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The New Guinea Singing Dog

Sunday 30 May 2010

The New Guinea Singing Dog is thought to be just about the oldest domesticated breed of dog in the world. That makes it special, but what really does make this dog stand out is the way that it sings. Yes, sings. This is no yappy, barky, howly singer - this dog sings in a way that is quite unique. Unless you are a whale in which case you might get a bit miffed that this canine virtuoso has rained on your parade somewhat. Click on the link above or on the picture to visit a larger article by Mark Gordon Brown on this cool canine and hear the dog song for yourself.

Unique Horse Breeds

There is an old Latin proverb that goes decus et tutamen which means decorative and useful.  These unique breeds of horse are certainly that.  The above is a beautiful example of an Appaloosa a gorgeously spotted breed which originated in North America.  Click on the photo to take you to a wonderful article about many unique horse breeds by B Nelson.  There you will find many breeds from the elegant Haflinger to the eighties permed Bakshir Curly. 

The Appaloosa is our favourite - but which will be yours?


The Sengis - Shrewd and Wily Formula One Mammal

Saturday 29 May 2010

This is the Sengis - otherwise known as the Elephant Shrew - for obvious reasons once you see its startling and always twictching proboscis.

This animal has such a high metabloic rate that it is always hungry. So it creates for itself an amazing serious of paths networked to give it full access to its terrritory. It also gives it some natural escape routes from the lizards that prey upon it.

This amazing BBC video shows the fleet footed Sengis in action - and it is no wonder that the small animal is compared to Formula One vehicles!

Black Squirrel in the Yard - Great Pictures

Ark In Space reader Cindy Webler of Pittsburgh spotted this cheeky little guy in her yard and on her deck recently and thought she would share his morning activities with you.  Black squirrels are pretty rare - it is thought that only one in a thousand of the US and Canadian squirrel population is black, but the numbers do seem to be increasing gradually. Judging from Cindy's pictures, they are becoming more and more fearless too!

Rather than being a new phenomenon, it is thought that when Europeans first came to Americas that, in all likelihood, the majority of squirrels at the time were black.  They had adapted to the dense and lush forests of the continent and since then have slowly changed color as we have encroached upon and changed their territory.

Contrary to what many people think, the black squirrel is not a separate species on its own.  It is what is known as a melanistic sub-group.  It is simply the outward appearance of an abundance of melanin in the squirrel - the substance that gives animals their color. You can think of melanism as being the opposite of albinism, which is where melanin is lacking or simply not there.

This form of melanism is useful to the black squirrels of the world.  They are able to take in more solar radiation than greys and that means that they stay warmer and so can live in colder areas.  Also, because of this they do not need as much food either - even though this guy needs to have the odd free drink of water to survive.

Many thanks to Cindy for these great pictures.  You can see more of the black squirrels here or by clicking on any of the pictures above.

The Topi - The Low Down Cheap Little Punk

Sunday 23 May 2010

.... taking everyone for a ride.  How do you keep your mate close to you? It seems that the Topi antelope of Kenya will resort to lying. If a female wanders off then the male begins to snort and stare. This is the signal to the female that there is a predator is around and that there may be danger in the near future from which, of course, he can protect her.

It seems that the report of this behaviour by Jakob Bro-Jørgensen and his team is the very first time that deception of such a flagrant kind has been reported in an animal. Except one. Any guesses which one that might be? No prizes for guessing correctly, that's for sure!

Of course other animals do indeed feign certain behaviours, normally in battle or to protect their young. However, this is the first time that tactical deception has been demonstrated with such forethought. Clever old topi antelopes!

Return of the Wandering Warblers

Saturday 15 May 2010

Each Spring the woodlands of America resound to the birdsong of returning visitors.  Warblers – fifty three species of them all in all – arrive and right now is the best time to see them as they migrate.  Their arrival heralds a dazzling dash of colour as the greenness of American forests is peppered as if with the ravishing hues of thousands of tiny precious stones.  Here are some of the returnees announcing the spring in their unique way.  It must be said that they usually seem to be a little happier than the disgruntled looking Yellow-rumped Warbler above.

The male Chestnut-sided warbler (above) cannot be mistaken.  They have dark-streaked grey backs with white faces and black eyestripes.  This is topped off with an olive crown.  They breed in the eastern North America and the south of Canada.

Like all New World Warblers, the Hooded Warbler (above) winters in Central America, only to return to the United States to nest every spring.  They feed on insects which they find in low vegetation or, rather more spectacularly, they will catch their meals by hawking.  This is when they watch for their prey from a perch and then fly after it and snatch it from the air in their beak.  The Hooded Warbler is often the victim of brood parisitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird.

