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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.

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: sharks-racingextinction.nationbuilder.com

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.

Amung Feedjit