Dec 10

As the festive season gets into full swing, we’re sure a few of you will be warming up your vocal cords in preparation for a bit of carolling action. To help get you in the mood for some musical mayhem, we’ve had a root through the ARKive collection to find some of the species that might make good (or bad!) additions to any party of vibrant vocalists.

Delightful duet – Western hoolock gibbon

The call of the western hoolock gibbon is as energetic as the species itself, which can swing gracefully through the trees of its forest home at speeds of up to 56km/hour. The impressive vocal gymnastics of this species can be heard over great distances, so this primate would be a great asset to any raucous carolling choir!

Western hoolock gibbon image

Hooved honkers – Plains zebra

If you listen carefully, you can hear the first few notes of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the call of this plains zebra! This braying bark is a key method of communication for zebras, and is used alongside body movements and facial expressions. Let’s hope these guys have good memories for music and lyrics, as they might have some difficulty holding a carol book!

Plains zebra image

Jolly jingles – Sidewinder

Despite being the stoutest of all the rattlesnake species, this reptilian rattler can grow up to 80cm in length. It is found in south-western U.S.A and north-western Mexico, where it ambushes small lizard and rodent prey from the cover of isolated shrubs. The sidewinder could provide some interesting percussion accompaniment to a group of carollers, though I’m not sure how close you would want to get to one of these venomous critters!

Sidewinder image

Booming beat – Kakapo

If you feel like you need a little something extra on your carolling outing, why not invite the kakapo along to create a resonant boom to back up all your favourite festive tunes? We can’t guarantee he’ll be able to keep in time, but at least it’ll get the choral company noticed! This booming noise is made by male kakapos to attract a mate, and can be heard up to five kilometres away.

Kakapo image

Quacking canid – Dhole

You know that feeling of surprise when you hear somebody sing, and their voice doesn’t sound at all like you’d expect it to? That’s how we felt when we came across this carolling audition tape for the dhole! This Asian species can produce a wide range of vocalisations, including a distinctive whistle which is used to reassemble pack members in its thick forest habitat.

Dhole image

Warbling wonder – Blackbird

Many of you avid music-lovers will recognise the beautiful song of the blackbird, and would be happy to have this musical avian in your carolling group. This species produces a range of vocalisations, including a loud alarm call which has been described as ‘pli-pli-pli’.

Blackbird image

Honking harmonies – Emperor penguin

Emperor penguin colonies may be very noisy and somewhat tuneless places to be, but also extremely cold ones! This species can survive in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees C, and withstand windspeeds of up to 200km/hour. Emperor penguins might not win any prizes as far as pleasant-sounding vocals go, but this species certainly deserves top marks for its parental care. While the female heads seawards to feed after laying her egg, the male will stay put without feeding for four months, in constant darkness, to incubate the egg. Now that’s dedication!

Emperor penguin image

Choral creatures – Bright-eyed frog (Boophis albilabris)

Does anyone else think that the bright-eyed frog has a call that sounds strangely like squeaky rubber?! This large tree frog, whose scientific species name albilabris means ‘white-lipped’ (can you guess why?!), can grow up to 81mm in length. The bright-eyed frog is endemic to Madagascar, where it can be found in moist rainforests.

Bright-eyed frog image

Squawky solo – Galapagos penguin

This feathered fellow certainly seems to be putting a lot of effort into its call, but if this were an audition, I’m not so sure the Galapagos penguin would be offered a solo! This species is the most northerly of all penguins, and sadly, as of 2007, there were just 1,000 individuals left in the world.

Galapagos penguin image

Cacophonous canines – Grey wolf

The grey wolf is a highly social and intelligent species of canid, living in packs of between 5 and 12 individuals. As well as scent-marking, the grey wolf uses howling as a way of advertising territorial boundaries. It is an effective way of avoiding encounters with other packs, which can lead to fatal battles. Sadly, I don’t think this species would make an ideal choir member, as the individuals don’t seem to be able to howl in tune!

Grey wolf image

Ho, ho, ho! – Barasingha

This barasingha, a threatened deer species found only in India and Nepal, appears to be doing his best Santa Claus impression!

Barasingha image

Ho, ho, ho! And a happy holiday season to you all!

 

Dec 9

The fascinating role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers has recently been described, thanks to the hard work and dedication of researchers in Brazil.

