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.

Aug 7

As a special edition of our monthly ARKive Geographic series, to celebrate the Olympics, we decided to take a look at some of the more unexpected species that can be found around the Olympic park and in the Greater London area.

London is the UK’s largest city, but it is also home to a wide variety of fascinating wildlife. Here’s a sample of just some of the species that have made London their home.

Peregrine falcon

Image of peregrine falcon at the top of a stoop

Famous as the world’s fastest animal, the peregrine falcon underwent serious population declines between the 1940’s and 1970’s. Due to protective legislation and the ban on organochlorine pesticides, the peregrine falcon population has recovered significantly and they have even moved into cities, using the cliff-like ledges that tall buildings provide. London has 18 known pairs nesting on famous landmarks including the Tate Modern and Houses of Parliament.  

European eel

 Image of a European eel

It’s not likely that you’ll catch sight of one of these slippery beasts during the Games, but the European eel will be present nearby in its watery home. This species has undergone a worrying decline across Europe and is now classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN. Numbers of European eels recorded crashed by 98% between 2005 and 2010, but there is still a population hanging on in the Thames. The Thames Estuary was classified as biologically dead in the 1960’s and the European eel was one of the first fish to be recorded in the area once the water quality began to improve.

Short-snouted seahorse

Image of short-snouted seahorse on seabed

Further proof of the rejuvenation of the Thames over the last 50 years is the presence of a more exotic sounding fish. In 2008 the Zoological Society London reported that short-snouted seahorse’s had been recorded several times during routine monitoring of the Thames. One location where this species has been recorded  is near Dagenham in East London – only a few miles east of the Olympic Park.

Stag beetle

Image of male stag beetle on tree trunk

The stag beetle is the UK’s largest and most spectacular beetle. London, particularly the South London boroughs of Lewisham, Croyden and Bromley, is its major stronghold. After spending around 4 years as larvae, munching on rotting wood, adult stag beetles are relatively short-lived surviving only for a matter of months. Male stag beetles wrestle using their large mandibles to decide who gets to mate with the smaller females.

Noctule bat

Noctule bat image

London is home to many species of bat including the noctule bat, one of Europe’s largest bats. The noctule bat is one of the first bats to appear in the evening, occasionally even before the sun sets and can be found in Greenwich Park and Hyde Park, both home to Olympic events this summer.

Red deer

Red deer stag and hind

 The UK’s largest native land animal, the red deer, can also be found in London. A herd can be found in Bushy Park, near the Olympic cycling time-trial event in Hampton Court Palace.

London is home to many more species that the keen-eyed will be sure to spot in London during August. Kingfishers dart along watercourses, water voles inhabit river banks, foxes stalk the streets. If you’re in London this summer and see any interesting species let us know via Twitter, Facebook or post a message in the box below.

 Eleanor Sans, ARKive Media Researcher

Feb 29

Today only comes around once every four years, so I hope that you are making the most of this leap day! To celebrate the leap year, we have sprung into action and hopped around the ARKive collection to find ARKive’s Top Ten Leapers!

California jumping gall wasp  (Neuroterus saltatorius)

The California jumping gall wasp may look like an unpromising contender for the top ten leaping list, however these tiny galls will jump for three days – as shown in this video. The tiny wasp larvae inside the gall flip themselves, although exactly why is not known.

California jumping gall wasp image

Lesser florican  (Sypheotides indicus)

The male lesser florican can leap up to two metres into the air in order to attract females. Helped by an energetic flurry of wing beats, this species may repeat this seductive aerial routine up to 500 times a day!

Male lesser florican display jumping during breeding season

Eastern grey kangaroo  (Macropus giganteus)

Perhaps the most famous of leapers, we couldn’t possibly have left the kangaroo off this top ten list. The eastern grey kangaroo is able to travel at great speeds, using its powerful, enlarged hindquarters for leaping, aided by the long tail, which acts as a balance and rudder.

Male eastern grey kangaroo jumping image

Verreaux’s sifaka  (Propithecus verreauxi)

Verreaux’s sifaka is aptly designed for leaping between tree trunks. When crossing open spaces, this species will descend to the ground and bound along on its hind legs with its arms held out rather like a graceful dancer!

Verreaux's sifaka 'dancing' photo

Brown hare  (Lepus europaeus)

During its famous boxing matches, the ‘mad March hare’ can leap to pretty impressive heights. Boxing bouts between hares occur between an unreceptive female and an overenthusiastic male during the mating season.

Pair of brown hares boxing in spring image

Blackbuck  (Antilope cervicapra)

It can be quite hazardous being a blackbuck, as they are preyed upon a number of species such as wolves and leopards. Luckily, this species has speed on its side and can leap extraordinarily high into the air on seeing a potential predator, before galloping away at up to 80 kilometres an hour.

Female blackbuck leaping image

Common tree frog  (Hyla arborea)

The common tree frog has mastered the ability to eat fast food. It can make long leaps in order to catch fast flying insects, as demonstrated in this multiflash sequence image.

Common tree frog, multiflash jumping sequence

Common field grasshopper  (Chorthippus brunneus)

Ever tried to catch a grasshopper? It’s quite difficult! Grasshoppers, like this common field grasshopper, have a special muscle system in the hind legs which store energy like a catapult. When the grasshopper is disturbed it releases the energy allowing the grasshopper to jump long distances!

Female common field grasshopper image

Himalayan jumping spider  (Euophrys omnisuperstes)

As its name suggests, the Himalayan jumping spider lives high in the Himalayas, and with legs working like pistons it is able to jump up to 30 times its own body length.

Himalayan jumping spider, front view

Smoothtail devil ray  (Mobula thurstoni)

Exceptionally graceful swimmers, rays appear to fly through the water on their large wings. Rays, like the smoothtail devil ray, are also able to leap entirely out of the water, possibly in a form of communication or play.

Smoothtail devil ray leaping out of the water image

 

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

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