Apr 26
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Spotlight on: Arbor Day, USA

Tree lovers unite – it’s Arbor Day! Did you know Arbor Day is over 135 years old? Its roots go way back to the Nebraska Territory of the USA in the late 1850s, but it wasn’t celebrated nationwide in the States until 1882.  A popular holiday advocating for the planting of trees, the first Arbor Day celebration was rumored to have planted over one million trees!

To celebrate, we’ve gathered some of our favorite images in the ARKive collection of tree species from both the US and around the world to show just how extraordinary trees can be. Are any of these your favorite?

Tree on fire

Photo of flame tree

This lovely bean tree gets its name from its vibrant red and yellow flowers that bloom in the spring and summer. If you catch the flame tree at dusk, you may be able to see its fragile leaves folding into its branches. Originally found in Madagascar, the flame tree has adapted to grow in other parts of the world.

Big-trunked timber

Photo of bottle tree

Can you guess how this African tree got its name? In addition to its unique shape, the bottle tree’s sap is considered highly toxic. Add this to its thorn-covered branches, one would argue that the bottle tree was definitely built for survival!

Thorns and haws

Photo of hawthorn tree

Like the bottle tree, hawthorns have thorns that create a protective barrier against animals. Though its bark is dark grey and brown, this tree blossoms white flowers and produces red berries called ‘haws’. A common tree in Britain, the Hawthorns’ flowers bloom in May, marking the sweet transition from spring into summer.

Nuts for trees

Photo of Brazil-nut tree

While Arbor Day is a joyful celebration of trees and nature, it also looks at the issue of conservation. The Brazil-nut trees in this photo were left standing amid deforestation, a widespread threat that has left this species Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. This tree is an incredibly versatile and important plant found in South America, particularly the Amazon. Interested in learning more? Take a look at our reforestation topic page inspired by our recently-released, free online game, Team WILD!

Mythical topiary

Photo of dragon's blood tree

A great provider of shade due to its dense foliage, the dragon’s blood tree is well known for its peculiar umbrella shape. As for its namesake, the dragon’s blood tree is prized for its dark red-colored resin that has been used since ancient times in art and medicine. A member of the evergreen tree family, this species keeps its leaves all year long. 

Large and looming

Photo of giant sequoia trees

The giant sequoia is awe-inspiring because of its massive volume and distinctive reddish brown coloring. Its enormous trunk measures up to 11 meters in diameter!  They may not be the tallest trees in the world, but the giant sequoia is certainly the largest. This woodland conifer is found in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California and one of the best places to visit these trees is at Yosemite National Park. Since this week is also National Park Week, now would be the perfect time for a road trip to see sequoias!

There are so many more amazing trees to explore on ARKive so why not have a search around the site today! Or, if you’re looking for a fun, educational experience to celebrate the holiday, why not give our free Plants lesson a go.

Andrea Small, Intern, Wildscreen USA

Apr 25
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World Penguin Day

Every year, April 25th marks World Penguin Day, a chance to celebrate these popular and charismatic birds. There are 18 species of penguin, and all are found in the southern hemisphere. These iconic flightless birds range from the large, well-known emperor penguin to the tiny, aptly name little penguin, and all are well adapted to the environments in which they live.

Photo of king penguins allopreening

King penguins

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate all things penguiny by taking a closer look at these fascinating birds.

Icon of the Antarctic

Photo of emperor penguins huddle together during blizzard

Emperor penguins huddling together during a blizzard

At over one metre tall, the emperor penguin is the largest penguin species. One of the most iconic animals of the Antarctic, this hardy bird is well adapted to the cold, with a relatively small head, beak and flippers to reduce heat loss, and layers of tightly packed, scale-like feathers to keep it warm and dry. Like other penguins, it also has a thick layer of fat that acts as insulation and an energy store. Male emperor penguins incubate a single egg throughout the harsh Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to an incredible minus 60ºC. The males balance the eggs on their feet, and huddle together to keep warm.

