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Give Earth A Hand

Sunday, 25 April 2010

This is quite a remarkable piece of film.  It doesn't really matter whether you wholly agree with what Greenpeace are trying to achieve (and more notably how they go about achieving it) - however.

This must surely be difficult to disagree with on virtually all and any level.  After all, who out of us wants to see the earth uninhabitable for the next generation?

The use of hands as fields of corns and waves is particularly cool here, as is the soundtrack.  Greenpeace often use shock tactics to get their point across - but this is peaceful and (almost) sublime in its message.

Cats In Sinks

Saturday, 24 April 2010

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.

Oliver has more of an idea.  A sink is the perfect place for a lying back, spreading out and surveying what little of the world there is left to survey.  After all, curiosity may have killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.  Go, Oliver.  Let's see another shot of the boy in action.

Sinks may seem fairly small to us but... a cat they may just be the perfect hiding place.
It could be that there is something very secret, very hush hush to do in the sink - and as such, when you are caught be prepared to give only your name, rank and serial number. Penny should have been watching out for human interlopers much better, which means that Muttley has been caught out.  Or perhaps he is just trying to do his job.  After all the Chinese say that when rats infest the palace a lame cat is better than the swiftest horse.

Image Credit Flickr User William McCamment
This is Punky.  His owner was convinced that Punky in sinky meant an ensuing furball situation.  Personally, we think that Punky just found another place to chill out and ignore the rest of the world.  You can learn a lot from your cat: When you're hungry, eat. When you're tired, nap in a sink. When you go to the vet's, pee on your owner.  Talking of naps...

Image Credit Flickr User IBM4832 
This is Buff, who is eight months old and has suddenly rebelled against his usual sleeping quarters.  His owner thought perhaps he was just proving his independence and hoped that he would outgrow it - or the sink.  Wilful is a word that could be used to describe cats (just a little) - so don't live in hope.  He will make his mind up - but if and when is up to him.  Cats make kindly masters, but only as long as you remember your place.

Sinks are also very good places for philosophical contemplation.  No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat and they will remember things way after you have forgotten about them.  Oh, and no amount of masking tape can ever totally remove his fur from your couch.

Did we say that sinks are good places to have a nap?

Or just waiting to nap.  This is Panda.  For a long time he slept in the sink.  Then, he changed his mind and slept in a slither of sunlight that fell on the bedroom floor.  After eighteen months of doing that he was back in the sink.  Nothing to do with the 'owners' of course. Cats' hearing apparatus is built to allow the human voice to easily go in one ear and out the other.

Kafka the cat likes that sinking feeling too. Why?  Because he wants to. The mathematical probability of a common cat doing exactly as it pleases is the one scientific absolute in the world.  Besides, of all animals, it is the cat alone attains to the Contemplative Life.

Even before a sink is installed for human use it has a feline one.  They say that the term domesticated cat is an oxymoron.  Cleo certainly looks like a cat who can get her own way easily enough.  It is, inevitably, true that cats are cleverer than dogs.  After all, when did you last see eight cats pulling a sleigh?  They're all in the sink having a snooze (or in this case a slinky pose).

JellyBean - yet another cat who loves to cosy up in the sink.

At the end of the day there is little reason to speculate as to why cats like to sit (or lie) in sinks.  It may be obvious why, but don't be fooled.  The reason cats climb is so that they can look down on almost every other animal...its also the reason they hate birds.  Who can, then, say why they do this and risk being wrong? The only safe answer to the question is because they can.

Osprey Catches Dinner

Friday, 23 April 2010

We thought this was just such an amazing picture that we had to share it with you.  An Osprey catches a fish and takes to the air with its meal.  This fascinating shot was taken on the banks of Morro Bay in California.

They are very closely related to hawks but ospreys are unique among the raptor species.  They have feet like owls and wings that bend when they are flying (look at the picture above).  They can be found on each and every continent except for Antarctica (well, would you want to live there?).  However, unlike many species of birds, ospreys look exactly the same wherever they live.

