Feb 16

Valentine’s Day has been and gone but we’d like to spread a little more love, so as a thank you for sharing your favourite species with us on Twitter, we are featuring your Top Ten cool and cute critters right here in our blog!

1. Kakapo

Kakapo image

The nocturnal kakapo is the world's biggest parrot species

This feathered fellow was chosen because it is the world’s only flightless parrot, and the male attracts a female with a bellowing ‘boom’! The kakapo, a giant parrot with an owl-like face, is endemic to New Zealand, and sadly there are only thought to be around 127 individuals remaining.

2. Manatee

Manatee image

The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee

The gorgeous and tranquil manatee was chosen for being such a gentle giant! This large sirenian can consume between 10 and 15% of its body weight per day…that’s an awful lot of seagrass!

3. Blue whale

Blue whale image

The blue whale is so big that its heart is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!

Whales are pretty incredible species, and some of you chose the blue whale as an ultimate favourite due to its sheer size; the blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived, being almost as large as a Boeing 737! Yet despite its size, this giant of the oceans feeds mainly on small shrimp-like krill.

4. Tiger

Tiger image

Young tigers are dependent on their mothers for at least 15 months

The majestic tiger was one of the favourites amongst the furred, and with its beautiful markings and powerful build, we can see why! The pattern and distribution of the stunning stripes on a tiger are unique to each animal, making identification of individuals possible. Sadly, poaching remains a threat to this incredible big cat.

5. Orangutan

Orangutan image

Orangutans are the slowest breeding of all mammal species

Orangutan means ‘person of the forest’ in the native languages of Indonesia and Malaysia, a description which certainly fits this enigmatic, human-like species. The long arms of the orangutan may reach up to two metres in length, perfect for giving their conspecifics a great big Valentine’s Day hug! Unfortunately, habitat destruction is a major threat to both species of orangutan.

6. Orca

Orca image

The shapes of an orca's dorsal fin and saddle patch are unique to each individual

The largest member of the dolphin family, the social orca, was chosen as a favourite for being graceful yet powerful. With its striking black and white markings, the intelligent orca, also known as the killer whale, is certainly an impressive animal, and the dorsal fin of a male can reach up to 1.8 metres in height.

7. Penguin

Emperor penguin image

Weighing up to 40 kilograms, the Emperor penguin is the heavyweight of the penguin world

Penguins were another of the most popular species choices, and they certainly are loveable creatures! The emperor penguin in particular shows great dedication to its family; the male will incubate an egg in sub-zero temperatures for several months without feeding. Now that’s true love!

8. Flamingo

Greater flamingo image

The greater flamingo is the most widespread of the flamingo species

The beautiful greater flamingo is instantly recognisable with its beautiful pink colouration, and long neck and legs. The highly social greater flamingo is the largest and palest of the flamingo species, and is known to swim to find food. This iconic bird nests in massive colonies containing more than 20,000 pairs, so no quiet dinner date for two where this species is concerned!

9. Gorilla

Eastern gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years of age

The largest of the living apes, the gorilla was another of your favourite furries. This fascinating species lives in stable, cohesive family groups within tropical forests. With their cute, human-like faces and playful antics, it is hard not to feel engaged with these intelligent creatures.

10. Pangolin

Chinese pangolin image

The Chinese pangolin is terrestrial, but is capable of climbing trees and swimming

And finally, the strangest-looking creature from our top ten: the pangolin! Despite not being closely related to anteaters, the curious pangolin is sometimes known as the scaly anteater as it is highly specialised in feeding solely on ants and termites. I wouldn’t consider this to be a particularly delicious Valentine’s Day meal, but am sure the pangolin would beg to differ!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 9

Unique biological abilities captured the heart of Rebecca Goatman last week, will this week’s ARKive team member favour evolutionary aptitude over adorableness?

Helen Roddis – ARKive species text author

Favourite species: Emperor penguin

Why? I’ve had an obsession with penguins since I was little – at one point I could count more than 30 items of penguin-related paraphernalia in my room as I was growing up! My admiration for the penguin stems from the sheer amount of grit and determination it demonstrates – this steely bird breeds during the Antarctic’s harsh winter, when temperatures drop as low as -60°C and wind speeds reach up to 200 kilometres per hour. The male penguin is responsible for the incubation of the egg while the female feeds at sea, and so to survive the Antarctic’s extreme conditions, thousands of males will huddle together for protection against the cold. Amazingly, penguins in these huge formations are able to coordinate their movements to give all members of the huddle a chance to warm up!

