Apr 20

With Easter just a hop, skip and a jump away, we thought we’d crack into the ARKive coll-egg-tion and have a scramble around to eggs-tract some egg-citing eggs to eggs-hibit in our blog. Along the way, we’ve also learned about the eggs-istence of some rather eggs-centric egg-laying and guarding habits, and we hope you’re as eggs-tatic about our finds as we are!

Gooseberry fool?

Peacock butterfly egg image

Peacock butterfly eggs look a lot like gooseberries!

While you might be forgiven for being fooled into thinking that these green globules are plump and juicy gooseberries, they are, in fact, peacock butterfly eggs. The eggs of this species are laid in groups under nettles, usually in May, and hatch two weeks later.

Sunny-side up? Over-easy? Well-done?

Emu egg image

Emu eggs come in various shades of greenish-black

However you like your eggs, there’s no denying that these ones look as though they’ve been char-grilled in their shells! But fear not, these emu eggs are supposed to look like this; they come in various shades of greenish-black and are the size of a small grapefruit. The male emu is an eggs-traordinary guardian, taking sole responsibility for incubating the eggs over the course of two months while the female wanders off to potentially find another mate, and protecting the chicks against predators for several months once they’ve hatched.

100 kids and counting…

Green turtle egg image

Green turtles can lay an impressive number of eggs per nesting season

In the UK, having more than about four siblings would constitute being part of a pretty large and impressive family, but in the world of marine turtles, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Female green turtles produce between 100 and 150 ping-pong-ball-like eggs per clutch, and can lay up to nine separate clutches per breeding season. While this may seem rather a lot, marine turtles don’t guard their nests or look after their young, and with the threat of land- and ocean-dwelling predators, the survival rate of hatchlings is very low.

High-flying hunger games…

Bald eagle egg image

Bald eagle nests are some of the largest of any bird species

Bald eagle nests, made with sticks and lined with moss, grass, seaweed and other vegetation, are some of the largest of any bird species, sometimes reaching several metres in width. These enormous nests presumably provide a comfy and snug environment for the eggs during the 35-day incubation period, yet things can soon turn ugly. By being bigger and louder, the first-born chick is often afforded more parental attention and food, and will even occasionally kill its younger siblings.

Treasures of the deep

California horn shark egg image

Shark eggs, such as this California horn shark egg, are often referred to as ‘mermaid’s purses’

A mermaid’s purse might well sound like something a sea-dwelling siren would keep her money and credit cards in, but a pilfering pickpocket could get a nasty surprise if they were to try to purloin this particular purse as it is actually a shark egg-case! Mermaid’s purses vary greatly in shape, size and colour, depending on the shark species in question.

Eggs-panding eggs

 

Common frog egg image

Common frog eggs are coated in a jelly-like substance

Frog egg masses, often referred to as frogspawn, tend to look rather like a gruesome collection of eyeballs. The female common frog releases between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs at a time, which are covered in a jelly-like coating. This coating expands when it comes into contact with water, providing protection for the tadpoles growing within.

Egg pasta

 

Sea lemon egg image

Pasta del mar – sea lemons produce somewhat pasta-like egg masses

What may look like a delectable strand of abandoned tagliatelle cast into the depths of the ocean is, in actual fact, a mass of sea lemon eggs. A common sea slug around Britain’s shores, the sea lemon produces thousands of eggs at a time which form a long, coiled, ribbon-like mass. These egg masses are produced in the spring and are attached to rocks, so if you take an Easter weekend dip in the sea and find such a structure, we would advise leaving it well alone and not adding it to your carbonara!

Ha-bee Easter!

 

Honey bee egg image

Honey bee egg

A supplier of sugary goodness and a harbinger of spring to many, the honey bee lays its eggs from March to October. Honey bee colonies have a complex structure, formed of the queen, workers and drones, all of which serve different functions. Worker bees have a variety of roles within the colony, with some being tasked with feeding the developing larvae which emerge from the eggs around three days after they are laid.

Eggshellent parenting

 

King penguin egg image

King penguins incubate their egg on their feet

King penguins appear to take parenting very seriously, with each pair keeping a close eye on their precious egg. Incubation is shared by the male and female and is split into two- or three-week cycles, and parental duties remain shared once the chick has hatched. It’s a good job that king penguins don’t let their eggs out of their sight, otherwise they may not believe the chick belonged to them…the chick looks so different to the adult that they were first described as two completely different species!

