Aug 9
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In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England

Hen harriers are dangerously close to extinction in England following failed breeding attempts by the country’s only two nesting pairs, according to the RSPB.

Hen harrier image

The hen harrier is also known as the northern harrier

Species on the edge

Described as one of the region’s most charismatic birds of prey, the hen harrier, also known as the northern harrier, was once widespread in the UK. However, this impressive species became extinct in mainland Britain at the turn of the 20th century as a result of persecution, only returning to England from Scottish island populations after World War II following land use changes and a decline in persecution.

Since the 1990s, populations of this species in England have fallen dramatically, with just 15 pairs breeding in the country in 2007. According to the RSPB, 2013 is the first year the species has not produced a chick in England since the 1960s, a situation which is considered by the organisation to be a huge setback.

Juvenile hen harrier image

This year is the first time the hen harrier hasn’t bred successfully in England since the 1960s

Nesting failure

The two nesting attempts, both of which occurred at sites in the north of England, were carefully monitored. At the County Durham nest site, although eggs were laid, the male deserted the site, forcing the female to abandon the nest in order to feed. In the second nesting attempt, which occurred in Northumberland, the eggs laid by the immature female were not viable, despite being incubated for the full term and the female being well tended to by the male.

Just two pairs attempted to nest this year in England, but both failed,” said an RSPB spokesperson. “At one of these sites the RSPB was working with the landowner to ensure the nest was protected. Sadly, the eggs never hatched. While conservationists believe that this nest failed naturally, the government’s own wildlife advisers say that the population had been forced into this precarious position by illegal killing.

Continued persecution

A study carried out by government scientists reported that more than 300 pairs of hen harriers could be supported in England’s upland areas, but showed that illegal persecution through shooting, trapping and nest disturbance was preventing this species from flourishing.

Hen harrier image

Providing alternative food sources for the hen harriers may help to reduce conflict with grouse moor estates

Conflict with gamekeepers

The Moorland Association cites the long, cold winter as the cause of the failure of the nesting pairs this season, but the RSPB believes that gamekeepers working for rogue moorland estate owners are to blame for the hen harrier’s struggle to survive in England, persecuting the majestic birds of prey for killing grouse chicks.

No new hen harriers this season means that the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in England,” said RSPB spokesman Graham Madge. “Our belief is that on some estates there is a systematic approach to the removal of birds of prey. We are not asking that these people do anything more than respect the law. The loss is almost entirely due to the illegal persecution. It has to be by rogue grouse moor estates.”

Predator control

While methods to control other grouse predators such as red foxes and crows have led to a boost in hen harrier numbers, this has also resulted in more grouse being taken. According to research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), the loss of grouse could make grouse moor estates economically unviable.

The RSPB is involved in an initiative to provide alternative food sources for hen harriers to avoid such conflict, enabling the species to successfully live alongside managed grouse moors.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Hen harriers ‘face extinction’ in England as nests fail and The Guardian – Hen harrier close to extinction in England, says RSPB.

See more photos and videos of the hen harrier on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 8

There is much more to moths than you may have experienced when watching them repeatedly fly into your bathroom light at night. Britain has a whole host of incredible moths; some of which you may have seen before and mistaken for something else. Not only are moths impressive creatures in their own right but they also play a valuable role in ecosystems too – pollinating many plant species and being an important food source. Here in the ARKive office to celebrate Moth Night, an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland, we have compiled a list of our top 10 favourite British moths.

Hummingbird hawkmoth

Hummingbird hawkmoth image

A remarkable insect, the hummingbird hawkmoth not only resembles the hummingbird in its appearance but also in its feeding behaviour, the way it flies and its unmistakable humming sound. Unlike many moths which lack mouthparts the hummingbird hawk-moth has a proboscis which it uses to suck nectar from plants. Scientists do not believe these moths evolved to look like hummingbirds as a defence mechanism but because that they both have similar demands and have therefore developed similar characteristics to fulfil those demands.

Sussex emerald moth

Sussex emerald moth image

A master of disguise, the Sussex emerald moth is almost indistinguishable against a backdrop of green. In Britain it is only found in two sites but it is present throughout Europe and the western edges of Asia. Adults are nocturnal and active between July and August, with the larvae beginning to appear towards the end of August. The larvae then enter a period of hibernation throughout the winter, re-emerging around the beginning of June the following year.

