Oct 10

Here in the Northern Hemisphere autumn has well and truly hit us and we are moving fast heading towards winter. As leaves change colour and fall from the trees, many creatures are beginning their preparation for hibernation and birds are embarking on their seasonal migrations to warmer climes. Across the globe many species rely on seasonal changes in weather to signal the next stage in their life cycle, such as hibernation, migration, blooming or molting. Although all organisms go through natural lifecycles, the study of seasonal cycling is unique and scientists refer to it as phenology.

What is phenology?

By definition, phenology is the study of how seasonal and climatic changes influence natural cycles. Not only can phenology provide valuable clues to the lifecycles of individual species, it can also highlight the importance of relationships between species. For example, insects such as honey bees must carefully time their spring emergence with the blooming of flowers, which they rely upon to provide nectar and pollen.

Honey bee photo

Come spring time, honey bees rely on blooming plants for food, while the plants rely upon the bees for pollination

 

Why study phenology?

Although phenology seems like something that is just observed and not studied, it is actually very valuable to research phenological patterns. Understanding phenology can allow scientists to make comparisons to see if a community is healthy and following normal cycles. Phenology can also aid conservation efforts, for example by calculating the timing and migration routes of the North Atlantic right whale, the species can be protected appropriately throughout its range at different times of year.

North Atlantic right whale photo

Conservation measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale include regulations in the US to restrict the use of certain types of fishing gear in specific areas at times when the whales are present

 

What triggers seasonal changes in nature?

One well-known sign that the seasons are changing is the difference in temperature throughout the year, but there are other indicators that may not be as well known. For example, the Caspian seal relies on the presence of ice formations in the Caspian Sea to trigger its seasonal migration to different locations, while the Critically Endangered black-eared mantella gets its signal to start the breeding season from seasonal fluctuations in rainfall.

Caspian seal photo

The Caspian seal relies on change in ice formation to jump-start its migration

Black-eared mantella photo

The black-eared mantella begins breeding at the arrival of the seasonal rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can climate change affect phenology?

Climate change can have a negative effect on species that follow phenological patterns. For example, unusual seasonal droughts in the Namib Desert in southern Africa were followed by large declines in quiver tree numbers, which scientists believe to be the result of drought stress. Climate change can also effect species’ reproductive cycles, for example the loggerhead turtle comes ashore to lay its eggs in the summer when the odds of the young surviving are at their highest. Changes in climate patterns are likely to shift this cycle, putting the eggs and young at risk.

Loggerhead turtle photo

Climate change could cause this young loggerhead turtle to hatch too early or too late in the season

Butterflies and blooms education resource

Related education resource

Learn more about phenology with our creative Butterflies and Blooms education resource. Check it out on the ARKive Education pages, and help your students to discover the relationship between the butterflies of Wisconsin’s Northwoods and the springtime flowers they depend upon.

Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA

Sep 26

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters due to their armoured appearance, are secretive, elusive creatures, found in tropical and subtropical forests, dry woodlands and open savanna regions of Africa and Asia. Despite their slightly reptilian features, pangolins are, in fact, mammals, and although they are quite similar to anteaters and armadillos in many ways, these scaly critters come from a distinct taxonomic order.

Ground pangolin image

Ground pangolin

There are eight different species of pangolin, four of which are found in Africa, and four in Asia. Something all pangolin species have in common is a characteristic covering of hard, protective scales, which are comprised of keratin, the same substance found in our own hair and nails and in rhino horn.

Did you know?

Asian pangolin species are different from their African counterparts in that they have hair between their scales.

Sunda pangolin image

Sunda pangolin

Pangolins are predominantly nocturnal, and rely on their keen sense of smell to locate ant nests and termite mounds at night. Their strong claws are used to dig into the nests or even rotting logs, and their flexible tails come in handy for support and balance while the insect prey is captured using a long and extremely sticky tongue.

Did you know?

It has been estimated that an adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects each year. These mammals play an important ecological role in regulating social insect populations.

Black-bellied pangolin image

Black-bellied pangolin

While many pangolin species tunnel underground to nest and shelter in burrows, some pangolin species, such as the black-bellied or long tailed pangolin, are arboreal, and have certain adaptations to enable them to live in the trees. Tree-dwelling pangolin species have extremely long, prehensile tails, which are used when climbing and for hanging from branches.

Did you know?

Arboreal pangolin species have special tail pads which they use for climbing, and have hair on the lower parts of their forelimbs rather than scales.

