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The Wolf Eel: The Old Man of the Sea

Monday, 27 May 2019

Picture one of those double-take moments when you have to look again in a mixture of curiosity and alarm. Then imagine that you are thirty meters underwater when that happens. Over the years, divers off the coast of California have had many such moments when they suddenly come across the huge face of an old man peering at them from the rocky reefs below. Yet this is not anything approaching a subaquatic nightmare: it is the face of an extraordinary creature, the wolf eel.

The Water Deer: Vampire among the Ruminants?

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Do you see something a little strange about the deer in the picture? If your eyes were immediately drawn to those rather vampiric fangs protruding from its mouth, then your next thought might have been that this must be some sort of freak of nature, an accident of birth.  That isn’t how deers come, is it?  For the Water Deer, otherwise and popularly known as the Vampire Deer the answer is in the affirmative.

Let’s give the animal its proper name.  This is the Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis inermis) and it is one of two subspecies (the other being the Korean variety) which have prominent tusks, downward-pointing canine teeth which make it look as if it’s had a run in with a Nosferatu type who has suddenly acquired the ability to ‘turn’ mammals other than humans.  This feature makes the subspecies unique – they are the only two members of the genus Hydropotes.

The Crabs that Build Their Own Galaxy

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Small hermit and soldier crabs in Malaysia and Australia build their home digging a deep hope in the sand on a beach. They got a good idea of how to move sand up during his construction. Down in the hole this crab is making sand balls and later push them up to the surface, 2-3 balls at a time. Pushing sand ball more far from the hole they form a kind of sand ball flower or sand ball galaxy.

Up close you can see the almost perfectly spherical balls that the crabs engineer.  They are meticulous in their method to say the very least.

Ecdysis: When Growing Up is More than Skin Deep

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Many invertebrates go through a process called ecdysis.  Taken from the ancient Greek the word means, literally, to strip off.  It leaves behind an exuviae (often spelled with the final e omitted), the remains of the exoskeleton which has been shed, often with related structures still attached. For some invertebrates it can be a regular occurrence to facilitate growth.  For others it can be part of a series of instars which culminate in the emergence of the finished, adult form.  It is a fascinating process where beauty can be found in the grotesque. For these animals, however, the process of growing up is far more than simply skin deep.

Essentially, ecdysis is the molting of the cuticle, the tough multi-layered cover outside the epidermis that provides protection as an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton must be shed as it constrains growth. First, the cuticle separates from the epidermis – yet the arthropod remains inside for now - this is called apolysis. Next, a hormone called ecdysone is secreted from the epidermis. It fills the gap between the old cuticle and the epidermis which is known as the exuvial space. The enzymes in the hormone are not activated until a new epicuticle (the outermost waxy layer of the arthropod exoskeleton) is formed. Once this is done they kick in and the lower regions of the old cuticle are digested. Finally the process of molting can start.

Goats Just Wanna Have Fun


Let’s face it, if you are as sharp and curious as the average goat then life in the farmyard could become just a little bit dull.  However, when a flexible steel ribbon is placed inside your pen for no apparent reason then a use for it just has to be sound.

This video shows that just like most other living things on this wonderful planet of ours, goats just wanna have fun.

We Know What Bears Do in Woods But What Do They Do on the Golf Course?

Sunday, 28 April 2019


Play Golf? Well perhaps not quite as we know it!  This young bear and other members of his family were spotted on the Mountainside Golf Course at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Canada.

Andi Dzilums was out on the course that morning and managed to capture the moment that the bear cub took the inevitable decision to grab hold of and run around (and around!) with the pin.  This amusing spectacle of bear-faced cheek (couldn’t resist it) carried on until the cub spotted something just as interesting – a golf ball.

You might think that Andi was a little foolhardy - to say the least - to put himself so close to these wild animals.  They are North American black bears, not grizzlies and so tend to be timid around humans and only attack if they really, really have to.  However, if you don't know the difference- keep your distance!

