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The Sand Cat – Desert Cat Extraordinaire

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Don’t be fooled by the off the scale cuteness quotient. This is the Sand Cat – or Felis margarita, a little known species of desert cat. In the wild it lives in areas that are too hot and dry for any other cat- the deserts of Africa and Asia, including the Sahara. It is the only desert species of cat known to us. As such, this cat is one tough cookie.

It also lives in the Arabian desert and those of Iran and Pakistan, yet despite being so widespread it was not described by a European until 1858. That happened to be one Victor Loche, a French soldier and naturalist who explored the Northern Sahara and found the sand cat waiting patiently there for his descriptive skills.

The Hellbender: Giant Salamander of the United States

Friday, 6 April 2018

When you think about where giant salamanders come from, most people would normally associate them with China and Japan.  Yet while it is true that almost all members of the giant salamander family, the Cryptobranchidae, originate in Asia there is one species which calls the eastern United States its home.  It is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, known otherwise and popularly as the hellbender.

Why this giant salamander, which can grow up to 30 inches in length, acquired this name is lost to history.  Some say it is because of its strange looks which bewildered early European settlers who imagined that it was a creature from the underworld, bent on returning there.  While this is hardly fair, it is not its only unflattering moniker: it also goes by the names mud-devil, devil-dog and more recently, the snotty otter.  The first name, as we shall see is the most inaccurate: the hellbender doesn’t like mud one little bit.

Please Help Keep Ark in Space Online!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

You may or may not know this but Ark in Space is curated by just one person – and that person would be me! There are a number of expenses that the site incurs each month and so, with my cap in my hand, I’m going to beg a favor.

If you enjoy Ark in Space, please consider helping out with the cost of running the site.  As you can guess, it takes a lot of time and effort, too!

Below this post you will see a button which will enable you to make a contribution safely and securely. You can give as little or as much as you like – I’m not going to limit your choices! Anything will be gratefully received and will help to ensure that I can carry on bringing you all the great features, photographs and videos about the natural world that makes the site what it is.

So, if you read or watch something that you have really enjoyed, please think about sending us a small donation. Thanks!

Best regards

Robert-John


PS: The donation page is set to US dollars as that is where we get most of our traffic from. So, if you are outside the USA please remember to calculate the amount from your currency first!

Image Credit

The Desert Rain Frog: The Frog That Squeaks

Saturday, 10 March 2018


Meanwhile, over in Africa, a critically endangered species of frog has caught the world’s attention.  Endemic to just a 10 kilometer stretch between the countries of South Africa and Namibia, this small amphibian does not croak or rivvit – it squeaks.  Play the video above to see for yourself.  It sounds just like one of those squeaky toys you might give a dog to play with.

Squeaking aside for the moment, the Latin name for the desert rain frog is Berviceps macrops and it lives on a narrow strip of sandy shore between the sea and the dunes.  It lives mostly under the ground but when the fog drifts in from the ocean it takes to the surface and emits its war cry.  This may be enough to frighten off others of its species but it has become a long-lived meme on the internet.


Fortunately, it’s unlikely that many will venture to its sandy habitat to steal specimens.  Yet its environment is threatened both by industry and encroaching human populations.  It is difficult to find as it is nocturnal – even though it leaves behind it very distinctive ‘foot’ prints. These are usually discovered around heaps of animal dung – the frog is thought to live off the small insects which congregate around this matter.

It seems it is the misty air which keeps the frog’s skin moist – the areas where it is found get over 100 foggy days each year.  There are no pools for tadpoles, however; the young are laid under the ground and emerge at the surface as fully-formed if tiny desert rain frogs.  When they are seen above ground, they often have sand stuck to their skin.

Perhaps that’s why they get so angry.  It isn’t known really whether this is a warning, a mating song or something else.  One can only hope that the desert rain frog continues to squeak its way through the millennia despite our best efforts to destroy its habitat.

Why Conserve Biodiversity?

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


There are millions of species on the planet, right? So, surely we can spare a few of them!  Directed by Luis Navarro for Divulagare, this animated short documentary takes four minutes to explain very clearly why the conservation of our planet’s biodiversity is of paramount importance to us all.  Think of an ecological butterfly effect and you (ort of) get the picture.  Enough of me trying to explain – press play!