Image Credit Flickr User Mike Baird

Compare The Meerkat - For Real

We are all pretty much agreed here at Ark In Space that the Meerkat is one of the coolest animals on the planet.  They are, however, much maligned in the advertising industry and their image has been used and abused to further the ends of a certain insurance company.  Actually, we love those adverts too (even though the latest ones are bordering on the extremely silly or maybe because of this...).

However, if you want to take a look at real meerkats, then look no further (as it were).  Click HERE or on the image above to find out all sorts of fun and interesting facts about these amazing animals.

Image Credit Flickr User Tambako The Jaguar

The Ant With a Door for a Head

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cephalotes is a broad genus of ants.  They are heavily armoured – it makes you wonder just how formidalble they would look if we were the same size. The amazing thing about many of them is the head – used to plug a gap as it were.  Above is an ant of the species Cephalotes varians.

The ants live in trees in the forest areas of the new world tropics and the subtropics.  Some Cephalotes species can even glide back to the tree if they are knocked from it.   Most of them are what is known as polymorphic which means that they have various castes that have a specific use and purpose in the colony. Above is another example of Cephalotes varians, also known as the turtle ant.  We are afraid we cannot tell you for sure why this one has wings - perhaps when a new colony is being formed?

When you see a flat head like that, it is almost reminiscent of triceratops (perhaps an overactive imagination at work here) and you might think that the head has been developed like this for either attack or defense. The dorsal view of Cephalotes varians gives you an idea of the compact power behind this ant.  You can imagine that once a hole is plugged, this guy is not going to let anything in unless he wants to.

To put it simply the flat head is a plug – nothing more nothing less.  The cephalotes have a habit of using old holes in trees in which they will make the entrance to their nest.  Now, sometimes other creatures will have the same thing in mind, particularly the Crematogaster acrobat ant.  Above is another species that demonstrates the same features (we prefer the colors too), which is Cephalotes targionii.

Back to Cephalotes varians for a second and here you can see the shape of its head from above.  There is real power in that form.

So, what you need is a door, something to swing open and shut when desired.  It says something for this remarkable species that they developed a caste just for this purpose.  Above is Cephalotes pellans, another species that shares the same traits.

A final shot - this time of Cephalotes pallidoides.  Again, perhaps too much imagination, but here at Ark in Space we think the shape is somewhat reminiscent of a whale.

Many thanks to Neatorama for pointing out this remarkable ant and for for providing the amazing pictures.

If you enjoyed this, take a look at something equally bizarre from the plant world.  It is over at our sibling site, Kuriositas.

They lack chlorophyll and do not photosynthesize but the mycotroph family of plants manages to somehow survive.

They may look like a something from another planet but they are very much of this earth.  Here, we take a look at these bizarre plants and their even stranger survival techniques (Image Credit Flickr User pfly)

Black Squirrel, Brown Tail

Friday, 16 April 2010

Ark In Space reader Kathleen Connell of East Moline Illinois recently snapped this little guy a black squirrel – with a brown tail.

Out of the squirrel population of the United States and Canada  perhaps only one in ten thousand is black.  However, this is not a separate species in itself.  It is in fact a sub-group of the grey squirrel and, little by little their numbers are growing.  In fact in some areas they outnumber the greys.  However, this black coloring is not a recent trend among the squirrel community – research indicates that in the days before the European settlement of the America the black squirrel was probably much more numerous than the grey.

The question is – how did it get like this?  Does anyone know?  It seems to be a combination of both colour. Answers in the comment section please!

Belgium Goes Chicken Crazy

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Belgian authorities have started an own-a-chicken scheme that has seen the small European country go ever so slightly crazy for hens.  It seems that there has been, over the space of a year, a three hundred percent rise in people keeping chickens over there.  Thanks to a clever marketing campaign which means people can buy a live hen almost as cheaply as a dead one many people are now opting to keep hens in their gardens. 

