May 27
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Garden Bioblitz 2013

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
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Guest Blog: Join Our SOS! Campaign to Help Polar Bears with Polar Bears International

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.

Apr 27
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Save the Frogs Day 2013

Save the Frogs DayToday marks the 5th annual ‘Save the Frogs Day’, an international event which focuses on raising awareness about the plight of the frog, encouraging conservation action and celebrating all things amphibian. In honour of this noble cause, we thought we would highlight some of our favourite weird and wonderful amphibians from around the world, and hopefully encourage you to get involved, spread the word about amphibian conservation and perhaps even host your own event. The ‘Save the Frogs’ website has some fantastic ideas for inspiration here, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it!

Titicaca water frog

Titicaca water frog photo

The largest truly aquatic frog, the Titicaca water frog can weigh up to 1 kg and is endemic to Lake Titicaca, which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption. It is blended with other ingredients to create a juice which local people misguidedly believe cures many ailments.

Gardiner’s tree frog

Gardiner’s tree frog photo

From one of the largest frogs to one of the smallest now, Gardiner’s tree frog. This diminutive amphibian is found in the Seychelles and grows to just 11 mm in length. Unlike most frogs, which must lay their eggs in water, this species lays them in small clumps on moist ground. Instead of hatching as tadpoles, the young then hatch as small, fully formed adults.

Dyeing poison frog

Dyeing poison frog photo

Perhaps one of the most beautiful of all frogs, the dyeing poison frog is famed for the alkaloid-based poison excreted from its skin. Its toxicity is obtained from its diet, which consists mainly of ants. Subsequently, in captivity the dyeing poison frog loses its toxicity as it cannot obtain these compounds through its captive diet.

Suriname toad

Suriname toad photo

A fascinating species from South America, the Suriname toad must surely take the prize for the most unusual reproductive methods in the animal kingdom. The male rolls the fertilised eggs onto the female’s back, after which the skin on her back closes around them. After an incubation period of three to four months the young emerge from her back as fully metamorphosed individuals. Cool or creepy? You decide!

Purple frog

Purple frog photo

Only discovered in 2003, the purple frog is the sole surviving member of an ancient group of amphibians that evolved around 130 million years ago. This strange-looking frog is adapted to a burrowing lifestyle, spending most of the year up to 3.7 metres underground and emerging for a few weeks to breed at the surface.

Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog

Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog photo

Perhaps one of the saddest stories from the amphibian world, Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog was described as a new species as recently as 2008, but the arrival of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis in the only known population appears to have driven the species to extinction in the wild. As of early 2012, a single male remained in captivity, believed to be the very last of its kind anywhere in the world after the only other known individual, another captive male, was euthanised due to poor health.

Darwin’s frog

Darwin’s frog photo

Discovered by Charles Darwin, the unusual Darwin’s frog is another species with a rather strange method of reproduction. The male possesses a large vocal sac, but rather than producing a loud call, he uses it for an altogether different purpose. It is his job to guard the fertilised eggs, and after they have been developing for around 20 days he uses his tongue to pick them up and manoeuvre them into his vocal sac. The tadpoles hatch and metamorphose within his vocal sac, emerging from his mouth when their tails are reduced to stumps. Check out a video of tadpoles moving within a male’s vocal sac .

Get involved

Golden frog photoIf you’ve been inspired to do your bit for amphibian conservation we would love to hear what you are up to. Don’t forget that you can also vote for the golden frog in our current campaign to find the World’s Favourite Species and spread the love for frogs!

You can also check out our feature page on amphibian conservation and have a go at collecting uninfected mountain chickens in our Team WILD game!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Apr 21
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ARKive’s Top Ten Endurance species

This weekend, a mixture of world class runners and 36,000 fundraisers will descend upon London to take part in this year’s London Marathon. To be able to run the 26.2 mile course a lot of training and endurance is required. To celebrate, here in the ARKive office we have put together a list of the top ten endurance animals:

The king of long distance

The monarch butterfly is renowned for its spectacular, long-distance migrations. It is the eastern North American populations which show the most remarkable migratory behaviour. The final summer generation undertake a mass southward migration from the summer breeding ground in North America to Mexico for the winter; covering distances of 3,000 miles at speeds of up to 80 miles per day! This incredible butterfly species has made the top 50 in the World’s favourite species competition. Visit the page to cast your vote for the monarch butterfly.

Athletic albatross

Albatrosses are renowned for being some of the most far-roaming seabirds in the world, with the Campbell albatross being particularly well known for making single, non-stop flights for up to 19 hours! When foraging, Campbell albatross may travel up to 2,000 kilometres away from the colony to find food, with trips lasting between 3 and 12 days.

Not leap frog but leap fish?

Outside of the breeding season Atlantic salmon are found at sea, roaming vast distances to search for food. After one or more years, Atlantic salmon return to their birthplace, in freshwater streams, to spawn. During this journey the Atlantic salmon can leap vertical distance of up to an amazing 12 feet, resulting in it gaining the nickname the king of fish!