Favourite image: 

Emperor penguin image

Adult and chick emperor penguins sleeping

The emperor penguin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. The large population size and wide range, it is not considered under threat. Global warming poses a future threat due to the reduction of sea ice, an important breeding ground for the emperor penguin. Increasing tourism and the disturbance it causes could also have a negative effect on this highly unique bird species.

See more emperor penguin photos and videos.

Get involved

 

What’s your favourite species? Spread the love for species this Valentine’s Day by tweeting about your favourite awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

 

Jan 1

It’s that time of year again, the turkey supply has been exhausted, the sales have been ransacked and the festive celebrations are nearly over! But fear not, we are here to inspire some New Year cheer and get you in the mood to tackle 2012 head on, starting with planning those New Year’s resolutions!

Photo of American black bear scratching head

In need of some help with your New Year's resolutions?

 

Work on that waistline

After all the overindulgence of the festive period, one of the most popular resolutions has got to be to lose a little weight. This can be hard to master on cold winter nights, so we suggest you look to the dedicated emperor penguin for a little guidance. Emperor penguins are the only bird species to brave the bitter Antarctic winter, with males enduring the constant darkness of the winter months in order to incubate their egg.

Photo of emperor penguin adult and chick walking along ice

Emperor penguin males lose up to 50% of their body weight while incubating their egg

This often results in the males losing as much as half of their body weight – more through necessity than choice, but still a stunning example of how hard work and endurance pay off!

Get fighting fit

If dieting is not your thing, why not knock lethargy on its head this New Year and get fit. Take a leaf out of the spinner dolphin’s book, this acrobatic mammal can be seen leaping from the water and spinning through the air in tropical seas worldwide. If spinning isn’t your idea of a good time, why not try your hand at some of the other activities enjoyed by our animal assembly including sprinting, long distance running, diving or boxing?

Photo of spinner dolphin leaping and spinning

Spinner dolphins are certainly not lacking in energy!

 

Break down your language barrier

¿Por qué no aprender un nuevo idioma? Or for those not familiar with Spanish – why not learn a new language? This is a resolution that I think would be endorsed by the Albert’s lyrebird, who has a spectacular array of sounds in its arsenal, developed due to the awesome ability to accurately mimic other species.

Photo of Albert's lyrebird male displaying and calling

Why not learn a new language?

 

Looking for love?

If the festive spirit has left you feeling romantic then why not look for love in 2012, but do spare a thought for the animals that put their life on the line to do the same. Male ladybird spiders have to tread carefully when approaching the burrow of a prospective female in order to correctly pluck the trip wires surrounding the burrow entrance. One wrong move and the female may mistake him for her next meal!

Photo of male and female ladybird spiders with egg sac

The male ladybird spider (right) has to be careful not to end up as dinner!

 

Give a helping hand

As social beings we tend to gain satisfaction from helping others, whether by volunteering our time or donating our resources. In biological terms this is known as a mutualistic relationship and there are plenty of examples of this in nature. The fanged pitcher plant has a mutualistic relationship with a particular species of ant which forms nests in the hollow tendrils of the plant. The ant is able to traverse the inner walls of the pitcher plant without falling in and being digested by the plant and is even able to safely hunt in the pitcher fluid.

Close up photo of a pitcher of the fanged pitcher plant

The fanged pitcher plant happily houses ants in return for a favour

In return the ant removes large prey items from the pitcher fluid. If left they would begin to decay before they were digested, which could be detrimental to the pitcher plant – win win I’d say!

Out with the old and in with the new!

What better time of year to embark on a spring clean; delve through those drawers and finally get to the back of that wardrobe. Everyone feels better after a good tidy up and it seems that this is not restricted to just us humans, the Vogelkop bowerbird also likes to maintain a tidy living space. The males pay meticulous attention to the position of each of the decorations within their conical bower, as after all, no self-respecting female bowerbird is going to choose a male with an unkempt bower.

Photo of male Vogelkop bowerbird in bower arranging ornaments

The male Vogelkop bowerbird likes to keep his bower neat and tidy

 

Got itchy feet?

The world is a fascinating place with scores of spectacular sights to see, meaning travel is an increasingly popular aspiration. There are many epic journeys occurring in the animal kingdom annually, and it’s not only birds and mammals that migrate. The monarch butterfly makes one of the largest invertebrate migrations, covering distances as great as 3,000 miles to their wintering grounds.

Photo of large numbers of monarch butterflies in flight

Monarch butterflies undertake massive annual migrations - where will you go?

This doesn’t mean you have to travel hundreds of miles to discover something new of course. Why not uncover some hidden treasures closer to home, see what can be found near you using Search by Geography.

 

Good luck with any resolutions made, from all here at ARKive we wish you a very Happy New Year!