Death’s-head hawkmoth

Death’s-head hawkmoth image

The death’s-head hawkmoth has an impressive name for an impressive creature. Capable of raiding bee hives, the well adapted dead head hawk-moth has a thick cuticle to protect it from stings, is believed to have some resistance to the honey bee venom and its proboscis is short and pointed to easily pierce the walls of the honey cells. It also produces a high pitched squeak, which is thought to be a mimic of the sound made by the queen bee which causes the workers to freeze. Once it begins sucking up the honey though it has a limited time to escape because the honey clogs it up resulting it only being able to make a clicking sounds as opposed to the high pitched squeal for the next five or so hours.

Dark bordered beauty moth

Dark bordered beauty moth image

Found in a number of sites throughout the UK, the dark bordered beauty moth is actually only present between July and August despite its autumnal colourings. Interestingly larvae from different colonies around the UK will feed on different plants. For instance those found in Scotland mainly eat Short Aspen, whereas those found in England primarily eat Creeping Willow. From egg to adult they live for only about a year and around nine months of that is spent wintering as an egg.

Emperor moth

Emperor moth image

A fitting name for this magnificent creature, the emperor moth is a hardy insect despite its delicate and beautiful exterior, with adults surviving for a couple of months without ever eating. Male emperor moths spend their days flying around searching out a mate while females spend the days resting and waiting. Once impregnated, the females will wait until nightfall before setting out to search of suitable sites on which to lay their eggs. To increase the survival chances of their offspring the female will lay her eggs in multiple sites. Thankfully this beautiful animal is common throughout the whole of the British Isles.

Oleander hawk-moth

Oleander hawk-moth image

This rare migrant species is a special visitor to the British Isles not always being recorded.  Whilst the adult is sometimes recorded in the British Isles, the larvae of the oleander hawk-moth has never been recorded in the British Isles. It is an elegant moth covered in fur with beautiful decoration on its wings and thorax.

Small lappet moth

Small lappet moth

The brilliantly camouflaged small lappet moth is sadly now believed to possibly be extinct in the British Isles, but is still doing well in mainland Europe. It would not be surprising though if it was just being missed due to its superb camouflage which allows it to blend in with rough bark and dead leaves. Not only are its colourings perfect for camouflage but the shape of its body and wings render it almost unrecognisable amongst its habitat.

Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth

Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth

You would be forgiven for mistaking the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth for a bumblebee if it were to fly past you, especially as it even behaves like a bumblebee feeding on the nectar of flowers. Its resemblance to a bumblebee gives it added protection from predators as bees are not the choice diet of most predators. Only living for about a month between mid-May and mid-June, the larvae become pupae around the end of August and overwinter that way until emerging again as narrow-bordered bee hawk-moths.

Fiery clearwing moth

Fiery clearwing moth image

The rarest of the clearwing family, the fiery clearwing moth closely resembles a parasitic wasp. Like many other moths it uses this mimicry as a defence mechanism against predation. Unusually the males of this species are a little smaller than the females. The fiery clearwing moth is now restricted to the Kent coast with southern England marking the northernmost extent of their territory.

Scarce merveille du jour moth

Scarce merveille du jour moth image

Completing its life cycle within one year, the Scarce merveille du jour moth is very well adapted to blend in amongst lichen, as shown in the picture above. The larvae mainly eat oak before turning into pupae ready for winter. Found in deciduous woodland of south-eastern England and much of mainland Europe, the furthest extent of its range is parts of Sweden.

Do you love moths? Do you want to get involved in Moth Night? Find out about a public event happening near you here.

Max Sargent

Aug 8
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ARKive’s Top 10 Strange-Looking Sharks

As Shark Week continues to float on here in the US, we think it’s the perfect time to shine the spotlight on some of the strangest-looking sharks found on Earth. We all know what the great white shark looks like but have you seen a shark with an ‘executioner’ style hood over its head or one with a beard? Read on to see how many of these bizarre sharks are new to you!