Coping in the heat

Photo of African penguin colony on beach

African penguins on beach

Although typically associated with cold environments, not all penguins live in the Antarctic. The African penguin breeds in southern Africa, where it has to deal with potentially high temperatures. To protect its nest against the heat, the African penguin often nests in burrows or in the shade of boulders or bushes. The most northerly penguin species is the Galapagos penguin, which is found near the equator.

Super swimmers

Photo of emperor penguins descending to feed

Emperor penguins swimming underwater

All penguins are superb swimmers, with streamlined bodies and flipper-like wings which give them great speed underwater. Penguins can cope with long, deep dives, and some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea. Compared to flying birds, which have light, hollow bones, penguins have heavy, solid bones which aid diving. Legs set far back on the body help penguins to steer underwater, but mean they walk clumsily on land.

Well-dressed water birds

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

Northern rockhopper penguins

Penguins are characterised by their distinctive black and white colour patterns. Known as ‘countershading’, this pattern provides camouflage underwater, helping the penguin to avoid detection by predators and prey. When seen from above, the penguin’s dark back blends in with the dark ocean depths, and when seen from below its white belly blends in with the light from the sky. Penguin species are most easily told apart by the distinctive patterns on their head and neck, and some species even sport quite colourful hairdos!

Sociable breeders

Photo of large king penguin breeding colony

Large breeding colony of king penguins

Penguins often form huge breeding colonies that may number hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs, and the stains left by the droppings of so many birds can sometimes be seen from space. Penguins usually form monogamous pairs in each breeding season. Nesting sites vary between species, and can include sea ice, rock, beaches, or even coastal forest, in the case of the Fiordland crested penguin.

Fishy diet

Photo of Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Penguins use their great swimming ability and speed underwater to catch a variety of fish, squid and crustaceans, including the shrimp-like krill. Amazingly, penguins are able to drink seawater when at sea, as they possess glands which filter excess salt from the blood, excreting it from the nasal passages in a concentrated salty fluid.

Fabulous feet

Close-up photo of adult gentoo penguin feet

Close-up of gentoo penguin feet

Penguins have a series of adaptations which help to reduce heat loss through the feet and prevent the feet from freezing when the bird is standing on ice. As warm blood enters the legs, it flows past cold blood returning from the feet. In this way, the blood entering the feet is cooled, reducing heat loss, and the blood returning to the body is warmed again. Penguins can also reduce blood flow to their feet in freezing conditions, and may tip back on their heels to minimise the area of skin in contact with the ice.

Penguin predators

Leopard seal attacking an Adélie penguin chick

Adélie penguin chick being attacked by leopard seal

On land, penguins generally have few predators, although birds such as the southern skua may take their eggs and chicks, and adult penguins may also be attacked by the northern giant petrel. In the sea, penguins may be attacked by leopard seals and orcas.

Bad feather day

Photo of adult northern rockhopper penguin moulting

Moulting northern rockhopper penguin

Like most birds, penguins moult once a year, replacing worn and damaged feathers to keep their plumage in top condition. However, unlike most other birds, which moult a few feathers at a time, penguins moult all their feathers in one go, as missing just one or two would affect their waterproofing and put them at risk from the cold. Before its annual moult a penguin puts on weight, building up fat reserves which allow it to stay out of the water while it waits for its new feathers to grow. During this time it can take on a decidedly scruffy appearance!

Really quite cool

Photo of gentoo penguin scratching

Gentoo penguin scratching

Penguins are hugely popular birds and commonly appear in films, TV programmes and popular culture, being much loved for their comical appearance and upright, almost human-like walk. They are also hardy survivors, occurring in some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet.

Unfortunately, humans have also had negative impacts on penguin populations, through pollution, overfishing, coastal development and the effects of climate change. The International Penguin Conservation Working Group is helping to promote penguin conservation and to draw attention to the threats facing penguins, and with various research programmes also underway there is hope that these iconic birds can be protected into the future.

 

Why not join in the World Penguin Day celebrations yourself? You can explore more penguin photos, videos and factfiles on ARKive, or make a penguin mask with our Penguin Diversity education module.