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Dec 19

Dr Elizabeth WhiteIf you enjoyed Frozen Planet as much as we have here at ARKive, you’ll be pleased to hear that the series will be returning to our screens in the form of a Christmas Special, due to air in the UK on the 28 December. With some of our favourite species from the show making an appearance again, including stone-stealing Adélie penguins and adorable polar bear cubs, it looks like this special is not to be missed! Of course, being such huge fans, the team here jumped at the chance to chat to Elizabeth White who worked on the series.

Elizabeth has a degree in Zoology and a PhD in animal behaviour. She has worked for the BBC Natural History Unit for 8 years and was one of the Directors on the Frozen Planet series, specialising in filming marine, people and climate change stories.

ARKive talks to Elizabeth White:

Q: What was your role on the BBC’s Frozen Planet series?

I was Assistant Producer for ‘The Last Frontier’ and ‘On Thin Ice’, and a Director on a variety of sequences across the rest of the series. The Producer’s role is to shape the film – deciding what stories to cover, looking into logistics, budgets and planning and writing the narrative, and as Assistant Producer, you support all of that.  Directing is the fun, in the field bit!  Because of my background, which includes SCUBA diving and underwater filming, I worked on many of the marine stories – from the ice whales to killer whales, and under and around the ice in Russia and Antarctica – and also the ‘people’ films, working with many of the Inuit and Inupiat communities to tell their stories of traditional knowledge and climate change.

Beluga whale photo

Whales such as this beluga, along with bowheads and narwhal, are commonly called ice whales because their lives are intimately linked to the coming and going of the Arctic sea ice

Q: It must be hard to pick just one, but do you have a highlight from your time spent filming?

The Antarctic Peninsula was my absolute favourite place I visited during the making of the series. I went twice, onboard a small yacht called the Golden Fleece, skippered by a veteran Antarctic sailor called Jerome Poncet who has spent 40 years in the region.  The scenery there is absolutely breathtaking, waking up to icebergs, penguins, whales and giant mountain ranges every day was just fantastic. On the second trip we filmed killer whales, and just being around them day by day – and never knowing what to expect next – was absolutely the best adventure I could ever imagine.

Antarctic Peninsula photo

The scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula is absolutely breathtaking

 
Q: And how about any scary moments? There must have been a few!

Not too many… I had a few nights camping in the Arctic imagining the sound of polar bears crunching around my tent!  But the scariest moment for me was almost being mowed down by a cruise ship when we were coming back from Antarctica.  We were miles from anywhere on the convergence, in thick fog with this large dot on the radar coming straight for us. We changed course over and over to avoid it, but it just kept coming towards us. It was like something from a horror film as it got closer and closer on the radar and we turned and turned and held our breath waiting to see where it appeared from and then… suddenly from the gloom came the giant ship’s bow with lots of passengers looking over!  Apparently they thought we were an iceberg and came to have a look at us, but it left all of us feeling somewhat shaken!

Polar bear photo

Is that a polar bear I hear outside?

Q: What was it like being one of the only women on the team?

There were three female directors on the team, but on location it was usual to be the only female – most of our cameramen are male, most of the scientists are male and certainly the Inuit and Inupiat hunters are male. Most of the time it makes no difference at all, but there are odd moments when the differences do show up – for example when you are out on the flat, featureless sea ice and need to take a pee!  You learn not to be too ‘girlie’ – there are definitely no hair dryers when you’re camping in the Arctic and you have to accept weeks without showers. But the experiences make the ‘rough times’ insignificant. Bear in mind that 30 years ago few women got the chance to go to Antarctica, so I count myself lucky to be born at a time where women can do jobs like these.

Arctic photo

There are no home comforts when camping in the Arctic, but the experiences make everything worthwhile

Q: How was it working with the local people?
 
I worked a lot with Inuit and Inupiat people in Canada and Alaska. They are fascinating societies – challenging to work with at times – but I was lucky to meet some very interesting people and experience a lot of their culture. Visiting a real igloo was a highlight for me, and in Barrow Alaska they let me take part in their ‘blanket toss’ ceremony, bouncing me up into the air on the top of a walrus-skin trampoline – a fun but slightly adrenaline-pumping experience!  Some of these cultures are quite misunderstood – many still hunt marine mammals which makes them wary of Westerners who may interfere with their culture. A lot of my job was building trust prior to filming, but once they realised we were not out to attack them, they were usually delighted to share with us the beauty of their environment which they understand better than anyone.

Elizabeth White with friends

Q: The final episode of the series focuses on the changing environment in the polar regions, what’s your take on the impact that climate change is having?
 
