species of turtles are thriving? Which are endangered?

RT @DanielsImage: @ARKive@BrendanGodley How many species of sea turtles are there? Are any thriving? #turtletweet

.@DanielsImage @BrendanGodley Big winners r Atlantic green turtles, ones struggling incl Pacific leatherbacks and hawksbills. #turtletweet

Photof of front on view of a hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill turtle

Why are turtles endangered?

@harrypurplmonky What has happened to make turtles endangered? #turtletweet

Exploited for meat and eggs for a long time &have started to recover where they r protected on beach and sea#turtletweet

Photo of green turtle shells, butchered alive for blood and meat

The shells of green turtles, butchered alive for blood and meat

.@inthefieldnews… what would you say is the biggest threat facing sea turtles worldwide?

as with all marine biodiversity; I would say it fishing followed by climate change #turtletweet

Climate Change

@Jess_Cripps: Do you think turtles will start to breed earlier in response to climate change? #turtletweet

Not yet but it will soon! In Cyprus they are already 90% female…will get worse with inc temps #turtletweet

@eldenney: poor boys! #turtletweet

Photo of Kemp's ridley turtle hatchlings

Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings

Plastic Pollution

@Wildlife_Jason: What would you say is the worst problem for #turtles caused by #plasticpollution in our oceans?

“Turtles, partic babies & all leatherbacks eat it..less of a problem than fisheries though” via @BrendanGodley #turtletweet

Photo of green turtle suffocating on plastic bag

Green turtle suffocating on plastic bag

Turtles on film

@WildscreenFest: What part does wildlife filmmaking has to play in #turtle conservation? #turtletweet

@Wildlife_Film: What did you think of the footage of baby green turtles in @BBCNature #Africa?bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01… #turtletweet

As seen on recent #Africa, there is clearly a role. MT are emblomatic #turtletweet

@Podgeosaurus: When filming do you think crews should aid baby turtles, or stay hands off? #turtletweet

Difficult one; up to individs. they shouldnt do is make things worse by releasing in daylight or hold hatchlings back#turtletweet

@lauriebelch why do some populations of turtles hatch in the day when it seems that predation risk is much higher#turtletweet

.@ARKive @lauriebelch very few do, but for obvious reasons we see more of it on film. More starlight cameras needed. #turtletweet

How can we help turtles?

@eldenney: so is there anything we can do to help turtles? #turtletweet

think about seafood choices, climate change and your role, get involved or help those who are.#turtletweet

@DanielsImage: Our support $ only go so far. Are there any organizations to support turtles you favor? #turtletweet

If I was to plump for one I would choose @seaturtle .org which is a one man show, no overheads and has transformed the field

@dodger_wake Some may not like it can we not ‘farm’ the endangered turtles to allow survival rates for eggs to raise then release

It’s done in the Cayman Islands for over 40 years, adults are now returning that were released #turtletweet

Cute or shocking photos?

@wild_photos: Our question for @ARKive’s#turtletweet! What do you think is more powerful in conservation: cute turtle images or ones showing turtle loss?

.@colaciregui @wild_photos @KACHUGABUT pictures of baby turtles always draws a gasp from the crowd! :)

Photo of young hawksbill turtle caught in a fishing net

Young hawksbill turtle caught in a fishing net

Turtle thanks!

@harrypurplmonky Wow what a #turtletweet! TY @ARKive & @brendangodley Harry’s learned so much about turtles & conservation!… http://fb.me/KGOX0CX8

@Wildlife_Jason @BrendanGodley @ARKive Thanks for an informative #turtletweet time! :)

 

We’d like to join our followers in thanking Professor Brendan Godley for his turtle-takeover – informative, thought-provoking, and turtle-tastic!

Get regular updates from Brendan by following him on Twitter @brendangodley, and check out his recommended top tweeters: @UoExeterCEC, @EcoSoc_Tremough, @LifeNatureMag and @BioBlitzTremou.

Would you like to see more twitter takeovers? What topics would you be interested in? Follow @ARKive and let us know!

Feb 21

“For centuries, an exotic but forbidden land has captured our imagination…Now, for the first time, we can explore this place of myth and legend.”

Sand dune habitat of the common sandfish

Much of Arabia is covered by vast deserts with towering sand dunes

Promising a land of magic and surprise, the BBC is launching its new three-part nature documentary series, ‘Wild Arabia’, this Friday. The series will explore the awe-inspiring deserts of Arabia, travelling across the peninsula and filming in extreme conditions to bring us a collection of stunning time-lapses, wildlife encounters and insights into the lives of the Arabian people.

