Mar 10

Sloths. Who knew these peculiar-looking creatures would capture the hearts of so many people around the world? Slow, sleepy and somewhat strange, sloths may not seem like strong candidates for becoming internet superstars, but it appears that their on-screen snoozing has caused an international sensation!

Meet the sloths

Lucy Cooke – a zoologist and filmmaker with a passion for odd animals – has caused something of a stir with her short video “Meet the Sloths”, which went viral within days of its unveiling on YouTube and Vimeo. Showcasing the charismatic inhabitants of a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, Meet the Sloths has been viewed by over seven million people online, and has even gathered a cohort of famous fans, including Ashton Kutcher, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry. The sleepy sloths proved such a hit that a full length documentary about these captivating creatures recently aired on US and UK television.

Here at ARKive we decided it was about time we embraced the celebrity status of these endearing animals and shared a few of our favourite facts – let’s meet the sloths!

Photo of brown-throated three-toed sloth

Brown-throated three-toed sloth

 

Feeling sleepy?

Named after one of the seven deadly sins, sloths have gained a reputation as one of the laziest animals on the planet, and perhaps rightly so – sloths are known to spend between 15 and 20 hours a day fast asleep! Indeed, because these creatures stay so remarkably still, scientists had to attach electrodes to their heads to work out when they were sleeping.

Slowly does it

Sloths are able to remain completely motionless for hours. In fact, these statuesque species are so good at staying still that algae flourishes in their fur, often giving sloths a distinctive greenish tinge. The green algae help to camouflage the sloths in trees, making them less visible to predators such as eagles.

Photo of maned three-toed sloth

Maned three-toed sloth

 

Just hanging around

All sloths have three toes on their back feet, but the different species can be distinguished by the number of long, curving claws on their front feet: two-toed species have two claws, while three-toed species have three. These tenacious talons are extremely powerful, and are ideally shaped to hook around tree branches. Sloths do almost everything in the trees, including feeding, mating and sleeping, only descending to the ground once a week when nature calls!

Shady behaviour

These unusual animals have around half the body muscle of most other mammals, and are unable to keep warm by shivering. Instead, sloths regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the shade in their treetop retreats. The body temperature of the two-toed sloth is one of the most variable of any mammal, fluctuating between 24 to 33°C depending on the weather and the time of day.

Photo of pale-throated three-toed sloth

Pale-throated three-toed sloth

 

Strange relations

You’d be forgiven for thinking that sloths are related to primates given their arboreal antics, but sloths are actually more closely related to anteaters and armadillos. They all belong to the order Xenarthra, which means ‘strange joints’. Sloths are clearly no exception – they have an extra flexible neck due to additional vertebrae, meaning that they are able to rotate their head an astounding 270 degrees!

Climb, crawl, swim…

Although sloths are fantastic climbers, they have remarkably weak hind legs and can’t stand up straight when they move around on the ground. Instead, sloths use their front claws to dig into the ground and pull themselves along on their stomachs with their strong arms. Despite their poor adaptations to moving around on land, sloths are actually surprisingly good swimmers!

Photo of pygmy three-toed sloth

Pygmy three-toed sloth

 

Love sloths?

Explore more sloth videos on ARKive! And why not share your thoughts, favourite sloth images and most amusing sloth videos on twitter and Facebook, or leave a comment showing your love for sloths on the ARKive blog.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 22

Many of the world’s weird and wonderful species names have been determined by taxonomists but the reasons behind the names vary greatly. Some species names honour a great naturalist or explorer, others are in recognition of a particular individual dedicated to the conservation of a particular species, and some are purley named after someone the taxonomist was rather fond of!

-i’, ‘-ae’ and ‘-orum’

In taxonomy, when a species’ scientific name comes from the name of a person, the suffix ‘-i’ is attached for a male, ‘-ae’ for a female and ‘-orum’ for a couple.

Adélie penguin image

The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) was named by Jules Dumont d'Urville after his wife Adéle

Weddell seal image

The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is named after British sealing captain James Weddell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pere David’s deer

Father (‘Pere’ in French) David, was a Catholic missionary, zoologist and botanist who travelled to China and collected natural history specimens. On his travels he discovered, among many other species, the giant panda and Pere David’s deer, which were previously unknown in Europe. Pere David’s deer was presumably already extinct in the wild; however, Pere David observed the last remaining herd and inspired an unfortunately unsuccessful drive to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Pere David's stag image

Pere David's deer is classified as Extinct in the Wild

Thomas Bewick

Thomas Bewick was an English wood engraver who had an insatiable interest in ornithology. He created masterpieces detailing birds, which were carved onto wood, and then went on to write and illustrate the History of British Birds which was published in the early 1800’s. Bewick’s swan was named after him just after this death in 1828.

