Nov 30
Photo of a male Lesser Antillean iguana

Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima)

Species: Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Dominant male Lesser Antillean iguanas turn from green to dark grey, and when reproductively active will flush pink in the jowls and become pale-blue in the scales on the sides of the head.

More information:

Female Lesser Antillean iguanas have a uniformly bright green body, pale head and brown tail. Hatchlings and juveniles are also bright green, with white flashes from the jaw to the shoulder, and three white bars on the sides of the body. They have brown flashes which darken when the individual is stressed.

Displays involving side-walking and head-to-head pushing contests determine the most dominant male Lesser Antillean iguana, who is rewarded with easy access to females. Reproduction coincides with the wet season, ensuring there is plenty of fresh plant growth to feed hatchlings. Hatchlings live mainly on the ground among thick vegetation, spending more time higher up in the trees with age.

Once present throughout the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, the Lesser Antillean iguana is now confined to the islands of the northern Lesser Antilles. Clearance of suitable habitat for agriculture and tourism is a major threat to this species, particularly affecting communal nest sites. Feral predators such as Indian mongoose, cats and dogs, continue to reduce Lesser Antillean iguana populations.

The Lesser Antillean iguana is legally protected from hunting throughout its range, but law enforcement is limited. Accidental road kills are also a problem, principally because the majority of deaths are of migrating pregnant females and dispersing hatchlings. A further threat to the Lesser Antillean iguana is the confirmed hybridisation with common iguanas, responsible for the disappearance of the Lesser Antillean iguana in Les Îles des Saintes.

Proposals for the creation of nature reserves in other areas of the Lesser Antillean iguana’s range have been put forward, and captive breeding programmes are being run at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Memphis Zoo and San Diego Zoo.

 

Find out more about the Lesser Antillean iguana at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group

See images and videos of the Lesser Antillean iguana on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 28

The observance of Thanksgiving Day is primarily associated with the United States, and is a tradition which is thought to date back to colonial times following the safe arrival of the first European settlers to the untamed shores of North America. Nowadays, families and friends congregate to give thanks for what they have, so to celebrate Thanksgiving in our own wild way, we’ve gathered together a few of nature’s special inhabitants that we think owe each other thanks: symbiotic species!

 

Exclusive residence

Common clownfish image

Common clownfish are able to live among the tentacles of stinging sea anemones

Simply speaking, symbiotic species are those that interact in some way, to the benefit of one or both of the critters in question. A classic example, and one that many Disney fans will be familiar with, is the relationship that exists between clownfish and sea anemones.

Sea anemones usually sting fish that come into contact with their tentacles, but clownfish have developed a clever, yet rather gross, method of disguise. By covering its skin in mucus, the clownfish can trick the anemone into thinking it is touching itself, and so does not get stung. In return for a safe place to live and food in the form of debris and parasites found amongst the anemone’s tentacles, the clownfish is thought to scare away fish that may prey upon the anemone, and even lure fish in for its tentacled home to eat – a classic win-win situation! The clownfish is also believed to provide the anemone with good water circulation through fanning its fins as it swims around.

Did you know?

There are different kinds of symbiotic relationships. Some benefit both species involved, and are known as ‘mutualistic’ symbioses, whereas ‘parasitic’ relationships are those in which one species profits at the expense of the other. In some cases, one species benefits but the other is affected neither positively nor negatively, and these are known as ‘commensalistic’ symbioses.

 

Nutritious nectar and pollen parcels

Small garden bumblebee image

Bees, such as this small garden bumblebee, play an important role in plant pollination

Bees feed on pollen and nectar sourced from a variety of flowering plants, with honey bees using the nectar to make their sticky, sugary treat. Although flowers appear to lose out by ‘donating’ nectar, they actually benefit from these flying visits. As a bee rummages around the flower head for food, some pollen gets stuck to its hairy body and legs, and this accidental cargo is then transferred to the next flower the insect visits, pollinating it and enabling the plant to reproduce.

Did you know?

