May 10
Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Species: Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: There are thought to be fewer than 100 spoon-billed sandpiper pairs remaining in the wild, and it is predicted that this species could go extinct within the next decade if urgent conservation action is not taken.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a striking little bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill, as its common name suggests. This unusual bill is used to probe for small invertebrates in low vegetation, wet meadows and water, or even within muddy sand. A strongly territorial species, the spoon-billed sandpiper breeds in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation, and its scattered breeding range extends from the Chukotsk peninsula to the Kamchatka peninsula in north-eastern Russia. This species has very particular habitat requirements, choosing its nesting sites carefully, and it always breeds within six kilometres of the sea. A migratory bird, the spoon-billed sandpiper flies to overwinter in south and Southeast Asia where it can be found on mudflats and saltpans.

Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to the spoon-billed sandpiper, posing a particularly high risk as this species has such a small population, high nest fidelity, and extremely specific habitat requirements. Throughout this bird’s migratory and wintering ranges, tidal mudflats are being reclaimed for industry or aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted. Several important staging areas for the species have already been reclaimed, and many more are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. Climate change and human disturbance have also altered the spoon-billed sandpiper’s habitat, while egg collection, hunting and accidental capture in nets intended for other wader species directly affect the population and its ability to regenerate.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is listed on both Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, meaning that this threatened species would benefit from international agreements and cooperation to ensure its future survival. While the spoon-billed sandpiper is protected in several areas throughout its range, including the Moroshechnaya Wetlands and several other local wildlife refuges in Russia, China, India and Vietnam, it would benefit from enforced legal protection wherever it is present. In addition, preventing the reclamation of intertidal mudflats along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s entire migration route is of utmost importance.

Conservation organisations and individuals have worked with local communities to help reduce the hunting pressure on this species, and various advocacy activities have been carried out, including two training workshops in schools in China, to raise awareness of the plight of the spoon-billed sandpiper. A special Task Force has been set up, charged with implementing an action plan to save this migratory species, and a captive breeding and rearing programme is underway. It is essential that international cooperation is achieved to monitor and conserve the spoon-billed sandpiper throughout its range and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

See images and videos of the spoon-billed sandpiper on ARKive.

Find out more about spoon-billed sandpiper conservation.

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and find out more about the need to protect these species and their habitats.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 2

Recently, the saiga, an odd-looking Critically Endangered antelope of the Mongolian steppes, was highlighted in the media due to a sharp-eyed Star Wars fan noticing its striking resemblance to some of the characters from the series. This discovery led to a surge of interest in the species and the various threats to its survival.

The 'Star Wars-like' saiga antelope

The saiga is not the only animal with more than a passing resemblance to creatures from the Star Wars galaxy. To celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4th, we attempted to seek out even more lookalikes from the natural world. Can you guess which Star Wars characters we think these species resemble?

Hint 1: You don’t want to owe him a debt

Arabian toad-headed agama image

Hint 2: Always seen with the previous character

Sri Lankan frogmouth image

Hint 3: It’s a carp!

Common carp image

Hint 4: Much larger in Star Wars

Wingless mantis image

Hint 5: Natives of Endor

Brown howling monkey image

Hint 6: They hope it isn’t a cold night

Thinhorn sheep image

Hint 7: Aggrrttaaggrrttaaggrrttaaggrr!

Sumatran orangutan image

Hint 8: With you the fourth May be!

Horsfields tarsier image

These resemblances are more than just a coincidence, with the inspiration for Wookies coming from orangutans, lemurs and dogs.

These amazing creatures highlight the many unique gifts that the biodiversity of Earth gives us. The vast array of morphologies and lifestyles on Earth has influenced human creativity throughout history, from ancient mythology through to science fiction. Whether we realise it or not, all of us draw inspiration from the creatures around us and the world would be a much drabber place without these weird and wonderful animals. Why not see if you can find any other lookalikes, and leave a comment below.

Answers: 1. Jabba the Hutt, 2. Salacious B. Crumb, 3. Admiral Ackbar, 4. The Acklay, 5. Ewok, 6. Tauntaun, 7. Wookie, 8. Yoda

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Apr 20

With Easter just a hop, skip and a jump away, we thought we’d crack into the ARKive coll-egg-tion and have a scramble around to eggs-tract some egg-citing eggs to eggs-hibit in our blog. Along the way, we’ve also learned about the eggs-istence of some rather eggs-centric egg-laying and guarding habits, and we hope you’re as eggs-tatic about our finds as we are!

Gooseberry fool?

Peacock butterfly egg image

Peacock butterfly eggs look a lot like gooseberries!

While you might be forgiven for being fooled into thinking that these green globules are plump and juicy gooseberries, they are, in fact, peacock butterfly eggs. The eggs of this species are laid in groups under nettles, usually in May, and hatch two weeks later.

Sunny-side up? Over-easy? Well-done?

Emu egg image

Emu eggs come in various shades of greenish-black

However you like your eggs, there’s no denying that these ones look as though they’ve been char-grilled in their shells! But fear not, these emu eggs are supposed to look like this; they come in various shades of greenish-black and are the size of a small grapefruit. The male emu is an eggs-traordinary guardian, taking sole responsibility for incubating the eggs over the course of two months while the female wanders off to potentially find another mate, and protecting the chicks against predators for several months once they’ve hatched.

