Oct 19
Photo of Louisiana pine snake

Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Species: Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Louisiana pine snake is non-venomous, instead using its body to crush its prey.

More information:

One of the rarest and least understood snakes in the United States, the Louisiana pine snake occurs in longleaf pine forests in parts of Louisiana and eastern Texas. This large snake relies on pocket gophers for food, hunting them in their underground burrows and pinning them to the side of the burrow to kill them. It also eats some other small mammals, as well as birds, bird and turtle eggs, and lizards. The Louisiana pine snake spends most of its time underground, usually relying on pocket gopher burrows for shelter and for hibernation sites. This snake has the smallest clutch size of any North American snake, at just three to five eggs. However, its eggs are larger than those of other North American species.

The Louisiana pine snake’s longleaf pine habitat is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States, with only 3% of the original forest now remaining. Much has been logged or degraded by urbanisation, agriculture and the cultivation of other pine species. Changed fire regimes have also altered the structure of the habitat, making it less suitable for the snake and its prey. The Louisiana pine snake is often killed on roads and may be threatened by collection for the pet trade. Recommended conservation measures for this snake include protecting its remaining populations, maintaining and restoring its habitat, and undertaking more research into its populations and behaviour. The Louisiana pine snake is a candidate species for potential listing on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and is legally protected in Texas. A reintroduction project is underway for this rare and elusive species.

 

Find out more about the Louisiana pine snake at the National Wildlife Federation and see Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation for more information on reptile conservation.

See fact file and images of the Louisiana pine snake on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 17

Large numbers of British children are missing out on engaging with nature, according to a new study.

Red squirrel image

Red squirrel

First of its kind

The ground-breaking study, led by the RSPB, marks the first time that connectivity between children and nature has been studied in the UK. Following 3 years of research, the project concluded that only 21% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 were ‘connected to nature’ at a level which is considered to be both realistic and achievable for all young people.

The report stems from growing concerns over the distinct lack of contact with and experience of nature among modern children, which some have argued is having a negative impact on their education, health and behaviour. In addition, this disconnection is viewed as being a very real threat to the future of UK wildlife.

Horse chestnut image

Horse chestnuts in autumn

Connecting to nature

Around 1,200 children from across the UK took part in the study, which was based on a specially developed questionnaire. Analysis of the results revealed several statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature across the UK, including between boys and girls, and between urban and rural homes.

This report is ground-breaking,” said Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland. “It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before.  But until now, there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.”

Scotland come out top in the regional comparisons, with 27% of children in the country being found to have a particular level of connection to the natural world, while children in Wales had the lowest score across the UK, with just 13% achieving the basic level of exposure to nature.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study revealed that the average score was higher for London than the rest of England and that, overall, urban children were slightly more connected to nature than those living in rural areas.

European starling image

European starling flock in flight

Gender differences

Interestingly, this latest research found that girls were more likely than boys to be exposed to nature and wildlife. While only 16% of boys were at or above the ‘realistic and achievable’ target, 27% of girls were found to be at the same level.

We need to understand these differences,” said Sue Armstrong-Brown, Head of Conservation Policy at the RSPB. “Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys, for instance? We need to analyse the data to find that out.”

Positive impacts

The aim of the study was to create a baseline against which connectivity of children to nature in the UK can be measured and monitored, so that recommendations can be made to governments and local authorities on ways in which this can be increased. In turn, it is hoped that children will reap many benefits from a higher level of interaction with the natural world, including positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and social skills.

To further underline the importance of engaging young people with wildlife, the RSPB has signed up to The Wild Network, a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations which is working to reverse the trend of children losing touch with their natural surroundings and is encouraging them to play outdoors.

Hedgehog image

Hedgehog

Influential attitudes

The RSPB says that some adults perceive nature to be dangerous or dirty, and that these attitudes could be having a significant effect by holding children back.

There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree,” said Armstrong-Brown.

In addition to the benefits reaped by young people, Armstrong-Brown believes that an improvement in the engagement of young people with wildlife is a vital component in ensuring the future of nature conservation in the UK, saying, “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Just one in five children connected to nature, says study and RSPB News – Just one in five UK children ‘connected to nature’, groundbreaking study finds.

View photos and videos of UK species on ARKive.

Get connected with nature with ARKive’s fun educational activities.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Oct 15

Have you ever marveled at the different sizes and shapes of bird beaks or wondered just how an octopus suction pad really works? Each of these specialized adaptations in wildlife embodies a principle in engineering. Examples of engineering in nature can be found all around us whether it’s the structure of a seed pod that allows it to fly or float great distances, or the way that light filters through the leaves of a tree on a sunny day.

We are excited to announce a new learning project available to educators this fall in collaboration with Iridescent, a science education nonprofit that links science professionals with under privileged youth through its innovative learning platform, the Curiosity Machine. In this three week program called the Engineering in Nature Challenge, students ages 11-14 can learn up to five different engineering concepts all from the natural world and test their skills through invention:

Challenges!