Eggs-treme monotreme

Short-beaked echidna egg

A short-beaked echidna egg

While the majority of mammals give birth to live young, there are some eggs-treme mammalian species that lay eggs! These eggs-tra special critters are known as monotremes, and the short-beaked echidna is one of them. The echidna’s leathery egg is laid into a pouch on the female’s abdomen, where it is incubated for about ten days before it hatches. The young echidna, or ‘puggle’, remains there until it is 45 to 55 days old.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these eggs-amples of awesome eggs, and that you all have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Jan 30

A 27-year study has shown that the negative effects of climate change are increasing the mortality rates of Magellanic penguin chicks in Argentina.

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: The Magellanic penguin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List

The Earth’s changing climate has increased the frequency of extreme weather events around the world, such as droughts, storms, abnormally high or low temperatures and wildfires, which have led to the decline of many flora and fauna species, including the Magellanic penguin.

A recent study, published in the online journal PLOSone, followed 3,496 Magellanic penguin chicks in Punta Tombo, Argentina, between 1983 and 2010. In this area, there has been an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, which were found to be increasing the mortality rate of young Magellanic penguins. Professor Dee Boersma, who led the research, said, “It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success.”

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: Extreme weather means adult Magellanic penguins are less able to hunt and therefore cannot feed their chicks

Extreme weather patterns can cause mortality, as the chicks can contract hypothermia. When Magellanic penguins are young their down is not waterproof, and if it gets wet an individual cannot control its body temperature. At times when temperatures are much higher than usual, some chicks may contract hyperthermia, which is also fatal. Indirectly, climate change is increasing chick mortality through starvation, as altered fish behaviour decreases hunting success for the adult penguins, which are then unable to feed their chicks.

It is estimated that the negative effects of global warming were responsible for around 7% of Magellanic penguin chick mortalities over the period of the study, while 40% were due to starvation. The authors of the report, Professors Dee Boersma and Ginger Rebstock said, “Climate variability in the form of increased rainfall and temperature extremes, however, has increased in the last 50 years and kills many chicks in some years.”

Caption: Starvation was the main cause of chick mortality in the study

The study also found that adults start laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded, which decreases the amount of time the young have to develop before the main storm season begins in November. Professor Ginger Rebstock said, “We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season, as climatologists predict.”

Magellanic penguin image

Magellanic penguins are laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded

As well as climate change, it is also thought that several other factors have contributed to the decline of the Magellanic penguin, including oil spills, water pollution, reduced prey availability from overfishing, being caught as bycatch and disturbance from tourists.

The study also suggests that the negative effects of climate change in the region were affecting other Argentinean species. Populations of other penguin species around the world, such as the Adélie penguin, are also in decline due to decreasing sea-ice and other issues relating to altered weather patterns.

The Adélie penguin is also suffering from the negative effects of climate change

Read more about this story BBC News – Climate change is ‘killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks’

Read the journal at PLOSone – Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

View photos and videos of the Magellanic penguin on ARKive

Read more about the penguin conservation project at the Zoological Society of London

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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!

 

Jun 14

As their name suggests, seabirds are birds which live in a marine environment. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all show a range of adaptations to their ocean-going lifestyle.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, which took place on 8th June, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the fascinating birds which make the oceans their home.

Colourful clowns

Photo of puffin pair greeting

Like many seabirds, the colourful puffin spends most of its life at sea, only returning to land once a year to breed. This much-loved, rather comical bird only develops the distinctive colours on its beak during the breeding season. It typically nests in large colonies on offshore islands or on inaccessible cliffs with grass slopes, excavating a burrow into which it lays a single egg.

Masters of the air

Photo of male great frigatebird displaying

With the largest wing area to body mass ratio of any bird, the great frigatebird is wonderfully adapted to an aerial lifestyle, and is able to soar almost effortlessly above the ocean for long periods. This species lacks waterproof plumage and doesn’t spend time on water, instead taking food from just above or on the surface of the sea, or pirating it from other birds in the air. The male great frigatebird has a distinctive appearance, with a conspicuous red pouch on the throat which is inflated like a balloon during courtship.

Supreme opportunists

Photo of herring gull yawning whilst standing on cliff edge

The quintessential ‘seagull’, the herring gull is one of the most familiar seabirds in the northern hemisphere. Like many gulls, this species is a supreme opportunist and scavenger, able to take advantage of almost any available food source. While at sea, herring gulls quickly gather at areas of high food abundance, including around boats. This versatile species can also live inland, and even commonly nests on buildings in cities.

