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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?

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.

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.

The Tarantula Hawk Wasp - Ruthless ‘Raptor’ of the Insect World

Sunday 26 August 2018

They are among the largest species of wasp and their name is taken from both its prey and a ruthlessly efficient killing machine, the raptor known as a hawk.  Yet the Tarantula Hawk Wasp gains its fearful name and reputation from the simple urge to care for and nourish its young.

Growing up to two inches (5cm) in length the sight of a tarantula hawk would send the average entomophobic in to a state of palpitations.  So, perhaps if you are already frowning squeamishly, your knuckles rapidly whitening, then you should not read on.

King Penguin Crèche - The Biggest Day Care Facility on the Planet

Sunday 19 August 2018

If you have children you will no doubt have experienced the heart stopping moment when you realize the little one has wandered off and you cannot see them anywhere. You might imagine, then, how the average King Penguin parent might feel when they return to feed their chick. Yet it is all part of the King Penguin’s master plan for the survival of the next generation.

Dragonfly Delight: A Life Cycle in Superb Macrophotography

Monday 23 July 2018

The sight of a dragonfly on the wing is one of the more remarkable that nature has to offer. Here, with the help of some astounding macrophotography, we take a look at the life cycle of the dragonfly as well as its remarkable and unusual physiology.

The gorgeous colors of a dragonfly – these majestic insects of the air, have been a source of inspiration – and fear – to people for thousands of years. The order to which they belong is called Odonata. Many people regularly go ‘oding’ just as others go birding or butterfly collecting. Their life is cycle as unusual as their looks are striking.

Please Help Keep Ark in Space Online!

Saturday 21 July 2018

You may or may not know this but Ark in Space is curated by just one person – and that person would be me! There are a number of expenses that the site incurs each month and so, with my cap in my hand, I’m going to beg a favor.

If you enjoy Ark in Space, please consider helping out with the cost of running the site.  As you can guess, it takes a lot of time and effort, too!

Below this post you will see a button which will enable you to make a contribution safely and securely. You can give as little or as much as you like – I’m not going to limit your choices! Anything will be gratefully received and will help to ensure that I can carry on bringing you all the great features, photographs and videos about the natural world that makes the site what it is.

So, if you read or watch something that you have really enjoyed, please think about sending us a small donation. Thanks!

Best regards


PS: The donation page is set to US dollars as that is where we get most of our traffic from. So, if you are outside the USA please remember to calculate the amount from your currency first!

Image Credit

Land of the Strays

There are around two million dogs living on the streets of Costa Rica.  By any standards that is something of an issue but what to do in the face of such overwhelming numbers?  Lya Battle decided that she would start to look after some strays and soon there were too many to fit in her suburban home.  Fortunately her grandfather had left her a farm which she then turned in to a sanctuary.  Now over 1,000 dogs call it their own. As you can imagine, feeding time is probably the most complicated part of looking after so many dogs! Land of the Strays is a wonderful, warm-hearted short documentary directed and produced by Adrian Cicerone.

Fix and Release: Helping Canada’s Freshwater Turtles

Thursday 19 July 2018

For two hundred million years they did their own thing.  Then we came along. Dr Sue Cartsairs runs a small turtle trauma center in Ontario.  Often the turtles have been run over by vehicles and it is the job of her center to try and even the odds for survival for the turtles in this day and age.  In other words, to fix and release them.  As Dr Carstairs points out many of these turtles are over a hundred years old and as such deserve the chance to get back to the water and continue living their long, long lives. As well as a great insight in to practical not to mention pragmatic conservation, Fix and Release (by Scott Dobson) is visually very beautiful.

For me the most amazing part of the film was seeing the eggs being taken out of a turtle which had not survived its injuries.  Once extracted the eggs were placed very carefully in a box and then left to incubate and hatch.  Then they are released in to the wild (turtles are born independent). Amazing. If you would like to find out more about how to help Ontario’s fresh turtles then click here.

Blood Island: The Freed Chimps of Liberia

Sunday 15 July 2018

In the 1970s the New York Blood Center conducted experiments on chimps in Liberia.  Many were infected with diseases like hepatitis and so when the experiments ended the chimps could not be released back in to captivity.  Instead they were taken to a group of inland islands to live out their lives there.  Yet the money was cut off, leaving the chimps to starve.

