Dec 26

You may have heard of the famous festive tune ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. We’ve taken a look at the ARKive collection to find the perfect alternative gifts.

So, here’s a roundup, altogether now!

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me. . .

♪ Twelve drummers drumming

After locating a suitable nesting site, the male palm cockatoo uses a stick to rhythmically drum on a hollow log to attract a potential mate. He may even try out a few drum sticks before picking his favourite!

Palm cockatoo photo

Male palm cockatoo


♪ Eleven pipers piping

Named after its characteristic whistling song, the piping plover is the perfect substitute!

Piping plover photo

Piping plover in winter plumage


♪ Ten lords a-leaping

This antelope definitely loves to leap! The springbok performs repeated stiff-legged jumps called ‘pronking’ or ‘stotting’ and can reach up to two metres high.

Springbok photo

Springbok pronking


♪ Nine ladies dancing

Verreaux’s sifaka is famous for its outstanding dance moves. Although very well adapted to moving through the trees, this comes as a disadvantage when travelling on the ground and it resorts to hopping on its strong hind legs. Females continue to boogie even with an infant on board – hold tight!

Verreaux's sifaka photo

Verreaux's sifaka leaping with infant


♪ Eight maids a-milking

It may appear harmless but the giant milkweed oozes a milky white sap when it is cut or broken, which is toxic to mammals!

Giant milkweed photo

Giant milkweed in flower


♪ Seven swans a-swimming

In perfect formation, a female mute swan and 6 cygnets. Young leave the nest soon after hatching and are often cared for by both the male and female until the following breeding season.

Mute swan photo

Female mute swan with cygnets


♪ Six geese a-laying

The beautiful kelp goose lays 4 to 7 eggs in a grass nest lined with feathers. The male guards the female for about a month during the incubation period.

Kelp goose photo

Female kelp goose sitting on nest


♪ Five golden rings

The exotic male golden pheasant has an impressive orange and black cape, which it can spread like a fan during displays.

Golden pheasant photo

Male golden pheasant


♪ Four colly birds

Although now commonly known as ‘four calling birds’, the original line describes four colly birds, referring to the blackbird.

Blackbird photo

Male and female blackbird


♪ Three French hens

The capercaillie is distributed across Eurasia, and in France it can be found in forests in mountainous areas, particularly in the Pyrénées. This bird became extinct in Britain in the 18th century but it was reintroduced to Scotland from a population in Sweden in the 19th century.

Capercaillie photo

Female capercaillie


♪ Two turtle doves

The turtle dove is named after its gentle ‘turr turr‘ call, and is often recognised as a symbol of love and peace.

Turtle dove photo

Turtle dove pair


♪ And a partridge in a pear tree!”

Sporting a spectacular maroon mohican is the male crested partridge. Found in the Sundaic lowlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, it feeds and nests on the ground and roosts in trees at night.

Crested partridge photo

Male crested partridge


Can you link any of the twelve gifts with other species on ARKive? Let us know!

Rebecca Goatman, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 24

Ever wished you could disappear? Many species of the Arctic and Antarctic depend on camouflage for survival in their extreme ecosystems. Being a master of disguise can enable a species to hide from predators as well as catch prey itself. Some covert critters even change their coloration throughout the colder winter months to make them indistinguishable in the snow.

We searched through ARKive to uncover our favourite sub-zero specialists…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl photo

The snowy owl unusually hunts throughout the day, making its white plumage invaluable for sneaking up on and catching prey.

Polar bear

Polar bear image

The earth’s largest living carnivore, the polar bear masks its black skin with its thick, white fur which also provides insulation against the freezing Arctic weather.

Southern fulmar

Southern fulmar image

One of the most abundant birds in the Antarctic region, the bill of the southern fulmar is conspicuous in comparison with the rest of its uniformly grey-white plumage.


Ptarmigan image

The ptarmigan is the only bird in Britain to completely change the colour of its plumage during winter from grey-brown to white with chameleon-like skill. This species also has feathered feet, enabling it to walk on soft snow with ease.

Snow petrel

Snow petrel image

The snow petrel’s scientific name, nivea, means snowy in Latin. This species breeds exclusively in the Antarctic and feeds further south than any other bird alongside the South polar skua (Catharacta maccormick).

Arctic fox

Arctic fox image

Another colour changing species, the pristine white coat of the Arctic fox changes during the summer to brown on the upper parts and grey-white underneath. This species can survive temperatures as low as -50 degrees due to the insulation provided by its pelage.