The traditional origin of the modern Thanksgiving Day is commonly thought to be the festivities that occurred at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621, when the European settlers celebrated their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Spaniards in Florida were the first to truly celebrate Thanksgiving back in 1565.

 

Getting a little peckish…

Roan antelope image

Oxpeckers help remove parasites from large mammals such as this roan antelope

In the wilds of the African savanna, large mammals such as this roan antelope can quickly become covered in ticks and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, which doesn’t sound entirely pleasant! Luckily, help is at hand in the form of winged wonders known as oxpeckers. Oxpeckers are known to hitch a ride on the backs of a range of iconic species including hippos, buffalos, giraffe and various antelopes, gorging themselves on ticks, botfly larvae and other parasites – the mammals get cleaned, and the birds get fed, and so this has often been classified as a mutualistic relationship. However, more recent studies have shown that oxpeckers often pick at scabs and cuts to keep them open to get more food, subjecting the wounds to possible infection and potentially harming the host mammal, making this symbiotic relationship more of a parasitic one.

 

Helpful houseguests

Acropora formosa image

Reef-building corals rely on tiny blue-green algae to survive

Reef-building corals provide homes for single-celled blue-green algae known as zooxanthellae, and in return these microscopic plants provide energy-containing compounds for the coral through the process of photosynthesis. The coral uses these vital compounds to build its calcium carbonate skeleton. In a way, these tiny blue-green algae are like live-in coral chefs…and they even clean up after themselves by removing any waste products! Brilliant!

 

Nature’s six-legged gardeners

Leaf-cutter ant image

Leaf-cutter ants tend to their fungus garden by creating ‘mulch’ from leaf fragments

Leaf-cutter ants are known as nature’s gardeners, as they spend their time foraging for leaves and cutting them into suitably sized fragments before transporting them back to their huge underground nests where the leaves are used to cultivate a fungus garden. While the ant colony is entirely dependent upon this fungus supply for food and so greatly benefits from this situation, the fungus benefits by being cultivated by the ants but also loses out by being eaten, and so this relationship could be classified as a more commensalistic one.

Did you know?

Most of us think of the US in relation to Thanksgiving, but did you know that several other countries observe similar days, too? These include Canada, Puerto Rico and Liberia. Additionally, the city of Leiden in South Holland celebrates the traditional US Thanksgiving Day, making the Netherlands the only non English-speaking country to formally celebrate this particular occasion.

 

Food on the go…

Dugong image

Dugong

Loggerhead turtle image

Loggerhead turtle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leopard shark image

Leopard shark

Giant manta ray image

Giant manta ray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scientists are somewhat divided over whether the relationship that exists between specialised fish known as remoras and a variety of larger ocean species is a mutualistic or commensalistic one. Also known as suckerfish, remoras have a specially adapted first dorsal fin which has been modified into a sucker-like organ. Remoras use this to attach themselves to other marine animals such as sharks, rays, sea turtles and dugongs, feeding on material dropped by the host species while also getting a free ride and protection from potential predators. This seems rather one-sided, but some scientists believe that the remoras may also feed upon certain parasites on the host’s body or gills, therefore providing a great cleaning service to their marine meal providers.

If these beholden bovids, indebted invertebrates and contented chondrichthyans haven’t quenched your thirst for wild Thanksgiving-related information, why not check out last year’s blog, which features a whole host of awesome animals that the first European settlers might have seen upon arriving in North America.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

 

Nov 26

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

 

Nov 23
Image of bridled nailtail wallaby

Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata)

Species: Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The bridled nailtail wallaby gets its name from the white ‘bridle’ line running down the centre of the neck and behind each arm, and from the horn-like ‘nail’ point on the tip of its long tail.

More information:

The bridled nailtail wallaby has earned the nickname ‘flash jack’ thanks to its ability to hop extremely quickly. It is able to pick up food, open its pouch and groom using its small forearms. Adult and young wallabies – both male and female – are similar in appearance, with grey fur and darker paws, feet and tail. Bridled nailtail wallabies are nocturnal and spend most of the day sheltering in shallow nests. At night, they tentatively come out to feed in open grassy woodlands.

