Jun 11

Jenni Lacey from the Society of Biology explores inspiration for this year’s photography competition

The Society of Biology’s amateur photography competition is currently open for entries. This year’s topic is ‘Feeding Life’ which neatly compliments the recent World Environment Day theme of ‘Think.Eat.Save’. Food consumption and its global impact is at the forefront of current environmental research, policy decisions and the public’s mind as we’re encouraged to remain economical and thoughtful around our eating habits.

So, it seems timely to celebrate some of nature’s prudent and opportunistic feeders, who also offer a valuable lesson in self-control and a warning of the dangers of overeating.

Nature’s overeaters

The ornate horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) at first glance is quite a comical character – with its large, wide mouth and rotund body, it seems harmless. They are not built for speed but instead lie in wait, conserving their energy and waiting to ambush passing prey. They are indiscriminate feeders and therein lies their talent: they make the most of their surroundings and their physique, thriving in the rainforests of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Surviving on a diet of insects, rodents, lizards and other frogs, they will pounce and attempt to swallow almost anything that passes.

Ornate horned frog eating mouse prey           Ornate horned frog eating worm

With a stark similarity to humans, their sedentary behaviour can result in problems; in environments where food is abundant their voracious appetite can cause them to overeat and become obese. They will keep eating as long as food is placed in their path. This is particularly the case when they are kept in captivity as pets, owners must carefully monitor their behaviour and tailor the amount of food they feed the frogs accordingly.

Humans don’t have the safeguard of a loving owner to oversee their diets so it is our own responsibility to consider our eating habits and help reduce the waste of food resources. Not only are we in danger of affecting our own health but we will rapidly exhaust food and energy supplies: global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Get involved

The Society of Biology is seeking photographs that encapsulate the topic ‘Feeding Life’. The photograph could address a challenging issue like food security and waste, or malnutrition, obesity, and other diet-linked diseases. It could provide insight into the feeding behaviour of a plant or animal species including predators and parasites. Or it could illustrate how we are manipulating our diets using GM and other biological techniques. Whether illustrated on a global, organismal, cellular or molecular scale, the photograph should draw attention to the topic of food and biology in a unique and thought-provoking way.

If you wish to enter the Society of Biology photography competition visit its website for full details on how to enter.

Jun 5

Today is World Environment Day, an opportunity for millions of people across the globe to take positive action to help build a healthier and more sustainable world.

This year’s theme is Think.Eat.Save, an anti-food waste campaign encouraging us all to reduce our foodprint by thinking about the environmental impacts of our food choices.

The natural world is full of thrifty super-scrimpers which employ a range of food-finding and food-saving techniques to ensure they aren’t running on empty or wasting time, energy or, most importantly, food. We’ve foraged around the ARKive collection to reveal some of nature’s most frugal species and see what tactics they employ to reduce their foodprints.

Grow your own

Take a leaf out of the fungus-loving leaf-cutter ant’s book and grow your own food! These clever critters grow a patch of nutritious fungus using specially prepared mulch, which is cultivated using leaf segments that the ants dutifully collect and carry back to their garden.

Photo of leaf-cutter ants in fungus garden

Watch a video of the leaf-cutter ant gardeners in action!

Nature’s freegans

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure”. Well in this case it’s “one creature’s waste is a vulture’s treasure”! Like most vultures, the opportunistic lappet-faced vulture is primarily a scavenger, preferring to feed on the carcasses of smaller animals such as gazelles and hares rather than expending energy hunting.

 Lappet-faced vulture coming in to land

Nature’s larders

If your vegetable patch has been particularly fruitful, why not follow the lead of the American pika by preserving some of your haul. During the summer months, the American pika displays ‘haying’ behaviour, whereby it collects food in hay piles on rocks or in crevices and stores it ready for winter when food is scarce.

 American pika collecting vegetation

Entomb leftovers

American burying beetles may not have freezers and Tupperware, but these intriguing insects have their own totally organic solution for preserving food! By covering the carrion in antibacterial and antifungal oral secretions, American burying beetles are able to slow the decaying process.

Digging and lining a tomb with the fur or feathers of the dead animal, the beetles bury the carcass and dig a chamber above it where the female lays her eggs. The developing larvae can then easily feed on the carrion. This takes mums leaving food in the freezer to a whole new level!

 American burying beetle on carcass

Cheek pouches – the ultimate bag for life?

Like other chipmunks, the eastern chipmunk has large internal cheek pouches which it uses to carry dry food such as nuts and seeds back to its burrow to store for the winter months. This behaviour is aptly described by the eastern chipmunk’s scientific name, Tamias, which means ‘storer’.

Eastern chipmunk with filled cheeks

Chipmunks aren’t the only mammals to have facial shopping bags though! Check out this video of a cheeky monkey stealing food directly from another’s cheek pouches!

