Oct 1

Defending the United Kingdom against invasive, non-native species costs as much as £1.7 billion each year, according to a report by the BBC Countryfile programme.

Photo of a captive American mink on riverbank

The American mink has contributed to a rapid decline in the native water vole in the UK

Threat to native wildlife

The programme highlights the threats that so-called ‘alien’ species are posing to the UK’s native animals and plants, and the high cost of tackling the problem.

Invasive, non-native species are those which have been introduced by humans to areas outside of their natural range and, in the absence of natural predators and parasites, increase and spread to the detriment of native species and human interests. Worldwide, invasive species are considered to be the largest cause of biodiversity loss after humans.

Photo of common carp being fed on by an invasive species, the American signal crayfish

The signal crayfish is a voracious predator and has a negative impact on native crayfish species in Europe

Alien invaders

An example of a problematic invasive species in the UK is the zebra mussel, which arrived in the UK around ten years ago on the hulls of ships from Europe. This species reproduces so rapidly that it smothers native mussels and can block water systems. At Rutland Water in Leicestershire, England, the local water company has to spend around half a million pounds a year dealing with the species, and has installed filters to the reservoir to prevent the zebra mussels from spreading through and choking their water pipes.

Other well-known invasive species in the UK include the American mink, implicated in the decline of the water vole, and the grey squirrel, which is held largely responsible for the decline in native red squirrels.

Photo of grey squirrel collecting leaves in mouth

Introduced to the UK from North America, the grey squirrel has caused a decline in native red squirrels

Foreign plants are also causing major problems. Japanese knotweed alone is estimated to cost the UK economy £165 million each year to eradicate, and mortgages are being turned down due to the damage this species can do to properties. Of the £1.7 billion spent each year on dealing with invasive species in the UK, around £3 million goes towards clearing non-native weeds which can block canals, rivers and ponds.

Threats to health

As well as threatening native species and having an economic impact, invasive animals and plants can also pose risks to human health. For example, the sap of giant hogweed can cause painful blisters, while the hairy caterpillars of oak processionary moths can trigger allergic reactions.

Photo of bluebells in oak wood

Native UK bluebells are threatened by hybridisation with introduced Spanish bluebells

According to BBC Countryfile’s investigations reporter, Tom Heap, “From the grey squirrel, American crayfish, mink driving water voles from our river banks and the small but scarily named ‘killer shrimp’, a whole host of animals and plants are playing their part in colonising our countryside. Luckily, of the 2,000 non-native species living among us, only a few hundred are actually harmful.”

 

Read more about this story at The Telegraph – Defending UK from foreign species costs £26 per person.

Find out more about invasive species in the UK at the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS).

View photos and videos of species from the United Kingdom on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 21

“For centuries, an exotic but forbidden land has captured our imagination…Now, for the first time, we can explore this place of myth and legend.”

Sand dune habitat of the common sandfish

Much of Arabia is covered by vast deserts with towering sand dunes

Promising a land of magic and surprise, the BBC is launching its new three-part nature documentary series, ‘Wild Arabia’, this Friday. The series will explore the awe-inspiring deserts of Arabia, travelling across the peninsula and filming in extreme conditions to bring us a collection of stunning time-lapses, wildlife encounters and insights into the lives of the Arabian people.

We can expect to see Bedouin nomads, sand storms, festivals and camel races, but most exciting for us in the ARKive office will be the spectacular array of wildlife.

Male Arabian leopard

For the first time, the private life of the elusive Arabian leopard has been caught on camera

Perhaps most anticipated is the up-close and personal glimpse into the life of the Critically Endangered Arabian leopard, one of the most secretive predators in the world. A close second is striking footage of a nimble lesser Egyptian jerboa narrowly outmanoeuvring a desert fox. Be prepared for slow motion and drama in this sequence!

Arabian oryx males fighting

Arabian oryx were once extinct in the wild

Other stars of the show will include the magnificent Arabian oryx, the fearless striped hyaena and the formidable Arabian fat-tailed scorpion, which takes on a mysterious appearance under UV light. The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard that changes colour with temperature will also make an appearance, as will the honey badger, a brave raider of honey bee nests. Moving into the ocean, we will see favourites such as migratory green turtles, and gentle whale sharks.

Whale shark filter feeding, surrounded by other smaller fish

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world

As well as exploring the characteristic sand dunes and date palm oases, we will also be taken deep underground to find the mystifying source of oasis water in Oman, into the heart of cloud forests, and high into the Dhofar Mountains.

Rüppell’s fox, front view

Rüppell’s fox is small and elusive

We hope you are eagerly anticipating this new series just as much as we are. In-depth information on many of the species expected to feature can be found here on ARKive, and for a peek at the many habitats and species that parts of Arabia have to offer, check out our Jewels of the UAE topic page.

If the beautiful Arabian oryx caught your attention, watch this video on its conservation on ARKive’s YouTube Channel, also featuring the scimitar-horned oryx which is classified as Extinct in the Wild.