Townsend’s Warbler is named after the US ornithologist John Kirk Townsend who discovered the bird in 1833 on an expedition that went across the Rocky Mountains and on to the Pacific Ocean. They make shallow cups for nests and usually lay four or five eggs. Where ranges overlap they breed with the very similar Hermit Warbler.

The Yellow Warbler breeds all over North America and in the summer the males of this group are the yellowest of all warblers (although with some washed out streaks on their breast), as you can see from the picture above.    This bird is also parasitized by the cowbird but they will often smother the egg with new nesting material or abandon the nest altogether.  Occasionally though, they will raise the cowbird with its own brood as, notably, the cowbird nestling will not attempt to kill the young of its host.

With the black stripe over his eyes the Magnolia variety looks like the Dick Turpin of the New World Warblers. It breeds in coniferous woodland and, like most warblers, lays its egg in a rather flimsy cup of a nest.  They will also feed on spiders and other insects and will even take berries in inclement weather when their natural prey stay hidden.

This beauty is the Prothonotary Warbler, so called because of the resemblance between it and officials of the Roman Catholic Church who bore the name originally and who wore golden vestments.   Unfortunately these birds are declining in numbers due to loss of habitat and also competition from the House Wren.

Many of the warblers here have a consistent problem with nest parisitism and you may not think that is too much of a problem. However, when you look at the difference in size between this Wilson's Warbler and the cowbird nestling that it has unwittingly raised as its own the issue becomes rather more transparent.  The picture below gives you an even better idea about just how small the Wilson's really is.

The Blue-winged Warbler (above) is fairly common and breads in eastern North America where its range is extending northwards.  A bird was once found in Ireland but it usually stays put in the Americas.  It nests in a very low bush or even on the ground and can lay up to seven eggs in a single clutch.

This cheeky looking chap is the Cape May Warbler which breeds in virtually all of Canada and in to New England and the Great Lakes.  It winters in the West Indies but when in its breeding habitat at the edge of coniferous forest it likes to nest in the thick foliage at the base of its preferred tree, the Black Spruce.  It can lay up to a magnificent nine eggs.

The Yellow-throated Warbler loves to live in coniferous forests but can also be found in swamps.  Although they eat insects and can catch them using a hovering technique they will also eat a large amount of berries and will consume nectar outside of their breeding time.  They will hide their nest with either conifer needles or Spanish Moss  and will usually lay four eggs.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler get its name for obvious reasons.

Our final warbler is the Northern Parula, the male of which develops rufous and bluish breast bands in the summer as well as very prominent white eye crescents. I would like to thank Michael McCarthy of the Independent newspaper, whose recent article on these birds (where he bemoans their lack of fame in the animal world) was the inspiration for this attempt to bring these warblers to a wider audience.

Top 10 most Beautiful and Colorful Fish

Sunday 9 May 2010

Beauty, so they say, is in the eye of the beholder.  However, it is unlikely that you will find any of the entries on this list ugly.  Rather their wonderful colours are something for the eye to feast on (possibly as a prelude to feasting on the fish itself).

A form of life that makes it on to the list - but which is not a fish - is the wonderful Mantis Shrimp, seen here on the left.  If I was given the choice at a restaurant of having it cooked or taking it in a bucket down to the beach and letting it go, I am afraid I would go for the latter.

Mantis shrimp appear in a variety of colours, from shades of browns to bright neon colours (as above). Although they are common animals and among the most important predators in many shallow, tropical and sub-tropical marine habitats  they are poorly understood as many species spend most of their life tucked away in burrows and holes

I mean, how could you eat that? No, don't answer me.

Top 10 most Beautiful and Colorful Fish

Image Credit Flickr User Ursonate

Lance The Seahorse

Saturday 8 May 2010

This is a really sweet story about a seahorse called Lance.

He gets quite bored at the sea bed and begins to fantasise that he was a real horse.

The ending is up to you to discover but this cute tale from Vimeo user George Shelbourn might just touch your heart.

Masters of the Night - Top Ten Nocturnal Animals

Friday 7 May 2010

They may not do much during the day, but when they come out after dark their food sources should beware!  So, what are the top ten nocturnal animals?  Click on the picture above to find out which make it to the top ten list.  Try and think of ten and we suspect you might not get too far.  There are two animals on the list that we had not heard of before (read the article by papaleng if you want to find out) so it is well worth a look if only for them!

Image Credit Flickr User Ausiegall

Water Voles Betray Vegetarian Community

Wednesday 5 May 2010

OK, OK, so that is perhaps a slightly over the top headline, but news has just reached us that the humble water vole may not be the one hundred percent vegetarian that we thought they were. Ratty from The Wind of the Willows has, it seems, been munching on a certain delicacy usually associated with our French friends over La Manche.