Dramatic divers

Photo of gannet preening partner

With a wingspan of nearly two metres, the gannet is the largest seabird in the North Atlantic. This species is known for its breathtaking dives, in which it plunges into the ocean, often from considerable heights, before catching its fish prey underwater. The gannet shows a number of adaptations that allow it to survive hitting the water at speed, including nostrils which open inside the mouth to prevent water entering them, and air sacs in the face and chest to cushion the impact.

Ocean wanderers

Photo of wandering albatross display

The wandering albatross has the largest recorded wingspan of any living bird, reaching a massive 3.5 metres across. These impressive wings allow it to glide effortlessly across the ocean, and the wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, often travelling huge distances around the southern oceans. This long-lived species does not start breeding until it reaches 9 to 11 years old, and pairs mate for life.

Terrific tubenoses

Photo of European storm-petrel feeding

A tiny seabird barely larger than a sparrow, the European storm-petrel is superbly adapted to life at sea. Like other storm-petrels, it belongs to a group of seabirds known as ‘tubenoses’ due to their conspicuous, tubular nasal passages, which give them an excellent sense of smell and help them to find patchily distributed prey at sea. Its small, hooked beak enables it to grasp its slippery prey, while a gland in the nose is used to expel excess salt from drinking seawater. The European storm-petrel mainly hunts on the wing, dipping its beak into the water while pattering its feet along the surface.

Cliff-nesting auks

Photo of guillemots at nest on rocky ledge with egg

The guillemot is a member of the auk family, a group of seabirds which have been described as the northern hemisphere equivalent of penguins. Unlike penguins, these birds can fly, as well as being excellent swimmers and divers. The guillemot nests on cliff ledges, and its eggs are conical in shape to prevent them rolling off. When the young guillemot leaves the nest it has to take a risky plunge into the sea below, accompanied by the adult male, who will then continue to care for it at sea.

Icons of the Antarctic

Photo of Adélie penguins diving off iceberg

Penguins are among the most popular of all seabirds. Found only in the southern hemisphere, these flightless birds are often associated with the Antarctic, although some species actually live as far north as the equator. With wings developed into flippers and legs set far back on the body, penguins are excellent swimmers, and their waterproof, scale-like feathers help to keep them warm and dry. A true Antarctic species, the Adélie penguin is found around the Antarctic continent year-round, and is capable of deep dives to find the krill and fish on which it feeds.

Dancing fools

Photo of blue-footed booby pair in courtship display

A large, comical-looking seabird, the blue-footed booby is instantly recognisable thanks to its bright blue feet. The name ‘booby’ comes from the Spanish word for ‘fool’ or ‘dunce’, referring to the clumsiness of these birds on land. The blue-footed booby usually nests in large colonies and mates for life, with pairs performing an elaborate courtship display which involves alternately lifting each blue foot, pointing the head and beak skywards and spreading the wings.

Super seaducks

Photo of male common eider swimming

Perhaps surprisingly, some duck species spend most of their lives at sea. The largest duck in the northern hemisphere, the common eider breeds on offshore islands, rocky coasts, or pools in tundra, but outside of the breeding season it is found in shallow marine habitats. Traditionally, the down feathers of this species have been used to fill pillows and quilts. The common eider dives underwater to catch crustaceans and molluscs, particularly mussels, which it swallows whole, crushing the shells in its gizzard.

 

Read more about World Oceans Day on the ARKive World Oceans Day blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

View more photos and videos of seabirds on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite seabird? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

 

Apr 25

Every year, April 25th marks World Penguin Day, a chance to celebrate these popular and charismatic birds. These iconic flightless birds range from the large, well-known emperor penguin to the tiny, aptly name little penguin, and all are well adapted to the environments in which they live.

Photo of king penguins allopreening

King penguins

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate all things penguiny by taking a closer look at these fascinating birds.

Icon of the Antarctic

Photo of emperor penguins huddle together during blizzard

Emperor penguins huddling together during a blizzard

At over one metre tall, the emperor penguin is the largest penguin species. One of the most iconic animals of the Antarctic, this hardy bird is well adapted to the cold, with a relatively small head, beak and flippers to reduce heat loss, and layers of tightly packed, scale-like feathers to keep it warm and dry. Like other penguins, it also has a thick layer of fat that acts as insulation and an energy store. Male emperor penguins incubate a single egg throughout the harsh Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to an incredible minus 60ºC. The males balance the eggs on their feet, and huddle together to keep warm.