Three-cusped pangolin image

Three-cusped pangolin

If threatened, pangolins attempt to deter attackers by hissing and puffing, and can protect themselves from predators by rolling up into a tight ball, with the tough scales forming an almost impregnable layer.

Did you know?

Pangolins protect themselves from insect attacks by sealing their nostrils and ears shut using specially adapted muscles.

Chinese pangolin image

Chinese pangolin

Sadly, two of the eight pangolin species are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with a further four being classified as Near Threatened. Pangolins are protected by both national and international legislation throughout their range, yet habitat loss and poaching are still major threats, particularly to the Asian species.

Did you know?

One of the major threats to Asian pangolins is illicit hunting for black market international trade, and there are fears that African pangolins could also be at risk. Pangolin meat is sold as food, while the scales are used in traditional medicine.

Thick-tailed pangolin image

Thick-tailed pangolin

It’s not all doom and gloom for pangolins, though, because several conservation and research projects are currently being conducted by the newly formed Pangolin Specialist Group, part of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC). These projects aim to find out more about pangolin ecology and biology, learn more about captive husbandry, rescue and rehabilitation, and understand the illicit trade in pangolin products. With this new information, it is hoped that effective conservation measures can be put into place to help save these intriguing mammals.

For more information on pangolins and their conservation, don’t forget to check out the Pangolin Specialist Group’s new website.

Learn more about pangolin species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Sep 16

Saturday was International Red Panda Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the plight of the red panda as well as a chance to raise funds to support the operation of a new community conservation centre in Nepal. For those of you unfamiliar with this curious and charismatic creature, fear not, as the ARKive team have rustled up their favourite red panda facts to give you the lowdown.

Quick Facts

  • The red panda is the original panda, having been discovered 48 years before the giant panda.
  • Red pandas are found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.
  • There are two subspecies of red panda; Ailurus fulgens styani and the smaller, lighter Ailurus fulgens fulgens.
  • Red pandas produce a number of vocalisations, the strangest of which is a ‘quack-snort’.

Is it a cat, is it a bear, is it a fox..?

Photo of red panda Photo of Northern raccoon

Actually, the red panda is thought to be most closely related to species in the racoon family. The classification of the red panda has caused continued controversy since it was first described in 1825. While its scientific name means ‘fire-coloured cat’, and it shares similarities with both bears and racoons, today it is placed with the racoons but in its own separate subfamily, the Ailurinae. Interestingly, the Chinese name for the red panda is “hunho”, which translates into English as “firefox”, hence the famous logo of Mozilla’s web browser.

Dexterous Digits

Red panda photo

Like the giant panda, red pandas posses a modified wrist bone that acts as a sixth digit or thumb which is used for grabbing bamboo. While technically classified as a carnivore, red pandas actually feed almost exclusively on bamboo, although roots, fruit, eggs and small animals are sometimes eaten too. They have semi-retractable claws, which allow them to be efficient climbers and when not foraging, pandas are usually found in the trees.

Cute Cubs

Red panda cub photo

Red pandas are ready to breed at around 18 months old. After a relatively long gestation period for their body size (roughly 135 days) red pandas usually give birth to two young in a hollow tree. The young, known as cubs, are born blind and helpless, opening their eyes after 18 days.

A species under threat

Red panda photo

Sadly, red pandas are a species under threat, currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The most serious threat they face is habitat loss, as throughout their range forests have been cleared for timber extraction, agriculture and development. Their lustrous coats also make them a target for hunters, and hats made from their pelts were traditionally given to newlyweds in Yunnan as they were thought to symbolise a happy marriage. In China the species is thought to have undergone a decline of around 40 percent over the last 50 years.

How can you help?

If you would like to get involved International Red Panda Day you can download an activity pack here. Kids can get involved in a whole host of fun red panda themed activities as well as becoming a “Red Panda Ranger”, a special title given to children that help spread the word about red pandas.

Make sure you check out the red panda species profile on ARKive for lots more information, images and videos.

You can also find out more about red pandas and their conservation by visiting the Red Panda Network.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Aug 21

Picture yourself in a misty wooded forest, with towering conifers creating an imposing canopy and ground squirrels exploring the damp earth below. Not too far away, you might hear the crash of the Pacific Ocean, and above your head you might hear the call of a bald eagle.

