Jan 25

January 25th marks the Birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), an iconic Scottish figure and one of the world’s most famous poets. Admired for his poems, love songs and cheeky character, Robert Burns created works which are still well known today, such as Auld Lang Syne, one of the most popular songs in the English language. Since Burns’ early death over 200 years ago, people have gathered together every year to commemorate his life and work. Burns Night is one of the most celebrated events in Scottish culture, and the occasion is recognised all over the world. Typically, a supper is held on or around January 25th, which includes a traditional Scottish meal, Scotch whisky, music, speeches and recitation of Robert Burns’ work. In memory of Robert Burns, we thought we’d delve into the ARKive collection and celebrate all things Scottish!

Spear thistle

Spear thistle image

Spear thistle in flower

Legend has it the Scottish army were alerted to the onset of Viking intruders after one of them stood on a thistle barefooted and cried out in pain. The thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland for centuries, and the earliest record of it being used as a royal symbol is on coins issued by James III in 1470. Although the actual species of thistle is disputed, some believe that the spear thistle is most likely to be the true ‘Scotch thistle’, as it is abundant and native to Scotland.

Red deer

Red deer image

Red deer stag roaring during rut

Britain’s largest land mammal, the red deer is widespread throughout Scotland, with an estimated population of 300,000. In winter, the red deer tend to move from the hills and remote glens to lower areas with shelter and a more abundant food supply. In winter the coat is brown or grey, but it changes to a reddish-brown in the summer.

Puffin

Puffin image

Puffin

In April, puffins begin arriving around the Scottish coast to breed. Almost one million puffins choose to breed in Scotland, and most are concentrated in just a few colonies in the north and west. Puffins nest in burrows or in rocky crevices, and normally lay a single egg in May. The best time to see puffins in Scotland is in mid-July, when the adults are busy collecting sand eels to feed the pufflings.

Scottish wildcat

Scottish wildcat image

Scottish wildcat resting in woodland

It is thought that fewer than 400 ‘genetically pure’ wildcats remain in Scotland today. This is because wildcats breed with domestic cats, creating hybrids which are diluting the population. The wildcat is solitary and usually hunts at night. It catches rabbits, hares, voles and mice, but it may also feed on small birds, frogs and even insects.

Osprey

Osprey image

Osprey carrying a fish

Ospreys arrive in Scotland to breed in late April to early May after an amazing journey from western Africa, which takes about 20 flying days. There are around 200 breeding osprey pairs in Scotland, and the best places to see them include Loch Garten and Loch of the Lowes. Ospreys return to their wintering grounds in West Africa in late August to mid-September. If you can’t make it to Scotland this summer, why not watch this fantastic osprey video – it’s the most popular one on ARKive!

Scots pine

Scots pine image

Scots pine forest

The Scots pine is native to Scotland and is a dominant tree in the Caledonian Forest, which is also made up of birch, aspen, rowan, oak and juniper. Although pinewood forests were once spread over most of the Highlands, only 1% of the original forest remains, split into smaller, fragmented pockets. The oldest scientifically dated Scots pine in Scotland is Glen Loyne, which was estimated to be 550 years old in the late 1990s.

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin image

Bottlenose dolphins breaching

Bottlenose dolphins inhabit the waters around the Scottish coast throughout the year, but they are easiest to spot during the spring and summer. The Moray Firth is home to the most northerly resident bottlenose dolphin population in the world, and is one of the best places to watch dolphins in Scotland. Compared to bottlenose dolphins in warmer climates, such as Florida, the Moray Firth dolphins are larger and fatter to insulate them from the colder water.

Eurasian beaver

Eurasian beaver image

Eurasian beaver feeding

Between May 2009 and September 2010, 16 Eurasian beavers were released into the wild in Knapdale Forest, Mid-Argyll, as part of a monitored trial. The first beaver kit (named Barney) was born in spring 2010, making him the first to be born in the wild in Scotland for over 400 years! At the end of the trial, decisions will be made about the future of beavers in Knapdale Forest and other possible reintroduction sites in Scotland. You can see some videos of the introduced beavers on the Scottish Beaver Trial blog.

Let us know if your favourite Scottish species is missing from our blog! How are you planning to celebrate Burns Night?