It’s an unequivocal fact that the polar regions are changing – we have the satellite record, images of glacier retreat, long-term animal population studies and oral histories which clearly show the differences between now and 30, 50, 100 years ago. In many places the animals are adapting – we visited penguin colonies on the Peninsula which were once Adelies that are now crammed with gentoos, saw fur seals far further south than would have been common before.  Of course not all places are changing at the same rate – the Inuit we worked with in Canada talked about ‘unpredictability’ of their weather and their ice, whereas in Alaska the ice now is consistently thinner, earlier to melt and contains less ‘multiyear ice’ than it did 30 years ago.  The question is going to be about adaptation – how far can certain species go before they are pushed to the brink – and the impact these changes will have on the rest of the planet. 

Adélie penguin photo

The question is, how far can species adapt to their changing environment?

Gentoo penguin photo

Gentoo penguins are now found in colonies traditionally populated by Adélies

 

Q:  And finally, do you have a favourite species from the series?

That’s tricky! I fell in love with a polar bear the first time I saw one and penguins will always have a massive place in my heart. But I guess I would have to say killer whales – mainly because they are so smart, and so little understood, and because, on our film trips, we were contributing towards scientific understanding of them – an exciting thing for a former biologist like myself!  Behavioural and genetic evidence shows there are many different ‘ecotypes’ – potentially different species – of killer whales.  We observed 3 of these different types in Antarctica and, working together with scientists, filmed behaviours which will help contribute towards a better understanding of them. That’s pretty exciting.

Orca photo

The team filmed some incredible killer whale behaviour

If you’ve been inspired to learn more about our polar regions, don’t forget the check out ARKive’s Arctic and Antarctic eco-region pages to find out more about the species found in these extreme environments.

You can also check out the BBC’s Frozen Planet pages for more information about the series, including clips, episode guides and more behind the scenes stories from Elizabeth and her fellow team members.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 2

The all-penguin cast of Happy Feet return to the big screen today here in the UK for more frozen frolics and icy escapades. This time round there are some new crew members on board including two Antarctic krill desperate to climb the food chain, a huge southern elephant seal called Bryan the beachmaster and a lovesick Adelie penguin.

The story is based around a colony of emperor penguins, with the main character Mumble, an expert dancer, attempting to teach his dance-phobic son, Erik, to dance. Erik runs away with his friend Ramon, a love-obsessed Adelie penguin. On their action-packed adventure, they meet a ‘penguin who can fly’, a character that looks suspiciously like a puffin! While away from home, catastrophe ensues, with all species having to pitch in to save themselves from starvation.

We’ve had a skate around the ARKive collection to discover some more about the new faces in Happy Feet Two.

Southern elephant seal image

The big, scary looking southern elephant seal is an ally to the penguins in Happy Feet Two

  • The southern elephant seal has the largest difference between sexes of all mammals; the male can weigh eight to ten times more than the female.
  • The extension of the nose is called a proboscis and is used for vocalising.
  • It has been known to dive for over 2,000 metres and spend 2 hours underwater before resurfacing for air.
  • The southern elephant seal was hunted for oil in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Adelie penguin image

Real life Ramon the Adelie penguin

  • Named after the wife of the French Antarctic explorer Dumont d’Urville.
  • The white underside and black back of the penguin is used to camouflage it while swimming, making it less obvious for predators to spot.
  • An Adelie penguin will return to its site of birth to breed.
  • This species can dive up to 175 metres for food and can reach speeds of 15 kilometres per hour underwater.
Emperor penguin image

Real life Mumbo and Erik

  • Emperor penguins can reach up to a metre in height.
  • The male incubates the egg laid by the female in a pouch of loose, feathery skin in between its legs.
  • The real-life penguin huddle can contain around 5,000 emperor penguins.
  • The emperor penguin can dive up to 200 metres below sea level and resurface for air up to 9 minutes after diving.
Puffin image

Sven from Happy Feet Two must have got very lost as the range of the puffin only extends as far south as the Canary Islands

  • In winter, the colour is lost from the bill in adults, returning in the summer.
  • Puffins are able to dive beneath the surface of the water to hunt for prey.
  • Spending most of their lives at sea, puffins only return to land to breed.
  • The white puffin, a subspecies of puffin, is extremely rare.
Antarctic krill image

Will and Bill the Antarctic krill may be hard to spot amongst the 100 to 500 million tonnes of them present in the sea

  • As a ‘keystone species’, the Antarctic krill is the main prey for a huge amount of predators and plays a vital part in the food chain.
  • Swarms of krill, spanning over 100 kilometres are formed by tidal movements.
  • The female lays several thousand eggs.
  • It has the ability to shrink its body size when food is scarce by using its own tissue for energy, or stopping itself from developing.

Find out more about the habitat of all of these species and more on ARKive’s Antarctic ecoregions page.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

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