The Oldest Species on Earth – The Horseshoe Shrimp

Saturday, 27 April 2019

It was almost bound to be small and seemingly insignificant but the oldest species of earth is a shrimp, ironic given the connotations of its name in the English language.  Rather than being the runt, the squirt and the general nobody its name implies, this little guy (the Horseshoe shrimp to friends but Triops cancriformis rather more formally) has staying power.  It is almost the same now as it was two hundred million years ago.

So, this little chap wasn’t just around when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was around when they were evolving.  Now researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland have discovered two hitherto undiscovered colonies of the rare shrimp.  And they did so in quite an unusual manner.

The Red and White Giant Flying Squirrel Takes to the Air

Saturday, 20 April 2019


You might have thought that there was only one species of giant squirrel.  In fact, there are 44 in the tribe and the largest is the Red and White Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista alborufus).

It is found in the forests of China and Taiwan and, boy, can it fly.  Strictly speaking it glides, but as you can see from the video above it is extraordinarily good at that.  It launches itself in to space and then seems to float effortlessly through the trees to its destination.  As you can imagine they are very difficult to film!

The flight is – admittedly – awesome but what many find equally striking about the Red and White Giant Flying Squirrel are its piercing blue eyes.

This incredible species inhabits the dense montane forests and limestone cliffs of China.  It is distributed widely in the country and is not in any danger of extinction.  In Taiwan they inhabit the island’s hardwood and conifer forests, nesting high in tree hollows.

They have small litters of only one or two infants and feed on a variety of nuts, fruit and vegetation.  They will also eat insects and larvae and have been spotted occasionally raiding bird nests for eggs when times are a little frugal.

Watch Killer Whales Hunt, Kill and Feed on a Tiger Shark

Sunday, 14 April 2019


The tiger shark is more often considered the hunter rather than the hunted but here is filmed evidence that it is not quite at the top of its particular food chain.  Footage captured by Edwar Herreño shows a pod of killer whales take down a tiger shark with ruthless efficiency and then divvy up the resulting carcass, playing with their food as we might do with a shrimp.  The film captures not only the immediacy of lunch time chez the killers but also their sheer, magnificent power and size - not to mention that they ruthlessly stalk, kill and devour their prey so gracefully. True cetacean connoisseurs.

The Biggest Dogs in the World - There Be Giants

Sunday, 24 March 2019


Let’s face it, some people like their pets big! If you are looking for a large dog there are a number of breeds which are generally referred to as giants. Be careful, though – you should only consider these breeds if you have lots of space, lots of time and quite a deal of money. The Ark in Space takes a look at the giants of the canine world.

The English Mastiff
The English Mastiff, in terms of mass is the big daddy of all dogs and its dimensions particularly that of the male are something to be believed. Every inch of this dog gives off strength and power – if the planet Krypton had a dog then this would probably be it. The world record holding breed for weight, this dog can weigh up to two hundred and fifty pounds for a male and around fifty pounds less than a female. The breed has been around for a long time – the name probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for powerful –masty. It is generally recognized to be the oldest dog breed in the UK.

Stinging Caterpillars of the United States

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Caterpillars – the shapes and sizes that they come in and for many the urge to touch, pick up and hold is almost irresistible. Yet although most butterfly and moth larvae are quite harmless, preferring to curl up in a ball when threatened, some will make it quite plain that they do not like to be touched. They will sting: here is a selection of the stinging caterpillars of the United States.

The saddleback moth caterpillar, Sibine stimuli, pictured above has a 'face' that scares off many a potential predator. Yet it will also send you a definite message that it is unhappy with your sticky fingers on it. In a purely defensive tactic it will give you a sting that will dissuade you from picking up another. You can see the ‘horns’ that the caterpillar has on each end of its body – these are barbed spines which are also known as urticating setae.

The Ocelot – Really Back From the Brink?

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Do you hear a lot about the Ocelot? Hunted for its pelt for hundreds of years, the Ocelot was classified as a vulnerable endangered species until 1996. One look at this still rare animal and the attraction is undeniable but why is it no longer considered endangered?

