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Manukura - The Little White Kiwi

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


The most successful kiwi breeding season in the history of New Zealand’s National Wildlife Center has ended on an extraordinary note with the surprise hatching of a rare white kiwi chick. The North Island Kiwi shown here is not albino, just naturally white. It is considered a sign of good things to happen by the local Maori community.

The flightless birds are as a rule only seen in the wild every couple of years and the last one born in captivity was released almost a hundred years ago - in 1915. The kiwi is a brown bird (as shown in the video) and this is an incredibly rare occurrence.

She has been called Manukura or Chiefly One by the local Maoris and is being hand-reared in a specially maintained nursery where the keepers will care for her for a minimum of twelve months before hopefully she is released in to the wild.

Robins: 4 Eggs, 4 Weeks


Fred Margulies is a lucky man.  A pair of robins decided to nest in a flower basket on his porch.  Being a film producer he captured this wonderful footage over the next four weeks.  Add the most appropriate soundtrack – When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ and you have something magical.

Wildebeest Cross the Mara – Amazing Time-lapse Footage


Do you want to see something completely jaw-dropping? You may well have seen the annual wildebeest migration on the TV or, if you are very luck for real. Each year these large beasts take part in what is known as the Great Migration – it is one of the most iconic events in Africa. As the wildebeest migrate they must cross over the mighty Mara River.

Yet have you ever seen it done as a time-lapse? This just made my jaw drop – the wonderful footage captures the sheer scale of the migration in a way that I have not seen before. This amazing film was created by Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas a team of brothers from the UK who specialize in wildlife photography.

Here, through a combination of telephoto video clips and wide-angle time-lapse sequences, they aimed to illustrate the scale and drama of this incredible spectacle. They had never before seen a wildebeest river crossing recorded in this way and as far as they know, this could be the first time that time-lapse has been used to reveal the dynamics of a wildebeest river crossing.

It is, I hope you will agree a simply stunning piece of work.

Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon and Species Extinction in America

Sunday, 29 May 2011


This is a rough cut of a proposed documentary by David Mrazek but you can see from this fifteen minutes or so that the finished product is going to be something really special. It tells the story of the demise of the great American species the Passenger Pigeon, the numbers of which went from the billion to none by the early twentieth century.

It details not only how the destruction of the species was speeded up by what amounted to industrialised harvest but warns that we are still doing the same thing to the planet – and depriving future generations of possibly countless species.

The documentary points out that at least our ancestors had the benefit of ignorance (with which I disagree a little it has to be said – that is letting them off the hook too easily!) yet that is something we most certainly do not have.

This documentary is already extremely well put together and I really look forward to seeing the complete version. The story of the Passenger Pigeon is tragic – if you have never heard of it you really should watch this eye opening film.

Loom

Saturday, 28 May 2011


This is simply stunning. Loom tells the story of a successful catch. A moth inadvertently flies in to a spider’s web and its fate is sealed. As it disturbs the web with its struggles so its nemesis advances upon it from behind. This will – hopefully – blow your mind, as it did mine!

It is the creation of Polynoid, the design and storytelling loving collaboration of Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck, Csaba Letay, Fabian Pross and Tom Weber.

Founded in 2007 as a creative platform and playground for their own films and experiments, Polynoid today uses that same spirit but combines it with the resources of a production studio. It looks, from this superb animation, to have a very bright future ahead of it.

Stinging Caterpillars of the United States

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 setae funnel poison from glandular cells.  When you pick up a saddleback some of the spines will stick in to your skin and break off from the caterpillar’s body.  The poison will then spill on to your skin.  Although it is a small almost invisible amount the results can be very painful.  You will get a rash and swelling – and if you have sensitive skin you may even need hospital treatment.

Put yourself in the position of the caterpillar.  If something many thousand times your size picked you up, you would want some sort of defensive capability, surely?  After all you do not want to enjoy your lunch, not be something else’s. Yet you might think that some of these caterpillars would never look like a tasty morsel in a million years. Take the one below, for example.

