Apr 26

You might not have it scheduled in your calendar, but today in in fact Alien Day! That’s right, a celebration of the films in which Sigourney Weaver, aka Ripley, battles some frankly terrifying extra-terrestrial creatures.

So we at Arkive had to jump at the chance to share with you our five favourite alien-like critters! These out-of-this-world species live right here among us, so there’s no need to blast off into space and cryo-freeze yourself for an encounter!

 Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica)

These bizarre-looking antelope look like they’ve fallen straight off the set of Star Wars, but in actual fact can be found in the steppe grasslands of central Asia.

Despite their common name, these ungulates are actually thought to be intermediates between antelope and sheep. They prefer open areas free from dense vegetation where they run quickly (up to 80 miles per hour) to avoid predators such as wolves and humans

Large groups of saiga migrate southwards in winter, covering up to 72 miles in a day. The rut begins in late November and males gather groups of around 30 females in ‘harems’, which they aggressively defend.

During the rut, males’ noses swell up and the hair tufts below the eyes are covered in a sticky secretion. Males do not feed much during the rutting season, when they take part in violent fights that often end in death. The male mortality rate can reach 90 percent during this time, due to exhaustion.

Tail-less whip scorpion (Phrynichus jayakari)

The tail-less whip scorpion is spider-like in appearance and, as its common name suggests, it lacks a tail.

Tail-less whip scorpions differ from other arachnids (a group containing spiders and scorpions) in that they use only six of their limbs to walk, rather than eight, as the front pair are adapted to act as very long sensory organs. They may look like a bit creepy, but they are actually completely harmless and do not possess venom glands or a sting.

Tail-less whip scorpions are primarily nocturnal and emerge at night in search of food or a mate. They generally occur in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where they live under stones, leaves, bark or in rock crevices and caves.

Hairy angler (Caulophryne polynema)

The hairy angler is a deep-sea predator that looks like it is could have had a starring role in the nightmares of many pretty little reef fish whose parents warned them of the dangers of straying from the safety of their coral home.

The female is about the size of a football and its body is covered in long antennae, used to detect the movements of any nearby prey. The male is about a tenth of the size of the female, roughly the size of a ping pong ball. When a male encounters a female, it latches on and, over time, begins sharing the female’s blood supply, providing her with unlimited semen in response.

While we noted at the start that no spaceship was required for these sightseeing trips, the hairy angler lives at depths of over 1,000 metres, in the dark zone (we think it chose this for added dramatic effect), so you would probably need a very expensive submarine to pay it a visit.

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

The axolotl is an unusual species of salamander which retains its larval features, such as gills, and remains aquatic throughout its life. They definitely look like a slightly more friendly alien creature who’d be more likely to sit down and play a board game with you than our previous guest creature, phew.

This real-life Pokémon mostly fails to undergo metamorphosis, but if its habitat dries up then this species can metamorphose into its adult form – magic!

Another out-of-this-world power the axolotl has is regeneration – X-men style! Instead of forming scar tissue when wounded, the axolotl can regenerate tissue at the wound site and even re-grow missing limbs.

The axolotl is native to the ancient water channel system of Mexico City, preferring deep brackish water with plenty of vegetation, but has been lost from most of its range and is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Coral

The tiny organisms that live inside corals, polyps, can live on their own but are mostly associated with the spectacularly diverse limestone communities, or reefs, they construct.

Coral polyps are tiny, translucent animals. These soft-bodied organisms are related to sea anemones and jellyfish. At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, which forms the structure of coral reefs.

They have to be on this list as they are so bizarre and unlike any other creature on the planet, many people don’t know they’re even an animal, or even sentient, mistaking the reefs they build for rock.

Corals eat by catching tiny floating animals called zooplankton. At night, coral polyps come out of their elaborate exoskeletons to feed, stretching their long, stinging tentacles to capture critters that are floating by. Prey are pulled into the polyps’ mouths and digested in their stomachs.

The majority of a polyp’s energy actually comes from tiny algae called zooxanthellae. The algae live within the coral polyps, using sunlight to make sugar for energy. This energy is transferred to the polyp, providing much-needed nourishment. In turn, coral polyps provide the algae with carbon dioxide and a protective home.

Don’t get us started on how they breed, or wage war on one another, as we could go on for hours on their otherworldly behaviour! But if you want to learn more about these amazing and highly endangered species, please check out our coral conservation topic page.

 

HAPPY ALIEN DAY!

Aug 10

August 10th is World Lion Day so we’ve collated a list of some of our favourite lion facts to celebrate – and we are all planning on watching the Lion King when we get home too!

