Nov 5

Each year in the UK, the 5th November marks Fireworks Night, an annual commemoration of Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Across the country tonight you can expect to see sparklers, blazing bonfires and spectacular fireworks. Of course, it’s not just us humans who enjoy a dazzling display. They might not be quite as explosive, but the natural world has some fantastic fireworks of its very own…..

Fountains of feathers

Male birds are some of the biggest show-offs in the animal kingdom, and their extravagant feathers can be the key to a female’s heart. We thought we would kick off our display with some of the most flamboyant, including the Atlantic royal flycatcher, the raggiana bird of paradise and an unusual albino Indian peafowl….

Atlantic royal flycatcher photoRaggiana bird of paradise photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indian peafowl photo

Fancy Flowers

For some explosions of colour, what better place to look than the world of plants? Our top picks are the pretty ribbon pincushion and the aptly named fire bush!

Ribbon pincushion photo

Fire bush photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater wonders

The marine world is full of incredible species, and the jewel anemone and purple sea urchin are certainly as beautiful as any firework. Lets hear an oooooh and an ahhhhh for the lovely lionfish too!

 Jewel anemone photoPurple sea urchin photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common lionfish photo

 

Pinwheels and rockets

No display would be complete without some spectacular rockets, and we don’t think they come much brighter than the golden rocket frog! For good measure we have thrown in an impressive pinwheel too, the Dlinza pinwheel to be precise!

Golden rocket frog photoDlinza pinwheel photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A creature from the flames…

Most of us know to check our bonfires for hibernating hedgehogs before lighting them, but I bet not many of you have thought to look for salamanders before. It is believed that the common fire salamander is so-called as it often hides in damp logs, and would be forced to emerge when the wood was used in fires, giving the impression that it had crawled out of the flames!

Common fire salamander photo

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Oct 28

Species: Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii)

Queen of the Andes  (Puya raimondii) photo

Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Queen of the Andes may take as long as 80 to 150 years to flower and will only flower once before dying.

The Queen of the Andes is best known for its spectacular flower spike, which can reach up to 10 metres high. These spikes bear over 8,000 whitish-green blooms, which turn purple with age. The Queen of the Andes is a monocarpic species, meaning that it will die after flowering for the first time. These plants produce as many as 8 to 12 million seeds, but if conditions are not suitable few seeds will survive to germination. This means that a plant that is more than a century old may never actually reproduce successfully. The Queen of the Andes grows in the harsh, high-altitude environment of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. This highly adapted species produces an anti-freeze chemical in its sap to survive freezing temperatures.

Today, the Queen of the Andes has an extremely fragmented distribution. Vegetation destruction, grazing by livestock, fires, and the introduction of exotic species all threaten this species. The Andean region is regarded as a priority for plant conservation, meaning action is urgently required to preserve this unique ecosystem and its important vegetation.

Find out more about the Queen of the Andes on the IUCN Red List website.

See images and videos of the Queen of the Andes on ARKive.

Oct 17

A worrying 83% of Madagascar’s palm species are threatened with extinction, according to an assessment carried out by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Palm Specialist Group as part of the latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Ravenea delicatula image

Ravenea delicatula in flower

Endangered endemics

Drawing on research by experts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this latest study is part of an ongoing project to assess the conservation status of all palms worldwide. It has helped bring the total number of plant, animal and fungus species assessed on the IUCN Red List to an impressive 65,581, of which 20,219 are threatened with extinction.

All 192 palm species found on Madagascar are endemic to the island, meaning that they are found nowhere else on Earth. These plants form an integral part of Madagascar’s biodiversity, yet they are at risk from habitat loss and palm heart harvesting.

The majority of Madagascar’s palms grow in the island’s eastern rainforests, which have already been reduced to less than one quarter of their original size and which continue to disappear,” said Dr William Baker, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Palm Specialist Group and Head of Palm Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “The high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s palms reflects the decline in these forests, which threatens all of the remarkable wildlife that occurs there.”

Dimaka image

The dimaka is also known as the suicide palm

The importance of palms

While the species that form Madagascar’s unique wildlife face the severe impacts of the reduction in palm forests, so too do many of the country’s poorest communities, which rely on palm species to provide materials for the construction of houses, as well as food in the form of edible palm hearts.

The figures on Madagascar’s palms are truly terrifying, especially as the loss of palms impacts both the unique biodiversity of the island and its people,” said Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “This situation cannot be ignored.”