We can expect to see Bedouin nomads, sand storms, festivals and camel races, but most exciting for us in the ARKive office will be the spectacular array of wildlife.

Male Arabian leopard

For the first time, the private life of the elusive Arabian leopard has been caught on camera

Perhaps most anticipated is the up-close and personal glimpse into the life of the Critically Endangered Arabian leopard, one of the most secretive predators in the world. A close second is striking footage of a nimble lesser Egyptian jerboa narrowly outmanoeuvring a desert fox. Be prepared for slow motion and drama in this sequence!

Arabian oryx males fighting

Arabian oryx were once extinct in the wild

Other stars of the show will include the magnificent Arabian oryx, the fearless striped hyaena and the formidable Arabian fat-tailed scorpion, which takes on a mysterious appearance under UV light. The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard that changes colour with temperature will also make an appearance, as will the honey badger, a brave raider of honey bee nests. Moving into the ocean, we will see favourites such as migratory green turtles, and gentle whale sharks.

Whale shark filter feeding, surrounded by other smaller fish

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world

As well as exploring the characteristic sand dunes and date palm oases, we will also be taken deep underground to find the mystifying source of oasis water in Oman, into the heart of cloud forests, and high into the Dhofar Mountains.

Rüppell’s fox, front view

Rüppell’s fox is small and elusive

We hope you are eagerly anticipating this new series just as much as we are. In-depth information on many of the species expected to feature can be found here on ARKive, and for a peek at the many habitats and species that parts of Arabia have to offer, check out our Jewels of the UAE topic page.

If the beautiful Arabian oryx caught your attention, watch this video on its conservation on ARKive’s YouTube Channel, also featuring the scimitar-horned oryx which is classified as Extinct in the Wild.

Sneak previews, an episode guide and (some humorous) behind the scenes stories from the series can be found on the BBC Wild Arabia page.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Feb 20

For the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of the breeding behaviour of the rare giant armadillo in the wild.

Giant armadillo walking

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals

Burrowing rarity

Found throughout the Amazon rainforest and Brazil’s Pantanal region, the giant armadillo is the largest species of armadillo in the world. Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species’ nocturnal and burrowing habits make it particularly hard to study and, so far, relatively little is known about its breeding behaviour.

However, a new study, led by scientists in Brazil, has used modern technology to help answer questions regarding the poorly known mating behaviour of the giant armadillo. Camera traps are a particularly effective non-intrusive method of gaining insight into the lives of shy, lesser-known mammal species, and their use in this study has been highly valuable.

Giant armadillo emerging from burrow

Armadillos have a quirky appearance

Baby giant

Scientists from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project have monitored a female giant armadillo since November 2011  using the remote camera traps and, in January 2012, the presence of a male giant armadillo around the female’s burrows raised hopes that a romance might blossom. While aware of the possibility of wishful thinking, the scientists were optimistic, particularly when, after six months, the two armadillos shared a burrow for several days, after which the male disappeared.

Five months afterwards, suspicions were raised when the female began to use only one burrow, an unusual behaviour for this species which frequently moves between burrows. Three weeks later, the nose of a newborn giant armadillo was finally caught on camera, confirming what the scientists had hoped to find. Further photographs of the infant were captured as it emerged from the burrow, its age estimated to be around four weeks old.

Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator says, “Documenting the birth of a giant armadillo is an exciting step forward to helping us better understand the biology and reproduction of this cryptic species and ultimately help us conserve it.

Although there are many questions still to be answered, the scientists have found evidence that suggests giant armadillos only have one offspring at a time.

photo of giant armadillo and infant

Camera traps snapped the approximately four week old baby giant armadillo leaving the burrow with its mother

Conserving rare species

This long-term study of a giant armadillo has provided essential information on its behaviour that can be used to help conserve this rare species, which has never bred in captivity. The information will help provide an understanding of the species’ population dynamics, which can be used to influence future conservation plans.

The secretive nature and rarity of the giant armadillo means that its local extinction can easily go unnoticed, and to lose such a species before we know anything about its ecology and behaviour would be devastating. Long-term studies such as this one are fundamental to understanding the ecological role played by rare and endangered species.