 

Learn how a bird beak is a simple machine.

 

 

 

 

Discover flight and gliding adaptations of seed pods.

 

 

 

Explore reflection and incidence angles through light reflection in trees.

 

 

 

Test aerodynamics knowledge and skills by building a gliding bird.

 

 

 

Engineer an octopus suction pad while discovering air pressure, vacuum and suction forces.

 

Teachers can choose to do any combination of activities from the list above and each activity features films from the ARKive collection that demonstrate the engineering concepts in action.

There are two aspects to this project that make it unique from any other learning experience. First, teachers will be offered continuous support from ARKive and Iridescent team members through weekly Google Hangouts including kick-off and culmination hangouts. The team will be available to introduce you to Iridescent and the Curiosity Machine platform, troubleshoot any questions from the classroom,  and recommend additional wildlife imagery from ARKive. Second, each student will be paired up with a scientist working in the field that will offer advice and helpful feedback on the student’s work and these aren’t just any scientists! The mentors for the Engineering in Nature Challenge are practicing science at distinguished institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and more.

Iridescent pic

Child participating in an Engineering in Nature Challenge by building a gliding bird

The Engineering in Nature Challenge is a learning experience unlike any other inspiring students to explore engineering principles while developing a greater connection to nature all with the one-on-one support of exceptional real world scientists.

If you are interested in learning more about the Engineering in Nature Challenge, sign up for a sneak peek by clicking the link below.

Sneak Peek Sign Up!

You will be one of the first educators to receive the Engineering in Nature Challenge info before it goes live on the ARKive site on October 24. We look forward to sharing this learning experience with you!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Oct 12
Photo of Maltese rock-centaury flowers in habitat

Maltese rock-centaury (Cheirolophus crassifolius)

Species: Maltese rock-centaury (Cheirolophus crassifolius)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Maltese rock-centaury is the national plant of Malta.

More information:

A perennial plant with smooth, fleshy leaves and attractive purple flowers, the Maltese rock-centaury is found on Malta and the nearby islands of Gozo and Fungus Rock. It grows only in full sun on coastal limestone cliffs and on loose rock debris on slopes. This long-lived plant flowers between May and July, producing a single flower head on each flowering stalk. The flower heads of the Maltese rock-centaury are made up of many small, individual, tubular flowers and are surrounded by a whorl of specialised leaves, or ‘bracts’, with the whole structure resembling a single flower. The seeds of the Maltese rock-centaury are dispersed by the wind.

The Maltese rock-centaury has a very restricted range, being found in a total area of less than 100 square kilometres. Its population is fragmented and is estimated at just a few thousand individuals. The main threats to this plant include nearby quarrying activities, which can cause the fragile cliffs it grows on to collapse, and human disturbance in more accessible areas. Invasive plants also pose a risk, while an unidentified moth larva has been seen attacking this species’ developing fruits. The Maltese rock-centaury is listed on the EC Habitats Directive as a priority species, giving it legal protection, and some of the cliffs it grows on are also protected. This plant has also been cultivated, providing potential stock for future reintroductions. The Maltese rock-centaury’s habitat requires careful management and protection, and better control of quarrying and of invasive plants is also needed.

 

Find out more about the Maltese rock-centaury and other threatened Mediterranean plants at IUCN – The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants: Wild plants on the brink of extinction, and what is needed to save them.

See more images of the Maltese rock-centaury on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 5
Photo of barndoor skate

Barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis)

Species: Barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Adult male barndoor skates have widely spaced teeth with sharply pointed cusps, but females have close-set teeth with rounded cusps.

More information:

The largest skate in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, the barndoor skate can grow up to about 1.5 metres in length. Like other skates, this species has a flattened body which is fused to the expanded pectoral fins to form a broad disc. Its snout is pointed and its tail bears three rows of spines as well as two small dorsal fins. The barndoor skate grows slowly, taking at least 6 to 7 years to reach maturity, and can potentially live for up to 18 years. Its diet consists mainly of bottom-dwelling prey such as fish, squid, crustaceans, bivalves and worms. The eggs of the barndoor skate are laid in smooth, rectangular capsules and hatch after about 11 to 16 months.

Although not specifically targeted by fisheries, the barndoor skate has often been taken as accidental bycatch, and has been part of a group of several skates fished in U.S. waters which are not recorded by species. The flesh of this and other skates has been used as lobster bait, fish meal, pet food and seafood. The slow growth, late maturity and low reproductive rate of this species make it vulnerable to overfishing, and its population has undergone a dramatic decline. Possession of the barndoor skate in U.S. waters is now banned, and ‘no-take’ zones in areas such as Georges Bank have decreased mortality of this species and increased the number of juveniles being produced. A reduction in fishing effort is thought to have allowed the barndoor skate population to start recovering, but if fishing was to increase again the skate would be likely to decline once more.

 

Find out more about the barndoor skate at the Ichthyology Department of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

You can also find out more about the conservation of skates, rays and sharks at:

See more images of the barndoor skate on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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