May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of the hundreds of turtle and tortoise species around the world. These incredible reptiles range from the feisty to the downright funky, so here at ARKive we thought we would join in the celebrations by sharing our top turtle facts and some turtley awesome images!

Common snapping turtle image

The common snapping turtle is a rather feisty species, known for being somewhat short-tempered and aggressive

Top Turtle Tidbits

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on Earth for over 200 million years
  • There are more than 330 recognised species of tortoise and turtle, just 7 of which are sea turtles
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature at which they are incubated – in many species, low incubation temperatures produce males, whereas higher temperatures lead to the production of females
Flatback turtle image

A mysterious species, the flatback turtle is listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List

Turtle Profile: Flatback turtle

  • The distinctive-looking flatback turtle is distinguished by and named for its extremely flat, round or oval upper shell, which characteristically turns upwards at the rim
  • The flatback turtle is the only endemic species of marine turtle, nesting solely along the northern coast of Australia and on off-shore islands
  • This species has one of the smallest ranges of all the marine turtles, being limited to the tropical waters of northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya
  • This enigmatic species is known to produce the largest eggs and hatchlings relative to its adult body size of all the sea turtle species

Fascinating flatback fact – Over much of its nesting range, the flatback turtle is predated upon by the largest reptile of them all – the saltwater crocodile!

Chaco side-necked turtle image

Any guesses as to how the Chaco side-necked turtle got its name?!

Did you know?

  • Although all turtles and tortoises have a shell, not all of them are able to withdraw their head and limbs into it
  • The shell of a turtle or tortoise is actually made up of many different bones, and is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and a section of the vertebral column
  • The upper part of the shell is known as the ‘carapace’, while the under part is called the ‘plastron’
Burmese starred tortoise image

The Critically Endangered Burmese starred tortoise has a striking shell pattern

Testudines under threat

Turtles and tortoises belong to the taxonomic order ‘Testudines’, and are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half of these incredible reptilian species being at risk of extinction. They face a whole host of threats, from pollution and habitat destruction to collection for the pet trade, food or for use in traditional medicines.

One of the most threatened species of all is Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, which can weigh over 120kg. The historic range of this enormous species has diminished considerably as a result of wetland destruction, water pollution and over-collection of the species for consumption, and the global population of this fascinating reptile now numbers just four individuals, two of which are in captivity.

Swinhoe's soft shell turtle image

Unfortunately, only two individuals of Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle remain in the wild, both of which are male

What is being done to help?

Thankfully, various conservation organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to help save turtles and tortoises from the brink of extinction. Here are some actions being taken to ensure the future survival of these fascinating creatures:

  • Shrimp fisheries are now using Turtle Excluder Devices, which only allow shrimp-sized objects to enter the nets, preventing turtles from being caught as bycatch
  • Many species are now listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade is strictly monitored and controlled – this should hopefully prevent some collection of wild turtles for the international pet trade
  • Some nesting sites are protected during the nesting season to ensure that eggs cannot be collected and subsequently sold
  • Captive breeding programmes and the protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations could ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent reptiles

Are you turtley in awe of sea turtles? Want to learn more about them? Then why not check out our eggshellent new ARKive Education resource – Turtle Life Cycle – and play the turtle-tastic board game!

Find out more about turtles, tortoises and their conservation:

Learn more about reptile conservation:

View photos and videos of turtle and tortoise species on ARKive


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

May 22

A groundbreaking study by the UK’s leading wildlife organisations has found that 60% of the species in the region are in decline.

Common seal image

The common or harbour seal has declined by nearly a third in Scottish waters as a result of pollution, disease and lack of food

Health check for UK wildlife

In the first study of its kind in the UK, scientists from 25 wildlife organisations, including the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB, Buglife and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The final report has revealed startling results, with a large proportion of UK species showing declines over recent decades, and more than one in ten of all the species assessed being at risk of disappearing from the UK altogether.

