Dec 10
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Carolling Creatures

As the festive season gets into full swing, we’re sure a few of you will be warming up your vocal cords in preparation for a bit of carolling action. To help get you in the mood for some musical mayhem, we’ve had a root through the ARKive collection to find some of the species that might make good (or bad!) additions to any party of vibrant vocalists.

Delightful duet – Western hoolock gibbon

The call of the western hoolock gibbon is as energetic as the species itself, which can swing gracefully through the trees of its forest home at speeds of up to 56km/hour. The impressive vocal gymnastics of this species can be heard over great distances, so this primate would be a great asset to any raucous carolling choir!

Western hoolock gibbon image

Hooved honkers – Plains zebra

If you listen carefully, you can hear the first few notes of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the call of this plains zebra! This braying bark is a key method of communication for zebras, and is used alongside body movements and facial expressions. Let’s hope these guys have good memories for music and lyrics, as they might have some difficulty holding a carol book!

Plains zebra image

Jolly jingles – Sidewinder

Despite being the stoutest of all the rattlesnake species, this reptilian rattler can grow up to 80cm in length. It is found in south-western U.S.A and north-western Mexico, where it ambushes small lizard and rodent prey from the cover of isolated shrubs. The sidewinder could provide some interesting percussion accompaniment to a group of carollers, though I’m not sure how close you would want to get to one of these venomous critters!

Sidewinder image

Booming beat – Kakapo

If you feel like you need a little something extra on your carolling outing, why not invite the kakapo along to create a resonant boom to back up all your favourite festive tunes? We can’t guarantee he’ll be able to keep in time, but at least it’ll get the choral company noticed! This booming noise is made by male kakapos to attract a mate, and can be heard up to five kilometres away.

Kakapo image

Quacking canid – Dhole

You know that feeling of surprise when you hear somebody sing, and their voice doesn’t sound at all like you’d expect it to? That’s how we felt when we came across this carolling audition tape for the dhole! This Asian species can produce a wide range of vocalisations, including a distinctive whistle which is used to reassemble pack members in its thick forest habitat.

Dhole image

Warbling wonder – Blackbird

Many of you avid music-lovers will recognise the beautiful song of the blackbird, and would be happy to have this musical avian in your carolling group. This species produces a range of vocalisations, including a loud alarm call which has been described as ‘pli-pli-pli’.

Blackbird image

Honking harmonies – Emperor penguin

Emperor penguin colonies may be very noisy and somewhat tuneless places to be, but also extremely cold ones! This species can survive in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees C, and withstand windspeeds of up to 200km/hour. Emperor penguins might not win any prizes as far as pleasant-sounding vocals go, but this species certainly deserves top marks for its parental care. While the female heads seawards to feed after laying her egg, the male will stay put without feeding for four months, in constant darkness, to incubate the egg. Now that’s dedication!

Emperor penguin image

Choral creatures – Bright-eyed frog (Boophis albilabris)

Does anyone else think that the bright-eyed frog has a call that sounds strangely like squeaky rubber?! This large tree frog, whose scientific species name albilabris means ‘white-lipped’ (can you guess why?!), can grow up to 81mm in length. The bright-eyed frog is endemic to Madagascar, where it can be found in moist rainforests.

Bright-eyed frog image

Squawky solo – Galapagos penguin

This feathered fellow certainly seems to be putting a lot of effort into its call, but if this were an audition, I’m not so sure the Galapagos penguin would be offered a solo! This species is the most northerly of all penguins, and sadly, as of 2007, there were just 1,000 individuals left in the world.

Galapagos penguin image

Cacophonous canines – Grey wolf

The grey wolf is a highly social and intelligent species of canid, living in packs of between 5 and 12 individuals. As well as scent-marking, the grey wolf uses howling as a way of advertising territorial boundaries. It is an effective way of avoiding encounters with other packs, which can lead to fatal battles. Sadly, I don’t think this species would make an ideal choir member, as the individuals don’t seem to be able to howl in tune!

Grey wolf image

Ho, ho, ho! – Barasingha

This barasingha, a threatened deer species found only in India and Nepal, appears to be doing his best Santa Claus impression!

Barasingha image

Ho, ho, ho! And a happy holiday season to you all!

 

Dec 4
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ARKive’s Top 10 Dancing Species

There are so many styles of human dance around the world, which may be used for portraying emotion, fitness, communicating a message, fighting or even just for fun. We are not alone, as many members of the animal kingdom shake, groove, boogie and wiggle their way to getting what they want. Although we use the term ‘dance’ loosely, there are some species who definitely know how to get down.

Jump around

There always seems to be someone in a crowd who thinks jumping up and down constitutes dancing, subsequently annoying everyone else around them. We think that Verreaux’s sifaka could be ‘that guy’ of the animal kingdom.

Verreaux's sifaka image

Twerk it out

You would be seriously wrong in thinking that ‘twerking’ is a recent phenomenon, as the male wire-tailed manakin has been using it to attract females for years. We reckon this bird could give Miley Cyrus a serious run for her money.

Wire-tailed manakin image

Got it on tap

You wouldn’t really want this expert tapper hitting the dancefloor…it would leave some serious trip hazards behind!

Great spotted woodpecker image

Reaching dizzy new heights

Spins are a vital part of any dance routine. Although this cetacean doesn’t seem to have much trouble, we don’t know how many of these spins we could do before toppling over!

Spinner dolphin image

Ready to rock

It takes some seriously strong neck muscles to headbang your way through a whole gig, but this Temminck’s tragopan looks pretty hardcore.

