Oct 29
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ARKive Geographic: Halloween’s Heritage

What will you be dressing up as this Halloween? A cat? A bat? A giant wolf spider? For those of us who celebrate this unique holiday, creating our costume is more than half the fun and it got us thinking, where do our Halloween traditions stem from?

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, held at the end of October. This day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter. To celebrate, people would dress in animal costumes and tell each other’s fortunes. When the Roman Empire moved north from the Mediterranean Basin and conquered Celtic territory (including northwestern Spain, France, southern Germany, and up through the United Kingdom), they brought with them the festival of Pomona which honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, invoking the tradition of trick-or-treating.

This month, ARKive would like to highlight species from the European countries that inspired this spooky holiday, and perhaps offer up some great ideas for your Halloween costume!

Gliding Gladiator

Lammergeier photo

Perhaps you would like to dominate the skies this Halloween night as a commanding bird of prey. The lammergeier, or bearded vulture, is a majestic bird with a wingspan commonly reaching over 2.5 meters. This skilled glider rarely needs to flap its wings in flight, and specializes in feeding on bones. They are known for their technique of picking up large bones and dropping them onto rocks in order to extract marrow out of the shattered pieces. Lammergeiers prefer high-altitude mountainous regions of southern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

Celestial Swimmer

Mediterranean monk seal photo

If underwater wonders are more your thing, you could consider posing as a Mediterranean monk seal. Currently one of the most endangered mammals in the world, this pinniped was once abundant across the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and northern coast of Africa. It was so popular it was the emblem for one of the first Greek coins made around 500 BC, shortly before the Roman Empire spread into Greece. Deliberate killing and habitat encroachment are largely responsible for their decline, with likely less than 500 individuals remaining.

Stunning Serpent

Meadow viper photo

Consider a costume guaranteed to grant you respect! The meadow viper is a small, attractive venomous snake, displaying a beautiful and intricate zigzag pattern marking the length of its back. Feasting primarily on crickets and grasshoppers, this reptile is found in Italy, France and a few other eastern European countries. Habitat destruction and over-collection account are current threats to this vulnerable species.

Vermillion vixen

Red fox photo

Who can resist a fabulous fox? The red fox is an attractive member of the family Canidae, and is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. They are unique in that they can produce 28 different vocalizations, and are the largest species of true fox. In ancient Celtic tradition, the red fox was honored for its wisdom.

Frequent Flyer

Black pennant photo

If bugs with big eyes are calling you, you could consider transforming into a black pennant. This dragonfly is slick and smart, predating on smaller insects, it is also capable of posturing its body to cool down in hotter temperatures. This little insect is found throughout several Mediterranean countries, as well as central Asia and northern Africa.

Finned Funnyman

Arno goby photo

If you want to feel like a rare find, go trick-or-treating as an Arno gobi. This vulnerable freshwater fish is endemic to Italy, and is only found in six river basins and two lakes in the Tyrrhenian catchment of Central Italy, a region which played a significant role in Roman culture. With a large head, elongated body and oversized mouth, this species is known for its active acoustic communication.

Haunting Hooter

Long-eared owl photo

The long-eared owl no doubt had a presence in early Halloween festivals, as the subspecies Asio otus otus was found throughout both Celtic and Roman territories. Owls have long been considered ethereal species, and their calls can be eerie and haunting . Not only does this bird of prey possess special feathers to remain silent during its stealth hunting missions, it can also swallow prey whole!

Why not share your favourite wildlife Halloween costume ideas with ARKive, and post them on our Twitter or Facebook page?

And don’t forget, if you’re looking for something to entertain your little monsters this halloween, ARKive has a whole host of free, fun-filled Halloween activities.  From monstorous masks to spooky games and quizes, there is something for everyone, so be sure to check it out!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant

Oct 27
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Halloween Guest Blog: Ben Garrod and his skeletons

Photo of Ben Garrod

© Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

My name is Ben Garrod and I am an evolutionary biologist. I work with animal skeletons (mainly primates) to see what they can tell us about a species’ evolutionary history.

Looking at skeletons has taken me around the world; from beluga whale skeletons in the Arctic to chimpanzee skeletons in Uganda. I’ve looked for lost species in the Caribbean and have even discovered which animals were buried with emperors in ancient tombs!

Apart from being the main guest at any cool Halloween party, skeletons and especially skulls can tell us a lot about an animal’s diet, behaviour, lifestyle and even its environment.