Or, get in touch and let us know which species of penguin is your favourite and why!

Photo of emperor penguin chicks with adult

Emperor penguin with chicks

You can also show your love for penguins by voting for the emperor penguin in our World’s Favourite Species campaign.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 24
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Guest blog: Meet Bristol99 residents – the fox, the peregrine and the owl

This year ARKive and Bristol Festival of Nature are both celebrating their 10th anniversaries! Each are marking the occasion in very special ways: while ARKive is asking the world to vote for their favourite species, the Festival of Nature is setting out to discover Bristol’s wildlife with Bristol99 – an exciting project that aims to connect people in the city with nature on their doorstep through a variety of wildlife events across Bristol’s ninety-nine best sites for nature.

Wherever you live, there are always fascinating species to be found, and with these two celebrations happening at the same time, it seemed like a good idea to talk about the three of ARKive’s shortlisted favourites that you might find right here in the city of Bristol: the red fox, the peregrine falcon, and the barn owl.

Red fox 

Red fox raiding dustbin for scraps

First, the red fox. If you live in the UK, it’s probably the species you’re most likely to have on your tick list, and with Bristol being home to the famous BBC Natural History Unit, it’s become a bit of a film star over time. Foxes began colonising Bristol in the 1930s, when suburbs of semi-detached houses sprung up on the city outskirts, with large gardens that provided an ideal habitat. The population grew rapidly, spreading to the city centre, and foxes can be seen regularly across the city. Keep your eyes peeled after dark!

Peregrine falcon

Urban peregrine falcon ssp. anatum at nest with large brood of four chicks

Peregrine falcons are best known for being the fastest animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 200mph! In the UK, peregrines have increasingly moved into urban areas in recent years, and Bristol has a number of residents and visitors. Last summer, a pair nested on a ledge of a building by the city’s harbour and were regularly spotted circling the city centre hunting for food for their single chick. The steep cliffs of the Avon Gorge are the best place in Bristol to view these birds, with one viewing spot even named Peregrine Point! Here local enthusiasts gather between April and October, when the peregrines are most active, and observe their day to day activity.

Barn owl

Barn owl photo

Finally, the barn owl. This beautiful bird suffered a decline in numbers throughout the twentieth century which has been attributed to the use of certain agricultural pesticides and an overall loss of habitat. You are more likely to spot a barn owl in the countryside, where it inhabits riverbanks, field edges and roadside verges, but Bristol is blessed with a number of large parks on the outskirts of the city such as Ashton Court and Stoke Park, where if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of an owl at dusk as they come out to hunt.

Nature on your doorstep

With three of the nominated 50 species in the running for World’s Favourite Species being found on our doorstep here in Bristol, it just goes to show that you don’t need to visit the  most exotic places and habitats to find amazing wildlife. Wherever you live, there are a whole host of exciting species just waiting to be discovered.

If you live in the Bristol area, then join us for Bristol99, as we explore our local green spaces to see what fascinating species we can uncover. It all starts with the Bristol BioBlitz on 3rd and 4th May and finishes with the Festival of Nature on 15th and 16th June, where you can join ARKive and over 150 other organisations for the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world!

But no matter where you live, get out and enjoy nature. And don’t forget to vote for the species which deserves to be the World’s Favourite Species.

Lucy Gaze, Bristol99 Project Officer

P.S. our vote is for the peregrine

 

Bristol Festival of Nature                                         Bristol 99

 

Apr 23
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ARKive’s Top Ten Animals in Literature

Organised by UNESCO, World Book and Copyright Day is held yearly on the 23rd of April, a date which also marks the birth and death of William Shakespeare, and aims to promote reading, publishing and copyright. To celebrate and help people rediscover the pleasure of reading, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite animals featured in famous and much-loved works of literature. How many of these books have you read?!