The ‘State of Nature’ report will be launched by UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening, with the help of Sir David Attenborough, who highlighted the incredible diversity found on UK shores. “Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals,” he said. “We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.”

Golden eagle image

Illegal killing, disturbance and intensive management practices threaten the majestic golden eagle and other animals


The State of Nature report looked at the UK’s major taxonomic groups and habitat types, from woodland and farmland to wetlands and coastal areas, in an attempt to formulate an accurate representation of the situation across the UK’s four constituent countries. Data on trends in abundance and distribution of 3,148 species were collected, but while this is an impressive feat, it represents just 5% of the estimated 59,000 or more terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK. Yet 60% of these species were found to have declined over the last 50 years, and 31% have declined strongly.

As part of the study, a new Watchlist Indicator was developed, which measures how conservation priority species are faring, based on a set of 155 of the UK’s most threatened and vulnerable species for which there is sufficient data. Worryingly, the indicator shows that overall numbers of these species have declined by 77% in the last four decades, with little sign of recovery.

Ascension frigatebird image

The Ascension frigatebird is a UKOT endemic which has benefitted from conservation action

UK Overseas Territories

The report has also embraced and highlighted the wealth of globally important wildlife found in the UK’s Overseas Territories, from the Caribbean to the Antarctic. A worrying 90 species from these areas were found to be at high risk of global extinction. The incredible array of species found within these regions, from elephant seals and penguins to parrots and iguanas, includes some 180 endemic plants, 22 endemic birds, 34 endemic reptiles and amphibians, and an impressive 685 endemic terrestrial invertebrates – 16 times the number found in the UK.

Taxonomic groups

When looking at the results of the study by taxonomic group, it becomes clear that some groups are faring far worse than others. Invertebrate groups appear to be struggling the most, with a reported 65% decline in moths.

This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate,” said Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report. “These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.”

Heath fritillary image

The heath fritillary is one of the UK’s rarest butterflies

Continued pressure, but increasing hope

Pressures on the UK’s wildlife, from climate change to pollution and habitat loss, continue to grow. However, with the alarming results of The State of Nature report comes a positive message, with conservationists and wildlife organisations rising to the challenge to protect, reintroduce and translocate species, and to create and restore dwindling habitats where resources allow.

Sir David has described the groundbreaking study as both a stark warning and a sign of hope, saying, “For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife. This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

May 21

The first common crane egg in the western United Kingdom in over 400 years has been laid at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, England.

Photo of common crane tending to eggs on nest

Common crane with eggs on nest

A round-the-clock guard has been set up to protect the egg from collectors, as despite egg collecting being illegal in the UK it is still practiced by an unscrupulous minority. Video cameras are in place to allow the public to view the nest, as well as to provide important footage for conservation scientists. Lucky visitors can also view the nest from the centre’s bird hides.

Reintroducing cranes

The common crane was once widespread across the UK, but became extinct in the region by the early 1600s as a result of hunting and the destruction of its wetland habitats. In the 1980s, a tiny group of birds began breeding in eastern England, but this population remains small.

Photo of a group of common cranes feeding in a field

Common cranes were once widespread in the UK, but were wiped out by hunting and the destruction of wetlands

In an attempt to re-establish breeding cranes across the UK, The Great Crane Project has been working to reintroduce common cranes to western England since 2010. Chicks have been reared in captivity before being reintroduced to the wild, and the oldest have now begun to reach maturity.

Although one pair of cranes from the project built a nest at the reintroduction site on the Somerset Levels, it was sadly abandoned. The pair of birds at Slimbridge are the first of the released birds to have laid an egg.

Absolutely momentous

This first egg is an exciting step forward in bringing back the common crane as a breeding species across the UK. Most cranes don’t usually breed successfully until they are five years old, so more breeding attempts are likely in the coming years.

