Nov 16
Image of white-bellied heron

White-bellied heron (Ardea insignis)

 

Species: White-bellied heron (Ardean insignis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Also known as the imperial heron, the white-bellied heron is the second largest species of heron in the world, exceeded in size only by the Goliath heron.

More information:

The white-bellied heron is a large, long-necked species, named for its white underbelly and wing linings. It has a blackish head topped with a pale plume of feathers, and a brownish-grey body. The most outstanding feature of the white-bellied heron is its massive pointed bill, which measures about 15 to 18 cm in length.

Although primarily a solitary bird with a large territory, during the winter months the white-bellied heron may fly up to 30 kilometres to join other members of its species.

The white-bellied heron is resident in Southeast Asia, having been seen in Bangladesh and surrounding countries. It is now believed to be extinct in Nepal.

The white-bellied heron favours mature forests, a habitat that has been at risk from deforestation for over a century. It is also under threat from the fragmentation and degradation of its wetland habitats through pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the rapid growth of aquatic vegetation due to leaching of artificial fertilisers. In addition, the white-bellied heron is vulnerable to disturbance and habitat degradation as a result of agricultural expansion, human settlements and poaching, as well as overfishing.

The white-bellied heron population is extremely small, at fewer than 250 mature individuals, and is rapidly declining, putting this species at severe risk of extinction.

In May 2011, the first white-bellied heron chick to be bred in captivity hatched, as a result of a project by The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan. There have been reported sightings of the white-bellied heron in protected areas of north-eastern India, and there are more protected areas proposed both in India and Bhutan which might lead to an increase in population size.

 

Find out more about the white-bellied heron at BirdLife International and Heron Conservation.

See images of the white-bellied heron on ARKive.

 

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 14

Nature, as the great poet Tennyson reminded us, is “red in tooth and claw”. Animals face a constant battle to survive, and many species are under persistent risk from predators. One of the mechanisms animals use to avoid a bloody end is camouflage – blending in with the background – to avoid being eaten.

But what makes for good camouflage? How do factors such as colour and patterning work to fool the senses of wily attackers? At present, although we know a lot about the different types of camouflage that might exist, we know very little about the value of camouflage and how it works in the natural world.

Pygmy seahorse image

Pygmy seahorse camouflaged against fan coral

This short video is a brief introduction to the ongoing work of Dr Martin Stevens at the University of Exeter, and Dr Claire Spottiswoode at the University of Cambridge, who are examining egg predation and camouflage in habitats in South Africa and Zambia. Their colleagues, Dr Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal, also at Exeter, have set up hidden cameras to record egg predation events in different bird species.

The project aims to increase our understanding of camouflage in the wild and its relationship with survival. To do this, the team study the camouflage of ground nesting birds, and their eggs and chicks in the natural environment. They are using specialist cameras to photograph the birds, and camera traps to identify their main predators and to monitor nest survival.

Wrybill image

Wrybill eggs on nest, showing camouflage

Back in the UK they then use the images to simulate the relevant predator visual systems, which often see the world very differently to us, including different colours. Using a range of image analysis techniques, the team are comparing the properties of the eggs, chicks and adults to the environment to study their camouflage and how it affected their risk of predation.

Avoiding your eggs being eaten is a matter of life and death to many animals, but the research also helps improve our fundamental understanding of vision and could have wide-ranging applications, from bioscience to security and defence. Animal camouflage has also influenced human behaviour and culture, including art, fashion and the military.

A full in-depth feature on the project will appear on the BBSRC website and YouTube channel when the fieldwork is completed in the coming months.

Useful LinksCamouflage banner1_crop

Dr Martin Stevens, Sensory Ecology & Evolution group
http://sensoryecology.com/people/martin-stevens.html

Project nightjar, University of Exeter
http://nightjar.exeter.ac.uk/
African Cuckoos
http://www2.zoo.cam.ac.uk/africancuckoos/home.html

 

Nov 11

A project has begun on the Isles of Scilly to eradicate the invasive brown rat population in an attempt to secure the future survival of 14 seabird species.

The Isles of Scilly are composed of 5 inhabited islands and over 300 smaller uninhabited islands, which provide extremely important breeding habitats for many seabirds. There are 14 different seabird species which use the islands to breed, including the common tern, razorbill, lesser black-backed gull, puffin, shag and the European storm-petrel. In total, the breeding seabird population on all of the islands is around 20,000 individuals.

European storm-petrel image

The European storm-petrel is one of the 14 bird species which breed on the Isles of Scilly

An unwelcome visitor

The brown rat was first introduced to the Isles of Scilly from shipwrecks in the 18th century, which subsequently led to the establishment of a wild population. The brown rat is known to be one of the most successful and harmful invasive species in the world and causes tremendous damage to habitats it has been introduced to. On the Isles of Scilly, brown rats are known to predate the eggs and young of nesting birds, and they also carry and transmit various diseases. The total population of brown rats on the Isles of Scilly is thought to be around 34,500.

