Jul 23
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Guest blog: ARKive in the Australian classroom by Barbara Sing

As a Primary Teacher in the Kimberley I have utilised ARKive’s resources over several years as the content is engaging and relevant to the knowledge base of my students; 77% of whom are Aboriginal from many different language groups across the Kimberley; an area three times the size of the UK.

I thought I would share a couple of examples of how I have used ARKive education resources and how they have worked for me and my students.

Keys and classification

Identification keys – sharks and raysWith the implementation of The Australian Curriculum I have found ARKive’s classification resources specifically meet the Year 7 Biological Science content descriptor ACSSU111 which states “There are differences within and between groups of organisms; classification helps organise this diversity” (ACARA).

My students particularly enjoy the ‘Sharks and Rays Identification’ activities as our community is located on the edge of a crocodile infested tidal mangrove habitat and most students engage in recreational fishing and hunting activities. Students of all abilities are able to navigate the identification keys easily and the accompanying presentations on shark and ray identification and classification resources make the lesson preparation seamless. The other activities provided engage students over a series of lessons and I normally conclude the unit by getting my students out of the classroom with a visit to a Munkayarra Wetland. During the visit students use an identification key similar to the ARKive keys to identify macro invertebrates they collected.

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetland © Barbara Sing

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetlands

Human Impacts on the Environment

Human Impacts on the Environment education resourcesAlthough my students have some idea of the impact of plastic in the marine environment the ‘Human Impacts on the Environment’ resource was certainly an eye opener for many of them. The module explores the different ways humans can have negative impacts on the environment and endangered species. I recommend it highly as a resource for Sustainability, Science as a Human Endeavour and also Chemical Science.

Spreading the word

I easily keep up to date with new resources through the ARKive facebook page and share the resources with other teachers and environmental groups.

Thanks for providing a growing useable resource for teachers globally!

Barbara Sing Derby District High School (K-12), West Kimberley, Western Australia

Jun 22
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Endangered Species of the Week: Leaf-scaled sea snake

Photo of leaf-scaled sea snake

Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.

Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.

The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.

 

Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.

See images of the leaf-scaled sea snake on ARKive.

Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 1
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Spotlight On: Barrow Island

You may not have heard of it before, but located 60 kilometres off the north-west coast of Western Australia, Barrow Island is one of the most important conservation reserves in the region. The island itself is around 25 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, and the arid landscape is mainly dominated by spinifex grasslands.

Barrow Island photo

Around 2,800 species have been recorded on Barrow, including 24 species and subspecies found nowhere else on Earth. Thanks to a world renowned Quarantine Management System to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species and diseases to the island, some rare species are able to thrive here, despite having been driven to extinction on the mainland.

Marvellous marsupials

Burrowing bettong photo

The burrowing bettong or ‘boodie’ no longer exists on mainland Australia, and until recently was only found on three islands off the coast of Western Australia including Barrow. The only burrowing member of the kangaroo family, this nocturnal marsupial lives in small groups in an underground burrow or warren which may have just a single entrance, or up to 100! Other marsupials found on Barrow Island include the golden bandicoot, the black-footed rock-wallaby and the Barrow Island euro, a subspecies of the common wallaroo.

Birds on Barrow

Spinifexbird photo

Designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, 119 bird species have been recorded on Barrow. The island supports a large number of migratory shorebirds including pied oystercatchers and fairy terns, as well as raptors such as the brahminy kite and osprey. Other species commonly seen here include an endemic subspecies of the white-winged fairy wren and the spinifexbird, the most abundant bird on the island, which thrives in the spinifex grasslands.

The predatory perentie

Perentie photo

The second largest lizard in the world after the Komodo dragon, the perentie is the top predator on Barrow Island. Prey is easily tracked as the perentie has extremely good eyesight and uses its long tongue to pick up chemical signals in the air. Like other monitor species, the perentie is able to run extremely fast over great distances, reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, about the same speed as an Olympic sprinter! Once caught, prey is shaken violently until dead, and then swallowed whole.

An unusual amphibian

Main's frog photo

Only one species of frog is found on Barrow Island, a desert burrowing frog called Main’s frog. Only seen at the surface during the summer wet season, Main’s frog is able to survive in this arid habitat by spending the rest of the year underground in a state of torpor, retaining water inside its body by sealing itself inside a cocoon. It emerges to breed following heavy rains, with the female laying up to 1,000 eggs into temporary pools of water.

Travelling turtles

Green turtle photo

Important sea turtle rookeries are found on the shores of Barrow Island, with green turtles and flatback turtles coming ashore to nest between November and February. Undertaking tremendous feats of navigation, an adult green turtle returns to the same beach to breed each season, and some populations of green turtle migrate thousands of kilometres to feed and breed. We have recently developed a brand new Turtle Life Cycle education module to teach students aged 7-11 about the lives of these incredible turtles.

Natural resources on Barrow

Oil pumpjack photo

As well as being an area of great conservation importance, Barrow Island is also Australia’s largest operating onshore oilfield. More than 300 million barrels of oil have been produced on Barrow Island since 1964, with strict environmental, safety and health standards and procedures having been put in place in order to safeguard the environment and minimise the impact on the island ecosystem.