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

The giant armadillo is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and hunting, due to the large amount of meat its body supplies, and estimates suggest its population may have declined by at least 30 percent over the last 25 years. Without intervention, coupled with knowledge of the species’ behaviour and ecology, this trend is likely to continue. The giant armadillo is sadly the least studied species of the Dasypodidae family, a problem that the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project is working hard to solve.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)

View photos and videos of the giant armadillo on ARKive.

 

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Feb 19

The North Atlantic right whale, along with many other whale species, is set to benefit from work by scientists to reduce the noise levels caused along shipping routes.

North Atlantic right whale image

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest large whales in the world

Reducing the din

One of the rarest of the large whales, the North Atlantic right whale is thought to have a population of just 500 individuals, and it is believed that excessive noise along shipping routes is likely to negatively affect this threatened species. The din from commercial ships makes it extremely difficult for the marine mammals to communicate with one another, which in turn means that their ability to locate food and mates, and therefore their ability to sustain a viable population, is greatly diminished.

Research indicates that noise levels in the New England region of North America have doubled each decade over the past 30 years. To counteract this problem, scientists have persuaded shipping companies to alter their routes in and around the Boston area, which plays host to several species of whale, many of which are suffering as a result of increased noise levels.

An iPad application has been developed which enables sea captains to visualise the locations of whales across the USA’s entire East Coast, and to know when to slow their ships down. Results indicate that this change in operations has already helped to significantly lower the amount of noise pollution in the area.

North Atlantic right whale image

The North Atlantic right whale is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

A thunderous drone

To a whale, it is thought that the sound of a passing container ship could be like a ‘thunderous, unchanging drone’.

It’s as if you are talking at a cocktail party and all of a sudden it is hard to hear because there is all this background noise,” said Dr Mark Baumgartner of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “A couple of words get dropped, you don’t get the meaning of everything that is said to you. That is what it is like for a lot of whales in the ocean right now.”

Ship strikes

In addition to the problems caused by the disruption in whale communication, ships are also known to physically collide with whales on occasion. While such incidents are limited to just one or two a year, this presents a serious problem for a species of which only 500 or so individuals remain. Worryingly, research also indicates that mothers with calves get hit more frequently.

Our scientists found shattered bone and large hematomas which are indicative of a ship strike,” said Dr Dave Wiley of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It is hoped that the new iPad app will go some way to limiting the frequency of such accidents.

 

North Atlantic right whale image

North Atlantic right whale breaching

Cooperation for conservation

Using data on whale locations and the details of commercial shipping lanes, Dr Wiley and his team, along with the Boston port authorities, worked to calculate a new route which would reduce the co-occurrence of whales and ships by an impressive 81%. In addition, this new route has increased the transit time of ships by up to 22 minutes.

Since the new route was accepted by the International Maritime Organization, it has been used voluntarily by many ships, 1,500 of which pass through Boston’s port each month. It is encouraging that, despite thousands of jobs depending on commerce in Boston, many companies are instructing their captains to use the new whale app and the new suggested shipping route.

There was a little bit of resistance at first when they talked about speed reductions,” said Andy Hammond, chief executive director of the Boston Harbor Pilot Association. “Oddly enough, we found since they’ve implemented this, ships have slowed down an awful lot anyway. Initially, I think there was pushback but once they realised that it didn’t affect this port that much, they’ve accepted it.”

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Whales benefit from action on ocean noise.

View photos and videos of North Atlantic right whales on ARKive.

Find out more fascinating information on the North Atlantic right whale in our Endangered Species of the Week blog.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Feb 18

Trees are some of the most important organisms on the planet, creating great habitats for wildlife and also providing humans with vital products such as timber, food and medicines. Trees even help to combat climate change, pollution and flooding, and have been shown to have positive effects on human health and wellbeing.

It’s often the animal world that gets all the attention, so we thought it was time to give plants a bit more love by celebrating ten of ARKive’s top trees from around the world. Meet some of the oldest, largest, rarest, weirdest and most magnificent species on Earth…

Ancient mountain dweller

Photo of bristlecone pine trunk

The bristlecone pine is one of the world’s longest-lived organisms, with one individual, known as ‘Methuselah’, estimated to be nearly 5,000 years old. This hardy species inhabits harsh mountainous environments in California, Nevada and Utah, and has an extremely slow growth rate. Typically quite gnarled and stunted in appearance, the bristlecone pine is named for the prickles on the surface of its dark purple female cones.