May 10
Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Species: Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: There are thought to be fewer than 100 spoon-billed sandpiper pairs remaining in the wild, and it is predicted that this species could go extinct within the next decade if urgent conservation action is not taken.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a striking little bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill, as its common name suggests. This unusual bill is used to probe for small invertebrates in low vegetation, wet meadows and water, or even within muddy sand. A strongly territorial species, the spoon-billed sandpiper breeds in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation, and its scattered breeding range extends from the Chukotsk peninsula to the Kamchatka peninsula in north-eastern Russia. This species has very particular habitat requirements, choosing its nesting sites carefully, and it always breeds within six kilometres of the sea. A migratory bird, the spoon-billed sandpiper flies to overwinter in south and Southeast Asia where it can be found on mudflats and saltpans.

Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to the spoon-billed sandpiper, posing a particularly high risk as this species has such a small population, high nest fidelity, and extremely specific habitat requirements. Throughout this bird’s migratory and wintering ranges, tidal mudflats are being reclaimed for industry or aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted. Several important staging areas for the species have already been reclaimed, and many more are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. Climate change and human disturbance have also altered the spoon-billed sandpiper’s habitat, while egg collection, hunting and accidental capture in nets intended for other wader species directly affect the population and its ability to regenerate.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is listed on both Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, meaning that this threatened species would benefit from international agreements and cooperation to ensure its future survival. While the spoon-billed sandpiper is protected in several areas throughout its range, including the Moroshechnaya Wetlands and several other local wildlife refuges in Russia, China, India and Vietnam, it would benefit from enforced legal protection wherever it is present. In addition, preventing the reclamation of intertidal mudflats along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s entire migration route is of utmost importance.

Conservation organisations and individuals have worked with local communities to help reduce the hunting pressure on this species, and various advocacy activities have been carried out, including two training workshops in schools in China, to raise awareness of the plight of the spoon-billed sandpiper. A special Task Force has been set up, charged with implementing an action plan to save this migratory species, and a captive breeding and rearing programme is underway. It is essential that international cooperation is achieved to monitor and conserve the spoon-billed sandpiper throughout its range and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

See images and videos of the spoon-billed sandpiper on ARKive.

Find out more about spoon-billed sandpiper conservation.

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and find out more about the need to protect these species and their habitats.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 26
São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Species: São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like many other Hyperolius species, the São Tomé giant treefrog breeds in standing water, but instead of using ponds, this remarkable amphibian lays its eggs in water-filled holes in trees.

As its name suggests, the beautifully coloured São Tomé giant treefrog is endemic to the island of São Tomé, 255 kilometres off the coast of Gabon, and is the largest member of the genus Hyperolius. This amphibian presents a classic example of ‘island gigantism’, whereby certain colonisers on islands tend to evolve to become larger than their mainland relatives. The upperparts of the São Tomé giant treefrog are a uniform green to blue-green colour, while the underside is much more brightly coloured with a marbled pattern of orange, white and black. Like other similar species, this treefrog has expanded toe pads and long legs which make it an adept climber.

There is little information available on the current threats to the São Tomé giant treefrog, but the loss of its forest habitat is thought to have had a severe impact on this species. Forest clearance began on São Tomé in the late 15th century to make way for the cultivation of sugar cane, and dramatically accelerated in the 1800s as a result of the production of coffee and cocoa. At one stage in the early 20th century, São Tomé was the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with around 42 percent of the island being devoted to its production. Deforestation rates have since slowed considerably, but the São Tomé giant treefrog is now restricted to the remnants of original primary forest on the island at elevations above 800 metres.

There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for the São Tomé giant treefrog. However, it may receive a certain level of protection as a result of its occurrence in Obo National Park.

See images of the São Tomé giant treefrog on ARKive

Find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive

Get involved in amphibian conservation and celebrate Save the Frogs Day today!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 20

With Easter just a hop, skip and a jump away, we thought we’d crack into the ARKive coll-egg-tion and have a scramble around to eggs-tract some egg-citing eggs to eggs-hibit in our blog. Along the way, we’ve also learned about the eggs-istence of some rather eggs-centric egg-laying and guarding habits, and we hope you’re as eggs-tatic about our finds as we are!

Gooseberry fool?

Peacock butterfly egg image

Peacock butterfly eggs look a lot like gooseberries!

While you might be forgiven for being fooled into thinking that these green globules are plump and juicy gooseberries, they are, in fact, peacock butterfly eggs. The eggs of this species are laid in groups under nettles, usually in May, and hatch two weeks later.