Bewick's swan image

Bewick's swan preening

De Brazza

De Brazza was a French explorer who was an early coloniser of the Republic of the Congo. He is remembered by both the species de Brazza’s monkey and the capital city of Congo, Brazzaville, the name of which remains today as well as a monument in his honour.

De Brazza's monkey image

De Brazza's monkey

Owl-faced guenon

The scientific name of the owl-faced guenon (Cercopithecus hamlyni) is derived from the eccentric animal dealer John. D. Hamlyn who first brought this species to London Zoo.

Owl-faced guenon image

Owl-faced guenon

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin lends his name to many species of animal and plant, including Darwin’s orchid, Chile Darwin’s frog, Darwin’s fox and Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are a group of around 14 different finches all endemic to the Galapagos Islands, except for the Cocos finch, which lives on a small island 600 kilometres northeast called Cocos. These closely related birds show how natural selection can lead to the evolution of many different species from a single lineage. Darwin’s finches include the mangrove finch, large ground finch, warbler finch, vegetarian finch, sharp-beaked ground finch and many more.

Darwin's orchid image

This beautiful orchid is endemic to Madagascar

Linnaeus

Carl Linné, or Linnaeus, is often called the ‘father of modern taxonomy’ due to his invention of the modern system of identifying all species of plant, animal, fungus, single and simple multi-celled organisms and bacteria. This system of two words makes up the name of a species, or three for a subspecies, of which the first word usually describes a biological aspect of the species from a word derived from Latin or Greek. Many reptiles are named after Linnaeus as well as Linné’s two-toed sloth.

Linne's two-toed sloth image

Linne's two-toed sloth, otherwise known as the southern two-toed sloth

Spiders from Mars

Was it the bright yellow hair that prompted the naming of the David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie)?

David Bowie spider image

Aside from the yellow hair, are there any other physical characteristics linking David Bowie with his arachnid namesake?

Lemurs from Madagascar

The Bemahara woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei) is named after famous English actor John Cleese, due to his fondness for lemurs and efforts towards promoting their conservation.

Bemaraha woolly lemur image

Bemaraha woolly lemur, also known as Cleese's woolly lemur with young

What about me?

This proves there are many ways to have a species named after you, even without trekking through the deepest Indian rainforest to find one yourself!

Western Ghats, India image

Unidentified species, where are you?

With new species being found every day who will be honoured next? mulvanyae has a nice ring to it!

Let us know in the comments below if you can think of any good potential species names or people who deserve to have an animal or plant named after them.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Feb 22

Viewers in the UK are set for a wintery treat tonight, as the team behind Autumnwatch and Springwatch return to our screens for a one off special, celebrating our winter wildlife and taking a look at how our resident plants and animals cope with the changing conditions of the season. If you just can’t wait for tonight, we thought we would give you a little sneak preview of what to expect…

Otter photo

Otters are a big favourite here in the ARKive office, and we’ve heard that ARKive media donor Charlie Hamilton James will be heading out to discover why otter cubs are around at this time of year, as well as finding them in a rather unusual place – we are intrigued!

Dipper photo

The team will also be heading out to look for dippers, small aquatic birds that have evolved amazing methods of hunting. They can swim underwater using their wings, walk along the bottom of the river, and swim on the surface, making dives into the water – impressive stuff!

Ptarmigan photo

The Scottish race of the ptarmigan is found only in Scotland, and is the only bird in Britain to turn white during winter. Roosting occurs on the ground in flocks during winter, and if it has snowed, individuals huddle for warmth. Tonight the team will reveal why it could be the UK’s toughest bird!

Tawny owl photo

Winter is a hard time for owls as they can sometimes struggle to find sufficient prey, but it is also a great opportunity to spot them. Tawny owls pair up in the winter and can often be heard hooting and calling as their courtship takes place. Tune in tonight to find out about a surprising influx of owls.

Barn swallow photo

Of course, some species manage to avoid winter altogether, heading south for warmer climes and returning again when it is time to breed. For a bird of such small size, the barn swallow undertakes hugely impressive, long-distance migrations. Tonight Michaela Strachan reports from South Africa, where millions of swallows have arrived from the UK and beyond.

Have you seen any spectacular winter wildlife? Do you have a favourite wintery photo on ARKive? Get in touch using the form below and let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Feb 18

One of the most spectacular sights in the human world, the Rio Carnival gets underway today. But it isn’t just us humans who enjoy a flamboyant show, and no one does it quite like the birds! Here are some of our favourites, who wouldn’t look out of place in the streets of Rio!

A regal bird

Atlantic royal flycatcher photo

The Atlantic royal flycatcher is known for its spectacular crest, which is vivid scarlet in males, yellow in females, and ornately decorated with splashes of black and steel-blue tips.

Loud and proud

Gunnison sage-grouse photo

Not just content with a spectacular appearance, the display of the male Gunnison sage-grouse involves brushing its wings against its pouch feathers to produce loud swishing noises.