7 Questions Kids Always Ask About Animals

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Kids and animals – they go together so well!  However, kids are curious about all sorts of concepts and animals are no exception! Children will never stop bothering us with their thought-provoking and annoying questions. Here are eight of them about animals, and how to answer them - starting with two of the more frequently asked and then some of the lesser (but still amusing) answers. Oh and don't worry about the little girl above - she does not have cruel and irresponsible parents. It's a statue.

Becoming - Watch a Single Cell become a Complete Organism

Sunday, 24 February 2019


This is just amazing – one cell becomes two, two becomes four – and so on until a complete organism is there in front of your eyes. In this case it is a newt tadpole that emerges but is the process that is fascinating. It may sound like a long time to wait to see a tadpole swim off but believe me, you will be entranced by this little creature’s process of becoming.

A film by Jan van IJken, Becoming just became the one thing that made my day. Enjoy!

Avian Architecture – the Precarious Nests of the Stork

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Storks make their nests high. To us they look remarkably precarious structures, not exactly a desirable residence – the ‘des res’ of your dreams. The stork, however, thrives at height most of us would avoid like the plague. Take a look at some amazing nests of the stork.

Although many Europeans encourage storks to nest on the roof of their home – it is supposed to increase the fecundity of the householders – many would gasp at the inherent danger that lies in building one’s home on top of a deadly current of electricity. In Denmark, however, the stork is not a welcome guest and so this would be considered appropriate alternative housing. The Danish believe that if a stork builds a nest on top of your house then someone who lives there will die before the year ends. These parent storks, however, will not be on the nest for great periods of time. This stork in Hungary is flying back to the nest to feed its offspring. The visit will need to be fairly quick though – stork chicks can eat anything up to sixty percent of their body weight each day. That is quite a few fish and frogs.

Prehistoric Landscape Returns to Europe

Saturday, 26 January 2019

If you take a short train journey north from Amsterdam you really should choose to sit on your left.  When you have passed the small town of Almere you will come across something that has not been seen in Europe for thousands of years.  Beasties, big beasties.  Herds and herds of them.  Welcome to the Oostvaardersplassen.

It looks to the observer as if they have suddenly been transported back in time.  Herds of deer, wild cattle and horses roam around – it is like a vast prehistoric landscape.  Strangely enough this place did not exist before 1968. It is a polder, a low lying tract of land that is enclosed by barriers called dikes.   The Oostvaardersplassen has become in forty years one of the most important nature reserves in Europe.

The Strange Elegance of the Giraffe-Necked Antelope

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Found in Eastern Africa ranging from Somalia to Kenya there is a slightly odd looking long-necked creature that is reminiscent of a giraffe but that is one thing it most certainly is not.

The Hidden Life of the Burrowing Owl

Sunday, 13 January 2019


We don’t usually stray away from live action on Ark in Space, but this is really something rather wonderful.  Mike Roush, an animator living in California, has created this animated record of the life and loves of the Burrowing Owl.  Although it does veer in to the anthropomorphic it also faithfully records many of the details of how burrowing owls survive in the wild.  If this wets your appetite for the real thing then why not take a look at our feature article on the burrowing owl.

The Schmidt Sting Pain Index: How Much Could You Take?

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Have you ever been stung by a bee? Want to know how much you have suffered on a scale of one to four? Then take a look at the Schmidt Sting Pain Index which rates the relative pain caused by the sting of hymenoptera. That would be sawflies, wasps, bees and ants to most of us.


The Sweat Bee

Schmidt describes the sting of the Sweat Bee as “Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.” Sweat bees are a large family of bees and they are hugely attracted to humans. Specifically, it is the salt in our sweat that they like.

The Meerkat - Sun Angel of Africa

Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Meerkat – if any species of animal had a right to be a little irritated by the name we have gifted them, this is one. Of course, they are blithely unaware of any names we might choose to call them, but this small mammal from the heart of Africa is anything but a mere cat.


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