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 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

Dec 17

In need of something to adorn the top of your freshly decorated Christmas tree?! Here at ARKive, we thought we’d look to the animal kingdom for some inspiration and have come up with our Top Ten Fairies and Angels. Although we’re not sure how most of these critters will take to being perched atop your tinselled creation…..

Angel shark

A shark might be the last thing you expect to be described as angelic, especially as the crafty angel shark buries itself in the mud in order to ambush prey. But not to worry, it feeds mainly on flatfishes, skates, crustaceans and molluscs so your Christmas tree chocolates are safe!

Angel shark image

Fairy pitta

A mythical type of bread that flutters around in children’s stories?! Not quite! But with its colourful plumage the fairy pitta would be a delightful addition to any tree.

Fairy pitta image

Angel’s Madagascar frog

While this species may have an angelic name, its slightly damp appearance may put some people off including it in the Christmas tree line up! However, with its ability to grip onto rocks in fast-flowing water, Angel’s Madagascar frog certainly wouldn’t need any help clinging to the upper boughs of your tree.

Angel’s Madagascar frog image

Fairy shrimp

A beautiful, translucent crustacean, the fairy shrimp would put on a glittering display worthy of any bauble. And with the eggs of this species able to survive periods of drought, it’s definitely a low-maintenance option.

Fairy shrimp image

French angelfish

The juvenile of this particularly angelic species spends time at cleaning stations, where it nips off pesky parasites and bits of skin form other visiting fish. Perhaps if we asked nicely, the French angelfish wouldn’t mind keeping the tinsel on our tree in order?

French angelfish image

Fairy tern

This particular fairy feeds almost entirely on fish, which it hunts for at sea. While this may mean the Christmas turkey is safe, I’m not sure that the smell left from the fairy tern’s prefferred dinner would make it a welcome tree guest.

Fairy tern image

Great egret

While the great egret may not have an angelic name, the elegant plumes of this species certainly give it an ethereal appearance. If the male could be persuaded to perform a courtship dance atop our Christmas tree it certainly would provide a talking point during mulled wine and mince pies!

Great egret image

Fairy slipper orchid

The stunning flowers of the fairy slipper orchid earn this species the title of most beautiful terrestrial orchid in North America. However, with the flowers only making a show in spring, it might be a little late for decorating the tree.

Fairy slipper orchid image

Lesser fairy armadillo

An unusual addition to any tree! The lesser fairy armadillo prefers to spend its time tunnelling underground so may not stick around for the duration of the festive season.

Lesser fairy armadillo image

Fairy prion

Ah now this is more like it! Who wouldn’t want this cute pompom of fluff adorning their tree?! Although as a wanderer of the open seas, this young fairy prion may not be quite as at home in your living room…

Fairy prion image


Spotted any other festive decorative species on ARKive? Let us know!

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 12

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 some 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.

1. 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

The western hoolock gibbon can move through the trees at up to 56km/hr


2. Party percussion – Wart-biter cricket

The wart-biter cricket is so-called as a result of the old Swedish practice of allowing the crickets to bite warts from the skin. Yet despite its somewhat gruesome-sounding name, this dark green bush cricket species is rather handsome. It produces a distinctive song which consists of a series of rapidly repeated clicks which occur in short bursts, sometimes lasting for several minutes.


Wart-biter cricket image

The wart-biter cricket has a distinctive song


3. 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

An emperor penguin adult and chick


4. 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, although I’m not sure how close you would want to get to one of these venomous critters!

Sidewinder image

The sidewinder has an interesting method of moving across loose sand


5. Baritone beast – North Atlantic right whale

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest of the large whales, and produces haunting noises which would add a lovely atmosphere to any singing party. However, its vocalisations have also been described as ‘groans, moans and belches’, so perhaps it would be best to keep this species on the carolling reserve list?!

North Atlantic right whale image

North Atlantic right whales have a range of calls


6. 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

The blackbird has a beautiful song


7. 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

The scientific name of this species means 'white-lipped'


8. Tuneless terrors – Guatemalan black howler

The Endangered Guatemalan black howler might look a bit miserable, but it certainly likes to make a lot of noise! In this species, which is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, the adult males are by far the loudest, and their call can be heard over several kilometres away. The Guatemalan black howler also has a long, dense, silky coat, which might be an asset for keeping warm on a carolling expedition!

Guatemalan black howler image

Guatemalan black howlers certainly know how to make a lot of noise!


9. 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

The Galapagos penguin's call is not the most tuneful!


10. 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

The grey wolf howls to advertise territorial boundaries

Let us know about your favourite mammalian music-makers, avian arias or other cool calls that you find!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 10

It’s nearing that time of the year when you need to climb up in to the loft and rummage around for that dusty old box of festive decorations. Pull out the sparkling baubles, the twinkling lights, the shiny tinsel and the festive wreath ready to turn your home into a winter wonderland. Last but not least, bring out that shining star to take its place at the top of the tree.

This year, ARKive has found its own shining stars to have pride of place on the blog, so enjoy these dazzling species with a merry glass of eggnog!

Star ascidian

Star ascidian photo

The star ascidian wins the brightest star competition with its striking orange hue. This unusual creature is a colonial sea-squirt which is embedded in a jelly-like coating with other individuals of the species. When disturbed, the star ascidian will expel a jet of water to try to protect it from predators! O star of wonder, star of night, star of royal beauty bright…!

Burmese starred tortoise

Burmese starred tortoise photo

Of all tortoises characterised by the highly distinctive ‘star’ on their carapace, the Burmese starred tortoise is perhaps the rarest and most beautiful. The striking black, domed shell is marked with up to six radiating stripes emerging from small, yellow, central areas, creating the ‘star’ pattern that gives the tortoise its unique appearance. This little fellow definitely wins for wearing the most stars and embracing the festive spirit!

Darwin star orchid

Darwin's star orchid photo

The Darwin star orchid is not only spectacular in appearance but also the subject of probably the most famous story on pollination in orchids. Large and robust, it produces one to three star-shaped flowers on each inflorescence, which turn from green to creamy white within a few days of opening in the winter, just in time for the holiday season!

Star-nosed mole

Star-nosed mole photo

An unusual creature, the star-nosed mole already has his star ready for the holidays but it is definitely not the shining star you might be used to. This species has a strange set of tentacles surrounding its nose that are sensitive to touch and electrical impulses enabling it to find its prey. So this funky star is for life, not just for Christmas!

Common brittlestar

Common brittlestar photo

This delicate little star almost looks like its been lit up in time for the cold Christmas nights. The common brittlestar often forms dense groups offshore, with as many as 2,000 individuals recorded per square metre. Now wouldn’t that be a starry sight!

Star finch

Star finch photo

This striking little bird has its own twinkling stars covering part of its head and breast in the form of small, white spots. With its festive red colouring, the star finch found only in Australia, is already dressed and decorated in time for the Christmas season!

Common starfish

Common starfish photo

ARKive’s shining festive stars would not be complete without the common starfish. This beautiful star-shaped creature is propelled along the seabed by rows of tiny ‘tube-feet’ which also help it to stick to rocks to protect it from predators. Sometimes the starfish loses a limb to a predator, but this clever little star can grow it back and may even grow back two limbs to replace a single loss accidently – how funny is that!

We hope you enjoyed ARKive’s twinkling, festive stars. See if you can find some more sparkling species as good as ours!

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Media Researcher


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