Temminck's tragopan image

Break it down

You’ve seen the worm, the toprock and the windmill numerous times, but this mustelid is bringing some original flava to the streets and has created its own breakdancing move – the stoat.

Stoat image

Made you look

A question has plagued mankind for millennia: when slow-dancing with someone at the school disco where should you look? Should you look them in the eye? Or is that too intense? Should you look away? But then it might seem like you’re not ‘in the moment’ or you’re checking someone else out. Should you look down? But then they might notice the roots you were supposed to have dyed weeks ago. Although we can’t answer this age-old query, at least we know we’re not alone, as this pair of great crested grebes seem to be having the same problem.

Great crested grebe image

Right on time

This poor pair of Laysan albatrosses just don’t quite seem to be able to get their dance routine in time. Maybe they should stick to their day job and leave the dancing to the professionals.

Laysan albatross image

Corps de crane

Poise, grace and elegance are three attributes necessary for all ballerinas. We can imagine the common crane stepping up to the barre and arabesquing, cabrioling and sissonning with the best of them.

Common crane image

Rave on

With the large crowds and lack of personal space involved in their courtship dancing, these Andean flamingos probably wouldn’t feel out of place at a rave! Their neon-pink colouration means they wouldn’t even need to take their own glow sticks!

Andean flamingo image

Let us know your favourite salsa-dancing, hip-wiggling, bunny-hopping, booty-shaking, shoulder-shimmying species!

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Nov 26
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In the News: Forest giraffe joins ever-increasing number of threatened species

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

 

Nov 16
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Endangered Species of the Week: White-bellied heron

Image of white-bellied heron

White-bellied heron (Ardea insignis)

 

Species: White-bellied heron (Ardean insignis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Also known as the imperial heron, the white-bellied heron is the second largest species of heron in the world, exceeded in size only by the Goliath heron.

More information:

The white-bellied heron is a large, long-necked species, named for its white underbelly and wing linings. It has a blackish head topped with a pale plume of feathers, and a brownish-grey body. The most outstanding feature of the white-bellied heron is its massive pointed bill, which measures about 15 to 18 cm in length.

Although primarily a solitary bird with a large territory, during the winter months the white-bellied heron may fly up to 30 kilometres to join other members of its species.

The white-bellied heron is resident in Southeast Asia, having been seen in Bangladesh and surrounding countries. It is now believed to be extinct in Nepal.

The white-bellied heron favours mature forests, a habitat that has been at risk from deforestation for over a century. It is also under threat from the fragmentation and degradation of its wetland habitats through pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the rapid growth of aquatic vegetation due to leaching of artificial fertilisers. In addition, the white-bellied heron is vulnerable to disturbance and habitat degradation as a result of agricultural expansion, human settlements and poaching, as well as overfishing.

The white-bellied heron population is extremely small, at fewer than 250 mature individuals, and is rapidly declining, putting this species at severe risk of extinction.

In May 2011, the first white-bellied heron chick to be bred in captivity hatched, as a result of a project by The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan. There have been reported sightings of the white-bellied heron in protected areas of north-eastern India, and there are more protected areas proposed both in India and Bhutan which might lead to an increase in population size.

 

Find out more about the white-bellied heron at BirdLife International and Heron Conservation.

See images of the white-bellied heron on ARKive.

 

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 14
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Guest Blog: Who’s eating my eggs?

Nature, as the great poet Tennyson reminded us, is “red in tooth and claw”. Animals face a constant battle to survive, and many species are under persistent risk from predators. One of the mechanisms animals use to avoid a bloody end is camouflage – blending in with the background – to avoid being eaten.

But what makes for good camouflage? How do factors such as colour and patterning work to fool the senses of wily attackers? At present, although we know a lot about the different types of camouflage that might exist, we know very little about the value of camouflage and how it works in the natural world.

Pygmy seahorse image

Pygmy seahorse camouflaged against fan coral

This short video is a brief introduction to the ongoing work of Dr Martin Stevens at the University of Exeter, and Dr Claire Spottiswoode at the University of Cambridge, who are examining egg predation and camouflage in habitats in South Africa and Zambia. Their colleagues, Dr Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal, also at Exeter, have set up hidden cameras to record egg predation events in different bird species.

The project aims to increase our understanding of camouflage in the wild and its relationship with survival. To do this, the team study the camouflage of ground nesting birds, and their eggs and chicks in the natural environment. They are using specialist cameras to photograph the birds, and camera traps to identify their main predators and to monitor nest survival.

Wrybill image

Wrybill eggs on nest, showing camouflage

Back in the UK they then use the images to simulate the relevant predator visual systems, which often see the world very differently to us, including different colours. Using a range of image analysis techniques, the team are comparing the properties of the eggs, chicks and adults to the environment to study their camouflage and how it affected their risk of predation.

Avoiding your eggs being eaten is a matter of life and death to many animals, but the research also helps improve our fundamental understanding of vision and could have wide-ranging applications, from bioscience to security and defence. Animal camouflage has also influenced human behaviour and culture, including art, fashion and the military.

A full in-depth feature on the project will appear on the BBSRC website and YouTube channel when the fieldwork is completed in the coming months.

Useful LinksCamouflage banner1_crop

Dr Martin Stevens, Sensory Ecology & Evolution group
http://sensoryecology.com/people/martin-stevens.html

Project nightjar, University of Exeter
http://nightjar.exeter.ac.uk/
African Cuckoos
http://www2.zoo.cam.ac.uk/africancuckoos/home.html

 

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