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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.

The dog is often used to guard, but makes a wonderful domestic pet as well. It is said that the face gives away the character if the dog and that is the case with the English Mastiff. It is very affectionate to its owners but combines both courage and dignity and will protect its owner from unfamiliar people with a polite but determined maneuver which puts the dog between the stranger and its owner. It is great with children and smaller dogs and will become firmly attached to the family unit to which it is introduced. A surprisingly gentle dog, it does have a tendency towards laziness if left to its own devices to a program of daily, regular and prolonged exercise is recommended to keep it in trim. There are no Medifast coupons for dog diets.

The Great Dane
The Irish Wolfhound (see below) usually takes the prize as the world’s tallest dog but the record at the moment is with a Great Dane by the name of Gibson who is a staggering 42.3 inches tall – a good ten inches taller than the average English Mastiff. As such the Great Dane is known as the ‘Apollo of all breeds’ and its history is thought to go back (perhaps) three thousand years. There are drawings on Egyptian tombs from this period that strongly resemble the Great Dane. The modern breed is thought to originate in either Denmark (hence the name) or, most likely Germany. Toon lovers will of course know the breed as the Scooby Doo dog!

The breed comes in a variety of colors from the common fawn and brindle to the harlequin which is a white coat with black tear patches over the entire body (a white neck is particularly sought out by owners – see Stella above). Although it is intimidatingly tall the Great Dane has an extremely friendly temperament and get on well with people, other dogs (and other pets!) alike. Some Great Danes can have certain dominance issues, which is true of pretty much each and every species of dog – and of course, supervision around young kids is essential. The Great Dane has a slow metabolism and needs a great deal of exercise to keep it in trim. A common misconception is that they do not need a lot of exercise as they generally plod along in a fairly docile way. The opposite is true – they need lots. Great Danes do suffer from some breed specific disorders and can sometimes be born blind, deaf or both.

The Irish Wolfhound
It does what it says on the packet – the Irish Wolfhound is so called because the breed originated for that very purpose, not, as many assume in its twenty first century family member role because it actually looks lupine. Although they are not the world record holder for the height of a single dog, they most certainly are on average. The male is usually between 33 to 36 inches and the female two to three inches shorter. They are not naturally inclined to guard (they were designed to hunt) but their sheer size would probably put any burglar off his task. They are also way too friendly – the chances are the Wolf Hound is more likely to approach the burglar as his new best friend than to deter him from his goal.

As such the Irish Wolfhound, more than many giant dogs can be trusted with children. They will also put up with quite a lot of ear and tail pulling (if your kids can reach) with patience and a sweet temper. They are very open to training and are of a generous and caring nature. They will – if you are out walking with them and are attacked – pretty much see off your attacker: despite their reluctance to guard they will be fearless if you are threatened. The great shame is that they are not long lived and at maximum you can hope for ten years. As with other dogs of this size they do need a lot of exercise and although originally a country dog they do take to urban living pretty well.

The Scottish Deerhound
Otherwise simply known as a Deerhound this lesser known giant breed looks like a rough coated greyhound but it is their size which distinguishes them. The history of the breed goes back to pre-Roman times and it is thought that the Scots and the Picts kept this breed to hunt deer (hence the name!). These dogs are about the friendliest you will ever meet and so, like the Irish Wolfhound, is not the best dog if you want something to guard your home. They are very eager to please and their gentle bearing means that they are loved the world over by their owners. When young, though Deerhounds get bored extremely easily and have a sort of canine ADHD which means that if you do not exercise them sufficiently you will probably come home to find your house looking like a burglar really has been there.

Living up to eleven years, these dogs like nothing more than spending the day stretched out or sleeping on your largest couch. However, it must be exercised regularly and properly and although it enjoys the company of humans this is a breed that really needs a companion with its own DNA in order to be fully happy. In other words, this dog can pine on its own but will be perfectly happy in a pair. Like all the other breeds in this article they are fine with children but should be supervised with small ones as, due to their size, they can inadvertently knock toddlers down which will distress both dog and child.

