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Mallorca's Living Fossils

Thursday 28 October 2021

Thought extinct thousands of years ago, the Mallorcan midwife toad was discovered alive and well in the 1970s.  Its lifecycle is astounding considering it lives among pools in the mountains of this Spanish island.  Oh and the male carries the eggs around his hind legs while they develop! This and other members of the living fossil club are featured in this fascinating documentary short by Rachel Ledbetter.

Unexpectedly Funny Things to do with Hamsters When You're Bored

Hamsters – they’re adorable and surprisingly good company too. Here we take a look at some unexpectedly funny things you can do with hamsters when you’re bored – and throw in some cool facts about hamsters at the same time!

1. Amuse Him With Your Office Anecdotes
Hamsters love to hear what went on at the office. In fact they like nothing better than a long and intense monologue. Start with the time you got to work and give him a blow by blow account of the day’s activities. You can even tell him those secrets that you can’t tell anyone else, like who is having an affair with the boss. Hamsters love gossip!

Wanted: Grizzly Bears?

Curious about grizzly bears? A 7 minute film about the elusive North Cascades grizzly bear narrated by ecologist and film maker Chris Morgan, and including appearances by many Washington State residents who share their opinions of bears, and help bust some myths. The film includes beautiful footage of the North Cascades, and bears in Alaska where Morgan has hosted several films for PBS Nature, the BBC, and others.

Rattlesnake Wrestling - The Ophidian Combat Dance

Saturday 16 October 2021

It looks as if these snakes are dancing with each other, perhaps in courtship but this graceful exhibition is anything but friendly. Most frequently witnessed in the diamondback species this is ruthless combat: both rattlers are male and they are engaging each other for the right to mate.

The Frog Photographer

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.

The Honduran White Bat

Friday 1 October 2021

You may just have done something of a double take. Yet these small creatures huddled together are indeed bats.  They are Honduran White Bats (Ectophylla alba) and they do not easily fall in to a number of bat stereotypes: they do not live in caves and they do not suck blood. Additionally their fur, as you can see, is snow white.

It is found only in a few Central American countries. If you are very, very lucky you might be able to find it in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and, of course, the country from which it gets its name, Honduras.

Yet it is extremely rare and, moreover, it is tiny – the largest examined have never exceeded 5cm in length. Not only that, but its white fur has evolved for a reason: camouflage. (Note: the above was caught by using mist nets in Costa Rica and was later released).

10 Beautiful Butterflies and Their Ugly Duckling Caterpillars

Saturday 19 June 2021

“There once was an ugly duckling,” goes the old song. This could not be truer of these stunning butterflies and their most peculiar caterpillars. Another opportunity to scratch your head at the vagaries of Mother Nature, take a look at this pictorial proof of butterfly beauty and caterpillar creepiness!

1 The Tiger Swallowtail

Found in the Eastern side of the US, this butterfly often produces two or three batches of eggs each year which puts it among the more fecund of butterflies.  You can see the black “tiger” strips on the wing of the male (a shadow of these stripes can be seen on the female but they do not to attract a mate – the male does all the leg work!).

Monarch Migration – Staggering Spectacle of Nature

Monarch butterflies are renowned for their migration.  Yet no single monarch has ever completed the 2,000 mile round trip – it is generational in nature because of the sheer distance involved. There being safety in numbers this leads to what is surely one of nature’s most spectacular sights – that of millions of monarchs congregating together.

In North America the butterfly begins this massive yearly migration in August.  Monarch butterflies fuel up on nectar in the northern States and Canada - it is time to leave as the coming winter will be so cold it would inevitably kill them.  Unlike their great-grandparents they have never flown more than a few hundred meters in their lives but they head out over vast northern lakes with no hesitation.  This is the first leg of one of the world’s greatest migrations.

The Incredible Chrysalis

The chrysalis of the butterfly looks, close up, alien and perhaps even a little frightening.  Yet it is one of the four stages of the life of a butterfly and without these bizarre looking enclosures we would not have the beauty of butterflies.  There always has to be a beginning in this process and above you can see a Painted Lady caterpillar beginning the transformation.

