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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.

The Caterpillar with Penguins on Its Back

Sunday, 18 November 2018

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

In praise of the Mutt

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Many people buy a dog as a status symbol and so go for a certain breed to mirror their own lifestyle. Still more have a particular attachment to the specific look and behavior of pure breeds. However, for personality, joie de vivre, unadulterated love and many other positive traits, can anything beat a good old fashioned mutt?

The Strange Life Cycle of the Ladybug

Saturday, 3 November 2018

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.

Welcome to the Bee Hotel

Sunday, 28 October 2018

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. 

Magpies: Not only Black and White

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

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.

Cats In Sinks

Saturday, 13 October 2018

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.

Sticky: The Fascinating Story of How the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect was Saved from Extinction

Saturday, 29 September 2018


Can you bring a species back from extinction? Despite fictional accounts in books and movies like Jurassic Park the answer remains a very definite no – not in any complete way for sure.  Yet species on the edge of destruction can be saved even if they are dodging extinction in the most unlikely of places.

This is the story of the rediscovery of the Lord Howe Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis) which had also been known as the tree lobster due to its size and color at maturity.  It was thought to have been made extinct by 1920 – game over.  Yet Lord Howe Island has an islet – a sea stack – called Ball’s Pyramid.  It had been suggested that the insect may have survived there, although most thought that highly improbable.

However an Australian team of etymologists journeyed to the islet in 1981 and the rest as they say is history.  Instead of telling you the whole story here, however, watch this beautifully made animation by Jilli Rose which tells the whole story.  It is without words for the first few minutes but after that the oral history of the Lord Howe Stick Insect and how it was saved from almost inevitable stochastic extinction. 

Don’t be put off by its length either – this is entrancing viewing.

The Ribbon Seal: The Seal with Stripes

Sunday, 23 September 2018

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.

The Kangaroo that Went Back to the Trees

Saturday, 15 September 2018

When you hear the word kangaroo what you may well imagine is the large marsupial bounding with immense speed across the Australian landscape – and you would not be wrong.  However, at one point the ancestors of one particular family of kangaroos did something strange.  They returned to the trees whence they had come.  This is the tree-kangaroo and they are the marsupial equivalent of monkeys.

The Holy Rats of Karni Mata

Sunday, 9 September 2018

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 Spectacular Nests of the Sociable Weaver

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Not all bird species build nests.  Some, like the razorbill, lay an egg on a rocky ledge and hope for the best. Others, like the king penguin, have no access to nesting materials so keep their egg warm by squatting directly over it, covering it with their feathers.  Then there is the cuckoo, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nest of others.

Yet most species of birds do indeed make nests and they come in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most spectacular of all these is that created by a rather plain looking African bird, the sociable weaver (also known more simply as the social weaver).

Image Credit
They sociable weaver male is small – about 14cm (that’s 5.5 in) in length – and brown.  It is by no means unattractive – it has black barring on its back, a black chin and a nicely scalloped back.  As for the female… it’s identical.  They are not sexually dimorphic and to the naked eye the male and female are indistinguishable.  They may not stand out in a crowd, as it were, but as you can see their nests are another thing entirely.

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