Peacock Spider – Australia’s Show Off Super Hero Spider

Sunday, 18 February 2018


Australia is home to many strange and unusual animals, something the majority of us know. When asked, most people would say that it is the marsupials of the country that are the most significantly different to the rest of the world.  Perhaps that assumption should be questioned – Australia is also home to the tiny Peacock Spider, whose behaviour and appearance is nothing short of startling.

Nature’s Fearless Fighting Machines – Superb Photography

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Animals fight for a variety of reasons. It may be for play, for space or, most likely, for sexual dominance. Here, with the help of some wonderful images – we take a look at a few species in the throes of fighting.

A pair of gulls fight in mid-air. Conflict is incredibly commonplace within the animal kingdom. Quite often the fights are short and based on display rather than actual physical contact and so it is difficult to capture on film. The photographer must be incredibly quick in order to get that photograph. This particular spat, for example, would have been over in seconds.

The Sand Dollar – the Animal that Can Clone Itself

Sunday, 14 January 2018


This somewhat strange looking specimen is a Sand dollar. It is a sea urchin which burrows and comes from the order Clypeasteroida – and you can see why it gets its name, as it resembles a coin.  Some joke that it is the only stable dollar in the world at the moment.  Humor aside, it does have one trick up its sleeve that we can only wish would apply to real money.  It can clone itself – creating a perfect copy.

What Are Those Things on Giraffes’ Heads?

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Are they antlers? Perhaps they are horns?  They are definitely not antenna – the Serengeti is not (as far as we know) wired for giraffid telecommunications.  They are called ossicones – and giraffes are born with them.

Image Credit

The Wildlife of Madagascar

Sunday, 26 November 2017


Madagascar is an amazing place and here Lance Featherstone has captured its wildlife wonderfully. I don’t know about you but sometimes music can enhance a video about the natural world but most of the time I find it a distraction.  However, what Lance has decided to do here is to keep the natural sound of the rainforest as the backdrop to his film.  It works beautifully and one is left with a sense of the peace of the place.

Dragonfly: Award Winning Documentary


If you have ever gawped at the sight of a dragonfly whizzing past you in all its colorful aerodynamic glory, then you will enjoy this film immensely. It has some of the best macrophotography of the dragonfly in all its stages that I have ever seen. Plus it answers all the questions you might have about the life cycle of this ancient creature which has survived virtually unchanged for millions of years.

However, the part that I found most fascinating was the part of the film which describes how dragonflies live most of their lives as nymphs and that a number of different species can live side by side during this stage (even though they don’t mind the off foray in to cannibalism).

One thing I certainly did not know is that during this period of their lives they have a lower jaw which they can extend suddenly and swiftly, like a hydraulic ramp, to catch prey that would otherwise be just out of their reach. It is quite a sight.

The amazing facts about dragonflies do not stop there and after they come in to their brief adult phase each species seems to have its own interesting variation on the mating game. The documentary takes us throughout the year to the inevitable demise of the adults. However, below the placid waters of British ponds a vicious fight for survival continues.

Created by Andy Holt of Wild Life Lens, Dragonfly has been awarded Best Documentary at the BIAFF (British International Amateur Film Festival) 2014 Film Festival.

Heterochromia – The Eyes Have It

Saturday, 25 November 2017

There are a number of reasons why animals can have one eye of one color and the second of another, but the term for the most likely cause is heterochromia.  It is more often than not to do with melanin. This is a pigment that is found almost everywhere in nature (spiders being a notable exception) and it dictates such things are skin and eye color.

Extreme Crest Feathers: 10 Reasons Why Crest is Best

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Many species of birds possess crest feathers and this feature dates back to the age of the dinosaur: the fossil record indicates that a number of species had feathers on their heads.  You might think that they are for display purposes – and you would not be wrong although their function is sometimes more complex than that.  However, some birds take this avian attribute to the extreme. The results are striking and beautiful.  We present the Ark in Space’s Top Ten Crest Feathered Birds.

10 - The White-Crested Helmetshrike
Over to Africa where we find the White-crested helmetshrike – the name says it all really.  What makes this bird even more striking is the vivid yellow periophthalmic ring (the protective circle of bare skin) around its eye.  It is a very sociable bird and moves around in small social groups.  You can always tell when you are close to a party of WCHs – they chat to each other very noisily.