You have probably guessed it – the water voles of the UK have been making a meal out of frog’s legs. Being the tidy creatures they are they deposit the remains of their meals in neat little piles by the water’s edge. Over at the Kennet and Avon Canal in Berkshire ecologists for British Waterways have found the remains of frogs in these piles. Good grief, what next? Will they take up ice skating perhaps (then again, they already have according to the picture above).

However, there is a somewhat macabre side to this tale. It seems that it is only the legs of the frogs that have been removed and eaten – the rest of the carcass remains intact. It is almost as if some later day voley Hannibal Lecter type has insinuated his way in to the once completely herbivorous community. Quick, grab a thumb sized muzzle!  Do you hear the screaming of the tadpoles, Clarice?

To be fair, the farfetched thought of the voles going on a mad frog devouring rampage is a little over the top (but funny nonetheless) as they are timid little creatures. There is no weird Ratty serial killer – the water voles can probably simply not manage the rest of the frog and so go for the easiest meat, the legs. However, eco-heads are scratching as to the reason why the water voles in this area have suddenly abandoned their once blissfully meat free veggie existence.

The answer is babies. It is thought that the voles have taken to eaten frogs as they are short of protein in their diet. It is the breeding season at the moment and the clever chaps from British Waterways think that they are trying to supplement their diet with a little extra protein while preparing for the next generation.

Poor little guys – from once thriving population of eight million in the UK it is believed that there are only a few hundred thousand of the fascinating small mammals left. As such it is one of the fastest declining mammals in the UK. To blame for that we have (as usual) ourselves to thank. Oh and just in case you are thinking RAT! then calm down dear (it's only a commervole).  Yes, the water vole is a rodent but it belongs to a different family altogether from Rattus rattus.

In 1929 the mink was introduced from North America by people who sought to farm the animals for their fur, nasty people that they were. Some escaped, bred and spread and the real victim turned out to be not the displaced mink but poor old Ratty. Who then can blame the little guys for trying out a little exotic cuisine?

The Quoll – Cute Cousin of the Tasmanian Devil

Monday 3 May 2010

You may not have heard of the quoll.  However, do not suspect they are a creature of invention.  These small marsupials are native to Australia and Papua New Guineau and – as you can see – they are extremely appealing to the eye.  Above is an Eastern Quoll fawn. The tribe (that's a rank between family and genus) that the quoll belongs to also contains the much better known Tasmanian Devil.

Image Credit Flicker User Herper715
The species above is known as the Tiger Quoll because of the markings on his fur, but there the resemblance (if there ever was any) ends.  Like many marsupials they are odd animals, at least to those of us on continents where we are surrounded by mammals.  They grown up to thirty inches in length and have hairy tails around six inches in length.

One peculiar fact about the quoll is that they only develop a pouch (where their young will grown after they are born) once the breeding season is in progress.  The pouch is towards their tail area. They have six nipplies and can have several young (or joeys) at the same time. Above is another Eastern Quoll, found in Tasmania.

Quolls are quite happy living in forest or in open land and live mostly on the ground.  However, over the millennia they have had reason to take to the trees and are quite happy among the branches too.  They do not have prehensile tails which would enable them to grab hold of branches with their tails to aid climbing.  The above climber is a Spotted or Tiger Quoll, found in eastern Australia.

However, quolls do have ridges on the pads of their feet, a feature which is common among arboreal animals. Although their colour is usually the brown that you can see in most of the pictures here, they can morph black, such as the Eastern Quoll example above.

These little guys have very very strong teeth and so although they look cute and cuddly a nip from one of them would be very painful.  These teeth are used to rip apart their prey. This has included the cane toad, introduced in to Australia in 1935.  Unfortunately the cane toad is highly toxic and has threatened the number of quolls.

Altogether there are six species of quoll and their genus is called Dasyuru, which gives them one of their alternative names, the daysure.  There is now a capture program in process (see above) to help out the quoll in terms of the cane toad problem. 

The Northern Quoll (above) is the smallest of the six species and rarely grows longer than thirty centimeters in length.   A peculiar feature of the Northern is that after mating the males invariably die and the females are left alone to raise the young.  They live mostly on fruit and small vertebrates but despite their size and timid appearance they are happy to scavenge in campsites.

