Nov 28
Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on Delicious Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on Digg Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on Facebook Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on reddit Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on StumbleUpon Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on Email Share 'Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!' on Print Friendly

Happy Thanksgiving from the ARKive Team!

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

 

Apr 25
Share 'World Penguin Day' on Delicious Share 'World Penguin Day' on Digg Share 'World Penguin Day' on Facebook Share 'World Penguin Day' on reddit Share 'World Penguin Day' on StumbleUpon Share 'World Penguin Day' on Email Share 'World Penguin Day' on Print Friendly

World Penguin Day

Every year, April 25th marks World Penguin Day, a chance to celebrate these popular and charismatic birds. These iconic flightless birds range from the large, well-known emperor penguin to the tiny, aptly name little penguin, and all are well adapted to the environments in which they live.

Photo of king penguins allopreening

King penguins

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate all things penguiny by taking a closer look at these fascinating birds.

Icon of the Antarctic

Photo of emperor penguins huddle together during blizzard

Emperor penguins huddling together during a blizzard

At over one metre tall, the emperor penguin is the largest penguin species. One of the most iconic animals of the Antarctic, this hardy bird is well adapted to the cold, with a relatively small head, beak and flippers to reduce heat loss, and layers of tightly packed, scale-like feathers to keep it warm and dry. Like other penguins, it also has a thick layer of fat that acts as insulation and an energy store. Male emperor penguins incubate a single egg throughout the harsh Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to an incredible minus 60ºC. The males balance the eggs on their feet, and huddle together to keep warm.

Coping in the heat

Photo of African penguin colony on beach

African penguins on beach

Although typically associated with cold environments, not all penguins live in the Antarctic. The African penguin breeds in southern Africa, where it has to deal with potentially high temperatures. To protect its nest against the heat, the African penguin often nests in burrows or in the shade of boulders or bushes. The most northerly penguin species is the Galapagos penguin, which is found near the equator.

Super swimmers

Photo of emperor penguins descending to feed

Emperor penguins swimming underwater

All penguins are superb swimmers, with streamlined bodies and flipper-like wings which give them great speed underwater. Penguins can cope with long, deep dives, and some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea. Compared to flying birds, which have light, hollow bones, penguins have heavy, solid bones which aid diving. Legs set far back on the body help penguins to steer underwater, but mean they walk clumsily on land.

Well-dressed water birds

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

Northern rockhopper penguins

Penguins are characterised by their distinctive black and white colour patterns. Known as ‘countershading’, this pattern provides camouflage underwater, helping the penguin to avoid detection by predators and prey. When seen from above, the penguin’s dark back blends in with the dark ocean depths, and when seen from below its white belly blends in with the light from the sky. Penguin species are most easily told apart by the distinctive patterns on their head and neck, and some species even sport quite colourful hairdos!

Sociable breeders

Photo of large king penguin breeding colony

Large breeding colony of king penguins

Penguins often form huge breeding colonies that may number hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs, and the stains left by the droppings of so many birds can sometimes be seen from space. Penguins usually form monogamous pairs in each breeding season. Nesting sites vary between species, and can include sea ice, rock, beaches, or even coastal forest, in the case of the Fiordland crested penguin.

Fishy diet

Photo of Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Penguins use their great swimming ability and speed underwater to catch a variety of fish, squid and crustaceans, including the shrimp-like krill. Amazingly, penguins are able to drink seawater when at sea, as they possess glands which filter excess salt from the blood, excreting it from the nasal passages in a concentrated salty fluid.

Fabulous feet

Close-up photo of adult gentoo penguin feet

Close-up of gentoo penguin feet

Penguins have a series of adaptations which help to reduce heat loss through the feet and prevent the feet from freezing when the bird is standing on ice. As warm blood enters the legs, it flows past cold blood returning from the feet. In this way, the blood entering the feet is cooled, reducing heat loss, and the blood returning to the body is warmed again. Penguins can also reduce blood flow to their feet in freezing conditions, and may tip back on their heels to minimise the area of skin in contact with the ice.

