Feb 15

The race to become crowned as the World’s Most Unloved Species was hotly contested, once again, this year with 19 nominated species in the running.  After 12 days of fierce competition, impassioned pitches and over 4,500 votes, the top 10 was announced on Valentine’s Day.

But slithering into first place… it’s the Galapagos racer!

Often demonised, the Galapagos racer shot to fame during the BBC’s 2016 series Planet Earth II.  They are one of a few endemic snakes found in the Galapagos and can grow to a maximum of 125 centimetres.  However, little is known about the Galapagos racer and there is even confusion over the number of species or subspecies of racer snakes found in the Galapagos.  The Galapagos racer is already locally extinct on Floreana Island and are threatened following the introduction of cats and pigs onto neighbouring islands which forage for their eggs.

All the nominated species are worthy winners, and were chosen as they are often overshadowed and overlooked by the more cute, handsome and (supposedly) interesting members of the natural world.  But which species pulled at the public’s heartstrings the most and made it into the top 10?  Here’s a quick rundown:

Wombling into second place, it’s the bare-nosed wombat.  Also known as the ‘common wombat’ this furry marsupial may no longer be as ‘common’ as its namesake suggests, as the population battles an increasing number of fatal road strikes and the deadly skin condition mange.

Flying into third, and in the highest place a bird has had in this contest, it’s the lappet-faced vulture.  Definitely not noted for their cuddly nature, these birds have been known to take on jackals to defend a carcass!

In fourth place we dive underneath the waves with the first shark to enter the top 10!  The shortfin mako is a speed machine, capable of reaching 35 kilometres an hour and even having the power to launch itself clear out of the water.

At number five we have the Asian elephant.  Despite having had a close relationship with man over the centuries these giants are facing a number of threats including poaching and habitat loss, and are often overlooked by their larger African relatives.

Hopping into the top 10 at number six is the common toad.  Firmly rooted in English folklore and culture this gardener’s friend is another species with an unfortunate name as populations have taken a dramatic downturn declining by 68% over the last 30 years.

The ‘lucky number seven’ spot is taken by the red squirrel.  However this iconic species is not so lucky, facing habitat fragmentations, disease and competition with the grey squirrel, introduced into the UK in the 1870s.

Coming up in eighth place is the aye-aye.  Not known for its dashing good looks, this primate has been considered an omen of bad luck resulting in persecution by the Malagasy people!

Looking fine at nine is the Copan brook frog.  The second amphibian in the top 10, this tiny frog could be easily hidden if it wasn’t for its bright, lime green colouration.

And last but by no means least, it’s the blue shark.  This sleek apex predator is instantly recognisable as it moves gracefully through the water however it is one of the most heavily fished sharks in the world, with an estimated 15-20 million caught every year.

To find out more about these species and the work being done to research and conserve them, visit the results page here.

Sep 29

Thirteen ocean creatures have surfaced all around Bristol’s BS5 postcode, snapped by some of the world’s very best wildlife photographers. To prove how turtle-y awesome they all are, we’ve created blogs on all of the featured species sharing ten epic facts about them! Sail your way around the exhibition by downloading your very own map and guide.

1) Sea turtles have been roaming the Earth for 110 million years, once sharing the planet with T-Rex and other dinosaurs!

2) Sea turtles migrate thousands of kilometres in their lifetime through the oceans and high seas. One female leatherback turtle travelled more than 19,000km across the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia to the USA and back!

3) A baby turtle’s sex is determined mostly by the temperatures of the sand they’re buried in, below 30˚C is usually male; and above 30˚C is usually female.

4) Green sea turtles can hold their breath for up to five hours, but their feeding dives usually only last five minutes or less, before they come back to the surface for air.

5) Sea turtles can detect the Earth’s magnetic field and use it as a compass to navigate long distances. Who needs Google Maps when you have built-in sat-nav!

6) The Hawaiian green sea turtle, known locally as ‘Honu’, symbolises good luck, endurance and long life. Hawaiians believe turtles can show up as a person’s guardian spirit, known as Aumakua, to guide the way home.

7) Green turtles are named for the layer of green fat that lies under their shell. Scientists believe this unusual quirky-coloured fat is a result of their veggie diet.

8) Sea turtles are super-strong swimmers, they propel through the water using their strong paddle-like flippers. While these awesome animals like to cruise along at around 3km/h, they can reach speeds of 35km/h if threatened!

9) A turtle’s shell is actually part of its skeleton, which is made up of over 50 bones that include the turtle’s rib cage and spine.

10) These cold-blooded creatures become sexually mature at around 20-30 years old, but often die before they reach 50 years old due to predation and no pension scheme. They do; however, enter the property ladder quite early, with their shells forming within the first 30 days of life.

 

Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Palawan forest turtle

Nominated by: Katala Foundation

Why do you love it?

The Palawan forest turtle, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, is one of the rarest, most endangered, and least known turtles in the world. It is only found in five municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines and nowhere else in the world!

This species lives in small streams in lowland forests. The beautiful coloration of juveniles and the impressive bodies of adults are rarely seen because the species is extremely shy and nocturnal. At dusk they emerge from their dens and shelters to forage on aquatic invertebrates, plants and wild fruits that fall into the stream. The latter helps to regenerate the riverine habitat since most of the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract. Adults also feed on the invasive golden apple snail, an alien pest species, while juveniles take mosquito larvae. By doing so they help reduce agricultural pest species and invertebrate-borne diseases.

Though physically extremely tough, the species is susceptible to stress and has low fertility. They are not doing well in captivity and have never been successfully captive bred.

What are the threats to the Palawan forest turtle?

This species is facing a combination of threats. Being a lowland forest species, the species is more and more threatened by habitat destruction and conversion, mainly through slash-and-burn farming practices, timber cutting, agricultural encroachment, and quarrying. Like the other freshwater turtle species in the Philippines, S. leytensis is consumed locally as source of protein. Commercial exploitation for food and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) though is causing a more severe threat to the wild populations. Yet, the biggest threat to the Palawan Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. Just months after its rediscovery was published in 2004, the species was available on the international pet markets of Europe, Japan, China and the USA. Since then prices remained high and are still at some $2,000 USD per individual.

In 2015, the species received the dubious honour of almost having been eradicated, when it was found in the largest ever made confiscation of a Critically Endangered freshwater turtle.

What are you doing to save it?

In 2007, KFI established quarantine, rescue and holding facilities at the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation in Narra, Palawan, where the only range assurance colony of Siebenrockiella leytensis is maintained.

In partnership with academic institutions and wildlife agencies on Palawan, Katala Foundation is leading public awareness campaigns that are designed to improve law enforcement against illegal wildlife trade. Likewise, KFI conducts scientific research on the management of Philippine freshwater turtles and their habitats, and educates and capacitates stakeholders on natural resource management and conservation, and restoration of the species’ habitats.

Distribution surveys and long-term studies on population trends, ecology, and life history of the Palawan forest turtle are also being undertaken by KFI since 2007.

KFI established the first protected area for a freshwater turtle in the Philippines in Dumarao, Roxas, Palawan in 2013. The expansion of the area into an adjacent lowland forest is currently being discussed.

Together with numerous helpers, KFI managed to rescue most of the 4,000 individuals that had been confiscated during what became known as the Palawan Forest Turtle Crisis in 2015. In total, 3,385 individuals were released back to the wild within the indigenous range of the species and KFI continues to monitor these sites today.

VOTE NOW!

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

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