Dimaka leaf image

Dimaka leaf

Palm problems

Madagascar’s palm species face several threats, including land clearance for agriculture and logging. One such Critically Endangered species is Ravenea delicatula, known from just one site on the island. Worryingly, this site is not protected, and Ravenea delicatula is under threat from local people clearing areas of forest to cultivate hill rice, as well as from mining activities launched in search of gems and minerals.

The dimaka (Tahina spectabilis), also known as the suicide palm, is a species large enough to be viewed on Google Earth, growing to a spectacular height of up to 18 metres. Within months of flowering and producing seeds, the palm dies. With only 30 mature individuals left in the wild and with much of its habitat being converted to agricultural lands, this species has been classified as Critically Endangered.

Seed collection poses an additional risk to many palm species, including Dypsis tokoravina, classified as Critically Endangered, and the majestic palm (Ravenea rivularis), whose status has changed from Vulnerable to Endangered due to the ongoing harvest of its seeds despite strict trade regulations.

Urgent action

A prime example of why conservation action must be taken sooner rather than later is the palm Dypsis brittania. This species is only found in Makira Natural Park, which provides a certain level of protection. However, the reserve was only recently established, and with no Dypsis brittania plants found during a survey carried out in 2007, there are fears that this species may already have been lost as a result of habitat degradation.

Majestic palm image

Majestic palm

Direct action on the ground

As a result of this assessment of Madagascar’s palms, conservationists now have a firm basis on which to establish direct conservation action on the ground.

The key to saving Madagascar’s palms, and its biodiversity in general, is strongly dependent on the closest possible collaboration with local communities – especially in this period of severe political instability during which government agencies are working well below standard. Unfortunately this extremely high degree of threat in Madagascar is not unique to palms,” said Dr Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has initiated several conservation projects based around community involvement in well-managed seed harvesting and habitat protection. Assisted by Madagascar’s national seed bank, one particular project aimed at protecting the suicide palm sells sustainably harvested seeds through a commercial palm seed merchant, with the money flowing back to the local people who use it to renovate buildings and to grow food more productively.

Wide-scale efforts

While these targeted projects are important in the survival of specific species, IUCN warns that wide-scale efforts are needed to truly secure the future of Madagascar’s palms.

While some species of palm may respond to focused species conservation action, securing the future for Madagascar’s palms requires wide-scale efforts,” said Dr Smart. “Madagascar has made great progress to preserve its unique wildlife by conserving 10% of the island in protected areas. But a game-changing conservation effort is needed to protect the remaining habitat and create more protected areas.”

Read more on this story at IUCN – Madagascar’s palms near extinction.

Learn more about species found in Madagascar on ARKive.

Find out more about palm species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Oct 8
Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica) photo

Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

Species: Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

Status:  Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The coco-de-mer has some of the longest leaves and the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world.

The coco-de-mer is a palm tree endemic to the Seychelles. Unlike other Seychelles palms, the coco-de-mer is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Coco-de-mer palms start producing fruit after 25 years, and these fruits take 7 years to develop. The seeds can weigh up to an enormous 30kg, and give this species its name: seeing the seeds washed up on deserted beaches or riding the waves, sailors named them ‘coconuts of the sea’ as they appeared to come from a mysterious plant in the ocean.

This palm has been lost from the wild from three Seychelles islands within its former range. The collection and trade of coco-de-mer seeds has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations. Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations. The Seychelles is a World Heritage Site, giving protection to much of the coco-de-mer’s habitat. The trade in these seeds is now controlled by the Coco-de-mer (Management) Decree of 1995. The continued protection of populations and enforcement of regulations is important to secure the future of the magnificent coco-de-mer.

Find out more about the coco-de-mer on the  Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) website.

See images and videos of the coco-de-mer on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Jun 1
Parana pine  (Araucaria angustifolia)

Parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia)

Species: Parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Parana pine is one of Brazil’s rarest trees.

Historically a widespread species, the Parana pine is now only found in about 3% of its former range. Today relic populations of this species can be found in areas of Brazil,Argentina and Paraguay. The Parana pine is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. This species is wind pollinated, and two years after pollination, large cones containing the seeds develop in the upper branches of mature trees. The seeds produced by this majestic tree are an important food source for a wide variety of animals, including birds and small rodents as well as local human populations, who have been exploiting them for centuries.

The Parana pine suffered from intensive, unsustainable logging throughout the 20th century as its high quality wood was exploited for the timber trade. Its fruit and seeds were also heavily exploited. Amongst the remaining population, there is a significant lack of fruiting trees, and so the reproduction potential of this species is low. Sale of this species was banned in 2001, and a number protected areas have been established where remaining populations of this species is found.

See more information about the Parana pine on the Gymnosperm Database website

View photos of the Parana pine on ARKive.

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