Outstanding ostrich

The ostrich, the fastest runner of any birds, can reach up to 70 kilometres per hour in short sprints with strides of 3 to 5 metres in length! Not only does the ostrich have speed it also has high stamina being able to run at up to 50 kilometres per hour for 30 minutes or more! This would make the ostrich a real contender in any marathon!

I am turtley not getting lost

When green turtles reach sexual maturity they will migrate back to the beach where they hatched, to breed. This is not only a tremendous feat of navigation but also involves travelling very long distances. For some population of green turtles in Brazil this means travelling 2,250km to return back to the Ascension Islands to breed!

There is no terning back

The Arctic tern probably undertakes the longest migration of any bird, breeding in the Arctic and travelling to Antarctica for winter. This means that the Arctic tern sees more sunlight each year than any other animal, as they experience a ‘second summer’ by travelling south in winter. It makes all the hard work seem worth it!

A whaley long way to go

Humpback whales undertake yearly migrations of thousands of kilometres, from summer feeding grounds in polar regions to winter breeding grounds near the tropics. Humpback whales which feed south of Cape Horn undertake the longest known migration of any mammal, with their journey taking them all the way to the warm waters off Columbia and Costa Rica to breed. If this is not incredible enough, humpback whales do not feed during their whole migration or during their time at the breeding grounds. Does this impress you enough to make the humpback whale your favourite species? If so, cast your vote for the humpback whale here and check out its contenders!

Freeze a jolly good fellow

Breeding in Antarctica’s harsh winter, when temperatures drop to as low as minus 60ºC, and wind speeds reach up to 200 kilometres per hour requires some serious endurance! Each year Emperor penguins undertake this challenge to ensure that their chicks fledge in the late summer season. Adult penguins journey for upto 120 kilometres to reach their breeding colonies, in these harsh conditions. After six weeks the female will then return to feed whereas the male has to endure the rest of the winter incubating the egg. The emperor penguin has also successfully made it to the top 50, make it number one by voting for it today!

We will make it come rein or shine..

The reindeer, known as caribou in North America, undertakes the longest migration of any land mammal. Most reindeer populations will undertake seasonal migrations with the annual distance covered by some individuals being at least 5,000 kilometres. This migration also often includes swimming across rivers and fjords.

Size doesn’t matter

The ruby throated hummingbird is a migratory species which breeds in eastern North America and winter in Central America. Despite being only 9 centimetres in length the ruby throated hummingbird can make this migration across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop, a round trip of more than 1,600 kilometres!

If you can think of any other endurance species not on the list then do let us know!

Jemma Pealing, Media Researcher

Apr 12
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Spotlight on: Beaches in the UK

Although it may not feel like it with all the cold weather we’ve been having recently, here in the UK we are well into spring and heading towards summer. As the temperatures begin to creep up, now is the perfect time to get out and about and start exploring the diverse range of habitats the UK has to offer. Being an island, the UK boasts over 6,000 kilometres of shoreline, and heading down to the seaside is a popular pastime for people of all ages. It is said that in the UK you are never more than about 70 miles from the sea, so why not make a day of it and visit one of the beautiful sandy beaches that our coastline has to offer?

Beach photo

Sandy beach at Three Crowns Bay on the Gower Peninsula, Wales

While sandy shores may not seem an obvious place to find wildlife, a wealth of invertebrate and fish species live below the sand, buried out of sight. If you are lucky, you may also spot seals hauled out on the beach, or shorebirds foraging for prey in the sand or among the debris of the strandline. Visitors to beaches such as Studland on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast could be treated to an even rarer sight, as sand lizards can be spotted here in the dunes and heathland which border the beach.

Sand lizard photo

Sand lizard feeding on prey

Studland photo

Sandstone cliffs and sandy beach at Studland Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certain beaches are renowned for their bird life, such as Titchwell Marsh on the north Norfolk coast. Here you can see curlew sandpipers, avocets, redshank and many other waders, particularly in the summer and autumn. Looking further north, Balranald on the Outer Hebrides is another haven for a number of bird species, inlcuding  little terns which can be spotted fishing along the shore.

Curlew sandpiper photo

Curlew sandpipers feeding at sunrise

Of course, part of the fun of heading to the beach is spotting signs of invertebrate life, and I’m sure that like me, many of you spent hours of your childhood searching for shells and other treasures. If you fancy re-living your youth, or you’d like to introduce the next generation to the wonders that wash ashore, make sure you take along a copy of our beach treasure hunt activity next time you visit the seaside; a PDF version can be downloaded here.

Common whelk photo

Common whelk shell on the beach

Coastal sand dunes are typically formed as the wind blows sand into drifts which get trapped around plants such as marram grass, the roots of which help to hold the dune together. These dunes are a great place to find other plant life too, including species such as sea holly, sea spurge, centaury and prickly saltwort.

Sea holly photo

Sea holly growing on sand dune

Why not take a look at our new UK sandy shore feature page for more information and inspiration, and start planning your next trip to the beach? We’ve got details of the species you might encounter, ideas and tips on choosing where to visit and even suggestions about how you can get involved and help to protect and preserve our coastline.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

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