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Cats and Other Cool Customers Banned from Casinos

Friday, 6 November 2015

There are stories, urban myths and then there are legends.  One such legend is that cats are banned from casinos because they are too good at playing poker.  Although this is an entertaining theory you have to remember one thing – cats don’t have opposable thumbs and so playing cards would be difficult, if not impossible, for them.  Were cats to choose to gamble it would be better for them to play online casino games at Netbet.  Only a gentle pad of the paw is necessary to place a bet online.

In truth, casino managers have to be careful and there are some people who, frankly, you would pay to stay away.  Take TV and stage illusionist Derren Brown.  He has shown his card counting abilities on the TV on a number of occasions so when a casino in Birmingham (UK) got wind that Brown was planning to pay them a visit they promptly informed him that their blackjack tables would be out of bounds to him.

Not only that, they had the magician escorted from the premises – perhaps him even being in the vicinity gave them enough cold shudders to arrange his premature departure from the casino.  An over-reaction? You might think so until you realise that the establishment was about the last place in the UK to have banned him,

There are some people you would think a casino would welcome with open arms.  Take the world-famous singing group One Direction.  Last year they were staying in a Las Vegas hotel which had a casino attached.  What fantastic free publicity! However, after someone did a quick calculation the casino realised that all the members of the group were still under 21 (the legal age for gambling in Nevada). Cue a rush to get the boys out of the casino and in to the fresh air!

Of course, sometimes people do have to be quickly and politely removed from even the politest of establishments and that must be a sight to behold for curious onlookers.  However, what I would really, really like to see is how the manager of a casino might react if four feline friends did indeed enter the place and make their way, coolly slinking through the lines of slot machines, to the blackjack tables!

Image Credit

Hey! A Dog isn't just for Christmas - it's for Halloween Too!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Every year on October 31 the ghouls and ghosts rise - and people make fools of themselves all over the world by wearing ridiculous outfits.  Well, Halloween isn't just for humans, you know!  Here we bring together some wonderful shots of pets of all sizes (OK, dogs - they are the only ones who seem to be able to put up with it!) in their Halloween outfits.  Enjoy this great set of pictures of the dogs of the world dressing up in their Halloween costumes.

Nico and the Turtle

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The times when you can pinpoint the actions that you made which changed your life forever are sometimes hard to pinpoint.  Not so for Australian conservationist and filmmaker Jase Kovacs and his partner Jolene, both of Team Labyrinth.  They sail around south east Asia, investigating ecological issues and bringing attention to small and underrepresented community conservation organisations.

During their journey they came across young Nico who had rescued an incredibly rare hawksbill turtle from his father’s fishing nets at Dahican Beach, Mindanao, Philippines.  So far, so good but the events which unravel over the next few days might actually make you believe in fate.

Watch as Ants Attack a Large Millipede and Use Amazing Team-work to Drag it Away

Sunday, 6 September 2015

This is something else.  Belgian freelance photographer and environmental engineer Stephane De Greef captured this footage in Cambodia.  A group of Leptogenys ants decide to attack a recumbent millipede.  What happens next is astonishing.

They surround it (in what can only be called a militarily disciplined fashion), then go in for the attack with one of their number attacking the head (surely the most vulnerable part).  The millipede's reaction is immediate and desperate.  However, the ants soon have the upper hand and drag their hapless victim away by assembling chains made up of themselves.

There is no music or narration here, but if you are in a certain mood then you can use the on-screen notes as visual prompts to become your very own David Attenborough. "Deep in the jungle of Cambodia..."

Whale Haven: Where Whales find Sanctuary

Off the shore of Campania Island in Canada’s British Columbia is a place where whales of many species find sanctuary. Northern resident killer whales, the fish-eaters, come together to form superpods.

On some days more than fifty individuals follow the salmon migration into the mainland fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest. The transient killer whales, the marine-mammal eaters, are forever travelling between seal and sea lion haul-outs, teaching the young how to hunt.

Yet there is trouble in this resplendent, tranquil ocean paradise.  This short film by Pacific Wild shows us what the future may hold in store for these magnificent creatures.  Click on the HD symbol at the bottom right of the video for its full awesomeness (if your device will take it!).

The Astonishing Eggs of Alien Nations

Sunday, 30 August 2015

They may look like they come straight out of a science fiction film, but these eggs are real - they come from the stink bug. It’s life, but most certainly not as we know it. Take a look at the astonishing eggs of the alien nations all around us.

