May 20

It’s our 13th birthday! People who are superstitious will mostly say that 13 is an unlucky number, although others believe 13 to be lucky. We don’t know what to believe but we thought we would celebrate our birthday by looking at 12 (rather than 13, just in case) strange superstitions that include members of the animal and plant kingdom!

Magpies

Certain quantities of magpies mean different things to a superstitious person, and there is even a rhyme to remind them of the fate they may face: one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a story never to be told.

If a superstitious person sees a solo magpie, there are many ways they can overcome the sorrow they may face, some salute the bird, some flap their arms like wings and make a ‘caw’ sound, and others say, “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” The reason for this superstition is due to magpies mating for life; therefore a single individual may have lost its mate, or could just be collecting nesting material or food for their nestlings. We thought we should include a picture of two magpies to spread joy and good fortune on our birthday!

Bats

Bats are believed to be harbingers of death and misfortune in many cultures, although in China and Poland they are thought to be a sign of a happy and long life. There are many ancient myths which say different things about bats, including them being trapped souls or witches in disguise. Some people believe that bats drink human blood, but cases of this are extremely rare. Hematophagous (blood-eating) bats, such as the common vampire bat, usually feed on cattle or horses.

Aye-aye

Although it is in fact a Lemur species on Arkive, the strange-looking aye-aye was initially identified as a rodent. Some local Malagasy people believe that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then you will die, and this species is regularly persecuted due to this superstition. The function of the enlarged middle finger of this primate is actually to tap on trees to find hollow areas where insects may be, and to extract any prey items that it finds inside.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which is shrouded by myth and legend. This plant is a commonly seen decoration at Christmas time, and if a person passes underneath a hung piece of mistletoe, they must kiss the person on the other side or they will remain single for another year. Ancient superstitions state that mistletoe can cure any disease and it was considered sacred and magical. Once mistletoe touches the ground, however, ancient cultures believed it to be bad luck rather than good.

Elder

The elder is the focus of a rich wealth of folklore, and has many magical associations. The name ‘elder’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’, meaning fire. This may have arisen from the practice of using the hollow stems of the elder as bellows to encourage fires. It was, however, extremely bad luck to burn elder wood; if this happened the Devil was said to appear, explaining another local name ‘Devil’s wood’. Conversely it was said to keep the Devil away if planted close to a house. Some of these old superstitions linger today; many modern hedge-cutters refuse to attack an elder for fear of bad luck.

African golden cat

Both wild and domestic cats are the subject of much superstition in many areas of the world, and the African golden cat is no exception. Pygmy tribes in Cameroon carry the tail of the African golden cat when hunting elephants to ensure good fortune, and the skin is used in some areas during circumcision rituals.

Black cats

We bet that these black cats (black leopard morphs) don’t cross people’s paths very much, but domestic black cats certainly do, and this is considered to be very unlucky by some people. Black cats have as much to do with good as they do with bad luck to superstitious people and it is said that if a couple see a black cat on their wedding day then they will definitely have a happy marriage.

Strangely, many years ago, sailors would keep black cats on their ship as a good luck charm, although they would never say the word ‘cat’ as this was considered to be bad luck.

Forest owlet

The forest owlet faces a serious threat as a result of local superstitions. Its eggs are collected by tribes to bring luck in gambling and the animal itself is killed since owls are locally renowned to feed on human souls. Additionally, killing a young forest owlet is widely considered to boost fertility.

Rabbit

In old English folklore, if “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” is the first thing you say on the first day of the month, you will have good luck for the rest of the month, and carrying a rabbit’s foot is also considered to be a good luck charm. They are also considered to be bad luck; however, and in ancient times, people would spit over their left shoulder if they came across a wild rabbit. Rabbits are another animal which are believed to be witches in disguise – those must be some very cute witches!

Striped hyaena

One of the greatest threats to the Near Threatened striped hyaena is the misconceptions and superstitions of humans. Believed to be responsible for killing livestock, robbing graves and the disappearance of small children, the striped hyaena is severely persecuted through baiting, tracking and trapping. In the past, some governments have paid bounties for every hyaena killed, and certain governments still organise killings of wolves and striped hyaenas in places where carnivores are thought to be responsible for child disappearances.

Frogs and toads

Frogs and toads have many superstitions that surround them, such as that touching the bumpy skin of a toad can give you warts, and touching a frog can make you infertile, but these are not true. Warts are caused by a virus that is only transferred by skin on skin contact between humans and touching a frog is not known to affect your fertility. Despite these amphibians being seen as bad luck in these respects, some people actually see them as good luck and consider a frog coming into your house as being lucky. The poor Titicaca water frog is Critically Endangered due to overcollection, as people blend individuals to make a juice that can supposedly cure any ailment. We might stick to OJ!

Black beetles

Black beetles such as the super-rare ground beetle were once referred to as ‘deathwatch beetles’, and if one were to crawl across your shoe or be found within a wall, it was considered to be a sign of impending death. The good news is that you could prevent this from happening by moving the beetle safely outside. Seems like a no-brainer to us!

Are there any superstitions that we have missed from your area of the world? Please share them with us!