1) Lions and the British Monarchy

Lions have long been a symbol of of the British Monarchy; some of the earliest signs of the royal’s relationship with the king of the jungle were discovered in 1937 when two skulls of the now extinct Barbary lion were found in the Tower of London. The skulls date back the 13th century, and are evidence of the Royal Menagerie established at the tower by King John in the 1200s. Long before zoos, the Royal Menagerie displayed extraordinary animals from across the empire, until its closure in 1835. The Barbary lion was found across North Africa until its extinction in 1922, and was believed to be a monogamous species. One of the skulls discovered in 1937 is now on display in London’s Natural History Museum.

2) Males can be maneless

The mane is a sign of distinction for any self-respecting male lion, however not all males have one. In Kenya’s Tsavo National Park males lack manes, which has mystified scientists for many years. The main functions of the mane are thought to be physical protection for the head and neck areas, sexual gravitas, or intimidation to other males (darker manes indicate higher levels of testosterone). Lions in the Tsavo National Park are exposed to extreme heat and aridity, and it is thought that having a large mane may cause males to overheat.

3) Females have hunting positions

Female lions hunt cooperatively and individuals have a preferred position within the hunting formation that is dependent on their body shape and size, similar to a rugby team. Research by scientists in Etosha National Park showed that there are two ‘positions’ in a hunting formation: wings and centres. Centres were involved in ambush attacks and tend to be of a stockier build, while wingers stalk animals and initiate hunts. These positions may be a crucial behavioural adaptation to maximising efficient prey capture in an arid desert environment.

4) Lions don’t always live in prides

While the traditional view of lions is that they live in prides, this is actually far from the norm and more than half of the population don’t live in prides at all. Females that live in prides don’t necessarily have higher hunting success and studies have shown that in times of low food availability being a solitary female is actually the best option to increase their chance of survival.

5) Safety in numbers

Despite living in prides possibly not being the best option food-wise, this way of living keeps lionesses and their young safe from roaming males. Plus, it gives them all some friends to hang out with!

 

Show your love for lions today by sharing your newfound knowledge with others and finding out more about the amazing work that conservation organisations are doing to help save this rapidly declining species.

Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger

Aug 8

August 8th is International Cat Day, but before you open up the catnip for your domestic moggy why not take a look at their wild relatives? There are 41 cat species in the Felidae family and while the more famous members steal most of the limelight, there are probably quite a few species that you haven’t even heard of who are equally astounding. Here’s 10 that we thought deserved a bit of recognition this International Cat Day…

1) Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)

The rusty-spotted cat is the world’s smallest cat, with the some adults weighing just 0.8kg. This nocturnal hunter is found across India as well as Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it lives in dry deciduous forest, scrub and grassland and feeds on some of the classic cat favourites: rodents, birds and domestic poultry.

2) Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)

The Iberian lynx is the world’s rarest cat; only 400 individuals remain and until recently there were only two known strongholds for this species. This cat is threatened by a dwindling food supply; their diet largely consists of rabbits which have declined due to epidemic outbreaks of myxamatosis. However may not be lost, as individuals have been translocated and reintroduced into three conservation areas across Spain and Portugal, which has led to a subsequent increase in the population.

3) Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)

Pallas’s cat is an elusive and solitary cat whose range stretches across Central Asia. Far from the top of the food chain, Pallas’s cat is often predated by raptors, wolves, red foxes and, more recently, domestic and feral dogs.

4) Wildcat (Felis silvestris)

The wildcat is of huge importance to the human population, as without this species there would be no domestic cats. We’ve fed, groomed and generally been ruled by our cats for 9,500 years and it’s thought that wildcats were originally lured towards human settlements due to rodents that lived in their grain stores. The friendliest individuals domesticated themselves by taking advantage of human protection and leftovers, and this affinity with humans due to easy access to food is something has never shown any signs of stopping!

5) Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)

It’s commonly thought that cats hate water, but this is a misconception. It certainly isn’t the case for this brave felid, which lives a semi-aquatic life due to its love for feeding on fish, frogs and crustaceans. It has specialised adaptations for aquatic hunting, including webbed feet and backward pointing teeth. The flat-headed cat is not the only cat species that is regularly seen in water – check out this video of a tiger swimming across a river.

6) Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Arguably the most striking of all of the cat species, the caracal (or rooikat) is a fierce predator. Hunting in tropical savannas across Africa and Asia, the caracal can take prey items up to three times its size, including small antelope.

7) Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia)

The Borneo bay cat, endemic to the island of Borneo, is the most under-studied cat in the world, and only 25 individuals have ever been recorded. The first bay cat was collected by the famous biologist Alfred Russell Wallace in 1855, although this individual was dead and it wasn’t until 1992 that a live bay cat was caught and recorded. The Asiatic golden cat is a close relative of this species, although the population of their common ancestor is thought to have been split in two around 4.9 to 5.3 million years ago, triggering the evolution of these separate but genetically similar species.

8) Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi)

Found in the New World, the jaguarundi is an unusual looking cat. Its slender build and small head gives it a weasel-like appearance. It also differs from other New World cats in its behaviour, as it is active in the day, has a large home range and is spends much more time on the forest floor than in the trees. Amazingly, individuals of this species have been seen jumping up to two metres off the ground when attempting to catch birds.

9) Guigna (Leopardus guigna)

Due to of its secretive nature and tiny size, very few people have seen a guigna and it is definitely not a cat that many people have heard of…until now! This arboreal species is found in Chile and Argentina, where it is known as the ‘kodkod’. The guigna is one of the smallest cat species in the Southern Hemisphere and I think we can probably all agree that it is extremely cute.

10) Lion (Panthera leo)

We imagine you’ve heard of this one, but did you know that lions were once common in Greece? There was once a European lion (Panthera leo europaea), which is often featured in Ancient Greek mythology, writings and pottery. Due to their geographical proximity these lions were captured and used in Roman arenas where they fought the ‘bestiarii’ (men who fought animals). In one festival in 240 AD, 70 Lions were slaughtered for entertainment. This was a main factor for extinction for both the Barbary lion and the European lion.

 

Want to find out more about wild cat conservation? Check out these amazing conservation organisations…

IUCN Cat Specialist Group
Felidae Conservation Fund
Wildlife Conservation Society – Big Cats
International Society for Endangered Cats Canada
Panthera

Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger

Aug 5

With the Rio 2016 Olympics in full swing, we thought we would look to the animal kingdom for its offering of world class sporting prowess.

Faster, higher, stronger is a motto engrained in the minds of Olympic athletes the world over. Yet even Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix and Michael Phelps would struggle to match the athletic abilities of some of the world’s most remarkable animals.

Here are our Top Ten Animal Athletes that would clean up on the medal podium!

1. Cheetah

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on the planet, reaching speeds of up to 87 kilometres per hour. Even the fastest human on Earth, Usain Bolt, only peaks at a top speed of 28 miles per hour! Blink and you’ll miss it!

Cheetah

 2. Froghopper

The high jump has been around since Ancient Greece. The current world record is currently 2.45 metres, set by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba in 1993 – the longest standing record in the history of the men’s high jump. The natural world is full of huge jumpers but the froghopper is leaps ahead. The undisputed high jump champion of the world, this 6 millimetre tall insect is able to jump an astounding 70 times its own body height!

Froghopper

3. Rhinoceros beetle

Move over World Deadlift Champion and world record holder Eddie Hall! The rhinoceros beetle is capable of lifting objects up to 850 times its own body weight. If Eddie had the same relative strength, he would be able to lift a 65 ton object – that’s the same as an armoured tank!

Rhinoceros beetle

4. Arctic tern

The marathon is one of the toughest endurance events in the Olympics. Dennis Kimetto of Kenya currently holds the world record of completing a course in 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds. The animal kingdom is full of endurance record holders, but the artic tern leads the flock. It holds the record for the longest annual migration recorded by animal, covering 40,000 miles a year!

Arctic tern

 

5. Desert locust

Ancient Olympians considered the long jump as one of the most challenging events. Some spring-loaded members of the natural world make the long jump seem like a total breeze. The desert locust can leap over a metre from a standing position. It needs no run up to jump around 20 times its own body length. If this jumping ability was scaled up in proportion to body size, this would mean humans would be able to do a standing long jump of over 40 metres.

Desert locust

6. Indo-Pacific sailfish

The natural world is stream-lined with underwater speed demons. From dolphins to Dory, there are some incredible swimmers lurking beneath the surface that would leave even Michael Phelps in their wake. But the Indo-Pacific sailfish is probably the fastest – capable of tremendous bursts of speed over short-distances it can reach speeds of up to 111 kilometres per hour!

Indo Pacific sailfish

7. Namaqua chameleon

Archery made its debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics, but the natural world has had the perfect aim for over 80 million years. Chameleons don’t need a bow and arrow to hit their target, just a super long tongue! With a bulbous sticky tip, which it shoots out to capture its prey, the tongue of the Namaqua chamelton may be up to twice the length of the body. Who needs a gold medal when you get the reward of a tasty insect treat?