Photo of common crane hatchling at nest with unhatched egg

Common crane eggs take around 28 to 31 days to hatch

According to Nigel Jarrett, Head of Conservation Breeding at WWT, “Cranes are an iconic part of British wildlife and one that was all but lost for centuries. There is a long way to go before cranes become widespread again, but it is absolutely momentous to see this egg laid at Slimbridge.”

The parents of this egg were hand-reared here at Slimbridge and have thrived through their first three years on the wetlands of the Somerset Moors thanks to the help and support of the local community, particularly the farmers.”

The Great Crane Project aims to introduce around 100 resident birds by 2015 to help secure the future of this magnificent and iconic species.


Read more on this story at WWT – 24 hour guard for western Britain’s first crane egg in four centuries and BBC – First crane egg in 400 years laid at Slimbridge.

Find out more about The Great Crane Project.

View more photos and videos of common cranes on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 19

In an unforgettable television event, Discovery Channel turns the lens toward its homeland and captures a land where life collides with hostile, untamed wilderness in the most diverse, deadly environment on Earth.”

Photo of bison in snow

Bison struggle to survive in the unforgiving winter climate

After more than three years in the making, the Discovery Channel’s eagerly anticipated, seven-part series – ‘North America’ – airs tonight at 9pm ET/PT.

Promising never-before-seen sequences, the first five episodes will tell of the struggle for survival in the continent’s most extreme habitats and weather conditions. Hair-raising head-to-head battles, stunning time lapses, dramatic aerial views and astonishing animal behaviour are all to be expected. The remainder of the series features a ‘making of’ episode, and an exploration of the top natural North American destinations.

Close-up of jaguar

The series will show never-before-seen footage of the elusive desert jaguar in Mexico

The series will explore habitats from the sub-zero Canadian tundra right down to the tropical rainforests of Panama, following up-close-and-personal stories of animals fighting for survival along the way. Discovery promises to bring us the Yukon Territory, Rocky Mountains, barren deserts and lush rainforests.

If you think you know North America, you can think again.

Described as an unforgettable television event, the series will be narrated by award-winning American actor Tom Selleck, who said, “I’ve been a fan of Discovery’s nature programming for years, and I am truly honoured to be narrating their next great series. I think people will be captivated by North America.”

Photo of brown bear catching salmon

Caught on camera: spectacular footage of grizzly bears diving in over 20 feet of water, hunting for salmon

We hope you are as excited about this new series as we are. In depth information on many North American species expected to feature throughout the series can be found here on ARKive.

Sneak previews and an episode guide can be found on Discovery’s North America page.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

May 18
Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Species: Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The maidenhair tree is known as a ‘living fossil’, as it is the only surviving member of a group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs.

A large tree with characteristically fan-shaped leaves, the maidenhair tree gets its common name from the resemblance of its leaves to those of maidenhair ferns (Adiantum species). Its leaves are greenish-yellow, but turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn. The maidenhair tree takes 20 to 35 years to reach maturity, and can be very long lived, with the oldest recorded individual being an estimated 3,500 years old. Maidenhair trees are either male or female, with male trees producing pollen on catkin-like cones and females producing smelly, flesh-coated seeds. The maidenhair tree has been widely used in traditional medicine in China and Japan, and its nuts are edible if cooked. An extract of the plant’s leaves is now one of the most popular herbal remedies in the West, being used to treat a variety of ailments.

The maidenhair tree has been widely planted as an ornamental tree and for its medicinal properties. This species was traditionally grown in temple gardens in Japan and China, but is now popular worldwide. Unfortunately, its survival in the wild is less secure, mainly due to widespread deforestation. A few individuals are found on Mount Xitianmu in China, but it is not clear whether they are truly wild or are descended from temple garden trees. No specific conservation measures are currently in place for this unique tree, but its worldwide popularity means it is likely to persist in cultivation into the future.

Find out more about the maidenhair tree at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – Maidenhair tree.

See images of the maidenhair tree on ARKive.

Today is Plant Conservation Day! Find out more at the Plant Conservation Day website.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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