 10. Trendy trim

Photo of leopard shark swimming along sea bed

With a chic patterning of splotches over its body, the leopard shark roams the ocean in the day and night. Despite the fear that all sharks are dangerous, the leopard shark is actually harmless to man and even approachable when it lounges on the sea floor during the day.

 9.  An immense encounter

Photo of whale shark filter feeding, surrounded by other smaller fish

We think this shark merits an appearance on this list just for its sheer size. The largest fish in the sea, the whale shark can weigh up to 13 tons. Perhaps ironically, the biggest fish in the world feeds primarily on some of the smallest organisms, tiny planktonic organisms.

8.  Hard-headed

Photo of kitefin shark swimming

The blunt snout of this species along with its large eyes makes the kitefin shark a perfect addition to our list. The kitefin shark is uniquely ovoviviparous meaning it gives birth to live young instead of laying eggs like most other fish species.

7. Hooded hider

Photo of hooded carpetshark showing spriacle

With a black mask over its head and snout, the hooded carpet shark is said to resemble an eerie ‘executioner’s hood’. The addition of white spots that cover most of its body helps this species to blend into surrounding coral until this nocturnal shark comes to life at night.

6. Wide-eyed wonder

Photo of crocodile shark speciman close up

Check out the blinders on this fish! The crocodile shark is a small slender shark known for its short head and large eyes likely used to hunt effectively at night. Following its prey towards the water surface at night and away during the day, the crocodile shark is an active hunter which enjoys a wide variety of prey including squid, fish, and shrimp.

5. See a saw

Photo of green sawfish swimming

Aptly named, the green sawfish has an elongated snout with over 23 pairs of teeth.  By using this impeccable nozzle, the green sawfish is able to feed on slow-moving fish by clubbing at them with a side of its saw. Cleverly, the green sawfish uses its saw to act as a shovel-like instrument to rake out crustaceans.

4. Face of an angel

Photo of angel shark on the seabed at night

Sometimes mistaken for a large ray due to its appearance, the angel shark has a remarkably flat body and well-placed eyes on the top of its head that are perfect for ambush-style predation. The angel shark is Critically Endangered, likely due to its prevalence in by-catch – the accidental capture of species through standard fishing practices such as trawling. Sadly, this species has been declared extinct in the North Sea.

3. Mega mouth

Photo of basking shark feeding

As the second largest fish in the sea, the basking shark is one to impress. Perhaps a good kisser, the basking shark uses its three-foot-wide mouth to filter feed while it ‘basks’. Not too interested in the social scene, the solitary basking shark is thought to hibernate in deep water.

2. Ancient allure

Photo of filled shark swimming

The frilled shark is one of the most primitive species of living shark. Having perfected its look to have a lizard-like, blunt-ended snout and a very large mouth, the frilled shark possesses an unconventional beauty. Living primarily in the deep-water darkness, this three-foot-long and mysterious beast has had few observations made in its natural environment.

1. Camouflaged charmer

Photo of tasselled wobbegong

Literally meaning ‘well fringed nose with shaggy beard’, the tasselled wobbegong is an exceedingly unusual looking shark. With its branching skin flaps and a lofty lattice-like ‘beard’ the wobbegong’s bristles provide it with a sagacious camouflage and overall appearance. We challenge you to find a weirder-looking shark on ARKive!

Were any sharks on our list new to you? Or do you have a favorite to add to the list? Surf the ARKive site for more sharks and share your favorites in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Aug 6
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ARKive’s Top Ten Shark Videos

As most of people don’t have enough spare time to watch the 8,522 videos currently on ARKive (although you may wish you did), we thought we’d give you a helping hand by choosing what we considered to be the top ten videos of one of the world’s most endearing animals: the shark. After perusing all of the magnificent shark footage on ARKive we managed to whittle them down to just ten terrifying, awe-inspiring and bizarre videos.

