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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.

The Frog Photographer

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Director Thaddeus D. Matula followed conservation biologist, amphibian specialist and nature photographer Robin Moore into the heart of the Costa Rican rain forest on the Osa Peninsula. The Osa is a mecca for biologists as it is home to 2.5% of all the world's unique species. Robin sets out to document some of its smallest four-legged inhabitants including the poison dart frog which has a very distinctive call! This amazing project was selected for the launch of BBC Earth.

Monster Fish - In Search of the Last River Giants

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Are there still enormous fish swimming in our lakes and rivers?

To find out the answer you will have to watch this short film animated by Daniel Gies.

It was made for the National Geographic Museum.

This is a beautifully made piece.  I am sure you will enjoy this.

The Ribbon Seal: The Seal with Stripes

What do you get if you cross a zebra with a seal?  There is no sensible answer to that question, of course, but there is a species of seal which lives in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the North Pacific Ocean which could (however unfeasibly) be the product of a chance romance between the two species.  It is the Ribbon Seal and it is remarkable for its stripes.

Like many seals, the ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata) has dark brown to black fur.  Yet what makes it standout is its remarkable and conspicuous coloration.  It has two white stripes and two circles which pattern its body in a particularly striking way.  Its genus – Histriophoca – has a single member: you’re looking at it.  The ribbon seal is one of a kind.

Why Sharks Matter

Thursday, 9 April 2015

It’s ironic that movies like Jaws present sharks as ravenous maneaters when the real villain of the piece is… you guessed it.  The human population of the planet eats hundreds of thousands of sharks each year – more specifically their fins.  Often what remains after the fin is removed – the bulk of the shark – is simply dumped back in to the ocean.

The shark has been the apex predator in the Earth’s oceans for 400 million years – the species has been around since before the dinosaurs.  Yet if we remove the shark from the oceans – and that seems likely if the demands from ravenous sharkeaters for shark fin soup persists – what will happen to the rest of the ecosystem?

Sign the pledge to ban the trade of shark fins in Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey:

Baby Elephant’s Bathtub is a Tight Squeeze

Kids are kids, whatever the species.  So when this baby elephant at the Elephantstay sanctuary in Thailand saw his bath being filled his first reaction is, like any sensible child, to make a run up to it and dive in head first. 

Unfortunately there comes a time when one outgrows the paddling pool and this pampered pachyderm hardly fits!
I never knew that elephants were capable of such contortions (but the older one in the background is doing its best been there done that air of nonchalence.

Cats In Sinks

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The old proverb is true. In a cat's eye, everything belongs to cats. That includes, well, everything - including your sink. What has a certain use for us may be interpreted as useful in an altogether different way by our feline friends.  So it is with that useful household item, the sink.  Cats love them - but for very different reasons to us.  Prepared to be bemused and amused at the same time.  The words are related - we need no better excuse. So, because they can so can we - welcome to the world of cats in sinks.

They may always be quite certain what they are doing there themselves, as Phoebe the gorgeous Persian here seems to be indicating with that rather sullen but perplexed look on her face.  Perhaps that old Moroccan saying is true, after all - you cannot teach an old cat to dance.

Lembeh Straits, A Macro Symphony

Monday, 6 April 2015

The red ‘orang-utan’ crab that you can see in the picture on the left is so tiny that its home is a discarded Coca-Cola bottle top.  The shrimp that you will see after it is barely 4mm tall. 

Such is life in Malaysia’s Lembeh Straits and these two creatures along with all the others in this underwater macro short, filmed by Kay Burn Lim, make for fascinating viewing. To paraphrase a commenter, it makes one aware of the incredible diversity of life in our oceans and the paramount importance of preserving it.

Happiest Video EVER!

The folks at Edgar's Mission Farm Sanctuary in Australia have called this the Happiest Video Ever which is something of a claim.  However, I do believe that you will find the hyperbole warranted.  This video shows many of the inhabitants of the farm sanctuary which currently provides life-long love and care to over 250 rescued animals.  Watch it and I dare you not to go “aaaaw” at least five times!