Giant armadillo image

Giant armadillo

The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project has been running since July 2010, establishing a long-term ecological study of giant armadillos and other species of Xenarthra at the Baía das Pedras Ranch in the Nhecolandia sub-region of the Brazilian Pantanal. One of the project’s main goals is to research the ecology and biology of giant armadillos in the region, and understand the contribution this species makes to its ecosystem.

Armoured animals

The giant armadillo is the largest species in a group of animals known as the Xenarthra, which also includes sloths and anteaters, and can reach up to 1.5 metres in length and weigh up to 50 kilograms. This nocturnal species is highly adapted to life underground, with large scimitar-shaped claws on its forefeet that help it to dig deep burrows.

Found east of the Andes, from Colombia and Venezuela southwards to Paraguay and northern Argentina, the giant armadillo occurs in a wide variety of habitats, including tropical forests and open savannahs. However, it is rare across its entire range, and very little is known about this rather secretive species. The giant armadillo has declined as a result of habitat loss and hunting, and is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and as Critically Endangered on many State lists in Brazil.

Giant armadillo camera-trap image

Camera-trap image of a giant armadillo from the project
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Fact-finding mission

In the Pantanal, most local people have never seen a giant armadillo, and there are fears this species could go extinct before its natural history is properly understood. The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project set out to use a variety of methods, including camera trapping, fitting radio transmitters, conducting burrow surveys, resource mapping and interviews, to get a better insight into the life of this mysterious mammal. What the researchers discovered showed the true importance of the giant armadillo to the species with which it shares its habitat.

Camera traps

For over two years, giant armadillo burrows were monitored using camera traps set up near the burrow entrance. These cameras are triggered by motion, and hundreds of images of 57 different species were obtained in this way during the research period. Interestingly, it was found that giant armadillo burrows provide new habitats and influence resources for at least 24 of these species.

It’s amazing to see that such a secretive species which occurs at such low densities can play such an important role within the ecological community,” said Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator from The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Crab-eating fox camera-trap image

Crab-eating fox resting in a burrow during a hot day
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Unexpected visitors

Giant armadillo burrows can be up to five metres deep, and the camera trap images showed that 16 different species used these areas as a refuge against predators or against temperature extremes, as well as places to seek certain resources. The three other armadillo species found within the study area were all registered spending prolonged periods of time in the giant armadillo’s burrows, but the most surprising discovery came in the form of another member of the Xenarthra: the southern tamandua. The southern tamandua is known to be a tree-dwelling species, yet astonishingly it was the animal most often documented using the giant armadillo’s underground dwelling place. A whole host of other species, including ocelots, crab-eating foxes, lizards, tortoises and collared peccaries were also photographed entering the burrows.

Southern tamandua camera-trap image

Southern tamandua emerging from a burrow after a long period of rest
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

The sand mound

The researchers found that it wasn’t just the refuge provided by the deep burrows which was of use to other species. Giant armadillo burrows have a characteristic large mound of sand in front of them, and the study showed that this area, too, was used by a surprising number of other species. White-lipped peccaries, collared peccaries and feral pigs were all seen using the sand mound to wallow in, rest and cool down, while giant anteaters were also photographed taking sand baths in the mound. Lowland tapirs and pumas were discovered using the pile of earth as a resting spot, whereas various raccoons, ocelots, lizards, small rodents and various other species were captured on film searching for their prey in the mound.

White-lipped peccary camera-trap image

White-lipped peccary enjoying a rest in the humid sand in front of a burrow
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Ecosystem engineers

Through the creation of burrows, the giant armadillo physically alters its surroundings, and creates a host of new habitats which have now been found to influence the resources of at least a further 24 species – this is known as ecosystem engineering. As ecosystem engineers, giant armadillos are extremely important components of their environment, with their burrows and the large sand mound affecting the characteristics of the ecosystem, from geomorphology and hydrology to the vegetation and animal communities in the area, both on a small and large scale. The role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers has also been recorded in the Amazon by Dr Renata Leite Pitman, who documented the rare short-eared dog, as well as several other species, using giant armadillo burrows.

Short-eared dog camera-trap image

Short-eared dog emerging from a giant armadillo burrow
© Renata Leite Pitman

Climate change is predicted to increase maximum air temperatures. Our data loggers placed inside giant armadillo burrows demonstrate that temperatures within the burrow remain constant at 24 degrees Celsius,” said Desbiez. Giant armadillo burrows offer an important refuge from extreme conditions, and their role may become more important as impacts from climate change increase.”

Although rarely seen, the giant armadillo plays a key role in the ecological community in which it lives, and it is vital that this species is better understood and protected.