Brown rat image

Brown rat feeding on hen’s egg

How, where and when?

The project, starting at the beginning of November 2013, will cost over £755,000 and aims to eradicate the brown rat population on St. Agnes and Gugh, which are two of the inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. The company conducting the project is using techniques which have proven to be successful at eradicating brown rats in other areas while not causing damage to non-target species. Once all the brown rats are thought to have been eradicated from the two target islands, a long-term monitoring programme will begin and the local community will be encouraged to take precautionary measures to ensure that the areas remain rat free.

Puffin image

The Isles of Scilly provide an important breeding habitat for the puffin.

Taking responsibility

Johnny Birks, Chair of the Mammal Society, said, “Brown rats are not native to Britain… it’s our own fault they are so widespread and that makes it right for us to repair the damage we’ve caused.” The Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU Life Fund have both awarded money to the project, as have the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and Natural England.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Isles of Scilly rat eradication to ‘save seabirds’ begins.

View photos and videos of bird species found in the UK on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Nov 9
Floreana coral

Floreana coral (Tubastraea floreana)

Species: Floreana coral (Tubastraea floreana)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The polyps of Floreana coral are bright pink in the water, and dark red-black when dry.

More information:

Found in the Galápagos, Floreana coral is a scleractinian coral, which means that it is a hard coral with a limestone skeleton.  Floreana coral is known as an ‘azooxanthellate’ coral, as this species does not have zooxanthellae, the algae that live inside the tissues of some corals and provide the corals with food. Corals without zooxanthellae instead feed on zooplankton, capturing these tiny aquatic animals in their outstretched tentacles. Floreana coral can be found on ledges, overhangs and the ceilings of caves, at depths of between 2 and 46 metres.

Now classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and listed on Appendix II of CITES, the Floreana coral is thought to have once been fairly widespread around the Galápagos Islands. However, since the El Niño event of 1982-1983, this coral has only been seen at Cousins Rocks and Gardner Islet. Despite searches specifically for this species, the Floreana coral has not been seen at Cousins Rocks since 2001. This indicates that any alterations to the water temperatures surrounding the Galápagos Islands are likely to threaten this coral and cause further mortality.

The unique biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands and the surrounding waters is recognised and valued, and the region is protected by being designated a Marine Reserve and World Heritage Site. Any international trade involving the Floreana coral is carefully regulated thanks to CITES. Unfortunately, neither of these measures protects this Critically Endangered coral from the threats of natural, or man-induced, climate change.

 

Find out more about the Floreana coral at Earth’s Endangered Species, and more about the Galápagos Islands at the Charles Darwin Foundation.

See images of the Floreana coral on ARKive.

 

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

 

Nov 2
Photo of Caquetá titi monkey in defence posture

Caquetá titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis)

Species: Caquetá titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Only discovered in 2008, the Caquetá titi monkey is an extremely rare species found only in the Department of Caquetá, Colombia and has a population of no more than 250 individuals.

More information:

The Caquetá titi monkey has dense, soft, reddish- and greyish-brown fur. Titi monkeys move through the canopy by, skilfully climbing through the branches on all four limbs using the tail as a balancing aid, and they can use their powerful rear limbs to jump spectacular distances.

Almost nothing is known about the biology of the Caquetá titi monkey, although it has been observed living in small family groups that appear to defend their territory against other titis. The Caquetá titi monkey is thought to have a range of no more than 100 square kilometres, of which it probably occupies only a tiny fraction. Titi monkeys feed on fruits, as well as leaves, insects, birds eggs and small invertebrates. Titi monkeys are monogamous and partners reinforce the pair bond by grooming and by perching side-by-side with their tails entwined. A single infant is born at a time, and will remain within the family group until it reaches maturity and leaves to find its own mate, usually in its second year.

With a population of probably no more than 250 individuals, extinction could be imminent for the Caquetá titi monkey. Its preferred habitat of dense, low forests of small, thin, broadleaved trees and bushes, is highly fragmented by agricultural land. Areas of grassland intersected by barbed wire fences limits the natural movement of the monkey’s, and makes them vulnerable to predation and hunting. None of the species known range occurs within protected areas, which means that the remaining habitat is likely to dwindle further unless conservation measures are implemented quickly.

Habitat loss is the most important threat facing many of Colombia’s endemic primates, including the Caquetá titi monkey. Even in protected areas, law enforcement is often inadequate, and deforestation is increasing.

 

Find out more about the Caquetá titi monkey at Conservation International and IUCN Red List.

See images of the Caquetá titi monkey on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

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