The butterfly emerges two weeks later.  The abdomen is white and still inside the shell of the chrysalis. Various silk strands from the caterpillar stage are in the upper right corner of the picture. The colorful wings seen here at the top of the picture have yet to unfurl and harden.  The pupal stage (called chrysalis in the Lepidoptera) is only found in insects that can be described as holometabolous (a marvelous word if ever there was one).  This is a term which is applied to any insect group that undergoes a complete metamorphosis during the transition from embryo through larva, pupa and adult (sometimes known as imago).

The Pronghorn – The American Almost Antelope

If you were asked to think of a large mammal of the American prairie you might well say the bison, coyote or wolf, a measure of how much these species have settled in to our general consciousness. Yet there is one unique American animal which is less known but is perhaps the most charismatic of the Great Plains. Many refer to it as an antelope but that is far from the truth. A true American native, the Pronghorn has sojourned across the deserts and plains of North America for at least a million years: but an antelope it is not. Its closest relative is the giraffe.

The pronghorn is found nowhere else in the world except the interior western and central north of America. At first sight it certainly does resemble the antelope of the Old World but it is thought to be a classic example of convergent evolution. This is where species develop to inhabit at least two separate places in the world but which share features and behaviors which mean they may resemble each other despite no shared ancestry. To the untrained eye, their appearance would suggest that they are related species even when they are not.

The Extraordinary Pink Katydid

Flamingos aside, you do not get to see the color pink in the animal kingdom a great deal.  A notable exception is the pink katydid.  Yet this is by no means a separate species – this coloring affects around one in 500.  You may have already guessed that the condition is something similar to albinism.

Known as erythrism, the condition causes a curious reddish pigmentation. It can affect the body of an insect as well as its skin, and it is so rare that it was not noticed by western scientists until 1887. The reason for this oversight was perhaps due to the inclination of the insect to remain perfectly still during daylight hours.

Bat World Sanctuary

In 1989, Amanda Lollar discovered a bat dying on the sidewalk.  Distressed that any creature should have to expire in such a way she took it home to allow it a dignified send off.

However the bat, which she christened Sunshine, survived due to Amanda’s care and was the catalyst for Bat World Sanctuary, which Amanda founded in 1994.

This short film by Brett Kessler takes a peek in to this world of injured, orphaned, and non-releasable bats in Mineral Wells, Texas.

I’m Just a Shark

Imagine if a representative of the group of fish we refer to as ‘shark’ could address us, what would it say? This ageless creature might have some things to say which would make us sit up and pay attention, surely? Shot and written by Pascale Briançon, I’m Just a Shark does exactly that and although I am naturally disinclined towards anthropomorphism this has a certain profundity which makes it gripping from start to finish.

Directed by Julien Marckt with the voice of Daniel Njo Lobé, this may be putting words in to the mouth of an entire group of animals… but what words they are.

The Largest Pigeon in the World – The Victoria Crowned Pigeon

Due to the demise of the Dodo, the mantle of the world’s largest pigeon was passed on to the Victoria Crowned. If you associate pigeons with the types that we see in our cities and towns – altogether a pretty unimpressive lot – then you are in for a surprise.

The Disappearing World of the Asian Elephant

Saturday 12 June 2021

The plight of the Asian Elephant is often overlooked.  However, when one considers the fall in its numbers in less than a century – from almost half a million to only three thousand, then the urgency of the issue begins to sink in.

Here, ProFilm looks at the plight of the Asian Elephant, with some history of its relationship with us and questions how things might be resolved for this most majestic of animals.

Why Does a Dog Lick Its Nose?

When dogs are in their training stage a question that comes up a great deal is why do dogs lick their noses?  While it is tempting to simply go with the old chestnut of an answer – because they can – there are a number of reasons why a dog might lick its own nose. Are they thinking about speedy paper reviews? One thing is for certain sure, however: while they are doing it they often bring a smile to the faces of their human companions. As you can see from this spread of pictures, it is sometimes difficult to resist this particular canine photo opportunity.

Manul – the Cat that Time Forgot

Friday 4 June 2021

Have you ever wanted to take a trip through time to see what animals looked like millions of years ago? When it comes to cats there is little or no need.  This beautiful specimen is a Manul, otherwise known as Pallas’s Cat.  About twelve million years ago it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve and it hasn’t changed since. The other species, Martelli’s Cat, is extinct so what you are looking at here is a unique window in to the past of modern cats.