The Tiger Quoll’s (above) diet includes birds, rats and mice and although it spends most of its time on the ground it regularly climbs trees.  It has a single litter each year and can have as many as six young (one for each nipple).  Once the young are born they get to the mother’s pouch and stay there for up to seven weeks – becoming fully independent in eighteen.  Although the species is nocturnal it is a sun worshiper and likes to spend the day basking in sunlight.
The quoll is considered an endangered species and is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list under the status vulnerable.  Let's hope that the steps being taken by the Australian government will ensure its continued existence for the future.

Animals in Danger from the Deepwater Disaster

Saturday 1 May 2010

As the oil begins to wash ashore on Louisiana’s beaches the cost to the human population will be enormous. On the local wildlife the disaster may have an incalculable effect. Here are just some of the species in danger from the oil that continues to flow from the Deepwater Horizon.

The Manatee
These large herbivorous marine mammals – about as friendly as marine animals come (towards humans that is) can grow up to four meters in length. Every year several hundred manatees travel towards the waters off the coast of Louisiana after spending their winter in Florida. Once they get to these waters they graze on the vast beds of sea grass in the area. Already critically endangered the oil from the rig may be what finally ends this unique community.

The Northern Gannet
 This is a critical time of year for many species of songbirds and shorebirds who are going through their primary migratory period. This area is called the Mississipi Flyway and runs right through the area affected by the slick. For other species of birds this is when they nest and lay their eggs. The very first animal casualty to have been rescued was a Northern Gannet. Recovered offshore on April 30, it was alive and has been taken to a local emergency rehabilitation center. As Northern Gannets dive into the sea to catch fish it is expected that many thousands of this species may die.

Kemp’s Ridley
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five out of seven of the world’s sea turtles, where they live, breed and migrate. By far the most endangered is the Kemp’s Ridley. One of its two main routes of Migration is south of Mississippi. And guess when they start arriving back in the Gulf to take advantage of its warm waters? Yes, you guess it – May.

The Brown Pelican
The Brown Pelican is the avian symbol of Louisiana. Although it is the smallest of the pelican species (eight in total) it is still an impressively sized bird. It has a wingspan of up to eight feet and can weigh up to twelve pounds. It is nesting season for the Brown Pelican and thousands of pairs of birds are in the process of mating and nesting at the moment. Unfortunately their nesting site is the Breton National Wildlife Refuge which is directly threatened by the slick. If the oil gets ashore then it is the end of this year’s nesting season, with the chick populations likely to be wiped out.

The Right Whale
The Northern Atlantic right whale has only a population of around four hundred on planet earth – period. They were depleted by commercial whaling and the coastal waters off Florida and Georgia are the only calving areas known for this species. It is feared that these wonderful animals may dive deep for food and then hit the slick as they come up. Although no sightings have been made of the right whale around the slick, this is not the case for the sperm whale. It is not only the oil that threatens these enormous mammals, but the toxins that it is already releasing in to the air.

The Whale Shark
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and can reach over eleven meters in length. They are mostly solitary creatures and spend the larger proportion of the year on their own. However at this time of year onwards through summer around a hundred of them get together in the Gulf of Mexico. Right next to the Louisiana/Mississippi state line. This beautifully marked fish has been around for sixty million years – and it was thought for a long time that they fed exclusively on plankton. However, they have been seen feeding on small fish too.

The Reddish Egret
Previously a victim of the plume trade this gorgeous member of the heron family’s luck has just taken a turn for the worse. It is a coastal bird and it has no alternative feeding grounds in the Louisiana area, let alone anywhere else to nest. Out of the two thousand nesting pairs in the US, most are in Texas and are already classified as threatened. What the encroaching oil slick might do to their numbers is an unsettling thought.

The Blue Crab
The blue crab is a staple of the local seafood industry and lives in the coastal marshes. Although it is not classified as endangered in any way it is vital to the local ecosystems in the coastal marshes of Louisiana. It eats plans and animals – and is also something of a cannibal. Apart from us its natural predators makes for quite a list, from sting rays to trout, eels and sharks.


The season for inshore shrimp begins in the middle of May while the brown shrimp pictured are in their post larval and juvenile stage at the current moment in time. The State of Louisiana has allowed a special shrimp season so that the local fishermen and women can bring in as great a quantity of the maturing shrimp as possible before the almost inevitable major environmental disaster.

The Menhaden
This foraging fish spawns all year round and is fertile to say the very least. The eggs are hatched in the ocean and the larvae drift in to sheltered estuaries thanks to the natural currents of the ocean. Here they spend a year before they head out to the ocean again – but that may not be the case this year. While a mature female can produce almost four hundred thousand eggs these numerous fish have a number of uses – from animal feed to cosmetics. Although they spawn all year – this is their major period for reproduction. (Below is a picture of the species killed through severe hypoxia-near anoxia in 2003 but we may be seeing a lot of this on the news very soon.

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