Blood Island is the story of how this dreadful situation was turned around – although as you will see the solution does not extend to the length of life a chimpanzee might enjoy.  At the center of this story of the chimps, however, is one of redemption for one of their former captors.   Produced, edited and filmed by Lindsey Parietti, Blood Island is testimony to both our inhumanity to our fellow creatures and also our resolve to help them.

Birds of Oostvaardersplassen

Are you in need of a few moments of relaxation? Then look no further. Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands covers about 56 square kilometers and, surprisingly, did not exist until the polder was created in 1968.  Amazingly it is now internationally important as a waterfowl habitat.  Benfilm visited this amazing place in May of 2018 and this beautiful, peaceful and relaxing video footage is the result.  Go and get a cup of something to sip while you reflect on the beauty we still have in this world…

Why Cats Like Boxes So Much

Saturday 14 July 2018

Cats like to hide.  That is because they employ something called crypsis to keep themselves safe and sound.  A cryptic animal, like a cat, uses its anatomy and behavior to hide from anything which might predate them. It is different from camouflage as this can also be employed by predators and is used by many animals, including big cats, to more effectively attack prey.  A house cat uses its natural flexibility to hide in places a predator might not consider. A box is just that. Inside it, a cat feels invisible, and that is exactly how he likes to feel.

Perhaps these exceptions don't quite prove the rule, but let's go with it.

The Dead Leaf Butterfly - Camouflage King of the Asian Tropics

Sunday 1 July 2018

Although the title of this article has already given the game away, take a close look at the ‘leaf’ above.  Dead and withered, its dark veins still stretch across the parchment thin remains of its once emerald resplendence. Yet a closer look reveals a head, eyes and legs.  This isn’t at all what it appears to be – and that is exactly how nature intended.

Image Credit Wikimedia
This incredible butterfly can be found – if you look hard enough – from India to Japan; anywhere in the Asian tropics.  Its taxonomic name is Kallima inachus but it is also known as the orange oakleaf or Indian oakleaf. Unsurprisingly, its most common name is the dead leaf butterfly.  This disguise (mimesis) is intended to confound predators – you can’t eat what you can’t see. Yet just wait and see what appears once it opens its wings…

Alien Nations: Up Close and Impersonal with Insects and Spiders

Sunday 10 June 2018

It is little wonder that many movie monster makers look to the alien world of insects for their inspiration. Here, with the aid of some amazing macrophotography, get up close and impersonal with some strange species that might not look too out of place in a sci-fi movie.

There are around ninety species of beetle backed flies – and this is one of them. Native to Asia and Africa they do are small sized insects but with macrophotography they do not look quite so small. The reason for its swollen appearance is not because it is about to lay eggs (or has just ingested something larger than itself which is enough to start off a gag reflex, possibly). Rather it has an enlarged scutellum. This is the triangular plate behind its pronotum, which is one of the three parts that makes up its thorax. Its wings are behind the scutellum.

The Poitou - The Donkey with Dreadlocks

Sunday 3 June 2018

A look at the Poitou donkey from South West France. 

Only thirty years ago, less than thirty of these beautiful and friendly animals were left. 

Now, thanks to a conservation programme, it looks as if the dreadlocked donkey is set to stay awhile on Planet Earth.

The Bat-Eared Fox – Did You Ever See a Fox Fly?

Saturday 26 May 2018

Around 800,000 years ago a species developed on the African Savannah, a canid but quite unlike any other. It was small – with a head and body length of only around 55 cm, tawny furred and with black ears. It is the ears which really make this mostly nocturnal animal stand out.  On average they are a staggering 14 centimeters in length.  Proportionally they may not be as large as Dumbo’s but this is no fictional appendage. These ears are for real.

The Frog that Turns Blue

Saturday 19 May 2018

The Moor Frog is a small and rather unprepossessing amphibian. They grow up to seven centimeters in length and are a reddish-brown color. However, all that changes once a year between March and June. It is then that the male of the species turns blue.

Here you can see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ colors of the male.

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