A national treasure

Raggiana bird of paradise photo

The feathers of the Raggiana birds of paradise have long been used to make ceremonial headdresses in Papua New Guinea, where it is also the national bird.

Groovy group

Greater flamingo photo

These beautiful greater flamingos perform spectacular group courtship displays, involving synchronised wing-raising, ritualised preening, and ‘head-flagging’ – their own version of samba perhaps?

Fearless and feisty

Kagu photo

The feisty, flightless kagu is a territorial bird, and it uses its crest and wings in threat displays to warn off other birds and potential predators.

Fancy feathers

Indian peafowl photo

The national bird of India, the Indian peafowl undoubtedly possesses some of the most spectacular feathers in the world, which he fans and shakes in the hope of impressing the ladies.

Crowning glory

Western crowned-pigeon photo

The western crowned-pigeon, a close relative of the dodo, is the largest pigeon in the world. At around the size of a small turkey, it is an attractive bird, sporting a fan-like crest of lacy light blue feathers on top of its head.

The dance of love

Japanese crane photo

The Japanese crane is sacred and seen as a symbol of fidelity, good luck, love and long life in the Orient. Adults usually pair for life and these bonds are reinforced in a mesmerising synchronised courtship dance.

Sealed with a hiss

Palawan peacock-pheasant photo

The male Palawan peacock-pheasant has a vibrant plumage, which is glossy black with a dazzling metallic green-blue lustre. When displaying, he raises his tail to show off the decorative eyespots, whilst emitting a long hissing sound and strutting around the female – who wouldn’t be impressed?!

A dazzling display

Superb bird-of-paradise photo

The male superb bird-of-paradise has one of the wackiest displays of all. He fully expands his spectacular breast shield and erects long, black feathers on the back of his neck to form a cape. The result is a complete circle of black, broken only by the iridescent breast shield feathers and eye spots – you can check out an amazing video here.

Have we missed any spectacular species? Get in touch using the form below and let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 24

As the anticipation around Oscar nominations reaches fever pitch today, we thought we should highlight some of the animal kingdoms most deserving Academy Award nominees. From elaborate makeup to heart-stopping live action, the natural world is packed full of worthy winners. 

Best actor

There were a few contenders for this category, but the grass snake has to be one of the best for its amazing ability to successfully feign death. This is a defence mechanism to deter predators from killing it. If it is caught, it will hiss loudly, release pungent substances, and strike at the head. A well deserved Oscar nominee indeed!

Photo of a grass snake feigning death

Grass snake feigning death

 

Best actress

There are many birds which use the so called broken wing display, where they pretend to be injured to attract predators away from the nest. This common ringed plover demonstrates this deceptive behaviour at its best.

Photo of a common ringed plover feigning injury

Common ringed plover feigning injury

 

Best costume design

As the national bird of India, the male Indian peafowl, or peacock, has a spectacular train of feathers which it shakes as part of its elaborate courtship display. This train isn’t in fact its tail, but is composed of tail coverts, or feathers that cover its tail. Either way, no one can deny that this is a strong contender for best costume.

Photo of a male Indian peafowl displaying

Male Indian peafowl displaying

 

Best makeup

As the largest and one of the most distinctive monkeys in the world, the mandrill has a striking red stripe down its nose, framed in blue. Coupled with its yellow mane-like beard, this is truly a look any makeup artist would be proud of!

Mandrill photo

Mandrill male

 

Best original song

Everyone is familiar with the term ‘whale song’, but perhaps the most famous belongs to the humpback whale. The male humpback is well known for its impressive leaping displays, and singing highly complex songs, which are similar within a given population. If this doesn’t deserve a nomination for best original song, I don’t know what does!

Photo of humpback whale swimming

Humpback whale swimming

 

Best director

The spotted hyaena has a strict dominance hierarchy, where the females are in charge! In fact, even the lowest ranking female is above the highest ranking male, and the females are more aggressive. The nominated best ‘director’ in this case has to go to the alpha female of the clan. She is clearly ahead of the rest, and is the best fed individual within the clan, having first access to food and other resources.

Spotted hyaena photo

Spotted hyaena in apeasement, bowing display

 

Best live action

The natural world is full of live action, but some of the best moments have to be those heart-stopping hunting chases. The cheetah, as the fasted land mammal in the world, is a formidable predator, creeping towards its prey before bursting into a full speed chase. Have a look at some amazing videos of the cheetah’s live action on ARKive!

Cheetah photo

Juvenile cheetah hunting springbok

 

Best visual effects

The incredible dancing display of the Japanese crane is certainly a visual treat. These birds usually pair for life, and reinforce this bond with their synchronised courtship dance, which can be seen in our amazing video of this spectacle. It is no wonder that this species is seen as a symbol of fidelity, love, good luck, and long life.

Japanese crane photo

Japanese cranes in courtship display

Are there any other worthy Oscar nominees on ARKive? Let us know!

Rebecca Taylor, ARKive Media Researcher

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