Gentle giants

The whale shark is the biggest fish in the world, measuring as much as twelve metres and weighing up to 12,500 kilograms. It is a fairly docile species and feeds mostly on plankton and small fish, actively sucking in prey through its large mouth. Its sheer size can be acknowledged when compared with the diver in this video:

Whale shark with snorkeler

It’s fin may cut the surface of the water in a way which could instil fear into the most courageous humans, but the basking shark is more interested in devouring microscopic prey. The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world and has a mouth that can measure up to a metre across when fully open. See it feeding in this fascinating footage:

Basking shark feeding

Out of the ordinary

The mysterious megamouth shark was only described as recently as 1976 and is so genetically different from other sharks that it was placed in its own family. It can reach over five metres in length and its oversized mouth has over 50 rows of tiny, hooked teeth. See this strange species in action in this video:

Megamouth shark

Friends with benefits

The Greenland shark is one of the largest sharks in the world, measuring up to seven metres. Almost all Greenland sharks are parasitized by a minute crustacean which attaches itself to the shark’s cornea and gradually destroys the host’s eyesight. It is thought to be a mutually beneficial relationship as the crustacean may act as a lure for fish, although this is unconfirmed. See it in action here:

Greenland shark with parasitic copepod

The strange-looking scalloped hammerhead has a mutually beneficial relationship with cleaner wrasse. This helpful fish eats parasites from the skin and mouth of the scalloped hammerhead shark, as well as cleaning any wounds, as shown in this video:

Barber fish cleaning scalloped hammerhead

Remarkable reproduction

Most sharks are ovoviviparous, with the young developing within eggs in the body of the female. The eggs then hatch inside the female, who then gives birth to the well-developed young. However, the lemon shark, similarly to humans, is viviparous and the young develop inside the female, while receiving nutrients from an internal placenta and the female then gives birth to live young. See this extraordinary event unfold here:

Newborn lemon shark pup

Expensive taste

The salmon shark, as its name suggests is thought to be one of the main predators of Pacific salmon. It is similar in appearance to the great white shark and shares its excellent predatory skills. The salmon shark may have the highest body temperature of any shark, which allows them to maintain warm muscles and organs, so they are still able to hunt in the ice cold waters of the North Pacific Ocean. See this giant in its habitat here:

Salmon shark

Quick off the mark

The shortfin mako is thought to be the fastest shark species and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 kilometres per hour. Its high tail and efficient heat exchange system enable it to quickly pursue its prey, as shown in this video:

Shortfin mako

Fearsome fish

No list about sharks would be complete without mentioning the formidable great white shark. A tremendously skilled predator, it is at the top of the marine food chain and is known to hunt fish, turtles, molluscs, dolphins, porpoises and seals. Their powerful bodies enable them to leap from the water in pursuit of prey, as shown in this video:

Great white shark breaching

Fighting back

The tiger shark is one of the largest shark species and is known for its voracious appetite, eating anything from fish to car license plates. Although the inanimate objects it predates on are unlikely to fight back, its more alive prey may create more problems, much like the loggerhead turtle in this video:

Tiger shark feeding on fish carcass

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Aug 3
Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on Delicious Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on Digg Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on Facebook Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on reddit Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on StumbleUpon Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on Email Share 'Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine' on Print Friendly

Endangered Species of the Week: Wollemi pine

Photo of Wollemi pine leaves

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)

Species: Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Wollemi pine is the only surviving member of an ancient group of plants that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.

More information: An ancient and unusual tree, the Wollemi pine was thought to have been extinct for two million years before it was found growing in a remote gorge in Wollemi National Park, Australia, in 1994. This tall conifer produces both male and female cones on the same plant, with the female cones occurring on the higher branches and producing small, brown, papery seeds which are dispersed by the wind. The Wollemi pine can also reproduce vegetatively, resulting in numerous trunks arising from a single tree. Individuals of this long-lived species may potentially reach 500 to 1,000 years old.

The Wollemi pine has an extremely limited distribution, and fewer than 100 mature individuals now remain in the wild. The species may have been undergoing a slow, natural decline for thousands of years, but it is now under threat from fire, exotic weeds, disease, and any trampling or disturbance by unauthorised visitors. Changing rainfall and temperature patterns associated with climate change may also be a potential threat. Fortunately, this unique conifer is legally protected and a recovery plan is in place to outline management measures. In addition, access to the site where it occurs is restricted. The Wollemi pine is now being grown commercially and the plants distributed worldwide in an effort to protect the wild individuals from collectors and to generate income for this species’ continued conservation.

 

Find out more about the Wollemi pine at The Wollemi Pine and The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust – Wollemi pine.

See more images of the Wollemi pine on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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