Sneak previews, an episode guide and (some humorous) behind the scenes stories from the series can be found on the BBC Wild Arabia page.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Jan 8

The world’s second largest continent, Africa is home to a spectacular array of wildlife and landscapes. Its outstanding diversity is spread across deserts and savannas, forests and swamps, and some of the most iconic species on earth are found there. With the launch of BBC One’s new Africa series, we thought we would explore some the most popular African species on ARKive.

1. Meerkat

Meerkats are one of the most popular African animals, due to their highly sociable and charismatic nature. Meerkat groups are usually made up of around 50 individuals, including a dominant pair and ‘helpers’ of both sexes. Meerkats demonstrate an extraordinary division of labour: when out hunting, one or more individuals keep lookout to protect the rest of the group from predators, and when young are born, non-breeding adults take turns to ‘babysit’ while the rest are out foraging.

Photo of a meerkat family group

2. Blue wildebeest

Thousands flock to Africa’s National Parks every year to see the famous blue wildebeest migration. Forming some of the largest migratory herds of all antelope species, wildebeest rely on short grass and water to survive, so must migrate between seasonal grazing sites throughout the year. Wildebeest are well known in Africa as the ‘spare-parts animal’, as they are said to look as though they are made up of several different animal parts.

Photo of blue wildebeest jumping into river during migration

3. Shoebill

The shoebill is a baffling species with a distinctively prehistoric appearance. While it shares many similarities with storks, pelicans and herons, it remains a unique species with many characteristics setting it apart from any other African bird. The shoebill resides in some of the most inaccessible wetland habitats in Africa. Usually feeding at night, it hunts by ambush, standing stock-still until its prey is near, and then snatching it from the water with its sharp, hooked beak.

Shoebill photo

4. Hippopotamus

The hippopotamus is a surprisingly speedy animal, both underwater and on land, despite the fact that a male hippopotamus can weigh as much as 3,200 kg. This, coupled with its aggressive nature, makes it one of the most dangerous African animals. Its semi-aquatic lifestyle earned the hippopotamus its name, which means ‘river horse’. Once widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, the hippopotamus is now mainly found in the East African countries, particularly Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique.

Hippopotamus photo

5. Giraffe

There are nine types of giraffe living in Africa, six of which may be genetically distinct subspecies, and the different types can be distinguished by their spot patterns. The Latin camelopardalis means ‘camel marked like leopard’, and the giraffe’s brown blotches help to camouflage it in the shade patterns created by the trees it feeds on. Giraffes are surprisingly hard to see among the trees for this reason; however, out on the plains they can be seen in their full glory. Despite its extremely long neck, the giraffe actually has the same number of neck vertebrae as most mammals, including humans.

Photo of giraffe's necking

6. Ostrich

This flightless bird is the fastest running bird in the world, reaching speeds of up to 70 km per hour. To add to this, it is also the heaviest of all living birds and has the biggest eyes of all land animals. The ostrich is an instantly recognisable bird with a long bare neck, soft smooth plumage, and prehistoric-looking feet with just two toes. The male ostrich produces a booming call which is said to sound like the roar of a lion. Ostriches are found across the majority of the African continent, and have also been introduced to southern Australia.

Photo of ostrich running

7. Plains zebra

Clearly related to horses, the plains zebra is another of Africa’s most iconic animals. Its most characteristic feature is the pattern of black and white stripes all across its body. There are many theories as to the purpose of the conspicuous black and white stripes, but one likely explanation may be a social one, with the stripes being thought to encourage group structure and grooming behaviour. Zebras are the most abundant of all Africa’s grazers, and are preyed upon by several of Africa’s large predators, such as lions and hyenas.

Group of plain's zebra

8. Eastern gorilla

Gorillas are the largest of the living apes, and have now been recognised as two separate species – the eastern and western gorillas. Eastern gorillas are found in Rwanda,Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), although one subspecies is solely restricted to eastern DRC. There are two subspecies: the mountain gorilla, occurring at altitudes between 1,160 and 4,100 metres, and the eastern lowland gorilla, which is found between 600 and 2,900 metres above sea level. Each family group of eastern gorillas is led by a dominant silverback male, and groups can sometimes be made up of more than 50 individuals.

 Eastern gorilla portrait

9. Nile crocodile

The Nile crocodile is a formidable African predator, and one of the largest of all crocodilians. To enable it to lie low in the water and ambush prey, its eyes, ears and nostrils are located on the top of the head. A valve at the back of the throat stops water from entering when the crocodile grabs prey in its jaws and holds it underwater. The Nile crocodile is capable of taking prey as large as buffalo, zebras, wildebeest and other antelopes, which it drags into the water, but the female can also be surprisingly gentle, carrying her newly hatched young to water in her mouth.

Photo of Nile crocodile

10. African rock python

As Africa’s largest snake, the ill-tempered African rock python is not to be reckoned with. It is a non-venomous snake, killing its prey by coiling around it and squeezing tighter with each breath the victim takes, until its prey dies by cardiac arrest. The African rock python can feed on animals as large as crocodiles, and is found across most of sub-Saharan Africa.

African rock python photo

These are but a few of the most well-known and fascinating animals that Africa has to offer. Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to some lesser-known species, as well as ‘the big five’, ‘the little five’ and more…watch this space!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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