To find out more about my skeletons you can visit my website, follow my BensBones page on Facebook or find me on Twitter.

 

Spooky Skull Quiz!

For Halloween, ARKive has asked me to design a spooky skull quiz (cue scary laugh – mwa ha ha ha ha ha)! Look at the pictures and use the creepy clues to guess which species the skulls belong to. They may look scary and ghoulish but they all come from amazing creatures. So test your ‘skull’ and let us know how many you get right!

 

SKULL ONE

Skull photo © Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: This scary looking beast is more of a rare ocean wanderer than a monster from the deep!

Clue 2: This deep-diving ocean mammal sounds like it has a birds ‘nose’.

Clue 3: A mirror might help solve this anagram to find this mysterious animals’ name ELAHW DEKAEB S’YBREWOS.

Answer

SKULL TWO 

Skull photo © Bjorn Vancampfort, bjornvancampfort@hotmail.com

© Bjorn Vancampfort, bjornvancampfort@hotmail.com

Clue 1: This big fish hangs round in big schools.

Clue 2: At more than 4m in length, this animal sounds like a cross between a DIY tool and a scary fish.

Clue 3: The head is actually used to pick up tiny electrical signals released by prey buried beneath the sand.

Answer

SKULL THREE

Skull photo © Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: These demonic-looking ovids  are kept by rare breed collectors but are expensive – not a baaaar-gain, by any means.

Clue 2: Not named after the famous ghost that hounded Scrooge but they do share the same names.

Clue 3: If you’re having issues with the name, it does have another name;  what  might you call a sheep with many horns?

Answer

SKULL FOUR

Skull photo © Ben Garrod www.bensbones.co.uk

© Ben Garrod, www.bensbones.co.uk

Clue 1: This beaked beast really is a ‘living dinosaur’.

Clue 2: These big flightless birds pack an awesome kick.

Clue 3: The casque… no-one really knows! Maybe a sound amplifier, a weapon or to attract a mate.

Answer

SKULL FIVE 

Skull photo © Jake McGowan-Lowe www.jakes-bones.co.uk

© Jake McGowan-Lowe, www.jakes-bones.com

Clue 1: This ocean predator sounds as though it enjoys a spot of fishing.

Clue 2: Its other name implies this species likes easy ‘pray’.

 Clue 3: This fish is just angling for some attention!

Answer

Don’t be ‘afraid’ to let us know how you got on, I’m sure there will be ‘stiff’ competition for the skull crown!

Ben Garrod, Conservation Biologist and bone expert.

Happy Halloween!

Have a frightfully scary time this Halloween with ARKive’s spooky Halloween activities. We’ve created a wild Halloween package of critter crafts, creepy crawlie computer games, bizarre blog posts and monstrous movie clips to take you and your Addams family on a spooky adventure through the natural world.

Aug 13
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ARKive’s Beach Treasure Hunt

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

Aug 9
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Get outdoors with ARKive

This month the ARKive team would like to encourage everyone to get outdoors, explore their local area and discover more about the wildlife found there. Of course, we are a competitive bunch and love a good challenge, which is where the idea for species bingo came from! If you are looking for an activity to entertain the kids during the holidays, or if you fancy taking part in your own nature treasure hunt, why not give ARKive species bingo a try?

ARKive Species Bingo Thumbnail

It’s easy to get started, just download a copy of the PDF bingo sheet, which can also be found on our fun stuff page, then get outside and begin searching! You could start in your garden or a nearby park, or even visit a local nature reserve. How many species can you find?

Habitat photo

No matter where you live, we bet you’ll be surprised at the array of wildlife you can find nearby.

We’d love to hear how you get on, so don’t forget to leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook. Or better still, share your local wildlife photographs with us!

What are you waiting for? Get outside and get exploring!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Jul 27
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ARKive’s Olympic Quiz: Accept the Challenge

Well, the day has finally arrived! Tonight, the big spectacle that is the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games will take place. It is set to be an incredible event, marking the start of an exhilarating few weeks of sporting challenges and potential Olympic glory for athletes from across the globe.

Cheetah image

Will you choose the speedy cheetah as one of your wild champions?

Here at ARKive, we’ve created our own challenge for YOU. Why not tackle our amazing fact-filled wild Olympic quiz, and see how much you know about nature’s best athletes!

On your marks…get set…

 

Go button

 

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