Under no disguise

Muskox image

Camouflage is unnecessary for species such as the muskox. This formidable bovid has many other adaptations such as a thick, layered coat, broad horns and short stocky legs making it one of the most dangerous prey for predators such as wolves and bears.

Find out more about these snowy species and their habitats on ARKive’s Antarctic and Arctic ecoregion pages.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Dec 23
Axolotl image

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The axolotl has the ability to re-grow whole limbs!

While the bizarre axolotl may look like it comes from another planet, it is actually a type of salamander. This fascinating amphibian exhibits a trait known as neoteny, where, instead of transforming from the juvenile form to an adult as in other species of amphibian, it retains some of its juvenile features. The most obvious of these is the branch-like gills projecting from the neck on each side of the head. These allow the axolotl to remain permanently in water. However, if conditions become unfavourable, the axolotl can metamorphose into a fully-adult salamander and leave its aquatic habitat, using lungs to breathe instead. The axolotl is active during the day, feeding on algae when young and preying on aquatic invertebrates as an adult. It is only found in Mexico.

Although there are large numbers of the axolotl in captivity, its numbers in the wild are low, with collection for international trade and for food having threatened this species in the past. Currently, the most significant threat to wild populations is the level of pollution in its native lakes and canal systems. The axolotl is now protected in Mexico and work is underway to restore the axolotl’s habitat.

Find out more about the axolotl from EDGE.

View images and footage of the axolotl on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 23

With the holiday season just around the corner, children around the world are eagerly awaiting the time when Santa will dust off his sleigh and call upon the services of his trusty reindeer to help him deliver gifts across the globe. But when Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen aren’t helping Santa with his deliveries, how do they spend the rest of their year? Here at ARKive, we thought we would take a look at what normal life is like for Rudolph & Co….

A unique deer

Believe it or not, reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, are the only deer species where both males and females sport antlers. Reindeer have a circumpolar distribution and inhabit tundra, open woodland and the mountainous slopes of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, where they feed upon a variety of lichens, mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses and other greenery. Recently, a team from UCL discovered that reindeer may be one of the only mammals that can see in UV light, an adaptation to make food and predators easier to spot in the snow.

Reindeer photo

Stamina and speed!

Some populations in North America undertake an annual migration to the Arctic of 5,000 km, the furthest of any land mammal! Over short distances, they can reach impressive speeds of between 60 and 80 kmph. Reindeer can also swim easily, and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river. Adults can maintain a speed of 6.5 kpmh in the water, and when pressed can swim at 10 kmph!

Reindeer photoReindeer photo








A sociable species

A social deer, this species forms large regional herds of up to 50,000 to 500,000 individuals which band together at certain times of year. The rut takes place in October, with females giving birth to one or two young the following spring. Weaned at about 6 months old and reaching sexual maturity at 3 years, reindeer can live up to 20 years. Their main predators are bears and wolves.

Reindeer calf photo

Reindeer and people

Reindeer and humans have a long history, with some people having herded reindeer for centuries for their meat, hides, antlers, milk, and perhaps most famously, for pulling sleds, the oldest form of transport in the north!

Reindeer photo

You can find plenty more reindeer photos and videos on ARKive, and to really get into the festive spirit, why not make your very own reindeer mask? We would love to see pictures!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 22

Even the most bright eyed and bushy tailed of the ARKive team are beginning to show looks of fear as the imminent deadline for their favourite species draws closer. Last week we marvelled at the magnificent scarlet macaw with Liz Shaw, which species is our staff member going ape for this week?

Hannah Mulvany – ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Favourite species: Pygmy three-toed sloth

Why? I’ve always loved sloths, they are so calm and appear to take everything in their stride. They seem really loving and on most pictures I have ever seen of them they are cuddling up to each other with what looks like a big smile on their face. As they are covered in algae they may not actually be too pleasant to cuddle in real life! I also like how peaceful they are, using camouflage and stillness in order to protect themselves from predators rather than violent conflict.

Favourite image on ARKive?

Photo of the pygmy three-toed sloth

Pygmy three-toed sloth in arboreal habitat

The pygmy three-toed sloth is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Threats to this species include illegal hunting and the degradation of its habitat due to visitors to Isla Escudo de Veraguas, the island to which this species is endemic.

See more photos and videos of the pygmy three-toed sloth.


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