Nov 28

Organic horticulturist, Andy Dean, shares his views with us on Christmas trees and how to have a green Christmas…

In 1841, Queen Victoria’s new husband Albert, introduced a German Christmas tradition into the British royal household. From that point on the popularity of the Christmas tree has been on the up in the UK, Western Europe, America and most other parts of the world.

The custom of putting up a decorated fir tree in your home at Christmas began in Germany in the 17th century.

Unlike in England, the fir tree is native to Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, being part of the natural biodiversity and offering habitat for native wildlife. Even in its native Germany, the fir tree has been through periods of threat, with legislation being passed to protect it from harvesting due to the popularity of having a cut tree indoors during the festive holiday season.

Photo of American red squirrel searching for fir cones at top of Douglas fir tree

Fir trees are important to wildlife: American red squirrel searching for fir cones at the top of a Douglas fir tree

I am in no way a ‘bah humbug’ person about Christmas and love the celebrations, but it breaks my heart to see the cut trees that are discarded after two weeks, laying outside almost every household, browning on their sides.

It strikes me as evidence of our detachment to source and, in our innocent excitement for the season, we forget that it is not just the one tree that we have cut, but many trees – almost one for each household. In fact, it is reported that 7 million real fir trees were sold in England last year alone.

With the approaching festivities, I would like to set a challenge to everyone. Instead of spending good money on a cut tree that will be tossed aside once the festivities are all over – putting a strain on both the environment and local amenities – why not gather up your family and take a walk in the countryside to pick a couple of sprigs of holly or ivy and perhaps a broken branch that could be decorated.

Common holly photo

Common holly

So long as this is done sympathetically, without greed and with good common sense, there is no reason why this should hamper the environment at all. In fact a gentle prune will help promote growth of the plant, and in gathering it ourselves we have both filled our lungs with fresh air and stretched our legs.

If you do want a real tree and have the outside space to accommodate it, why not grow one in a pot and enjoy it all year round, bringing it indoors for the holiday season?

With the money saved every year, you could even plant a native tree – either on your own land or even by making a donation to charities like the Woodland Trust  who strive to plant, proliferate and protect our native broadleaved woodlands. These are the very woodlands that add beauty to our landscapes and support our native wildlife.

Photo of a  subalpine fir forest

The beauty of a subalpine fir forest

And if you’re looking for something a little different this year, have a look at my post on alternatives to the cut tree .

Andy Dean, NOCN, is an organic horticulturist and owner of landscape & garden design company, Blue Sky Landscapes .

Dec 28

With the end of 12fast approaching there will soon be celebrations taking place all around the world to see in the New Year. Here at ARKive we have been taking some inspiration from the animal kingdom in order to come up with five vital tips to ensure that you have a happy and enjoyable New Years Eve.

Go Easy on the Booze

Many of us will be indulging in a tipple or two over the holiday season. Obviously it is a good idea to stay within your limits and not to take a leaf (or bamboo shoot!) out of the Eastern gorilla’s book. Photographer Andy Rouse captured this picture of two merry Eastern gorillas in the mountains of Rwanda. It was found that they had been drinking the alcoholic sap from bamboo shoots. When the photographer retuned the next day the Gorillas were supposedly looking worse for wear with what we can only suspect was a primate hangover – what a pair of party animals!

Photo of silverback and blackback mountain gorillas playing, drunk on bamboo shoots

This pair of eastern gorillas have had a bit too much festive cheer...

 

Break out with dancing fever

New Years Eve is a chance to relax, let your hair down and strut your stuff on the dance floor. The courtship dance of the Antipodean albatross is a visual spectacle and involves classic moves like bowing, bill touching and head shaking. Despite busting out all these moves the male may have to perform this dance for several seasons before succeeding in finding a mate.

Photo of antipodean albatross pair performing courtship dance

Will these dance moves be enough to impress the female Antipodean albatross?