Image Credit
Lacewing eggs are attached to a leaf or a stalk by a slender piece of silk to place them, hopefully, out of harm’s way.  What hatches, however, is the stuff of nightmares.  The larvae immediately molt and then go on something approaching a feeding frenzy.  As their senses (except that of touch) are not well developed they will essentially attack anything living that they touch in the hope that it is food.  Once they are attached to their prey they will inject it with a digestive fluid – the insides of an aphid can be liquefied by a lacewing larva in an astonishing 90 seconds.

Breakfast at Giraffe Manor

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya was built in the 1930s but today its main purpose is somewhat different to its original design.  It serves as a sanctuary for a herd of Rothschild’s Giraffes, a highly endangered species and the manor has been involved in their conservation since the 1970s.

Photographer and author Robin Moore captured these wonderful shots of the giraffes – seemingly in their element and completely at ease with the tourists around them.  In fact, to the giraffes, the presence of a few people seems to be just a minor complication in their quest for food!

It just goes to show that conservation takes many forms. In a perfect world, perhaps, there wouldn’t be a need for places like Giraffe Manor yet with their numbers declining rapidly, anything which draws attention to their plight has to be applauded.

The video was produced for "This Happened Here" on the Seeker Network from Discovery featuring Robin’s images and video from Giraffe Manor.

Ecdysis: When Growing Up is More than Skin Deep

Saturday, 22 August 2015

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.

What on Earth is this Swan Doing?

Friday, 7 August 2015

I was recently on vacation with my family in Chester (North England) and on one of our walks along the local canal we came across this swan. He (or she) seemed intent on swimming up and down alongside a barge. Our best guess was that the swan was trying to catch small insects that, for whatever reason, were congregating there. Is there anyone out there who can confirm this? Is this normal swan behavior?

Welcome to the Bee Hotel

This remarkable structure can be found in Place des Jardins  in Paris and is known as a bee hotel. You may be wondering what bees need a hotel for, when they make their own hives. The truth is that many species of bees are solitary – the do not live in hives but instead construct their own nest. The main reason for this is because in these species every female is fertile and this would not make for comfortable communal living in a hive.

Bee hotels are necessary for a number of different reasons. To begin with bee populations have been on a decline in recent years. Part of the problem is that their natural habitats have been cleared to make way for intensive agriculture. Pesticides have also been instrumental in their decline. 

The Solitary Bee: Wonderful Short Documentary

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Did you know that the UK has over 250 species of bees and that the majority of them don’t live in hives but live their lives alone?  This wonderful documentary by Team Candiru follows first Red Mason Bees and then others as they struggle to find resources, avoid death and create new life.  If you love nature the next seventeen minutes are going to seem like a few seconds.  Enjoy!

Plus if you want to learn more about the bee hotels included in this documentary then whey not visit our feature article on them?

The Caterpillar with Penguins on Its Back

Saturday, 6 June 2015

If you look at the caterpillar of the forest tent caterpillar moth (Malacosoma disstria) with a little imagination you can see something remarkable. Found throughout North America, along the top of this caterpillar is ranged a set of what looks like dancing penguins. It looks as if his grandma knitted him a sweater for Christmas but decided that one motif simply wasn’t enough.

Image Credit MattyBravo

The Strange Life Cycle of the Ladybug

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Ladybug has something of a strange life cycle and one that surprises many people. From egg to fully grown ladybug, join us on a journey of a lifetime - literally!

The ladybug will always try and mate as close to a colony of aphids as possible. The ladybug loves aphids and will eat many of them each day.

I’m New!

If you have had a stressful day then grab a drink, sit back and just take this all in.  Created by Sander van Schie, this short film simply allows us to watch as new life takes to the water in the form of ducklings and baby coots.  That’s pretty much it (except an appearance by a heron!) but that is all you will need – hopefully – to unwind and simply enjoy this marvellous example of what nature has to offer us.

Manta Ray Rescue

Every year millions of animals die as a result of items being discarded in to the ocean.  In this case it is a tangle of fishing line which has managed to wind itself around a huge manta ray.  The animal must have been in agony – as the camera comes closer you can see the huge rips in its skin caused where the line has driven inwards.  It must have only been a matter of time before the pain and the wounds bettered the manta ray and it died.

Fortunately, it was encountered by a group of Undersea Hunter divers at Cocos Island off the shore of Costa Rica.  They were able to cut the manta ray free with a diving knife, releasing it after goodness knows how long.  One can only ponder on the ability of a large fish, such as the ray, being able to experience relief or even gratitude but it certainly seems to know that it has been released from its bondage.

This extraordinary footage was made by Paul Slater and Don Shellhammer.