Young coast redwood growing next to mature specimen

Where is this place, you ask? It’s the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, the featured ecosystem in our newest ARKive Education lesson all about temperate rainforests. Developed with support from the Weeden Foundation, ‘Temperate Rainforest in the Pacific Northwest’ encourages 7-11 year olds to get hands-on and explore their local environment, food webs, and the differences between living and non-living things. By comparing their findings with the Pacific Northwest region in the USA, students discover the many features of the Pacific Northwest that make it unique, and investigate how this ecosystem is changing as a result of human influence.

Supported by amazing photos and videos from the ARKive collection, students will uncover the diverse range of species that inhabit the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, including some rare and threatened ones.

‘Temperate Rainforest in the Pacific Northwest’ also incorporates an overarching conservation theme highlighting how human behaviors are threatening the region’s wildlife. Industries such as logging and housing construction are examined, and students are given the chance to suggest solutions to these conservation issues in the classroom.

To welcome our newest education resource to the ARKive website, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take a tour of some of the different species that call the Pacific Northwest home.

Night chaser

Red fox vixen head profile

 

An active nocturnal hunter, the red fox roams the temperate rainforest in search of small mammals and invertebrate prey. Although it’s only roughly the size of a small dog, it’s actually the largest species in the genus Vulpes.

Wise wood

Lawson's cypress

Lawson’s cypress thrives in the moderate temperature and high precipitation that characterizes the temperate rainforest. Amazingly, this conifer can live for as long as 560 years!

Whistling Washingtonian

Washington ground squirrel in habitat

After hibernating for seven to eight months of the year, the Washington ground squirrel emerges to seek food such as flowers, roots, bulbs and seeds.  A unique characteristic of this small mammal is its call, which is a soft, lisping whistle.

Mountain frogs

Adult Cascades frog

During the warmer months, the Cascades frog dwells in wet mountain habitats such as marshes and bogs, but during hibernation, it might actually be found in the mud at the very bottom of ponds.

High-flying hunter

Bald eagle landing

An iconic American symbol, the bald eagle can be found soaring above the temperate rainforest. This species is an impressive hunter, and is even capable of capturing birds the size of geese during flight!

Visit ARKive Education to download ‘Temperate Rainforest in the Pacific Northwest‘ and explore our fun and inspiring collection of lessons, games and resources.

Hannah MacMillan, Intern, Wildscreen USA

Apr 24

This week in the United States it’s time to celebrate all things green and leafy with it being both National Park Week and Arbor Day this coming Friday. With entrance fees to national parks across the country being waived, what better opportunity is there to go on an adventure and discover some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife.

Whether it’s hiking, swimming or kayaking that floats your boat, there is something for everyone, and we thought we would highlight a few of our favorite national parks to inspire you to get outside and experience nature.

Glacier Bay National Park

If you want to see glaciers crashing into the sea, orcas hunting their prey or brown bears effortlessly grabbing salmon from a rushing stream, head to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, where the majestic wilderness will keep your jaw dropped for hours on end. At this time of year you may also be lucky enough to see humpback whales breaching.

Humpback whales, two adults breaching

Grand Canyon National Park

Perhaps the desert is calling you, in which case Grand Canyon National Park would be a good call. It is no wonder why nearly 5 million people visit each year, with spectacular vistas of the mile deep, 277 mile long canyon. This terrain is home to the prickly pear cactus, puma and even the Critically Endangered California condor.

California condor in flight, lateral view

Voyageurs National Park

For those of you who aren’t afraid of a few mosquitoes and like to paddle a canoe, head north to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. This land of over 10,000 lakes is home to a variety of species such as bald eagles, moose, grey wolves, and American black bears.

Yearling American black bear playing

Everglades National Park

If you live closer to the tropical lowlands, check out Everglades National Park in Florida. This significant wetland has been designated a World Heritage Site and provides habitat for many Vulnerable species, including the American crocodile.

American crocodile photo

Shenandoah National Park

Finally, let’s look east to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This eastern mountain range offers plenty of hiking trails, excellent stargazing and of course a plethora of wildlife to view. You might be lucky enough to see the eastern redbud a brilliantly colored tree that flowers this time of year.

Eastern redbud in blossom

Get outside and get involved!

Both National Park Week and Arbor Day are great ways to celebrate nature, enjoy wildlife, and they are entirely free to take part in! Have you been to any of these parks or captured photographs of these or other species? If so, why not share them on the ARKive Facebook page or Twitter feed!

In honor of Arbor Day on April 27th, you could even get your hands dirty and plant a native tree species in your own community. Find out how you can get involved by visiting the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Maggie Graham, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

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