Penguin predators

Leopard seal attacking an Adélie penguin chick

Adélie penguin chick being attacked by leopard seal

On land, penguins generally have few predators, although birds such as the southern skua may take their eggs and chicks, and adult penguins may also be attacked by the northern giant petrel. In the sea, penguins may be attacked by leopard seals and orcas.

Bad feather day

Photo of adult northern rockhopper penguin moulting

Moulting northern rockhopper penguin

Like most birds, penguins moult once a year, replacing worn and damaged feathers to keep their plumage in top condition. However, unlike most other birds, which moult a few feathers at a time, penguins moult all their feathers in one go, as missing just one or two would affect their waterproofing and put them at risk from the cold. Before its annual moult a penguin puts on weight, building up fat reserves which allow it to stay out of the water while it waits for its new feathers to grow. During this time it can take on a decidedly scruffy appearance!

Really quite cool

Photo of gentoo penguin scratching

Gentoo penguin scratching

Penguins are hugely popular birds and commonly appear in films, TV programmes and popular culture, being much loved for their comical appearance and upright, almost human-like walk. They are also hardy survivors, occurring in some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet.

Unfortunately, humans have also had negative impacts on penguin populations, through pollution, overfishing, coastal development and the effects of climate change. The International Penguin Conservation Working Group is helping to promote penguin conservation and to draw attention to the threats facing penguins, and with various research programmes also underway there is hope that these iconic birds can be protected into the future.

Why not join in the World Penguin Day celebrations yourself? You can explore more penguin photos, videos and factfiles on ARKive, or make a penguin mask with our Penguin Diversity education module.

Or, get in touch and let us know which species of penguin is your favourite and why!

Apr 21
Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on Delicious Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on Digg Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on Facebook Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on reddit Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on StumbleUpon Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on Email Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species' on Print Friendly

ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species

This weekend, a mixture of world class runners and 36,000 fundraisers will descend upon London to take part in this year’s London Marathon. To be able to run the 26.2 mile course a lot of training and endurance is required. To celebrate, here in the ARKive office we have put together a list of the top ten endurance animals:

The king of long distance

The monarch butterfly is renowned for its spectacular, long-distance migrations. It is the eastern North American populations which show the most remarkable migratory behaviour. The final summer generation undertake a mass southward migration from the summer breeding ground in North America to Mexico for the winter; covering distances of 3,000 miles at speeds of up to 80 miles per day! This incredible butterfly species has made the top 50 in the World’s favourite species competition. Visit the page to cast your vote for the monarch butterfly.

Athletic albatross

Albatrosses are renowned for being some of the most far-roaming seabirds in the world, with the Campbell albatross being particularly well known for making single, non-stop flights for up to 19 hours! When foraging, Campbell albatross may travel up to 2,000 kilometres away from the colony to find food, with trips lasting between 3 and 12 days.

Not leap frog but leap fish?

Outside of the breeding season Atlantic salmon are found at sea, roaming vast distances to search for food. After one or more years, Atlantic salmon return to their birthplace, in freshwater streams, to spawn. During this journey the Atlantic salmon can leap vertical distance of up to an amazing 12 feet, resulting in it gaining the nickname the king of fish!

Outstanding ostrich

The ostrich, the fastest runner of any birds, can reach up to 70 kilometres per hour in short sprints with strides of 3 to 5 metres in length! Not only does the ostrich have speed it also has high stamina being able to run at up to 50 kilometres per hour for 30 minutes or more! This would make the ostrich a real contender in any marathon!

I am turtley not getting lost

When green turtles reach sexual maturity they will migrate back to the beach where they hatched, to breed. This is not only a tremendous feat of navigation but also involves travelling very long distances. For some population of green turtles in Brazil this means travelling 2,250km to return back to the Ascension Islands to breed!