Sanctuary of 700

Cats, cats, everywhere!  If you feel overwhelmed by two or three cats paying you attention then perhaps you should look away now!  Cat House on the Kings in California is currently home to 700 cats and kittens which, for a number of reasons, have lost their own place of safety and need somewhere to stay before they are adopted.

It’s quite a sight as the place has a no-cage policy which means that the cats are free to wander everywhere which, being cats, of course they do!

Run by the redoubtable Lynea Lattanzio, The Cat House began life over two decades ago and despite initial problems with permission to provide shelter to so many cats, has gone from strength to strength ever since.  Ms Lattanzio’s ultimate aim is, frankly, to go out of business.  Through educating the public she wants the need for this kind of place to become a thing of the past.  Eleanor Abernathy, the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons she ain’t.

Elizabeth Nelson, a graduating film student at Northern Arizona University, visited this fascinating place and created this lovely short documentary.  Although The Cat House does do tours, most of you reading this will be far away from California. So, take a guided tour around the facility and meet the staff, including Ms Lattanzio who tells us how the whole thing started.

The word sanctuary doesn’t fully or properly describe this place.  It’s a veritable Shangri-La for cats.  You can also learn a lot more about it at its website, The Cat House on the Kings.

Magpies: Not only Black and White

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Eurasian magpie (left) is one of the few species of birds which can recognise itself in a mirror test.  As they stand out so much with their black and white plumage you might imagine that this is something which is relatively easy to do.  After all, when we think of magpies we think in black and white too!  Yet magpies are not only black and white.  There are other species which belie the general belief that all magpies are: here are some exceptions that prove the rule.

The Common Green Magpie
Image Credit Jasonbkk
Around the size of a Eurasian jay this magpie is a vivid green with a thick black stripe from the bill to the nape which crosses the eyes, giving it a vaguely superhero-in-disguise look (although this bird is probably more villain than hero).  To see one in the wild you would have to go to the Himalayas, central Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Broneo.  The common green magpie (Cissa chinensis) makes its home in evergreen forest and is hunts small mammals and reptiles.  It will often raid the nests of other birds and carry away young birds or, if they are not yet hatched, will devour the eggs before making their getaway.

Cool Facts about Snails

Saturday, 2 May 2015

If you have ever wondered how snails get about, which of their ‘eyes’ they use to see, how strong they are or even how long they live then you have come to the right place! This is the first episode of The Macro Life by Rubber Knife Productions and features all those essential facts about snails that you always meant to ask but never quite got around to.  With a jocular narration by Jeremy Linn, this look at the macro life of snails is hugely enjoyable.

Watch as Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks Save their Ducklings from an American Alligator

The black-bellied whistling duck makes its nest as high as possible to avoid predators.  As you can see here, the bird house wasn’t exactly planned for this family!

Yet when the time comes for the ducklings to leap from the safety of the box in to the water the last thing the parents want is all their hard work to disappear in to the belly of an American alligator.  When it looks as if this is likely, the plucky parent leaps in to action and drives away the reptilian onslaught!

This remarkable footage was shot and edited by Tara Tanaka

Skeletorus! Amazing New Species of Peacock Spider Discovered

Saturday, 18 April 2015

It is, of course, just a nickname.  In September 2013, American PhD student Madeline (Maddie) Girard from Berkeley in California and her Sydney friend Eddie Aloise King alighted upon five males of a hitherto unknown species of peacock spider in Wondul Range National Park in Queensland, Australia. They were not able to resist a nod to He-Man’s primary adversary in the Masters of the Universe franchise, Skeletor (left). The bold, skeleton-like aspect of the male spider demanded a designation both apposite and memorable.

Girard took one of the spiders to Dr Jürgen Otto, handing it over with the words approximating to “This is what I call Skeletorus. When you look at him you will know why.”  Although professionally an acarologist (he studies mites and ticks), Otto is fascinated by the peacock spider and is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the genus.  He and David Hill, the American editor of the journal Peckhamia that specialises in the publication of articles on the jumping spider family, began studying this species in preparation for a scientific description.

The scientific name arrived at – its binomial nomenclature – is a little different to Girard’s creative nickname. This incredible new discovery has been named Maratus sceletus by Otto and Hill. Maratus is a genus of Salticidae which means that this is a peacock spider, one of the jumping spider family. Sceletus is Latin for (you probably know or have guessed this already) skeleton, which Otto and Hill thought it resembled more than the fictional character. Although Skeletorus was a strictly working name, it may, however, be the name that’s going to stick.

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