Faecal feasts

Some of nature’s herbivores have a rather unique, if slightly gross, way of ensuring they get the most from their food. Gorillas, rabbits and capybaras all practise coprophagia – the consumption of faeces. It gives these inefficient digesters of plants a second chance at gaining important nutrients. In some species such as the koala, infants eat their mother’s poo or ‘pap’ in order to cultivate important gut bacteria to aid the digestion of plant matter.

Photo of young mountain gorilla

If you’ve got a strong stomach you can watch coprophagia in action with this video of a mountain gorilla making the most of its own faeces.

Hungry for more?

Find out what you can do to reduce your foodprint this World Environment Day.

Check out ARKive Education for some great resources on food chains and human impacts on the environment.

Lucie Muir, ARKive Content Manager

May 29

So you may be a species identification wiz, but how much attention have you paid to your favourite animal’s feet? Do you know those toes? Could you spot that sole a mile off? If you get a kick out of quizzes then why not put your best foot forward and have a guess at the owners of these fancy feet.

Study each image and make sure you ‘paws’ for thought before clicking on the photo to reveal the answer!

Big foot

Big foot

No clues for this easy starter – who could this foot belong to?

Cold feet?

Chilly feet

Despite looking rather chilly these feet have a rich network of veins in the webbing that produce heat to incubate this species’ eggs – but whose feet are they?

Sticky toes

Sticky toes

Thousands of microscopic hair-like hooks on the feet of this species allow it to walk up the slipperiest of surfaces.

Long foot

Long foot

The particularly long ‘foot’ of this antipodian is specially adapted for the species’ peculiar means of locomotion.

Funny feet

Long foot

These funny-looking feet belong to a water-loving species common across Europe and Asia with a closely related species widespread in North America.

Foot comb?

Foot comb

This little nocturnal animal spends almost all its time in the trees and, uniquely among its relatives, uses the raised nails on its hind feet for grooming.

Tiny feet

Tiny feet

This well-known species undertakes a long north-south migration over several generations and spends the winter hanging in the trees in central Mexico.

Slimy foot

Slimy foot

Another character with sticky feet, this animal has permeable skin and likes a moist environment.

Scaly foot

Scaly foot

This unusual marine species deals with excess salt absorbed while eating seaweed by sneezing salt crystals.

Poison foot

Poison foot

This last one is a little tricky – the venomous spur at the back of the foot is a particular clue.

How many did you get right? Step up and share your score!

  •  0 – 3 Pull your socks up! Your identification skills need a little work.
  • 4 – 6 You’ve got your foot in the door but you need to try harder to make a real impression.
  • 7 – 10 What a talon-ted individual you are! Time to put your feet up for a well-earned rest!
May 27

Here at ARKive, we’re not just researchers, writers and website designers – we are also passionate about the natural world, and many of us enjoy getting outside and learning more about the wildlife around us.

While not writing and editing species profiles for the ARKive website, I have been busy setting up and helping to run the UK’s first national ‘Garden Bioblitz’ event. It takes place across the country this weekend (1st-2nd June) and everyone can get involved!

Photo of hedgehog in grass

Hedgehogs are common garden visitors, but are in decline in the UK

What is a BioBlitz?

The idea of a BioBlitz is to bring together scientists and members of the public to identify and record as many species as possible in a particular area over a limited time period, usually 24 hours.

The first BioBlitz was held in Washington, D.C. in 1996, and since then the idea has spread across the world, with more events being added every year.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Growing nectar-rich plants can help attract bees, butterflies and other insects

Most BioBlitzes work together with environmental records centres to ensure that the data collected will have the maximum value for science. As well as collecting scientific records, the events also give the public the opportunity to learn about biodiversity, be inspired by experts, and experience their local wildlife.

Why a Garden Bioblitz?

The idea of a Garden Bioblitz came about last year when a couple of wildlife enthusiasts got together online and decided it would be fun to record the wildlife in our gardens. We had so much interest from others who wanted to join in that we decided to turn it into a national event.

The Garden Bioblitz initially ran as a trial event in 2012 and was a huge success, with more than 2,231 records entered for 966 species by just 24 volunteers. This year, the event is open to everyone, and we hope that as many people as possible will take part.

Photo of robin singing

Putting out food and water can attract birds into your garden

Gardens cover a large area of the UK and are an important habitat for many native species. The only way for scientists to thoroughly survey the wildlife living in people’s gardens is through ‘citizen science’, with members of the public helping to collect this valuable information. The records collected will be made available to national recording schemes, which help researchers and local governments make conservation and land management decisions.