Coping in the heat

Photo of African penguin colony on beach

African penguins on beach

Although typically associated with cold environments, not all penguins live in the Antarctic. The African penguin breeds in southern Africa, where it has to deal with potentially high temperatures. To protect its nest against the heat, the African penguin often nests in burrows or in the shade of boulders or bushes. The most northerly penguin species is the Galapagos penguin, which is found near the equator.

Super swimmers

Photo of emperor penguins descending to feed

Emperor penguins swimming underwater

All penguins are superb swimmers, with streamlined bodies and flipper-like wings which give them great speed underwater. Penguins can cope with long, deep dives, and some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea. Compared to flying birds, which have light, hollow bones, penguins have heavy, solid bones which aid diving. Legs set far back on the body help penguins to steer underwater, but mean they walk clumsily on land.

Well-dressed water birds

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

Northern rockhopper penguins

Penguins are characterised by their distinctive black and white colour patterns. Known as ‘countershading’, this pattern provides camouflage underwater, helping the penguin to avoid detection by predators and prey. When seen from above, the penguin’s dark back blends in with the dark ocean depths, and when seen from below its white belly blends in with the light from the sky. Penguin species are most easily told apart by the distinctive patterns on their head and neck, and some species even sport quite colourful hairdos!

Sociable breeders

Photo of large king penguin breeding colony

Large breeding colony of king penguins

Penguins often form huge breeding colonies that may number hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs, and the stains left by the droppings of so many birds can sometimes be seen from space. Penguins usually form monogamous pairs in each breeding season. Nesting sites vary between species, and can include sea ice, rock, beaches, or even coastal forest, in the case of the Fiordland crested penguin.

Fishy diet

Photo of Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Penguins use their great swimming ability and speed underwater to catch a variety of fish, squid and crustaceans, including the shrimp-like krill. Amazingly, penguins are able to drink seawater when at sea, as they possess glands which filter excess salt from the blood, excreting it from the nasal passages in a concentrated salty fluid.

Fabulous feet

Close-up photo of adult gentoo penguin feet

Close-up of gentoo penguin feet

Penguins have a series of adaptations which help to reduce heat loss through the feet and prevent the feet from freezing when the bird is standing on ice. As warm blood enters the legs, it flows past cold blood returning from the feet. In this way, the blood entering the feet is cooled, reducing heat loss, and the blood returning to the body is warmed again. Penguins can also reduce blood flow to their feet in freezing conditions, and may tip back on their heels to minimise the area of skin in contact with the ice.

Penguin predators

Leopard seal attacking an Adélie penguin chick

Adélie penguin chick being attacked by leopard seal

On land, penguins generally have few predators, although birds such as the southern skua may take their eggs and chicks, and adult penguins may also be attacked by the northern giant petrel. In the sea, penguins may be attacked by leopard seals and orcas.

Bad feather day

Photo of adult northern rockhopper penguin moulting

Moulting northern rockhopper penguin

Like most birds, penguins moult once a year, replacing worn and damaged feathers to keep their plumage in top condition. However, unlike most other birds, which moult a few feathers at a time, penguins moult all their feathers in one go, as missing just one or two would affect their waterproofing and put them at risk from the cold. Before its annual moult a penguin puts on weight, building up fat reserves which allow it to stay out of the water while it waits for its new feathers to grow. During this time it can take on a decidedly scruffy appearance!

Really quite cool

Photo of gentoo penguin scratching

Gentoo penguin scratching

Penguins are hugely popular birds and commonly appear in films, TV programmes and popular culture, being much loved for their comical appearance and upright, almost human-like walk. They are also hardy survivors, occurring in some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet.

Unfortunately, humans have also had negative impacts on penguin populations, through pollution, overfishing, coastal development and the effects of climate change. The International Penguin Conservation Working Group is helping to promote penguin conservation and to draw attention to the threats facing penguins, and with various research programmes also underway there is hope that these iconic birds can be protected into the future.

Why not join in the World Penguin Day celebrations yourself? You can explore more penguin photos, videos and factfiles on ARKive, or make a penguin mask with our Penguin Diversity education module.

Or, get in touch and let us know which species of penguin is your favourite and why!

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