100 kids and counting…

Green turtle egg image

Green turtles can lay an impressive number of eggs per nesting season

In the UK, having more than about four siblings would constitute being part of a pretty large and impressive family, but in the world of marine turtles, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Female green turtles produce between 100 and 150 ping-pong-ball-like eggs per clutch, and can lay up to nine separate clutches per breeding season. While this may seem rather a lot, marine turtles don’t guard their nests or look after their young, and with the threat of land- and ocean-dwelling predators, the survival rate of hatchlings is very low.

High-flying hunger games…

Bald eagle egg image

Bald eagle nests are some of the largest of any bird species

Bald eagle nests, made with sticks and lined with moss, grass, seaweed and other vegetation, are some of the largest of any bird species, sometimes reaching several metres in width. These enormous nests presumably provide a comfy and snug environment for the eggs during the 35-day incubation period, yet things can soon turn ugly. By being bigger and louder, the first-born chick is often afforded more parental attention and food, and will even occasionally kill its younger siblings.

Treasures of the deep

California horn shark egg image

Shark eggs, such as this California horn shark egg, are often referred to as ‘mermaid’s purses’

A mermaid’s purse might well sound like something a sea-dwelling siren would keep her money and credit cards in, but a pilfering pickpocket could get a nasty surprise if they were to try to purloin this particular purse as it is actually a shark egg-case! Mermaid’s purses vary greatly in shape, size and colour, depending on the shark species in question.

Eggs-panding eggs

 

Common frog egg image

Common frog eggs are coated in a jelly-like substance

Frog egg masses, often referred to as frogspawn, tend to look rather like a gruesome collection of eyeballs. The female common frog releases between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs at a time, which are covered in a jelly-like coating. This coating expands when it comes into contact with water, providing protection for the tadpoles growing within.

Egg pasta

 

Sea lemon egg image

Pasta del mar – sea lemons produce somewhat pasta-like egg masses

What may look like a delectable strand of abandoned tagliatelle cast into the depths of the ocean is, in actual fact, a mass of sea lemon eggs. A common sea slug around Britain’s shores, the sea lemon produces thousands of eggs at a time which form a long, coiled, ribbon-like mass. These egg masses are produced in the spring and are attached to rocks, so if you take an Easter weekend dip in the sea and find such a structure, we would advise leaving it well alone and not adding it to your carbonara!

Ha-bee Easter!

 

Honey bee egg image

Honey bee egg

A supplier of sugary goodness and a harbinger of spring to many, the honey bee lays its eggs from March to October. Honey bee colonies have a complex structure, formed of the queen, workers and drones, all of which serve different functions. Worker bees have a variety of roles within the colony, with some being tasked with feeding the developing larvae which emerge from the eggs around three days after they are laid.

Eggshellent parenting

 

King penguin egg image

King penguins incubate their egg on their feet

King penguins appear to take parenting very seriously, with each pair keeping a close eye on their precious egg. Incubation is shared by the male and female and is split into two- or three-week cycles, and parental duties remain shared once the chick has hatched. It’s a good job that king penguins don’t let their eggs out of their sight, otherwise they may not believe the chick belonged to them…the chick looks so different to the adult that they were first described as two completely different species!

Eggs-treme monotreme

Short-beaked echidna egg

A short-beaked echidna egg

While the majority of mammals give birth to live young, there are some eggs-treme mammalian species that lay eggs! These eggs-tra special critters are known as monotremes, and the short-beaked echidna is one of them. The echidna’s leathery egg is laid into a pouch on the female’s abdomen, where it is incubated for about ten days before it hatches. The young echidna, or ‘puggle’, remains there until it is 45 to 55 days old.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these eggs-amples of awesome eggs, and that you all have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 12
Doria's tree kangaroo image

Doria’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus dorianus)

Species: Doria’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus dorianus)

Status: Vulnerable (VU)

Interesting Fact: Doria’s tree kangaroo is the heaviest tree-dwelling marsupial in the world, weighing as much as 20 kilograms, and is capable of jumping down to the ground from a height of up to 18 metres without injury.

Despite its appearance and arboreal nature, Doria’s tree kangaroo is closely related to the well-known ground kangaroos that can be seen across Australian plains, and has similar strongly developed hindquarters and a long, well-furred tail. Unlike its Australian relatives, Doria’s tree kangaroo is endemic to the island of New Guinea, where it is found in the central highlands. This species has fairly long fur, which interestingly grows in a reverse direction on the back and neck. This is presumably to stop water running down its face, as this marsupial tends to sit with its head lower than its shoulders.

While Doria’s tree kangaroo is thought to still be common in some areas of its range, intense and consistent hunting pressure for its meat has led to the local extinction of many populations of this species. In the past, hunting of this prized game species by local people may have been sustainable, but advances in the development of hunting equipment, combined with a rising human population, has led to an increase in hunting. Habitat loss and degradation of forested areas as a result of exploitation for timber poses an additional threat to Doria’s tree kangaroo.

Doria’s tree kangaroo is legally protected in the Indonesian part of New Guinea. However, this is not yet the case in Papua New Guinea, and the protection of vital forest habitat in this region has been recommended to ensure the future survival of this intriguing marsupial. In addition, measures to control or restrict traditional hunting have been suggested as key factors in the conservation of this threatened species.

See images and videos of Doria’s tree kangaroo on ARKive.

Find out more about New Guinea and other South Pacific islands.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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