However, although these records are important, the main aims of the event are to get people outside, engaging with the species on their doorsteps, discovering something new, and hopefully being inspired to encourage more wildlife into their gardens. Above all, it’s about having fun!

How to take part

To take part in the Garden Bioblitz, all you need to do is choose a 24-hour period over the weekend of 1st-2nd June, then get outside and rummage through your flowerbeds, watch birds on your feeders, dip nets into ponds or crawl across your lawn to see what you can find.

Photo of slow worm

Compost heaps can provide shelter for many species, including slow worms, the UK’s only legless lizards

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert or have any special skills, and you don’t even need to count for the full 24 hours. The team are interested in all records – just go out, write down what you see, take lots of photos and submit your records online. There is even a downloadable ticksheet of 20 top species to spot, for those who want a bit more help with where to begin. Or you can view some of our handy hints and tips on how to go about your Bioblitz.

Experts will be online over the weekend to help identify finds, and anyone can take part in the event, whether they have a large garden or a tiny patio – it’s amazing what you can discover when you take a closer look. And if it seems a little daunting, why not get friends, family or neighbours to join in and help out?

Photos of daisies in flower

Lawns can be home to a surprising variety of wildflowers

Here are the five simple steps to taking part:

  • Go out into your garden and see what you can find! Use the downloadable tick sheet if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Take lots of photos – these can help with species identification.
  • Identify your finds – you can use books, online field guides, or ask the experts on iSpot or Twitter.
  • Upload your records to iRecord.
  • Have fun!

Although the Garden Bioblitz is currently based in the UK, you are welcome to take part wherever you are, and to submit records to your own local recording schemes.

Let us know how you get on!

Garden Bioblitz logo

To find out more about the Garden Bioblitz and how to take part, visit the Garden Bioblitz website or follow the Garden Bioblitz team on Twitter @GardenBioblitz.

You can also find out about other BioBlitz events on the National BioBlitz website and Encyclopedia of Life – BioBlitz.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author and Garden Bioblitz team member

May 15

If you are a fan of ARKive, you’re a fan of wild animals. At Polar Bears International, we love all animals, but especially polar bears. In fact, we’re the champion for polar bears and are doing everything we can to help them. But we can’t do it without you. That’s why we initiated a Save Our Sea Ice (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel's 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel’s 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Polar Bears International’s SOS! campaign focuses attention on the urgent challenges polar bears face in a changing Arctic—with longer and longer ice-free periods threatening their survival—and the part each of us can play in stopping global warming, beginning with personal habits and expanding out to the community.

The campaign features a series of energy-saving efforts that begin each year on International Polar Bear Day, February 27th, and continue through the summer melt period. We’ve linked our challenges to earth awareness days, but you can launch any of these efforts at any time:

  • International Polar Bear Day, February 27 – Celebrate polar bears with us by taking our Thermostat Challenge, adjusting your thermostat up or down by three degrees depending on the season. And then make every day a Polar Bear Day by switching to a programmable thermostat, insulating your home, or installing solar panels to save energy.
  • Earth Hour, March 23 – Join us on Earth Hour by switching off the lights for one hour, at 8:30 p.m. local time, and make it a Polar Bear Hour by eating a cold, energy-saving meal. Then make every hour an Earth Hour through our Power Down Effort—at home, school, and in the office.
  • Earth Day, April 22 – Celebrate Earth Day with us by turning off your engine for waits longer than thirty seconds when dropping off or picking up passengers at an Earth Day event. And then make every day an Earth Day by taking our No Idling Challenge and using our toolkit to set up No Idle Zones. Why? Because a surprising percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks, and vans come from idling engines with no transportation benefit.
  • Endangered Species Day, May 17 – Help polar bears and other endangered species every day by Sizing Up Your Pantry. Take stock of your pantry and think about your food choices, recognizing that fewer food miles, organic farming methods, and minimal processing and packaging have less impact on the planet—and can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
  • World Oceans Day, June 8 – Take action for polar bears and the sea ice they depend on every day with our Green House Grocery List. Begin by assessing your typical week’s grocery list to see how you measure up; then make adjustments where you can. Why? Because your food shopping habits can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm and the sea ice to melt.
Polar bear family jumping between ice floes © Dick and Val Beck/Polar Bears International

A polar bear family jumps from floe to floe in a melting Arctic. To save arctic sea ice, we must each do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To save polar bear habitat, we need to embrace sustainable living as a society. A promising shift is underway in sectors including transportation, energy usage, and food production—all of which have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. You can become part of the momentum for change by modifying your own habits and taking action in your community in support of greener choices—from bikes lanes to farmer’s markets—that make a low-carbon lifestyle easier.

Find out more

Learn more about the polar bear and its arctic habitat on ARKive.

Find out more about Polar Bears International and how you can get involved by visiting their website.


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