The Newfoundland
This dog just loves the water. In fact they have been used for water rescue due partly to their musculature and also due to the fact that they have webbed feet – the combination of which makes them fantastic swimmers. They have a wonderful disposition and are very loving animals. One of the easier dogs to housebreak, they are quite daffy animals and are about as laid back as a dog can get. The downside is that they have to be groomed at least once a week otherwise their gorgeous coat will become tangled.

ImageCredit Flickr User Vigneron
They are thought to be the strongest dogs in the world, beating all of the others on this list. They also make great watch dogs and are just about the best breed in the world when it comes to children – they really are the gentle giant of the dog world. Lord Byron said this about his Newfoundland (or Newfie as they are known) after it died. ‘Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.’

The St Bernard
Originally a working dog, the St Bernard originates in the Swiss Alps where it was used in Mountain Rescue. It is a very large dog and can grow up to thirty six inches in height with a coat that can be both rough or smooth. They make wonderful pets but it is vital that thorough training takes place when the dog is young as they can be boisterous and need to be ready to take commands and be willingly controlled.

They are good with kids as long as the above is taken in to account. If you are looking for a dog for protection they are not the ideal choice. They will bark at intruders but that is about it – though of course their sheer size (like other dogs here) will probably act as a deterrent. If it were not for the St Bernard we might not have the soccer team Manchester United. In 1902 the team was about to go bankrupt and so held a fundraiser. The Captain of the team, Harry Stafford, brought his St Bernard and it drew the attention of JH Davis – an extremely wealthy brewery magnate. Davis wanted to buy the dog which Stafford refused. However, he did silver tongue Davis in to buying the entire club.

The Leonberger
From Leonberg in south west Germany this dog was bred – according to local legend – as a symbol of the lion in the crest of the town. So it is that this most leonine of dogs came in to being and the breed is gorgeous. The dog is extremely large but has an air of European elegance about it which makes it popular in well to do households. The male usually carries a lion like mane and they can reach up to thirty inches in height.

This is a very cool dog – almost unflappable – and unlike most of the dogs on this list the Leonberger can be used as a guard dog – albeit a mild one. When in a tight spot the Leonberger will use his size and weight to protect his owner rather than his teeth. This makes the breed sound a little aggressive but the Leonberger will imprint deeply and quickly on to his adopted human family. A very agile dog, the Leonberger needs a lot of exercise and often astounds it owners by its athleticism, especially considering the size of the breed. Until properly trained the dog can be a little like the St Bernard – over energetic and somewhat willful but after the third year usually calms down and becomes the gentle giant that this breed is known to be.

The Neapolitan Mastiff
This dog has history! Often used as a guard dog, its breed goes way back to the time of the Roman legions – it is just a shame there weren’t a few in the Gladiator movie. It seems that they were trained up by Roman Legions to fight alongside them. They wore harnesses upon which were sewn in spikes and blades. The Neapolitan Mastiff would then run under the horses of the enemy horses and disembowel them. They don’t do that today.

If you want a fearless guard dog that also really does prefer to be with the family rather than outside in a kennel then this could be the dog for you. However, it is not a dog for beginners and is not appropriate if you have small children. Proper training, because of its size, is paramount. If you think the ‘alpha roll’ training method will work on this breed, think again. Unless the dog is thoroughly socialized and trained they will be aggressive to strangers and other dogs in to adulthood.

First image Credit Flickr User Douglas Brown

The Dogs of War: A Tribute to the MWD - The Military Working Dog
If you enjoyed this feature, then why not take a look at our tribute to the MWD - the Military Working Dog.

Image Credit Flickr User US Army

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.

Why the Loggerhead Shrike is Also Known as The Butcher Bird

Monday, 31 December 2018

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.

The Bobcat – Resilient Predator of North America

Sunday, 9 December 2018

While many wild cat species around the world have suffered dramatically through loss of territory and a lot have become endangered species, there is at least some good news. The Bobcat, a wild cat synonymous of America has proved a resilient survivor. With a stable population this whiskered warrior persists and thrives in much of its original terrain.

The Astonishing Eggs of Alien Nations

Sunday, 25 November 2018

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.

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