There is no terning back

The Arctic tern probably undertakes the longest migration of any bird, breeding in the Arctic and travelling to Antarctica for winter. This means that the Arctic tern sees more sunlight each year than any other animal, as they experience a ‘second summer’ by travelling south in winter. It makes all the hard work seem worth it!

A whaley long way to go

Humpback whales undertake yearly migrations of thousands of kilometres, from summer feeding grounds in polar regions to winter breeding grounds near the tropics. Humpback whales which feed south of Cape Horn undertake the longest known migration of any mammal, with their journey taking them all the way to the warm waters off Columbia and Costa Rica to breed. If this is not incredible enough, humpback whales do not feed during their whole migration or during their time at the breeding grounds. Does this impress you enough to make the humpback whale your favourite species? If so, cast your vote for the humpback whale here and check out its contenders!

Freeze a jolly good fellow

Breeding in Antarctica’s harsh winter, when temperatures drop to as low as minus 60ºC, and wind speeds reach up to 200 kilometres per hour requires some serious endurance! Each year Emperor penguins undertake this challenge to ensure that their chicks fledge in the late summer season. Adult penguins journey for upto 120 kilometres to reach their breeding colonies, in these harsh conditions. After six weeks the female will then return to feed whereas the male has to endure the rest of the winter incubating the egg. The emperor penguin has also successfully made it to the top 50, make it number one by voting for it today!

We will make it come rein or shine..

The reindeer, known as caribou in North America, undertakes the longest migration of any land mammal. Most reindeer populations will undertake seasonal migrations with the annual distance covered by some individuals being at least 5,000 kilometres. This migration also often includes swimming across rivers and fjords.

Size doesn’t matter

The ruby throated hummingbird is a migratory species which breeds in eastern North America and winter in Central America. Despite being only 9 centimetres in length the ruby throated hummingbird can make this migration across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop, a round trip of more than 1,600 kilometres!

If you can think of any other endurance species not on the list then do let us know!

Jemma Pealing, Media Researcher

Feb 13
Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on Digg Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on reddit Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on Email Share 'In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick' on Print Friendly

In the News: Oldest bird hatches chick

The world’s oldest known wild bird, a Laysan albatross known as ‘Wisdom’, has surprised scientists by producing a chick at 62 years old.

Photo of Laysan albatross pair with chick in nest

Laysan albatross pair with chick

Scientists had thought that female albatrosses, like other birds, became infertile and stopped producing chicks in later life. However, Wisdom hatched a healthy chick on 3rd February, and may have produced as many as 35 chicks in her long lifetime. Most Laysan albatrosses only live to around half her age.

It blows us away that this is a 62-year-old bird and she keeps laying eggs and raising chicks,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “We know that birds will eventually stop reproducing when they’re too old. The assumption about albatrosses is it will happen to them, too. But we don’t know where that line is. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.”

Photo of a pair of Laysan albatrosses preening

Like other albatrosses, the Laysan albatross mates for life

It is possible that some of the other albatrosses on the Midway Atoll are 60 years old or more, as their tracking bands have sometimes fallen off and left researchers unable to identify them. Albatrosses mate for life, and it is likely that Wisdom has had to find a new, younger mate at some point in her life.

To the moon and back

Wisdom nests on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and incredibly is likely to have flown up to 4.8 million kilometres since she was first given a leg tag by scientists monitoring the birds in 1956.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which is performing the monitoring, said that this astonishing distance equates to “four to six trips from the Earth to the moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare”.

Photo of Laysan albatrosses returning from sea

Laysan albatrosses in flight

Albatrosses under threat

Wisdom is one of the lucky ones – albatrosses face a variety of threats and many are threatened with extinction. Laysan albatrosses were heavily exploited for their feathers in the first half of the 20th century, but one of the main threats to albatross species today is being caught and drowned in long-line fisheries.