Apr 25

Well done to everyone who took part in our #GuessThePenguin quiz for World Penguin Day. You all have great identification skills when it comes to these very handsome creatures!

We can now reveal the answers to the mystery penguins we posted on social media, but we didn’t want to ruin it for those who didn’t see it and still wanted to play the quiz, so we’ve revealed the answers at the bottom of this blog. Can you guess the penguin species just from looking at a photo?

1) CLUE: I live in a very surprising place where you may not know that penguins exist

2) CLUE: this penguin is named after the wife of the explorer who discovered it

3) CLUE: this penguin is named after a distinctive characteristic below its bill

4) CLUE: this is the largest penguin species in the world, reaching heights of over 1m and weighing up to 40kgs

5) CLUE: this amazing penguin can dive to depths of over 170 metres and is the fastest known diving bird, reaching speeds of up to 36 kilometers an hour in the water

6) CLUE: this is the smallest penguin in the world, weighing a maximum of 1kg and only growing up to 40cm tall

7) CLUE: this penguin was discovered during an expedition that took place in 1519

8) CLUE: this penguin is not named after a type of pasta, although it is commonly mistaken for the penguin that sounds like it is!

9) CLUE: look into the eyes of this penguin and you might just guess its name!

…and the answers are:

1) African

2) Adelie

3) Chinstrap

4) Emperor

5) Gentoo

6) Little

7) Magellanic

8) Royal

9) Yellow-eyed

How many did you guess correctly?

Discover more penguin species on Arkive

If you work for a conservation organisation that works with penguins or any other species, you can access hundreds of images by joining the Wildscreen Exchange

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to get your daily dose of the natural world

Apr 25

Cephalopods are arguably the weirdest of all marine invertebrates. The name cephalopod literally translates to ‘head-footed’ in Greek, indicating just how strange members of this taxonomic class are, but nothing in their name indicates how incredibly intelligent they are. Their alien-like features are truly fascinating and cephalopods are commonly regarded as the most advanced of all invertebrates!

The weirdest one – nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)

Kicking off our list is the bizarre-looking nautilus, whose appearance resembles a cross between a snail and a shrimp. They are the only species of cephalopod to have retained their external shell, which means they cannot alter their appearance as well as their counterparts.

The invisible one – common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

The common cuttlefish is a master of disguise, possessing the ability to transform its appearance to suit its surroundings in an instant. Check out this amazing talent in this video!

The deadly one – southern blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa)

This species has one of the most potent venoms on the planet, 1000 times more powerful than cyanide, and there is no known antidote. The blue rings after which this species is named will only appear when an individual is disturbed and serve as a warning before it attacks. The helpless crab in this video finds this out the hard way!

The strangely familiar one – opalescent squid (Loligo opalescens)

You may have come into contact with this cephalopod more than any other – the opalescent squid is more commonly known to us as ‘calamari’. These small squids live in extremely large shoals and hunt by striking their prey with their tentacles.

The one-size-fits-all one – curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa)

The ability of the curled octopus to transform and camouflage its body is truly fascinating – there is no gap too small or seaweed too colourful for this species! The curled octopus is also equipped with an ink jet they can utilise as a distraction when a predator is nearby. On top of all that, it also has an extremely toxic venom that it uses to paralyse its prey!

The colourful one – Carribean reef squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)

Commonly found in shallow reef waters, this intriguing species has enormous eyes and is known to have the largest eye-to-body ratio of the whole animal kingdom! Carribean reef squid communicate with each other by changing the colour of their skin.

The huge one – giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama)

The giant Australian cuttlefish is largest cuttlefish species, reaching lengths of up to a metre.  Despite its large size, this species it is a master of disguise and can easily blend in with its  surroundings due to special pigment cells called chromatophores which allow it to change colour in an instant.

The even huger one – Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas)

A close relative of the giant squid, this species, also known as the ‘jumbo squid’, is a monster capable of growing up to 2 metres long and weighing over 50 kilograms! They can move at considerable speeds (up to 24km/h) and have been known to propel themselves out of the water and soar through the air to evade their predators which include whales, sharks, seals and swordfish.

The bright one – firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans)

This bioluminescent species is definitely deserving of a top 10 spot as it is responsible for one of the most spectacular light shows on the planet! Between March and June millions of firefly squid gather off of the coast of Japan, as well as hundreds of tourists, producing a natural spectacle like no other. The firefly squid also uses its bioluminescence to attract prey and select mates.

The strong one – North Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)

Reaching lengths of up to 5 metres and weighing in at up to 50 kilograms, this monster octopus had to make the top 10! The photograph below is not photoshopped, this species does eat sharks! Its raw strength makes it capable of ripping apart shells and flesh with its tentacles or using its powerful ‘beak’ to make easy work of its prey. This, in tandem with its camouflaging talent, makes it a truly ferocious predator.

Have we missed out your favourite cephalopod? Let us know!

Discover more cephalopods on the Arkive website

Will Powell, Arkive guest blogger

Jun 5

This Saturday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day, a global event coordinated by the Ocean Project and The World Ocean Network, that celebrates the important relationship between humans and the oceans.