Sunny-side up? Over-easy? Well-done?

Emu egg image

Emu eggs come in various shades of greenish-black

However you like your eggs, there’s no denying that these ones look as though they’ve been char-grilled in their shells! But fear not, these emu eggs are supposed to look like this; they come in various shades of greenish-black and are the size of a small grapefruit. The male emu is an eggs-traordinary guardian, taking sole responsibility for incubating the eggs over the course of two months while the female wanders off to potentially find another mate, and protecting the chicks against predators for several months once they’ve hatched.

100 kids and counting…

Green turtle egg image

Green turtles can lay an impressive number of eggs per nesting season

In the UK, having more than about four siblings would constitute being part of a pretty large and impressive family, but in the world of marine turtles, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Female green turtles produce between 100 and 150 ping-pong-ball-like eggs per clutch, and can lay up to nine separate clutches per breeding season. While this may seem rather a lot, marine turtles don’t guard their nests or look after their young, and with the threat of land- and ocean-dwelling predators, the survival rate of hatchlings is very low.

High-flying hunger games…

Bald eagle egg image

Bald eagle nests are some of the largest of any bird species

Bald eagle nests, made with sticks and lined with moss, grass, seaweed and other vegetation, are some of the largest of any bird species, sometimes reaching several metres in width. These enormous nests presumably provide a comfy and snug environment for the eggs during the 35-day incubation period, yet things can soon turn ugly. By being bigger and louder, the first-born chick is often afforded more parental attention and food, and will even occasionally kill its younger siblings.

Treasures of the deep

California horn shark egg image

Shark eggs, such as this California horn shark egg, are often referred to as ‘mermaid’s purses’

A mermaid’s purse might well sound like something a sea-dwelling siren would keep her money and credit cards in, but a pilfering pickpocket could get a nasty surprise if they were to try to purloin this particular purse as it is actually a shark egg-case! Mermaid’s purses vary greatly in shape, size and colour, depending on the shark species in question.

Eggs-panding eggs

 

Common frog egg image

Common frog eggs are coated in a jelly-like substance

Frog egg masses, often referred to as frogspawn, tend to look rather like a gruesome collection of eyeballs. The female common frog releases between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs at a time, which are covered in a jelly-like coating. This coating expands when it comes into contact with water, providing protection for the tadpoles growing within.

Egg pasta

 

Sea lemon egg image

Pasta del mar – sea lemons produce somewhat pasta-like egg masses

What may look like a delectable strand of abandoned tagliatelle cast into the depths of the ocean is, in actual fact, a mass of sea lemon eggs. A common sea slug around Britain’s shores, the sea lemon produces thousands of eggs at a time which form a long, coiled, ribbon-like mass. These egg masses are produced in the spring and are attached to rocks, so if you take an Easter weekend dip in the sea and find such a structure, we would advise leaving it well alone and not adding it to your carbonara!

Ha-bee Easter!

 

Honey bee egg image

Honey bee egg

A supplier of sugary goodness and a harbinger of spring to many, the honey bee lays its eggs from March to October. Honey bee colonies have a complex structure, formed of the queen, workers and drones, all of which serve different functions. Worker bees have a variety of roles within the colony, with some being tasked with feeding the developing larvae which emerge from the eggs around three days after they are laid.

Eggshellent parenting

 

King penguin egg image

King penguins incubate their egg on their feet

King penguins appear to take parenting very seriously, with each pair keeping a close eye on their precious egg. Incubation is shared by the male and female and is split into two- or three-week cycles, and parental duties remain shared once the chick has hatched. It’s a good job that king penguins don’t let their eggs out of their sight, otherwise they may not believe the chick belonged to them…the chick looks so different to the adult that they were first described as two completely different species!

Eggs-treme monotreme

Short-beaked echidna egg

A short-beaked echidna egg

While the majority of mammals give birth to live young, there are some eggs-treme mammalian species that lay eggs! These eggs-tra special critters are known as monotremes, and the short-beaked echidna is one of them. The echidna’s leathery egg is laid into a pouch on the female’s abdomen, where it is incubated for about ten days before it hatches. The young echidna, or ‘puggle’, remains there until it is 45 to 55 days old.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these eggs-amples of awesome eggs, and that you all have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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