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 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 18

Earlier in 2014, sixteen tiny eggs were collected from two small pockets of mangrove forest on the western side of Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago. These eggs, each the size of the nail on your little finger, belong to one of the rarest and most range restricted birds in the world: the mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates). This small, brown, unassuming bird is one of the famous Darwin’s finches and is today the rarest endemic bird in Galapagos. There are less than 100 mangrove finches alive today and last year there were only 14 breeding pairs. But why are they so critically endangered?

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Until recently, one of the main threats to mangrove finches was introduced rats. As generalist carnivores, rats would seek out and feed on the eggs and chicks of finches during the breeding season. Fortunately, rats are now being controlled at the breeding sites but now a much smaller invasive species poses an even larger threat.

Philornis downsi is a species of fly native to Trinidad and Brazil. It was introduced to Galapagos in the 1960s and has now spread to 14 islands within the Archipelago. The adults of this fly are harmless, feeding almost exclusively on nectar, but in their larval stage they are blood-sucking parasites. Female flies lay their eggs in the nests of small breeding land birds. Blind, naked and weak, the mangrove finch hatchlings are an easy target for the fly larvae which feed on their blood, very often resulting in the death of the chick. In 2013, 37% of chicks were killed this way – a massive hit to such a tiny population.

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

So why are the scientists removing eggs? In an effort to ensure that the mangrove finch does not become the first bird to go extinct in Galapagos since before Darwin’s time, scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation and San Diego Zoo are, with support from the Galapagos National Park, taking action. During the mangrove finch breeding season, females lay up to five clutches of eggs but the first few rarely survive. By taking this first clutch, hatching and raising the chicks in captivity, then releasing them back into the wild when they are old enough, the project should result in more individuals being added to the population each year.

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

By raising the chicks in captivity, they will have avoided the nest-bound parasites and will have been given a ‘head-start’ in life. 2014 was the first time ‘head-starting’ has been trialled on mangrove finches and it is proving a great success. The sixteen eggs have hatched and the mangrove finch chicks are being released back into the mangroves right now. The future of the mangrove finch is starting to look a little brighter.

2. Remaining mangrove finch habitat 2 - (c)Francesca Cunninghame

Remaining mangrove finch habitat © Francesca Cunninghame

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with progress, please visit www.mangrovefinchappeal.org

Apr 10

The EDGE of Existence programme is an initiative of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) whose aim is to profile the top 100 most evolutionarily distinct and endangered species of each taxonomic class, including toads that give birth through their skin and mammals that are immune to cyanide, among many other weird and wonderful creatures. Each species is given a rank depending on its unique characteristics and how endangered it is on a global scale. This rank then determines how much the conservation of the species should be prioritised compared with others in its taxonomic class.

Giant ibis image

The Critically Endangered giant ibis was designated the top spot on the EDGE birds list

Until now, only the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals, amphibians and corals had been highlighted, and today the top 100 birds have been announced after an extensive collaborative study between Yale University, Imperial College London, Sheffield University, University College London, Simon Fraser University and the University of Tasmania. Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager at ZSL, says, “Half of the 100 highest-ranked EDGE bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention. We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.”

The nocturnal, flightless kakapo is number four on the list

Carly Waterman went on to say, “The release of the EDGE birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species. These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.” There are 9,993 bird species known to science which represent millions of years of evolution, resulting in the numerous anatomical, physiological and morphological adaptations of birds that are not seen in any other taxonomic class. Many species highlighted in the EDGE lists do not have close relatives and have been evolving independently for millions of years.

The spoon-billed sandpiper travels 8,000 km between its breeding and wintering grounds and reached number 11 on the list

Many species on the EDGE lists have been previously overlooked by conservation projects, and the scoring system identifies their importance and how much of a loss to the world their extinction would be. Professor Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, lead author of the paper identifying the EDGE birds in the journal Current Biology, said, “By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come. As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.” EDGE is continuing research on other taxa to build on its database and highlight priority species as well as the urgent need for their conservation.

See the EDGE top 100 bird species

Find out more about the EDGE project

Discover more bird species on ARKive

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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