Find out more about Barrow Island

If you are interested in learning more about conservation on Barrow Island you can find out more from Chevron and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

You can also check out our new Barrow Island feature page and explore a wealth of species found there.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Jan 26
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Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day is an annual celebration held on the 26th January every year to mark the first arrival of ships in Sydney Cove from Great Britain in 1788. Every year on the eve of Australia Day, the Australian of the Year awards are given out. To celebrate, we thought we would give out some of our own awards to the animals found in Australia.
 

Most unique appearance

There are some very unusual looking animals in Australia, making this a tough category. Strong contenders included the Javanese cownose ray and the narrow-breasted snake-necked turtle. However the award went to the platypus; a creature so unusual looking that the first specimens brought back to England were though to be the work of a fraudulent taxidermist! With its duck-like bill, webbed feet and broad flattened tail, the platypus certainly has a very distinctive and unusual appearance.

Platypus photo

The platypus has a very unique appearance with its duck-like bill, webbed feet and broad flattened tail

 

Best camouflage

The winner of this award, the pygmy seahorse, is so well camouflaged in its coral reef habitat it was not discovered until the coral in which it lives in was being examined in a lab! The pygmy seahorse is found in the coral reefs around Australia, and it is not only the same colour as the coral in which it lives, it is also covered in small swellings which resemble the polyps of the coral. This results in the seahorse being very well camouflaged. Can you see the pygmy seahorse in the picture below?

Pygmy seahorse photo

Can you spot the pygmy seahorse?

Most dangerous

Australia is renowned for having some of the world’s most dangerous animals! There are poisonous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, crocodiles even the platypus has a venomous spur on the back of its rear ankles! However this award goes to one of Australia’s less well known venomous animals – the southern blue ringed octopus. This octopus may be small in size, but it has enough venom in its saliva to kill 26 adults! Its venom, which contains tetrodotoxin, causes neurological problems such as breathing troubles and paralysis. Normally brown in appearance, when threatened it develops blue ringed shape markings. There is currently no antivenom available for the blue ringed octopus.

Southern blue ringed octopus

Southern blue ringed octopus displaying its blue ringed shape markings

Best dressed

Colouration in animals has a wide range of functions. Whether for defence or for attracting a mate, Australia has some beautifully coloured animals including the sunset frog with its bright orange belly, and the multicoloured superb parrot. However the winner of this award is the Gouldian finch. This multicoloured finch, endemic to northern Australia, has a green body, a blue rump, a purple breast, a yellow belly and a red, black or yellow head. The very colourful adults are however upstaged by the chicks with their elaborate and colourful blue, yellow, black and white gape.

Gouldian finch chick

Gouldian finch chick gape

Life time contribution award

This category was very difficult with Australia having so many iconic animals. In the end, the winner was the koala. Koalas, endemic to Australia, are one of Australia’s best known animals. Though bear like in appearance the koala is actually a marsupial. The koala is mainly nocturnal, spending most of its time up in the trees where it can feed and rest, whilst gaining some protection. Koalas have fairly sedentary lifestyles with their diet mainly consisting of eucalyptus leaves. Koalas vary depending on where about in Australia they are found, and those found in south Australia are larger and have thicker fur than those in the north.

Photo of a koala relaxing in a tree

This koala is relaxing after its big win!

 

The Auzzie award

Like the Oscars have the Razzies, we have our own Auzzie award to give out.

Most unusual faeces

This result was unanimous - it had to go the wombat for having cubic poo!

Photo of a northern hairy-nosed wombat

This northern hairy-nosed wombat does not seem to want to collect its award!

Happy Australia day!

Let us know of any other awards you would like to give out to other Australian species.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Media Researcher

Nov 16
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In the News: Tasmanian devils to get fresh start on new island

A group of Tasmanian devils is to be transferred to a small offshore island in the hope of creating a self-sustaining population, free from the disease that is threatening the survival of the species.

Photo of a pair of juvenile Tasmanian devils at the entrance to the den

Juvenile Tasmanian devils at entrance to den

Found only in Tasmania, the Tasmanian devil population has been decimated in recent years by a highly contagious facial cancer. The cancer is spread through bites when the animals fight, and typically causes death within three to six months. Few disease-free areas now remain, and the Tasmanian devil population has plummeted by a staggering 91%.

Insurance population

In a desperate attempt to save this iconic species from extinction, 14 individuals are to be released on Maria Island, a national park off Tasmania’s east coast. The animals will be carefully selected from captive breeding programmes across Australia which have been set up to try and prevent the Tasmanian devil from dying out.

Photo of Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease

The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease,” said Brian Wightman, Tasmania’s Environment Minister. “It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions.”

Last resort

A rugged island that can only be reached by boat or plane, Maria Island has never before been home to Tasmanian devils, so there should be no risk of disease. Experts believe the animals are unlikely to impact other native species on the island, although the ecosystem will be carefully monitored.

Photo of adult and juvenile Tasmanian devils fighting

The contagious cancer is spread through bites when Tasmanian devils fight over food and territory

According to Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, transferring the devils is a last resort, and has to be performed with good scientific oversight. All the animals will be carefully screened before they are released.

If the transfer is successful, scientists plan to increase the number of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island to about 50 over the next 2 years.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australia’s Tasmanian devils to get fresh start on new island.

View photos and videos of Tasmanian devils on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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