While the saddleback could possibly pass as a roll of sushi , the Hag Moth caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) hardly passes for what you might expect a caterillar to look like – more like a leaf bound starfish than a caterpillar.  Yet pick it up and you will get a nasty surprise from this creature which is also known as the monkey slug. Perhaps if a monkey and a slug could possibly reproduce with each other this is what we might get.

This little guy is covered in setae and you will receive a nasty sting if you pick one up. If you live near the fields and forests of Florida to Arkansas, and north to Quebec and Maine then you might come across one of these on an apple or a walnut tree.  Leave him be is the best advice that can be given.

This caterpillar looks something like a tribble from Star Trek but do not let appearances be deceptive.  While it looks cute and fluffy this is the most dangerous stinging caterpillar in the US.   The larvae of the southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis) it is also known as the puss caterpillar.

However, if you come across something like this, which grows to about an inch long, do not touch it however much the temptation.  Even when the spikes molt they remain dangerous and a sting from this will leave you with a lifelong memory of agonizing pain.

The stinging rose caterpillar (Parasa indetermina) is very appropriately named.  It comes in a variety of colors but all of them have the pinstripe effect – four dark stripes down the back with a cream color in between.  It may look harmless, but touch at your peril!

Red spells danger and the Spiny Elm Caterpillar (Nymphalis antiopa) has a series of red dots on its back to tell predators to back off.  This, unlike most others in this collection, will turn in to a butterfly rather than a moth.

For added safety this caterpillar remains and feeds in groups, which makes it potentially more dangerous than many of the others featured here.  Can you imagine the consequences for Homer if the Simpson family came across a group of these on a camping trip?  Cue an appearance by Doctor Hibbert within minutes.

Although the adult is white, the caterpillar of the White Flannel Moth (Norape ovina) is black, yellow and orange and it feels nothing like flannel. This caterpillar has a particularly nasty sting despite its harmless appearance. Look out for it in Virginia to Missouri, and south to Florida and Texas.

Another caterpillar which does not look quite like our common idea of how one should appear is the Crowned Slug (Isa textula).  Its spines are arranged around its perimeter and act as a painful decoration around its flat body.  Found from Florida to Mississippi and up to Massachusetts it can also develop red or yellow spots along its back. Best to avoid this squat caterpillar if you come across one.

Everything about the Io Moth caterpillar (Automeris io) says don’t touch! Found from Canada all the way down to Texas this caterpillar should be approached with extreme caution. It has a multitude of branches coming off its body, all ready to sting in defense.

The eggs of this moth are laid in clusters, so the caterpillars are often seen together, looking more like the fronds of some peculiar alien plant than creatures.  Yet if you touch one you will soon realise that it is for real.

The White Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma) is quite easy to spot because of its red head, with a black back and the yellow stripes down its side.  As well as having a nasty sting this caterpillar is considered a tree pest.  They will eat anything woody and decimate the area in which they breed and grow.

Found from Canada all the way down to Florida this ravenous little beasty can be found on pretty much any tree, both deciduous and evergreen.  It simply doesn’t care – it is one hungry and indiscriminate little caterpillar.  Remove it from its food source, however, and it will sting you.

The Buck Moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia) is found in Maine all the way down to Florida.  A startling black and white color this caterpillar has a sting which is still visible up to two weeks later.

Let’s return finally to the White Flannel Moth (Megalopyge crispata).  Although it looks harmless enough this caterpillar will hurt – badly – as the photographer involved discovered when he picked one up. A good rule of thumb is if a caterpillar looks spiny, spiky or furry, do not pick it up as it most likely able to sting you.

Yet the aim of this post has not been to frighten the life out of you about caterpillars in general.  Most species of moth and butterfly caterpillars do not sting.  However, some have adapted to fight back when touched.  The best rule of thumb with any caterpillar is not to pick one up, just as much because they don’t like it very much than for our own sakes.