As well as giving you something to look at out of the window it seems that hens can also reduce your organic waste by up to a third - by eating it.  With the price so cheap, here at AiS we are wondering whether or not people are buying up the chickens simply to wring their necks and stick them in the oven.  Well, it seems that random checks do not confirm this and that most of the chickens sold on the cheap by the authorities are still clucking happy - and as well they clucking should be, we say!

Image Credit (TOP) Flickr User Olibac

The Ruddy Turnstone – Record Breaking Tiny Migrant

This is the Ruddy Turnstone – a very small bird weighing no more than around two hundred and forty grams. It is part of the sandpiper family and noted for it harlequin-like pattern of black and white on its plumage. Quite pretty but, generally, you might not think much to look at. The Ruddy Turnstone has been keeping a secret for quite a while though. For such a tiny bird it certainly likes to accrue its air miles.

Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey have been tracking the migration of the Ruddy Turnstone (we should just call it the RT, really) thanks to tiny tracking devices. Amazingly, the RT is able to cover 27,000 kilometers in its migration pattern. It goes from Australia to the Arctic and then back to Oz. What is more they fly quickly. Stopping off for the occasional break one of these birds managed to make it from Australia to Taiwan in six days flat.

Previous to this tracking devices have been far too heavy to be used on birds this small. However the light sensor geolocator used to track the Ruddy Turnstone weighs in at only one gram. This makes it possible to fit the trackers on to the birds without the birds unduly suffering due to the weight. So, it turns out that this unremarkable looking bird can certainly fly far and fast. It is only when they fly, that they reveal another secret. Just look at the wonderful patterns on their back and wings as they take flight as a group. Wonderful.

Image Credit Flickr User Loren Sztajer  

One of the birds completed an almost four thousand mile leg of its journey in just four days.  That means these birds can fly pretty quickly too.  In order to complete such a vast journey the average speed of flight was just over thirty miles an hour.  When the tail winds were at their best then the miniaturised geotrackers recorded speeds of up to sixty five miles an hour.

Scientists hope that the information provided on the birds by the devices will, because of the data on their migration routes, stop off places and physical capabilities help conserve the Ruddy Turnstone and other species for the future.  One of the greatest unsung migratory travellers at last has its moment in the spotlight.

A Clockwork Corn

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Squirrels + Corn = Video Opportunity. Watch this marvellous time lapse video of a bunch of squirrels (can't just be the same one, surely?) attacking their favorite food of the winter - good and healthy corn straight off the cob! And boy, do they tuck in!

The time lapse technique is used wonderfully here and it is fun watching the cob spin around as the squirrels devour it (hence the brilliant name for the piece I guess!). One to watch again and again!

This video was made by Vimeo member Mark Svoboda and was shot in an approximately two hour period.  As it is produced by Backyard Boredom Pictures, we are assuming that it was shot in Mr Svoboda's back yard - but of course we could be wrong on that point.  Wherever it was shot - thank you for a few minutes of great fun!

Why Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Have you ever wondered what are the exact mechanisms of a flock of birds? It is something that has puzzled people for centuries. What makes the flock move? Are there birds in there that are in charge (as it were) of the overall movement or does each individual bird have an equal say in which directions the flock moves? Although it has only been tested on a relatively small flock, scientists think that they now have the answer - and it is pretty interesting...

For the whole article click HERE.

Image Credit Flickr User The Pack

The Biggest Dogs in the World

Monday, 5 April 2010

They may be way too big for everyone's taste but there are some enormous dogs in the world. The English Mastiff is terms of sheer mass is the biggest of them all and its size is something to be believed. This dog is pure power - if any superhero needed a dog then this may well be their first choice. The English Mastiff can weigh up to a whopping two hundred and fifty pounds.