 

Be Careful with Fireworks

There is nothing like a few fireworks to get your New Years Eve kicking off with a bang. It may not be quite the display of lights and sounds that traditional fireworks are but the bombardier beetle has a defence similar to fireworks, at least in the sense that it is also an extreme exothermic reaction. When threatened, the bombardier beetle squirts a mixture of two chemicals from glands in the abdomen which react violently with each other and raise the temperature of the mixture to nearly 100 degrees Celsius. Enough to give any potential attacker a burn they will remember!

Photo of a bombardier beetle

It may look harmless now, but when threatened the fireworks start!

 

Remember your party trick

Grab yourself some attention and become the talk of the town by performing an interesting party trick for your fellow New Years Eve revellers. The male superb lyrebird’s party bit is impersonations. It has been know to imitate up to twenty other local birds such as the laughing kookaburra in order to make it’s song as complex as possible in the hope a female will be impressed enough to seek him out. Chainsaws and camera shutter imitations have also been incorporated into the songs of birds closer to the activities of humans.

Photo of superb lyrebird vocalising

Superb lyrebird vocalising

 

And finally – bring your best food dish

Bringing some homemade delights to a New Years Eve party is a sure way to start some conversations. The European bee-eater’s choice of party food may not be to all tastes however, unless you’re partial to dragonfly that is. Like many other birds male European bee-eaters will often offer the female caught prey items as a courtship gift to persuade her to mate.

Photo of a european bee-eater offering prey as a courtship gift
A european bee-eater offering prey as a courtship gift to the female

To all our supporters, contributors and users, the ARKive Team wishes you very Happy New Year!

George Bradford, ARKive Researcher

Dec 26

You may have heard of the famous festive tune ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. We’ve taken a look at the ARKive collection to find the perfect alternative gifts.

So, here’s a roundup, altogether now!

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me. . .

♪ Twelve drummers drumming

After locating a suitable nesting site, the male palm cockatoo uses a stick to rhythmically drum on a hollow log to attract a potential mate. He may even try out a few drum sticks before picking his favourite!

Palm cockatoo photo

Male palm cockatoo

 

♪ Eleven pipers piping

Named after its characteristic whistling song, the piping plover is the perfect substitute!

Piping plover photo

Piping plover in winter plumage

 

♪ Ten lords a-leaping

This antelope definitely loves to leap! The springbok performs repeated stiff-legged jumps called ‘pronking’ or ‘stotting’ and can reach up to two metres high.

Springbok photo

Springbok pronking

 

♪ Nine ladies dancing

Verreaux’s sifaka is famous for its outstanding dance moves. Although very well adapted to moving through the trees, this comes as a disadvantage when travelling on the ground and it resorts to hopping on its strong hind legs. Females continue to boogie even with an infant on board – hold tight!

Verreaux's sifaka photo

Verreaux's sifaka leaping with infant

 

♪ Eight maids a-milking

It may appear harmless but the giant milkweed oozes a milky white sap when it is cut or broken, which is toxic to mammals!

Giant milkweed photo

Giant milkweed in flower

 

♪ Seven swans a-swimming

In perfect formation, a female mute swan and 6 cygnets. Young leave the nest soon after hatching and are often cared for by both the male and female until the following breeding season.

Mute swan photo

Female mute swan with cygnets

 

♪ Six geese a-laying

The beautiful kelp goose lays 4 to 7 eggs in a grass nest lined with feathers. The male guards the female for about a month during the incubation period.

Kelp goose photo

Female kelp goose sitting on nest

 

♪ Five golden rings

The exotic male golden pheasant has an impressive orange and black cape, which it can spread like a fan during displays.

Golden pheasant photo

Male golden pheasant

 

♪ Four colly birds

Although now commonly known as ‘four calling birds’, the original line describes four colly birds, referring to the blackbird.

Blackbird photo

Male and female blackbird

 

♪ Three French hens

The capercaillie is distributed across Eurasia, and in France it can be found in forests in mountainous areas, particularly in the Pyrénées. This bird became extinct in Britain in the 18th century but it was reintroduced to Scotland from a population in Sweden in the 19th century.

Capercaillie photo

Female capercaillie

 

♪ Two turtle doves

The turtle dove is named after its gentle ‘turr turr‘ call, and is often recognised as a symbol of love and peace.