Dolphins: The World's Best Surfers

You can find the world’s best surfers at Dolphin Cove near Esperance in West Australia but don’t expect to see any surf boards – the clue is in the name.

This remarkable footage captured by Jennene and Dave Riggs who have been wildlife filmmakers since 1998 shows a pod of dolphins simply enjoying themselves with what nature provides.  If we can’t have lives spent quite in the same pursuit of happiness then at least we can share the pleasure of watching our dolphin friends having fun.  Who was it who said we were the most intelligent species on the planet?

Why the Loggerhead Shrike is Also Known as The Butcher Bird

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Some animals have a reputation that they did nothing to warrant.  Not so the Loggerhead Shrike.  It has an alternative name which it richly deserves.  It is called the butcher bird and anywhere it is common in North America its prey are left out to dry in the same way that a butcher might hang his meat.

Image Credit andymorffew
Image Credit Hunter Desportes
If you can’t see a loggerhead shrike then you will know if one is about if you check and barbed wire or sharp, pointed vegetation.  If you see the impaled remains of insects like the grasshopper then although you might suspect it to due to the exertions of some willful boy it is much more likely to be the handiwork of the butcher bird.

Quiz: Can You Name These 20 Common North American Backyard Birds?

Friday, 3 April 2015

Can you name twenty of the most common North American birds?  Certainly if you live there you should be able to name a good number of these beautiful avian species.  You might see a few of them if you look out of your window right now – if you are lucky and it’s not the middle of the night.  Even if you don’t live in America you will be able to guess a number of these because they might just be found in your backyard too!

If the answer you choose goes GREEN, then you got it right.  If it goes RED then you got it wrong.  You will also see how many other people chose the different answers (in terms of a percentage).

Would you like to do another quiz?
Fifteen big cats and wild cats are to be found here - but can you guess the species? Click here or on the picture to do the quiz.

Image Credits
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ,6 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 20

Quiz: How Many of these Endangered Mammals are Left?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Fifteen species, fifteen multiple choice questions. Yet how many of each species do you think still exists in the wild? 

If the answer you choose goes GREEN, then you got it right.  If it goes RED then you got it wrong.  You will also see how many others chose the different answers (in terms of a percentage).

Would you like to do another quiz?

If this quiz has left you a little depressed (the numbers of some of the species are of massive concern to everyone, after all, then try a quiz which, it is hoped, can only raise the spirits.  Fifteen big cats and wild cats are involved - but can you guess the species? Click here or on the picture to do the quiz.

Image Credits
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

The Holy Rats of Karni Mata

From the outside the Hindu temple of Karni Mata in the small town of Deshnoke in the Indian province of Rajasthan looks much like any other. Ornate and beautiful and with a steady stream of worshippers arriving it holds a surprise for the unsuspecting visitor.

The temple is inhabited by rats: thousands of them.

The Brown Bear: King of the Nordic Forests

This short film by Chris Schmid strives to highlight the wild brown bears, it is the result of filming in remote locations in Finland over a couple of days.

While the brown bear's range has shrunk and it has faced local extinctions, it remains listed as a least concern species by the IUCN with a total population of approximately 200,000.

How Does a Hermit Crab Change Shells? In the Most Remarkable Way!

Hermit crabs use sea shells as their homes but as the crab grows they need to move on and move up the property ladder.  You might think that they simply find a bigger shell and slip in to that but the process can be rather more extraordinary.

As humans we often form chains in order for many people to move at once.  It is the same for the hermit crab with a number of crabs lining up to exchange – in strict order of size.  Of course the odd bit of gazumping goes on, as you can see in this fascinating footage narrated by David Attenborough.

Penguin the Magpie and Noah take an Outdoor Shower

Photographer Cameron Bloom’s son Noah rescued a magpie when it was a chick.  Since then, although the appropriately (more or less) named Penguin is as free as a bird (ahem) it keeps coming back to re-engage with its adopted family.  Here Noah (an even more appropriate name, perhaps!) and Penguin take an outdoor shower together on a hot summer’s day.

You can see more photographs of this amazing friendship on Cameron Bloom’s Instagram feed.

Amung Feedjit