 

Namaqua chameleon

8. Klipspringer

It’s not just the froghopper that reaches dizzy heights, in terms of absolute height reached, it’s this small African antelope that is leaps and bounds ahead. With a name meaning ‘rock jumper’ in Afrikaans, the klipspringer is able to jump up to 7.68 metres! That’s over three times the world record!

Klipspringer

9. Mountain gorilla

Wrestling with its primal hand-to-hand combat and complex tactics has featured in the Olympics since 1896 but has been around as a sport since Ancient Greece. With its characteristically heavy and robust body, broad chest and long arms, the heavyweight title surely has to go to the gorilla. The largest of the living apes, it would floor even the most fierce of Olympic opponents.

Mountain gorillas wrestling

10. Spinner dolphin

A women-only discipline, synchronised swimming is renowned for its grace and rhythm. This aquatic ballet first featured in the 1984 Olympics but like archery, the natural world has been perfecting this sport for millions of years. Like the Olympians, spinner dolphins move about the oceans in groups, ranging from just a few performers up to a thousand and as their name suggests, they love to perform at the surface. The reason behind the energetic spinning behaviour is unknown, but it is thought that it could be to help with communication, to dislodge hitch-hiking parasites or simply just part of play!

Spinner dolphin

Can you think of any animal athletes? Share them with us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Mar 4

In honour of Mother’s day today in the U.K., we have come up with ten of the most loving mums in the animal kingdom.

‘Darling would you stop pressing your paw so hard into my back…’

Photo of polar bear swimming with cubs

Although this lucky polar bear mummy gets to sleep through birth, it’s not all smooth sailing. She has to nurse and care for her cubs for 2.5 years, during which she has to provide food and teach them how to swim. As you can see, she gives them a helping hand every now and then.

‘Please stop fidgeting sweetie’

Great crested grebe with chick

This great crested grebe mother gets help from her partner in incubating and rearing her young, and she only has to look after them for less than 3 months. You may think she has an easy ride, but she is a very attentive mother and carries her stripy chicks around on her back. No need for a buggy here!

‘Wait your turn, you have to learn to share’

Female cheetah with suckling cubs

Cheetah mums have a lot on their mind. Until the cubs are 8 weeks old, they have to leave them alone in a lair while they go hunting. This is a necessary trip but the risk from the many predators around means the death rate of young cheetahs is very high. Thank goodness we can just go to the supermarkets!

‘I do wish you’d cleaned your feet’

Newly hatched Nile crocodile gently held in adult's jaws

This may be a big surprise to you, but the female Nile crocodile is a very attentive parent and after laying around 60 eggs will cover the nest with sand and guard it for around 90 days. Amazingly, her powerful jaws can be used incredibly gently, and she gathers the hatchlings in her mouth and transports them to water. There’s certainly no padding in this pram!

‘Try and keep up little one’

Female blue whale with calf

You won’t be jealous of the blue whale mum. She has to be pregnant for 10-11 months, and has to feed the calf 100 gallons of her fat rich milk during the nursing period! This is one demanding kid

‘In an hour I can drop you at the crèche, I’ve got to get my feathers done’

Sandwich tern with chick

We are not the only ones to come up with child daycare, as the sandwich tern has also had this idea. Once hatched, the young may gather together in a group, called a ‘crèche’, which is attended by one or several adults. Smart mothers!

‘Lunch time is over now honey, time to go and play’

Africam elephant suckling

If you thought the blue whale pregnancy was long, the African elephant definitely beats it! This poor mum has to be pregnant for nearly 2 years, and has to keep looking after the young for several years after that. Luckily other females in the group help out, known as ‘allomothers’. Every mum needs a break once in a while!

‘Don’t spike your sister!’

Hedgehog with young

Hedgehog mothers are truly single parents, as they are left alone to care for 4 to 5 spiky babies! Luckily they are born with a coat of soft spines to protect the mother during birth. They don’t stay baby soft for long though, as a second coat of dark spines emerges after about 36 hours.

‘You are getting so big now my dear!’

Giant panda female suckling infant

For such a large mummy, it is rather shocking to find out that the giant panda gives birth to a baby that is only 0.001 percent of her own weight! This caring mother will remain with her baby until it is about two years old or sometimes even older. But how could a mother resist when her baby is this cute!

‘Hang on tight my little orange!’

Bornean orang-utan female with infant

The Bornean orang-utan mother is probably one of the fittest around. She will carry her baby constantly for the first two to three years of their life and will take care of it for at least another three years! This mother definitely is a ‘supermum’!

Let us know if you can think of any other caring animal mums!

Happy Mothers Day to all the mums out there!

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