Life of Pi – Richard Parker

Bengal tiger image

Bengal tiger

Winner of four Oscars, the popular 2012 film Life of Pi was based on Yann Martel’s intriguing novel of the same name, and tells the story of Pi, a young boy from Pondicherry, India, who ends up on a remarkable journey. When the ship taking him to North America sinks, Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days with only Richard Parker for company. Trouble is, Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger

Harry Potter – Hedwig

Snowy owl image

Snowy owl

Adored by children and adults alike, the Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling series in history. Each novel in the seven-book series envelops readers in a wonderful world of magic and mayhem, and is filled with charismatic characters and fantastical creatures. Among these is Harry Potter’s loyal feathery friend Hedwig the snowy owl, a large, powerful owl species with piercing golden-yellow eyes.

Moby Dick – Moby Dick

Sperm whale image

Sperm whale

He tasks me! That whale, he tasks me!

It doesn’t end at all well for Captain Ahab when he tries to take on Moby Dick, the gigantic white sperm whale that had bitten off the sea-farer’s leg on his last whaling voyage. In the story, Captain Ahab, a vengeful whale-hunter, is determined to track down the great whale and kill it, but the tables are turned when the harpoon rope becomes entangled around his neck, and he is dragged to the ocean’s depths by the very animal he was trying to kill.

Esio Trot – Alfie

Egyptian tortoise image

Egyptian tortoise

ESIO TROT, ESIO TROT, TEG REGGIB REGGIB!”

The star of Roald Dahl’s 1990 children’s novel Esio Trot is none other than Alfie, a little tortoise who, his owner believes, would be much happier if he were a little bigger. We can’t be sure exactly what species Alfie is supposed to be, but one fellow carapaced creature that knows all about being diminutive is the Egyptian tortoise. This runty reptile has a high-domed shell which grows no longer than about 14 centimetres at full size!

The Ancient Mariner – the albatross

Wandering albatross image

Wandering albatross

Being followed by an albatross is often considered to be a good omen for sea-farers, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an albatross appears at a most opportune moment, leading the ship and its crew out of the bitterly cold Antarctic. However, much to the anger of the other sailors, the Mariner shoots the bird, an action which causes bad fortune to befall him and his ship mates. The albatross in the poem could well have been a wandering albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to an impressive 3.5 metres across.

The Jungle Book – Baloo

Sloth bear image

Sloth bear

Much-loved by many, Baloo the bear in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is described as being ‘the sleepy brown bear’. However, this law-teaching character is actually thought to be a sloth bear, which is found in the Seoni area of India where the novel takes place. Sloth bears are unique amongst bears in that the majority of their diet is composed of insects, particularly termites and ants…this might explain Baloo’s choice of snack as he sings ‘Bear Necessities’ in the animated Disney film adaptation!

White Fang – White Fang

Grey wolf image

Grey wolf

Published in 1906, Jack London’s novel White Fang is set during the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory at the end of the 19th century. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations faced by White Fang, part dog and part grey wolf, as he grows from a feisty pup into a majestic canine. Grey wolves are highly social and intelligent animals which hunt efficiently in packs. Once wide ranging in the northern hemisphere, the grey wolf now has a more restricted distribution, being extinct in parts of Western Europe, Mexico and the USA.

Jaws – the great white shark

Great white shark image

Great white shark

A 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the story of the residents of a fictional seaside town terrorised by a man-eating great white shark, and the efforts of three men to rid the small resort of the fearsome beast. While the film of the same name became a Hollywood blockbuster, it can’t have done much good for the reputation of some of the ocean’s most incredible predators! Despite media frenzy surrounding the topic, only an average of 30 to 50 shark attacks are reported each year, and of these just 5 to 10 prove to be fatal. If you consider that, in the coastal states of the USA alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year, it’s really not that high a statistic!

