May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of turtle species around the world. Here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate by sharing our top turtle facts.

Did you know…

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • The age of most juvenile turtles can be determined by the upper shell, which grows each year from a central point
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on earth for over 200 million years
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature which they are incubated at, with males hatching at low temperatures and females hatching when the temperature is higher

Lovely Loggerheads

  • The loggerhead turtle has powerful jaws that can make easy work of its hard-shelled prey.
  • It is highly migratory and is known to cross oceans.

Not a jack in a box

  • Box turtles gain their common name from their hinged shell which enables them to completely close their shell to protect themselves.
  • The male ornate box turtle has enlarged claws on its hindfeet to grip onto the female while mating.

Vast vertebrate

  • The leatherback turtle is the world’s largest turtle, with the average carapace (the shell covering the back) reaching around 160 centimetres and the largest recorded individual weighing up to 916 kilograms.
  • Uniquely, the leatherback turtle is able to maintain an elevated body temperature, giving it the ability to dive to depths of up to 1,000 metres in pursuit of prey.

Snappy by name, snappy by nature

  • The alligator snapping turtle is nicknamed the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’ due to its prehistoric, alligator-like appearance, from which it gains its common name.
  • The tongue of the alligator snapping turtle has a small, worm-like projection, which is wiggled to attract prey.

What is being done to help?

Thankfully, various conservation organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to help save turtles and tortoises from the brink of extinction. Here are some actions being taken to ensure the future survival of these fascinating creatures:

  • Shrimp fisheries are now using Turtle Excluder Devices, which only allow shrimp-sized objects to enter the nets, preventing turtles from being caught as bycatch
  • Many species are now listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade is strictly monitored and controlled – this should hopefully prevent some collection of wild turtles for the international pet trade
  • Some nesting sites are protected during the nesting season to ensure that eggs cannot be collected and subsequently sold
  • Captive breeding programmes and the protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations could ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent reptiles

Are you turtley in awe of sea turtles? Want to learn more about them? Then why not check out our eggshellent ARKive Education resource – Turtle Life Cycle – and play the turtle-tastic board game!

Find out more about turtles, tortoises and their conservation:

View photos and videos of turtle and tortoise species on ARKive

May 3

Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Species: Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Until 2002 it was thought that Carbonell’s wall lizard was a subspecies of Bocage’s wall lizard (Podarcis bocagei).

More information: Carbonell’s wall lizard is a small, compact lizard that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, where it lives in forests and forest clearings in highly fragmented populations. Ordinarily this lizard is brown or black, but during the breeding season the male has bright green jagged-edged stripes on its upper side and vivid green sides. Both the male and female Carbonell’s wall lizard are usually whitish on the belly, although they may sometimes be slightly pink or red. This reptile forages on the ground for a wide variety of arthropod prey, including beetles and spiders.

Several threats to Carbonell’s wall lizard have been identified, including habitat degradation and loss which has occurred in many areas throughout its range due to forest fires, development for tourism and the establishment of pine wood plantations. The southernmost island-dwelling populations of Carbonell’s wall lizard are thought to be at risk from the negative effects of climate change, and hybridisation between this species and Bocage’s wall lizard threatens the population in the north.

Many areas of this species’ range are protected, including the Coto Doñana National Park in Spain. More research into the threats facing Carbonell’s wall lizard would facilitate the creation of appropriate conservation measures and highlight how urgently these measures are required.

Find out more about Carbonell’s wall lizard and other species found in European forests

See images of Carbonell’s wall lizard on ARKive

Find out more about other wall lizard species

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 2

Recently, the saiga, an odd-looking Critically Endangered antelope of the Mongolian steppes, was highlighted in the media due to a sharp-eyed Star Wars fan noticing its striking resemblance to some of the characters from the series. This discovery led to a surge of interest in the species and the various threats to its survival.

The 'Star Wars-like' saiga antelope

The saiga is not the only animal with more than a passing resemblance to creatures from the Star Wars galaxy. To celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4th, we attempted to seek out even more lookalikes from the natural world. Can you guess which Star Wars characters we think these species resemble?

Hint 1: You don’t want to owe him a debt

Arabian toad-headed agama image

Hint 2: Always seen with the previous character

Sri Lankan frogmouth image

Hint 3: It’s a carp!

Common carp image

Hint 4: Much larger in Star Wars

Wingless mantis image

Hint 5: Natives of Endor

Brown howling monkey image

Hint 6: They hope it isn’t a cold night

Thinhorn sheep image

Hint 7: Aggrrttaaggrrttaaggrrttaaggrr!

Sumatran orangutan image

Hint 8: With you the fourth May be!

Horsfields tarsier image

These resemblances are more than just a coincidence, with the inspiration for Wookies coming from orangutans, lemurs and dogs.

These amazing creatures highlight the many unique gifts that the biodiversity of Earth gives us. The vast array of morphologies and lifestyles on Earth has influenced human creativity throughout history, from ancient mythology through to science fiction. Whether we realise it or not, all of us draw inspiration from the creatures around us and the world would be a much drabber place without these weird and wonderful animals. Why not see if you can find any other lookalikes, and leave a comment below.