Colors I

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Alessandro Carillo started shooting this short film in March when the parks are relatively free of people and the first signs of spring begin to appear in London. Here you can experience the first flowers, the first hungry insects and just the general joy of spring through his wonderful photography.

The parks of London have never looked so beautiful as here and the film is infused with marvelous colors and moving bokeh which lends a certain romanticism to it – you would hardly think it was shot in one of the busiest cities in the world.

On the Way Home


Spring is such a magical time of year and it is wonderful to come across a piece of film which captures it in all its majesty. On the Way Home was shot over two days at FreezeOut Lakein North Central Montana in the US this spring.

The shots of the migrating birds, especially the geese are captured on HDV and the music is absolutely spot on here. So, go and grab a coffee (or whatever you drink while near your computer keyboard!) and take in this amazing spring spectacle for yourself.

Two Unlikely Friends at the Bronx Zoo

Saturday, 21 May 2011


The Bronx Zoo is home to many animals, all of which deserve the attention of the photographer. Yet one day in 2010 Tom Warren spotted something different about the gorilla enclosure.

A tiny motherless duckling had wandered in. At first the gorillas were bemused but as they became used to their miniscule visitor their wariness grew in to acceptance.

One of the pictures that Warren took became the winning photo in the 2010 Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, in the Zoos and Aquariums Category.

The photo will be on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. until September 25, 2011. The photos are by Tom Warren. This is the story behind that amazing picture.

Weaver Ants Show Their Teamwork Skills

When you are building a new home sometimes you need some help. A little teamwork goes a long way and these green tree ants (or weaver ants) from Australia could teach us a thing or two about that. Their own task may, to begin with, seem almost impossible but with some supreme acrobatic skills anything, it seems, is possible.

The ants climb on top of each other to form a kind of any pyramid or bridge to reach from one small twig or branch to another. This collaboration has to be seen to be believed. First they survey potential leaves by pulling at them with their mandibles.

Then, a group of ants will join together to pull the leaf to where they want it – to the edge of another. They hang on to each other by gripping on to each other’s petioles which is the ant equivalent of a waist.

There can often be a number of large chains working together to draw the leaves close. What happens next is just as remarkable. Some workers will then go and retrieve larvae from nests which have already been built. They are then squeezed so that they produce a kind of silk.

The worker ants then bind the leaves together. Once done the larvae can be placed inside the nest. However, because there is only a certain amount of silk that a larva can produce the offspring of the green tree ant must pupate without a cocoon.

What is at the center of all this activity? Why, the queen of course, ready to bring the next generation in to the world once the nest is complete. This remarkable incidence of working together as a single team is not unique in the ant world, yet it must be said that most species do not possess the acrobatic prowess of the Australian green tree ant.

Doggles – Dogs in Sunglasses

Friday, 20 May 2011

How do I look in these?  That age old question about sunglasses is now not only restricted to our own species.  Now the dogs are getting in on the act too.  A surprise hit, it has been described as one of those money making ideas that should never have worked but in fact makes millions.

You might think that they are a complete waste of money, but simply as a fashion accessory they seem to be a hit – and the dogs, so we are assured, love the attention that they receive once they have donned their doggles.

However, several medical uses have been found for doggles with some fitted with prescription lenses for dogs with poor eyesight.  Other dogs born without tear ducts have also used them so that their eyes do not dry up and become infected.  Yet, it must be said that for most dogs and there human companions the doggles are just a little summer fun.

The idea for doggles came from a couple – Ken and Roni di Lullo after they saw their dog squinting in bright lights.  Some experimentation with human sunglasses later and the couple soon developed a pair of sunglass which would fit the shape of a dog’s head.  Much ringing of cash registers later they must be at least a little bewildered by the success of their project.

It is a little surprising that no one had thought of them before.  After all, when you were young, how many times did you try to place a pair on the bemused head of the family dog? So, here they come – some very cool canines sporting their sunglasses with poochy pride.


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