Impressive giant

Photo of giant sequoia (The General Grant Tree)

Although not the world’s tallest tree, in terms of sheer volume the giant sequoia is one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Reaching up to 95 metres in height and 11 metres in diameter, with bark up to 60 centimetres thick, this giant tree can live for over 3,000 years. Found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the giant sequoia is resistant to fire, and regular wildfires help to remove competing plants as well as allowing this species’ cones to open.

Towering triumph

Photo of coast redwoods growing in a circle

Closely related to the giant sequoia, the coast redwood is the tallest tree on Earth, growing to a staggering 115 metres in height, with a trunk up to 9 metres in diameter. This towering giant is confined to foggy coastal areas in southwest Oregon and northwest California, USA. Unfortunately, the coast redwood has been highly prized for its timber and an estimated 95% of the original redwood forest has been cut down.

Sustainable nut producer

Photo of open Brazil-nut fruit

Native to South America, the brazil-nut tree is one of the most economically important plants in the Amazon. Its famous seeds grow inside a large, round fruit, arranged like the segments of an orange, and are harvested for food and oil. The brazil-nut tree depends on agoutis to gnaw through its tough fruit and release the seeds, and on certain bee species to pollinate its flowers. The bees in turn depend on a certain type of orchid to survive. The brazil-nut tree can therefore only produce seeds in undisturbed forest, making it a model for generating a sustainable income from tropical forests.

Lonely palm

Photo of loneliest palm, Curepipe Botanic Garden, Mauritius

The loneliest palm is one of the rarest plants in the world, with only one wild individual remaining. This lonely tree grows in the Curepipe Botanical Garden in Mauritius, where it has survived for over 50 years. Although it flowers and fruits regularly, the fruits of this individual are sterile as the male flowers open before the female flowers, preventing pollination. Attempts have been made to clone this rare palm, but the clones have so far failed to survive.

Living fossil

Photo of Wollemi pine leaves

The Wollemi pine has been called a ‘living fossil’, as it represents the only remaining member of an ancient group of plants. Previously believed to be extinct, the Wollemi pine was rediscovered in Australia in 1994, where it is known from just two sites in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales. This prehistoric species is one of the world’s rarest plants, but is now being grown in cultivation and planted in gardens and parks around the world, helping to support its conservation.

Imposing icon

Photo of an avenue of Grandidier's baobab trees

Found in southwest Madagascar, Grandidier’s baobab is the largest and most famous of the island’s baobab trees. Sometimes known as the ‘upside-down tree’, it is an imposing species with a massive cylindrical trunk, which is used to store water. Its spectacular white flowers are said to smell of sour watermelon, and are pollinated by nocturnal mammals. Sadly, this iconic tree is under threat from the conversion of its forest habitat into open agricultural land.

Here be dragons!

Photo of dragon's blood trees in flower

One of the most distinctive plants on the island of Socotra, the evocatively named dragon’s blood tree has a truly bizarre appearance, with an upturned, densely packed crown which has the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Morning mists condense on the waxy leaves and are channelled down the trunk to the roots, while the dense crown shades the ground below and reduces evaporation. This strange tree is named for its dark red resin, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, which has been a highly prized substance since ancient times.

Medicinal marvel

Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Renowned worldwide for its medicinal properties, the maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs. This unique species has been used in traditional medicines for hundreds of years, and is still popular in herbal remedies today. Although the maidenhair tree is widely planted around the world, its wild populations appear to be confined to Mount Xitianmu in Zhejiang, China. However, it is unclear whether these individuals are truly wild or are descendents from temple gardens

From little acorns…

Photo of ancient sessile oak tree covered with ferns and lichens

Oak trees are surrounded by much folklore and are well-loved symbols of strength. Native to most of Europe and parts of Asia, the sessile oak is so-named because its acorns are not supported on stalks. Like other oaks, the sessile oak supports an amazing variety of wildlife and is a habitat in its own right. The open canopy of this species allows light to reach the ground, favouring the growth of a range of ground plants, while its acorns provide food for many animal species.

 

These are just some of the world’s weird and wonderful trees – you can discover more and view photos of tree species from around the world on ARKive.

You can also find out more about tree conservation at Fauna & Flora International’s Global Trees Campaign and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Do you have a favourite tree, or one that means something special to you? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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