Born around May, the young wallaby is tiny and underdeveloped, with rudimentary limbs and tail, and closed ears and eyes. However, once its umbilical cord breaks, it crawls at an amazing speed up through the female’s fur to the safety of her pouch, where it suckles for up to 11 months.

The bridled nailtail wallaby was common in inland Australia in the mid-19th century, but populations decreased dramatically and by the 1960s this species was presumed extinct. A small population was rediscovered in 1973 in a 100 km² area in central Queensland, Australia, and this is the only place in the world this species of wallaby is now found, having been lost from 95% of its original range. It is difficult to isolate any single cause for the decline of the bridled nailtail wallaby, as it has occurred so rapidly. In the early 1900s, this species suffered dramatically from shooting for its fur and pest control. Other threats include wildfires, drought, over-predation by foxes, feral cats and dingoes, disease, habitat destruction by the pastoral industry and competition for food from grazers such as rabbits and domestic sheep.

Captive breeding and translocation projects have been developed, in addition to a recovery plan, but the public’s understanding of this species’ plight must also be increased to ensure continued support for the bridled nailtail wallaby.

 

Find out more about the bridled nailtail wallaby at the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Trust.

See images and videos of the bridled nailtail wallaby on ARKive.

 

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 17

Happy National Geography Awareness Week! If you’re a fan and follower of the ARKive blog then you know one of our favorite blog series is ARKive Geographic where we take readers on explorations of different countries around the world almost every month to learn about the unique species that live there. This year’s theme, ‘Celebrate Geography and The New Age of Exploration’ ties in perfectly to what ARKive Geographic is all about but this month, we want to explore YOUR geography knowledge!

We’ve created a short quiz that will test how much you really know about species from around the world. If you get stumped, explore previous ARKive Geographic blogs for clues or dive into the ARKive collection and start searching. Will you end up a Wayward Wildlife Wanderer or a Species Seeking Extraordinaire? There’s only one way to find out:

Question 1

Mongolia’s top canid, members of this species can work together to take down prey up to ten times their size.
A. Coyote
B. Maned wolf
C. Dhole

Question 2

Dubbed ‘living fossils’, this reptile of New Zealand can live to be 100 years old.
A. Tuatara
B. Aeolian wall lizard
C. Black caiman

Question 3

This species is not only the largest but also the rarest crane in all of Africa.
A. Wattled crane
B. Sarus crane
C. Sandhill crane

Question 4

Found in Mexico, this incredible looking amphibian is able to regrow missing tissue, and even whole limbs, when wounded.
A. Blanco River Springs salamander
B. Axolotl
C. California tiger salamander

Question 5

Having been classified as ‘biologically dead’ in the 1960’s , the Thames river is rebounding and is home to this slippery fish.
A. Moray eel
B. Electric eel
C. European eel

Question 6

This insect, found in South America, can spend up to 10 years of its life in the larval stage, while its adult phase only lasts a few short months.
A. Wasp beetle
B. Long-horned beetle
C. Titan beetle

How do you think you did? Check off your answers with the key below and see where you land on the wildlife geography expert spectrum. Don’t forget to share your score on the ARKive Facebook page or Twitter feed!

Answers: 1. C,   2. A,   3. A,   4.B,   5. C,   6. B

Score: 1-2 points
Wayward Wildlife Wanderer - We hate to break it to you but your wildlife geographic exploration skills are a little rusty. How bout taking a dig into the ARKive collection like this banded mongoose for a little practice?

Score 3-4 points
Advancing Animal Adventurer – You’re making an effort to learn about wildlife and geography and it’s showing! Keep up the good work and never lose sight of the top just like this lioness!

Score 5-6 points
Species Seeking Extraordinaire – You have the mind and willpower equaling the world’s greatest explorers.  Be proud and consider yourself at the top of the world like this alpine marmot!

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

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