 

Find out more about the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project.

Read more about this and other Xenarthrans with the IUCN SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group.

View more images and videos of giant armadillos on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

Nov 28

The observance of Thanksgiving Day is primarily associated with the United States, and is a tradition which is thought to date back to colonial times following the safe arrival of the first European settlers to the untamed shores of North America. Nowadays, families and friends congregate to give thanks for what they have, so to celebrate Thanksgiving in our own wild way, we’ve gathered together a few of nature’s special inhabitants that we think owe each other thanks: symbiotic species!

 

Exclusive residence

Common clownfish image

Common clownfish are able to live among the tentacles of stinging sea anemones

Simply speaking, symbiotic species are those that interact in some way, to the benefit of one or both of the critters in question. A classic example, and one that many Disney fans will be familiar with, is the relationship that exists between clownfish and sea anemones.

Sea anemones usually sting fish that come into contact with their tentacles, but clownfish have developed a clever, yet rather gross, method of disguise. By covering its skin in mucus, the clownfish can trick the anemone into thinking it is touching itself, and so does not get stung. In return for a safe place to live and food in the form of debris and parasites found amongst the anemone’s tentacles, the clownfish is thought to scare away fish that may prey upon the anemone, and even lure fish in for its tentacled home to eat – a classic win-win situation! The clownfish is also believed to provide the anemone with good water circulation through fanning its fins as it swims around.

Did you know?

There are different kinds of symbiotic relationships. Some benefit both species involved, and are known as ‘mutualistic’ symbioses, whereas ‘parasitic’ relationships are those in which one species profits at the expense of the other. In some cases, one species benefits but the other is affected neither positively nor negatively, and these are known as ‘commensalistic’ symbioses.

 

Nutritious nectar and pollen parcels

Small garden bumblebee image

Bees, such as this small garden bumblebee, play an important role in plant pollination

Bees feed on pollen and nectar sourced from a variety of flowering plants, with honey bees using the nectar to make their sticky, sugary treat. Although flowers appear to lose out by ‘donating’ nectar, they actually benefit from these flying visits. As a bee rummages around the flower head for food, some pollen gets stuck to its hairy body and legs, and this accidental cargo is then transferred to the next flower the insect visits, pollinating it and enabling the plant to reproduce.

Did you know?

The traditional origin of the modern Thanksgiving Day is commonly thought to be the festivities that occurred at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621, when the European settlers celebrated their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Spaniards in Florida were the first to truly celebrate Thanksgiving back in 1565.

 

Getting a little peckish…

Roan antelope image

Oxpeckers help remove parasites from large mammals such as this roan antelope

In the wilds of the African savanna, large mammals such as this roan antelope can quickly become covered in ticks and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, which doesn’t sound entirely pleasant! Luckily, help is at hand in the form of winged wonders known as oxpeckers. Oxpeckers are known to hitch a ride on the backs of a range of iconic species including hippos, buffalos, giraffe and various antelopes, gorging themselves on ticks, botfly larvae and other parasites – the mammals get cleaned, and the birds get fed, and so this has often been classified as a mutualistic relationship. However, more recent studies have shown that oxpeckers often pick at scabs and cuts to keep them open to get more food, subjecting the wounds to possible infection and potentially harming the host mammal, making this symbiotic relationship more of a parasitic one.

 

Helpful houseguests

Acropora formosa image

Reef-building corals rely on tiny blue-green algae to survive

Reef-building corals provide homes for single-celled blue-green algae known as zooxanthellae, and in return these microscopic plants provide energy-containing compounds for the coral through the process of photosynthesis. The coral uses these vital compounds to build its calcium carbonate skeleton. In a way, these tiny blue-green algae are like live-in coral chefs…and they even clean up after themselves by removing any waste products! Brilliant!

 

Nature’s six-legged gardeners

Leaf-cutter ant image

Leaf-cutter ants tend to their fungus garden by creating ‘mulch’ from leaf fragments

Leaf-cutter ants are known as nature’s gardeners, as they spend their time foraging for leaves and cutting them into suitably sized fragments before transporting them back to their huge underground nests where the leaves are used to cultivate a fungus garden. While the ant colony is entirely dependent upon this fungus supply for food and so greatly benefits from this situation, the fungus benefits by being cultivated by the ants but also loses out by being eaten, and so this relationship could be classified as a more commensalistic one.

Did you know?