Answers: 1. Jabba the Hutt, 2. Salacious B. Crumb, 3. Admiral Ackbar, 4. The Acklay, 5. Ewok, 6. Tauntaun, 7. Wookie, 8. Yoda

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 1

As the first light of day spills over the sea like lava, we set off in a small boat to explore the waters around Goat Islands. Paulette, the only registered fisherwoman in the community, tells me when I ask about local opinion about the development, “The government claims it will bring jobs and opportunity to the area, but we are not qualified, and we are not being trained, for the jobs that will need to be done. They tell us what they want us to hear, but the reality is that we will be worse off”. I recently read a comment that said the government is, “selling straw baskets to the poor to carry water”, and could not think of a better analogy.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood

As we circle Goat Islands, Herman points out two fish sanctuaries fringing the mangroves and asks, “How can they say this won’t impact our livelihoods?” Despite being protected under four laws and containing two forest reserves, six game sanctuaries, and three fish sanctuaries, and despite the fact that the Jamaican Constitution states that all Jamaicans have “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage,” the government appears to believe it can sell off a living, breathing ecosystem for the right price. The reasons that other sites, such as Kingston Harbour, have not been considered have not been fully explained.

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

The old adage says that we will conserve only that which we love. I cannot claim to love Goat Islands, and my relationship with Portland Bight Protected Area has been fleeting. After experiencing it first hand, I do feel more of a personal affinity to the place and to the people fighting to protect it, and can claim to appreciate its unique beauty.

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

As a photographer, my job is to translate my personal experiences of being there into something universal; to move others to feel as I did. But as I try to decipher what made me care enough to hop on a plane to Kingston, I keep returning to the feeling that was stirred in me before I had set foot on Jamaican soil; before I had sat in dappled limestone forest overlooking the Hellshire Hills, or stared into a star-filled sky over the Caribbean while sand cooled my feet. I keep returning to how I felt when I first learned of the loss of somewhere I had never been. What I felt was outrage that something as sacrosanct as a protected area – a natural treasure – could be sold off for a quick profit. I felt empathy toward those that had devoted their lives to recovering the Jamaican iguana, and angry that all their hard work could go up in smoke. I felt as if I had just learned that the government of Italy was chipping away at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to sell piece by piece. This was not the world that I wanted my son to know; and so, I had to play my part to try to protect Goat Islands.

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Find out more about the #savegoatislands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

Read Guest blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part two

Apr 30

The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is hard work, as introduced predators like the Asian Mongoose are continually captured to relieve predator pressure. “We catch them and kill them. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. The way it has to be”, says Booms, whose real name is Kenroy Williams, with a bashful smile. Booms is a handsome young Jamaican who grew up in southern Kingston before moving seven years ago to work on the Jamaican iguana recovery project.

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest conservation success stories

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest  success stories in conservation science

I ask Booms what his friends and family think of his career choice. “Some think I am crazy when they hear that I am touching the iguanas and the crocodiles. But if they were here like me, they would understand, and they would do everything that I am doing”, he says. As he cradles a young American crocodile, a Vulnerable species, found at night in one of the lagoons fringing the Hellshire Hills, he adds, “You’ve got to respect another life, so that the other life can respect yours. It’s all about respect”.

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

In order for the iguana to survive without the life support system provided by Booms and team, the Jamaican Iguana Species Recovery Plan outlines steps to establish Goat Islands as a predator-free haven for the large lizard. That was the dream – until now.

“I just returned from Jamaica, and it’s bad”, began an email I received last month from Rick Hudson at Fort Worth Zoo. Hudson has devoted more than twenty years to recovering the iguana, and was distraught. The Jamaican government had announced that it was going to sell Goat Islands to a Chinese conglomerate that had been disbarred by the World Bank for fraud, to build a massive trans shipment port. The development would involve bulldozing the islands, dredging the sea around them, and building a coal-burning plant – in addition to razing forest and concreting over wetland on the mainland for an associated logistics hub. With opposition from local groups led by the Jamaica Environmental Trust falling on deaf ears, Jamaicans were crying out for some international intervention.

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

Tourism brings in half of all foreign revenue and provides one quarter of all jobs in Jamaica; most tourists who visit the country do so to enjoy pristine beaches, clear waters, ample wildlife and a landscape free from the scars of industrial development. The proposed development is akin to the UK government selling off the Lake District for a quick profit, and could hurt tourism if potential tourism outfits are outraged by the destruction of a natural national treasure. And so, in the humble hope that I could do something to shine a spotlight on what was happening in the international press – to alert potential tourists to Jamaica what the government has planned in the hopes that the government may listen – I boarded a plane to Kingston.

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

Diana McCaulay, co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, meets me at the airport and we drive an hour south to the Portland Bight Protected Area, a 187,515-hectare area mosaic consisting of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country. This, the largest Protected Area in Jamaica, contains the Hellshire Hills and Portland Ridge Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), defined by IUCN as “places of international importance for the conservation of biodiversity through protected areas and other governance mechanisms”. The area was deemed so special that it was under consideration as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, until last year when the government backtracked on the proposal.

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

Diana introduces me to residents of a fishing community in the heart of Portland Bight Protected Area, Paulette and Herman Coley, who invite me to join them on the water the following morning. I return the next day a little before 4:30 am to join them and their six-year old son Jabari, who seems less than thrilled about being hauled out of his bed at 4am and dressed in a bright yellow lifejacket and facemask.

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

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