The Wind in the Willows – Mr Toad

Common toad image

Common toad

Mr Toad, an impulsive motor car enthusiast and the owner of Toad Hall, is one of the central characters in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Described as resourceful and intelligent, Mr Toad is a self-centred yet loveable rogue, and finds himself in several scrapes throughout the book. While not known for its penchant for tweed suits, the common toad is believed to be the inspiration behind the wealthy occupant of Toad Hall.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – the caterpillar

Swallowtail caterpillar image

Swallowtail caterpillar

We couldn’t finish off this blog without mentioning a wonderful childhood favourite which documents a fascinating biological process…The Very Hungry Caterpillar! Young and old are enthralled by this picture book following the journey of a caterpillar as it chomps its way through various food items before pupating and emerging as a beautiful butterfly!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reuniting with some of the most famous (and infamous!) creatures in literature! Was your favourite animal character featured here? If not, comment below to tell us who your top choice is!

Four of our Top Ten Animals in Literature have made it onto the shortlist of the world’s Top 50 Favourite Species…so why not check out what else has been nominated and cast your vote!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 22
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ARKive’s Faces of Climate Change – Earth Day 2013

The Face of Climate Change

Today more than one billion people from around the world will take part in Earth Day, an annual event which celebrates our amazing planet and encourages people to take positive actions to protect it.

It is easy to think of climate change as a remote problem but the reality is it is impacting people, places and species all over the world, and the numbers are increasing. The theme of Earth Day 2013 is ‘The Face of Climate Change’, which was chosen to highlight the increasing impacts of climate change on individuals around the world.

This year to mark Earth Day we have selected our own ‘Faces of Climate Change’ in order to raise awareness about some of the many species affected by climate change.

ARKive’s Faces of Climate Change

To mark Earth Day 2013 here at the ARKive office we have selected our own Faces of Climate Change.

Polar bear

Climate change is the biggest threat facing the polar bear

The polar bear is dependent on sea ice to hunt, breed and rest but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice coverage across the Arctic region. This reduces the polar bear’s access to prey, forcing them to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves.

Coral Reef

Coral bleaching is increasing due to rising sea temperatures

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to coral reefs. Coral bleaching, a process where corals lose their symbiotic algae due to the stress of being exposed to extreme temperatures, is becoming more frequent as the sea temperatures rise. Bleached coral are unable to obtain enough nutrients so begin to starve. To find out more visit ARKive’s coral reef conservation page.

Koalas

Climate change is likely to affect the amount of nutrients koalas get from eucalyptus

Climate change could affect the amount of nutrients koalas obtain from eucalyptus, their main food source, as higher carbon dioxide levels reduce the protein levels and increase the amount of tannins in the leaves of eucalyptus.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Climate change is likely to have an affect on the abundance of the North Atlantic right whale’s prey

Increases in sea temperatures and changes in ocean currents is likely to cause the planktonic prey of the North Atlantic right whale to move location or reduce in abundance, having potentially devastating consequences for this already highly endangered species.

Atlantic Salmon

Increasing water temperatures could affect the developmental rate of juvenile Atlantic salmon

The Atlantic salmon’s developmental rate is directly related to water temperature. Therefore it is possible that increasing water temperatures could result in more rapidly developing juveniles entering the ocean before their planktonic food source has reached sufficiently high levels.

Arctic Fox

The tundra habitat of the Arctic fox is changing due to climate change

Climate change is turning the tundra, the habitat of the Arctic fox, into boreal forest as new plants are beginning to colonise the area. This change in habitat is causing a decline in the Arctic fox’s prey species and allows the red fox, a competitor, to move into the area.

Golden Toad

Climate change and chytridiomycosis are thought to be responsible for the extinction of the golden toad

The extinction of the golden toad is thought to have been caused mainly by climate change and the disease chytridiomycosis.  Amphibians are sensitive to even small changes in temperature and moisture, with changes in global weather patterns altering breeding behaviour and affecting reproductive success. Find out about what is being done to protect the world’s amphibians with our amphibian conservation topic page

Sea turtles

Climate change could lead to a disproportionate number of females in sea turtle populations

The gender of sea turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated in the nest, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures more females. Increasing temperatures, due to climate change, will result in a disproportionate number of females in a given population.

To find out more about climate change visit ARKive’s climate change topic page. You can also test your knowledge with ARKive’s Climate Change Quiz.

Jemma Pealing, Media Researcher

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