Most of us think of the US in relation to Thanksgiving, but did you know that several other countries observe similar days, too? These include Canada, Puerto Rico and Liberia. Additionally, the city of Leiden in South Holland celebrates the traditional US Thanksgiving Day, making the Netherlands the only non English-speaking country to formally celebrate this particular occasion.

 

Food on the go…

Dugong image

Dugong

Loggerhead turtle image

Loggerhead turtle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leopard shark image

Leopard shark

Giant manta ray image

Giant manta ray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scientists are somewhat divided over whether the relationship that exists between specialised fish known as remoras and a variety of larger ocean species is a mutualistic or commensalistic one. Also known as suckerfish, remoras have a specially adapted first dorsal fin which has been modified into a sucker-like organ. Remoras use this to attach themselves to other marine animals such as sharks, rays, sea turtles and dugongs, feeding on material dropped by the host species while also getting a free ride and protection from potential predators. This seems rather one-sided, but some scientists believe that the remoras may also feed upon certain parasites on the host’s body or gills, therefore providing a great cleaning service to their marine meal providers.

If these beholden bovids, indebted invertebrates and contented chondrichthyans haven’t quenched your thirst for wild Thanksgiving-related information, why not check out last year’s blog, which features a whole host of awesome animals that the first European settlers might have seen upon arriving in North America.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

 

Nov 26

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

 

Sep 26

Populations of some of Europe’s key animals have increased over the past 50 years, according to recent research.

European bison image

The European bison is one of several species which have increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years

Species recovery

Through studying a total of 18 mammal and 19 bird species found across Europe, researchers found that key species, including grey wolves, brown bears and eagles, have increased in number in recent decades. This is welcome news for conservationists, as European animals have not always fared so well over the course of the last few centuries, with habitat loss, pollution and hunting all contributing to the decline of some of the continent’s most charismatic species.

The report, commissioned by conservation group Rewilding Europe, found that all species studied, with the exception of the Iberian lynx, have increased in number since the 1960s. The European bison, Eurasian beaver and white-headed duck were among some of the species whose populations had increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years, while several top predators such as the brown bear have doubled in number. The iconic grey wolf has seen serious losses in the past, but this latest research has shown positive progress in its conservation, with numbers climbing by a promising 30%.

Iberian lynx image

The Iberian lynx was the only animal in the study which was found not to have increased in number

Conservation works

People have this general picture of Europe that we’ve lost all our nature and our wildlife,” said Frans Schepers, Director of Rewilding Europe. “I think what the rest of the world can learn from this is that conservation actually works. If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it actually works.”

The comeback of European wildlife began in the 1950s and 1960s, and although numbers aren’t anywhere near those present in the 1600s and 1700s, conservationists are encouraged by the increasing populations. It is thought that various factors have contributed to the boost in animal numbers, including better legal protection and hunting limits. In addition, more and more people are moving away from the countryside in favour of cities, leaving more space for wildlife.

Successful areas

Analysis of the research, carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife and the European Bird Census Council, found that the south and west of Europe showed the largest comeback for mammals, with the ranges of these species increasing by an average of about 30%. For bird species, average ranges remained stable.

Grey wolf image

The grey wolf, once highly persecuted, has increased by a promising 30%

Concern among farmers

While it is great news for conservationists and for the future of European ecosystems, the recovery of some species, particularly large predators, has raised some issues. With the return of the grey wolf, many farmers, for instance, are concerned for the safety of their livestock.

The report acknowledges the challenges faced by farmers as a result of wildlife increases, and suggests that compensation schemes should be put in place by governments to offset any livestock losses. However, the report also highlights the benefits that rural communities may gain from thriving wildlife, including a boost to local economies as a result of ecotourism.

White-tailed eagle image

The white-tailed eagle was one of the 19 bird species studied

Focussed conservation

The results of this latest research are both encouraging and surprising, as biodiversity on a global scale continues to decline. However, scientists are keen to ensure that conservation efforts continue to build upon the success in Europe, by focussing on positive action and scaling up the conservation movement globally.

There are massive challenges out there globally,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London, “And we have to realise that the threats that Europe creates are not just within our borders, it’s internationally, and that we are having an impact on the 60% decline we’re seeing in low income countries around the world.”

Professor Baillie also highlighted the need to carry on moving forward with European species conservation, saying, “We just have to be aware that into the future there will be increasing pressure for food production and so on within Europe, and for a lot of these species, where we have seen the gains, we might lose them again if we are not careful. So it’s our job to keep our eye on the ball.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Europe’s key animals ‘making a comeback’.

View photos and videos of European species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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