Many species are also under threat from introduced predators such as cats and rats, which prey on the adult birds as well as their eggs and chicks.

Plastic debris is an additional threat to these large marine birds, and is often accidentally swallowed. Shockingly, an estimated 4,500 kg of plastic is thought to be mistakenly fed to albatross chicks by their parents each year. The plastic debris does not kill the chick immediately, but instead stops it from eating.

Watch ARKive’s Human Impacts video to find out more about the impacts of plastic waste on the Laysan albatross.

Photo of dead Laysan albatross showing plastics in stomach

Dead Laysan albatross with plastics in its stomach

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62.

Find out more about albatross conservation at Save the Albatross and WWF – Albatross.

View photos and videos of albatrosses on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 8
Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on Digg Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on reddit Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on Email Share 'In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws' on Print Friendly

In the News: Thick-skinned crocs have super-sensitive jaws

Despite their thick skins, crocodilians are actually more sensitive to touch than humans, according to new research.

Black caiman portrait

Black caiman with jaws open

Crocodilians – a group comprising crocodiles, alligators and gharials – possess large numbers of dome-shaped dots around their jaws, but until now the function of these structures has been unclear.

Previous theories suggested that the bumps were used to detect electrical or magnetic fields, to secrete fluid or to detect salinity. However, new research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology has found that the unusual structures are extremely sensitive to touch. In fact, they are even more sensitive than human fingertips.

When I used a calibrated series of fibres to touch or tickle the [bumps], I found that they were responsive to forces finer than our own fingertips – a sensory system widely studied for its own sensitivity,” said Duncan Leitch, one of the authors of the study.

Close-up photo of Nile crocodile teeth

Close-up of Nile crocodile jaws, showing black bumps on the skin

Network of nerves

When the researchers analysed the bumps, they found that they were made up of many specialised cell receptors. Numerous free nerve endings occurred near the surface of the bumps, while deeper in the skin were structures sensitive to pressure and vibrations.

By tracing the nerves, the researchers also found that the Nile crocodiles and American alligators they studied had a delicate network of nerves running throughout their jaws, threading through the skull before ending in the bumps. The scientists suggest that this layout, with the nerve network largely enclosed within the skull, may help to protect the nerves during aggressive encounters or when the animal is hunting.

Photo of American alligator walking

American alligator

Sensitive armour

The super-sensitive nature of crocodilians’ jaws may play a role in their rapid reaction times when hunting, allowing them to effortlessly detect movements in the water. It may also allow these armoured reptiles to more easily distinguish between food and inedible debris.

I was very surprised at these results, especially considering how armoured and scaly the crocodiles and alligators appear,” said Leitch. “However, it seems to make sense that an animal that might need to carefully discriminate between inedible objects and food, especially in dark or nocturnal environments, would be well-served by having an exquisite sense of touch.”

Despite their large size and fearsome reputation, female crocodiles can also be incredibly gentle, using their jaws to help their eggs to hatch, and even carrying their offspring in their mouths. Having highly sensitive jaws is an obvious advantage in performing these delicate, controlled movements.

Photo of female American alligator carrying young

Female crocodilians, like this American alligator, take great care of their eggs and young

Evolutionary puzzle

According to Leitch, one of the goals of the research is to gain a better understanding of how the nervous systems of different species – in this case, crocodilians and humans – have evolved to solve similar problems, such as the processing of touch sensations.

As ancient reptiles that have been around for millions of years, crocodilians can play a key role in our understanding of evolutionary processes.

Nile crocodile eye close-up

Close-up of Nile crocodile eye

It is interesting to consider what adaptations, including possibly sensory capabilities, have made them such robust creatures,” said Leitch.

Read more on this story at BBC Nature News – Crocs have super-sensitive jaws.

View photos and videos of crocodilians on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

About

RSS feedARKive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of ARKive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

ARKive twitter

Twitter: ARKive