This is Probably the Most Amazing Footage of Honey Bees You will Ever See


Have you ever seen a host of honey bees using their wings to cool down their hive? This and many other wonderful moments were caught by Mike Sutton when he recently had the opportunity to film hives at Hillside Apiaries in New Hampshire.  He has managed to capture some wonderful close-ups of honey bees in their natural environment, marrying his film with a brilliant soundtrack and some honey bee facts. Plus he was only stung three times during the whole filming process.

Okunoshima: Island of Bunnies and Poison


There are a number of theories why there are so many rabbits on the Japanese island of Okunoshima but the fact remains that the place is pretty much overrun with them.  Here, Krzysztof Gonciarz and Kasia Mecinski, take a look at the island and the dichotomy of having these Cunicular bundles of fun right next to an old poison gas production plant. If you like rabbits this place must be on your bucket list.

Medieval Monsters of the New Forest

Sunday, 15 October 2017


The New Forest of England is an ancient world full of medieval monsters - duelling dragonflies, acid-firing ants and jousting stag beetles. Filmmaker Oliver Mueller combined macro, slow-motion and time-lapse techniques were combined with custom-built equipment to reveal these astonishing lives. The film was the result of 30 days shooting on location during the summer of 2015, plus months of research, planning and post-production

Manul – the Cat that Time Forgot

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Have you ever wanted to take a trip through time to see what animals looked like millions of years ago? When it comes to cats there is little or no need.  This beautiful specimen is a Manul, otherwise known as Pallas’s Cat.  About twelve million years ago it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve and it hasn’t changed since. The other species, Martelli’s Cat, is extinct so what you are looking at here is a unique window in to the past of modern cats.

The Amazing Gecko: 20 Interesting Facts about the World’s Most Species-Rich Lizard

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The gecko is an extraordinary lizard, a triumph of both adaptation and diversity.  Out of the 5,600 species of lizard on the planet, over 1,500 belong to the gecko infraorder called Gekkota.  So, what is so interesting about a line of lizards which is, apparently, so ubiquitous?  Here are 20 interesting facts about the gecko, as well as some amazing pictures of species that you may not have come across before.

Geckos can vary greatly in length.  The smallest (Jaragua sphaero) is tiny, just under two centimeters in length.  However, some species can grow up to 60 centimeters.  The largest ever discovered, the Kawekaweau from New Zealand, is sadly now extinct.

Above
1. Gold Dust Day Gecko - Phelsuma laticauda laticauda
2. Common Leopard Gecko - Eublepharis macularius

The Horniman Museum Butterfly House

Saturday, 2 September 2017

I have always loved London’s Horniman Museum since my first visit there over twenty years ago.  It’s quirky and I mean that as a compliment. The museum has just opened a charming new addition, building on its reputation for small but wonderful exhibits.  The new permanent Butterfly House, which will be open 362 days per year, is a pleasure to visit and complements the museum’s other features (exhibitions, events and gardens) perfectly.

On entry to the exhibit, the member of staff on duty takes care to explain a few simple rules to follow once inside – such as be careful where you walk as butterflies land wherever their fancy takes them and are oblivious to the potential squishing they might get at the hands of careless feet (if you see what I mean!). Moreover, we were gently told that touching the butterflies (and the plants, some of which may cause irritation) was not to happen.  The same rule does not apply to the butterflies, however – during our time in the house there were several landings on heads, shoulders, legs and various other parts of the body. However, if they don’t fly off within a reasonable period of time, a friendly member of staff is always there to give the butterfly some gentle encouragement.

The Mystery of the Orangutan Flange

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Much is known about orangutan physiology and behavior. Yet there is one thing that is still unsolved – the exact reason why some male orangutans develop a flange while others do not. These large cheek pads certainly have their advantages as we shall see - it’s most certainly about dominance and mating with as many females as possible – so why do they only develop in some males and not others?

First things first – the flange is not a physical signal that a male has reached sexual maturity as was once thought – they already have quite a while back. Even though orangutans are among the slowest mammals to reach reproductive age, between 7 and 10 years of age for the male, they are capable of producing offspring at this age. However, it is rare for the male to mate before the age of 15. Females mature at about 5 years of age but like many great apes undergo a period of infertility in their adolescent years which preclude offspring for between 2 and 4 years and will not produce offspring until they too are well in to their teens.

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