Turtle dove photo

Turtle dove pair

 

♪ And a partridge in a pear tree!”

Sporting a spectacular maroon mohican is the male crested partridge. Found in the Sundaic lowlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, it feeds and nests on the ground and roosts in trees at night.

Crested partridge photo

Male crested partridge

 

Can you link any of the twelve gifts with other species on ARKive? Let us know!

Rebecca Goatman, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 24

Ever wished you could disappear? Many species of the Arctic and Antarctic depend on camouflage for survival in their extreme ecosystems. Being a master of disguise can enable a species to hide from predators as well as catch prey itself. Some covert critters even change their coloration throughout the colder winter months to make them indistinguishable in the snow.

We searched through ARKive to uncover our favourite sub-zero specialists…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl photo

The snowy owl unusually hunts throughout the day, making its white plumage invaluable for sneaking up on and catching prey.

Polar bear

Polar bear image

The earth’s largest living carnivore, the polar bear masks its black skin with its thick, white fur which also provides insulation against the freezing Arctic weather.

Southern fulmar

Southern fulmar image

One of the most abundant birds in the Antarctic region, the bill of the southern fulmar is conspicuous in comparison with the rest of its uniformly grey-white plumage.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan image

The ptarmigan is the only bird in Britain to completely change the colour of its plumage during winter from grey-brown to white with chameleon-like skill. This species also has feathered feet, enabling it to walk on soft snow with ease.

Snow petrel

Snow petrel image

The snow petrel’s scientific name, nivea, means snowy in Latin. This species breeds exclusively in the Antarctic and feeds further south than any other bird alongside the South polar skua (Catharacta maccormick).

Arctic fox

Arctic fox image

Another colour changing species, the pristine white coat of the Arctic fox changes during the summer to brown on the upper parts and grey-white underneath. This species can survive temperatures as low as -50 degrees due to the insulation provided by its pelage.

Under no disguise

Muskox image

Camouflage is unnecessary for species such as the muskox. This formidable bovid has many other adaptations such as a thick, layered coat, broad horns and short stocky legs making it one of the most dangerous prey for predators such as wolves and bears.

Find out more about these snowy species and their habitats on ARKive’s Antarctic and Arctic ecoregion pages.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Dec 23

With the holiday season just around the corner, children around the world are eagerly awaiting the time when Santa will dust off his sleigh and call upon the services of his trusty reindeer to help him deliver gifts across the globe. But when Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen aren’t helping Santa with his deliveries, how do they spend the rest of their year? Here at ARKive, we thought we would take a look at what normal life is like for Rudolph & Co….

A unique deer

Believe it or not, reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, are the only deer species where both males and females sport antlers. Reindeer have a circumpolar distribution and inhabit tundra, open woodland and the mountainous slopes of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, where they feed upon a variety of lichens, mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses and other greenery. Recently, a team from UCL discovered that reindeer may be one of the only mammals that can see in UV light, an adaptation to make food and predators easier to spot in the snow.

Reindeer photo

Stamina and speed!

Some populations in North America undertake an annual migration to the Arctic of 5,000 km, the furthest of any land mammal! Over short distances, they can reach impressive speeds of between 60 and 80 kmph. Reindeer can also swim easily, and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river. Adults can maintain a speed of 6.5 kpmh in the water, and when pressed can swim at 10 kmph!

Reindeer photoReindeer photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sociable species

A social deer, this species forms large regional herds of up to 50,000 to 500,000 individuals which band together at certain times of year. The rut takes place in October, with females giving birth to one or two young the following spring. Weaned at about 6 months old and reaching sexual maturity at 3 years, reindeer can live up to 20 years. Their main predators are bears and wolves.

Reindeer calf photo

Reindeer and people

Reindeer and humans have a long history, with some people having herded reindeer for centuries for their meat, hides, antlers, milk, and perhaps most famously, for pulling sleds, the oldest form of transport in the north!

Reindeer photo

You can find plenty more reindeer photos and videos on ARKive, and to really get into the festive spirit, why not make your very own reindeer mask? We would love to see pictures!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

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