That is quite a weight when he says hello to you in the morning by jumping on to your chest (of course, well trained they are probably more thoughtful than that!). As well as being the biggest dog in the world it is also recongnized as the oldedst dog breed in the United Kingdom (proabably - there is a debate but we go with this guy. Well - are you going to argue?).

What are the other ten? Click HERE or on the picture above to find out.

Image Credit Flickr User Claudiogennari

Time For A Quick Drink

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Going out to work each day to provide for that huge (and growing) family back home is no joke.  In fact it's hard work and after a day's foraging there is nothing like a swift pint down the pub to put things back on track.  OK, so this ant isn't exactly in his local hostelry but the thirst is comparable at the very least.

Here he is taking a gulp of a mixture of honey and ant food.  Yes, the shot is posed (as it were) but you have to admit that for a shot of an ant actually drinking then this is posed to perfection.

Image Credit Flickr User Spettacolopuro

The African Fish Eagle – Kleptoparasite Extraordinaire

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The National Bird of two countries - Zimbabwe and Zambia – the African Fish Eagle is a bird that, with its gorgeous snow white head, once seen is never forgotten.

The Eagle is found in most parts of the continent – as long as you are south of the edge of the Sahara Desert.  Also known as the African Sea Eagle it is found anywhere near where there is water containing fish.  It has a distinctive call which immediately identifies it, but what really stands out is its magnificent plumage.

It feeds mostly on fish – as the name suggests – but will also feed on other birds that feed and nest near water, such as flamingos.  It is also a well known kleptoparasite.  What that means is that it will steal prey from other birds – including its own species.  After all, why do all the hard work when you can just take your meal ready made and delivered?

It is a large bird with the female being bigger than the male.  She will typically weigh in at about eight pounds with the males reaching only around five and a half.  The males have a wing span of six feet while the female span reaching an enormous eight feet.  A very distinct bird, the mostly brown body and black wings are topped off with a beautiful snow white head and breast.  The tails too are typically white with the beak yellow with a black tip.  Overall, the bird has a particularly patrician look about it.

Like many species of birds the African Fish Eagle, once it finds a mate, stays loyal for life.  Breeding happens in the dry season when the level of water in the lakes is low and fish easier to catch.  The birds like to have more than one home and will often maintain multiple nesting sites, choosing the one that is most suitable each year.  The nest are used again and again and so grow very large with some of them reaching six feet across and four feet deep.

Once breeding is commenced the female will lay up to three eggs and she will be the one responsible for the incubation of the eggs. However, the male will (perhaps reluctantly) take his turn and allow his mate to go and hunt.  This is necessary as the incubation of the eggs lasts up to forty five days – if the male were to abandon the nest during this period the female would starve and the eggs would never hatch.

However, the male and female of this species will share equally anything that they catch so this would not happen.  Perhaps the female leaves the nest simply to stretch her wings.  After all, forty five days is a long time to sit in the same place.

The birds will very seldom raise all three chicks.  The eggs hatch a few days apart from each other and the older hatchling – given the advantage that a few days give it – usually kills the other chicks as they hatch.  After around seventy days the chick can feed itself and begins to leave the nest a few weeks after that.

The African FIsh Eagle hunts by perching in a tree above the waterline.  Once is spies a fish it will swoop down and snatch it from the water.  If by chance the fish is too heavy for it to lift in to the skies it will drag it across the water to the shore.  Fish are not the only food that the African Sea Eagle hunts – it will take waterfowl, turtles and baby crocodiles too – not to mention anything it can steal from its hapless neighbours.  Goliath Herons (yes, they are big) will lose a fair percentage of their catch to this Eagle.

Although they will hunt at any time of the day, they are early risers and prefer to get it out of the way by ten in the morning at the latest.  A beautiful and distinctive bird, the African Fish Eagle is not endangered at the moment.  It serves as another reminder of the beauties of Africa and the diversity of its animals.

Amung Feedjit