Photo of humpback whale

Humpback whales travel thousands of kilometers across the oceans each year as part of their migration.

The theme of World Oceans Day for 2013 and 2014 is “together we have the power to protect the ocean”. Taking the theme to heart, ARKive has joined up with World Oceans Day as a digital conservation partner by creating a virtual scavenger hunt across the ARKive collection featuring 10 keystone species from all walks of ocean life.

Think you have the nautical know-how it takes to finish the hunt? To start you off, we’ll give you the first clue:

 “The noises I make are whistles and clicks. I can leap out of the ocean and perform other neat tricks.”

6-hammerhead-shark.cropped

You’ll know you’ve found the right species from the clue when you spot  our scavenger hunt mascot – the ARKive hammerhead shark Survival app hero – on the species page. By clicking on it, the next clue will be revealed until you’ve found the final species in the hunt and win!

Each winner of the virtual scavenger hunt will receive an awesome Facebook cover photo so you can spread the ocean word to all your friends. We have also created a Facebook landing page for the scavenger hunt with some tips and tricks to help you along the way. Share the page with friends and family and see who can finish the scavenger hunt first!

If you have completed the ARKive World Oceans Day virtual scavenger hunt and are looking to surf the ARKive collection a bit more, why not have a look at our rocky and sandy shore topic pages or dive into ARKive Education for some water-themed education resources? Or, check out the World Oceans Day website for a listing of hands-on events that may be happening near you.

However you choose to celebrate, the ARKive team wishes you a wonderful World Oceans Day!

Ari Pineda, Program Coordinator, Wildscreen USA

Aug 13

With the school holidays stretching out ahead of us and the arrival of summer in the northern hemisphere, many of us will be heading to the coast with friends and family to soak up some sun or play in the sand and surf. The beach is a great place to search for signs of wildlife, and with this in mind we’ve created ARKive’s beach treasure hunt, a bingo style game to keep the kids (and the competitive adults among us) entertained!

It’s so easy to play along, simply print out a copy of our PDF tick sheet, which can also be found on our fun stuff page, then head down to the seaside and start searching.

How many of the following will you be able to find on your next visit to the beach?

Beach Bingo Thumbnail

Crab

Our favourite coastal crustaceans, crabs can be found around the globe, from the common shore crab on the beaches of the UK to the huge coconut crab found on tropical Indo-Pacific islands, thought to be the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world.

Crab photo

Jellyfish

Wobbly they may be, but fish they are not! Jellyfish actually belong to the phylum cnidaria, along with anemones and corals. They can be found in every ocean of the world and are a fairly common sight washed up on beaches. If you do find one, approach with caution, some can give you a nasty sting even when out of the water.

Jellyfish photo

Sharks’ teeth

One of our favourite things to find on the beach is sharks’ teeth. Sharks continually shed and replace their worn-out teeth, with the lost teeth often fossilising on the seabed and eventually washing ashore. Some are very valuable if you are lucky enough to find them, like the teeth of the extinct giant shark megalodon.

Sharks' teeth photo

Urchin

Sea urchins are peculiar looking animals that typically live on the seabed or burrow in to the sand. Many have spectacular looking spines for protection, giving rise to the name ‘urchin’, an old term for their spiky lookalike – the hedgehog.

Urchin photo

Starfish or sea star

Another misnomer here, as starfish are not related to fish but belong instead to a group of animals known as echinoderms, leading marine scientists to use the name ‘sea star’ instead. Sea stars are a fascinating group, most famous for their ability to regenerate limbs. It is estimated that there are around 2,000 species found around the globe.

Starfish photo

Sea shells

Shells of all shapes and sizes can be found on beaches around the world, and the most commonly found are the hard, protective casings of marine molluscs, particularly bivalves such as mussels and oysters, and gastropods like periwinkles, limpets or the even spectacular queen conch.

Shell photo

Driftwood

Driftwood is a common sight on beaches, particularly after a storm. The term driftwood refers to all types of wood washed ashore including both trees and branches washed out to sea naturally or lost during logging, and man made wooden objects such as lost cargo or parts of shipwrecks.

Driftwood photo

Eggs

Many marine species lay their eggs at sea, and it is not uncommon to find eggs washed onto beach from time to time. Some species attach egg clusters to things like kelp (such as the common whelk eggs pictured), while others including sharks and skates lay eggs in distinctive protein cases sometimes known as mermaid’s purses.

Whelk egg mass photo

Seaweed

Seaweed is the name given to a vast array of marine algae, and the different species typically belong to three main groups; brown, green and red algae. Some species have distinctive ‘floats’ or ‘air bladders’ filled with gas to help keep them upright underwater.

Seaweed photo

Cuttlefish shell

Cuttlefish are molluscs, and as such they are related to bivalves and gastropods, the species who produce many of the sea shells we see washed ashore. The shell of the cuttlefish however, is internal, and often referred to as the cuttlebone. It is chambered and filled with gas to help the cuttlefish regulate its buoyancy.

Cuttlefish shell photo

Good luck with your own search – make sure you let us know how you get on! You could even share photographs of your finds on the ARKive Facebook page.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

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