The Pink Underwing Moth: Skull-Faced Caterpillar of Australia’s Rainforest

Saturday 22 May 2021

Nature never ceases to astonish.  This is the larva of the Pink Underwing Moth, an endangered species which lives in the subtropical rainforest below about 600m elevation in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland. It has evolved a remarkable set of patterns to ward off potential predators.

A giant set of eyes would, you might think, be enough to warn off a bird looking for an easy lunch. Yet this caterpillar goes one step further.  It appears to have a set of teeth which could rip any possible attacker to shreds. Why, then, is it so rare? You might think that with this sort of natural protection the species would be thriving everywhere.

The Gelada: Unique Primate from the Roof of Africa

Tuesday 6 April 2021

High up in the Ethiopian mountains lives the Gelada.  It lives nowhere else and although its closest living relative is the baboon, with its hairless face and short muzzle the gelada looks more like a chimpanzee.  Isolated in these remote Ethiopian Highlands (often called The Roof of Africa) this primate has developed a way of existence (one might call it a culture) all of its own.

To begin with the gelada is a graminivore which means that it only eats grass.  Fortunately, the highlands in which they live are cooler and a lot less arid than many parts of Ethiopia and they rarely experience any kind of food shortage.  They will also become granivorous when the grass is in seed.  In fact, they actively prefer the seed to the grass – it is probably a welcome change.

Why Dinosaurs Are Still Fascinating Today

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Dinosaurs may be among the only creatures, extinct or not, that are just about everywhere you see. Movies, cartoons, TV shows, toy stores, storybooks, science, and songs, just to name a few. 

Kids, teens, adults, and even older people are fascinated by Dinosaurs. What is it about these creatures that fascinate people so much that several industries have massively profited from people's interest? 

Let's find out what makes these creatures so fascinating. 

Origin of "Dinosaur" 

The word dinosaur was invented by Sir Richard Owen back in 1852. Dinosaur is a combination of two Greek words, deinos and sauros. Deinos stands for terrible, and sauros means lizard. So, these creatures were once taught to be "terrible lizards," which is something not many people knew about them. 

The first dinosaur bones were discovered in 1677 by Robert Plot. However, he simply guessed that the bones belonged to a massive human being. It wasn't until many years later that William Buckland correctly identified the remains. 

How are Dinosaur Remains Scattered across the Planet? 

Dinosaurs existed in a period so early that continents and islands were all one land called Pangea. Because there was one land, not separated by oceans, seas, and bodies of water, the Dinosaurs were scattered all across the globe. 

Once this massive land named Pangea separated, the Dinosaurs were divided all over the world. 

But, Why Are They More Famous Than Any Other Extinct Creature? 

So far, over 700 different species of Dinosaurs have been discovered. And paleontologists strongly believe that there are many more species waiting to be found and studied. After all, these creatures lived and prospered for around 165 million years. 

However, they were long gone before Homo sapiens, the modern humans, first made their mark on the planet. No matter how much experts may want to try, the original Dinosaurs can never come back. It is impossible. 

It is the fact that no one has actually seen a dinosaur, and there are no ancient drawings of these creatures is fascinating. Dinosaurs are everywhere and, at the same time, nowhere. 

People are making movies about where these creatures are brought to life, and they are depicted as scary and violent, but some are shown as sweet and sensitive. On another side, there is a cartoon about people living in the early days and keeping Dinosaurs as their pets while happily living alongside them. 

There are even dinosaur costumes and outfits that people wear. Not only the people who buy them from Only Dinosaurs for Halloween, but a famous American TV series called "Barney" ran for 14 seasons. It had kids along with their families singing about how Dinosaurs can be their friends. 

These creatures were the most successful land animals to have ever lived and may even be the most diverse. But they no longer exist to object to anyone's interpretation of them. 

They can be whatever the people make them. Whether it's a scary dinosaur on the big screens or a chicken nugget in the shape of a dinosaur, it is the fact that their existence is not physical and can be controlled by the people is why they are still fascinating today.

Spider Mom

Sunday 21 March 2021

This is one of the most remarkable pieces of film I have seen for a long time. Sure, we are all used to macro photography these days, showing all aspects of insect and arachnid life close up. Yet while that sort of photography needs time and bags of patience this must have been a labor of love indeed.

Funnily enough labor is quite an appropriate word here. This remarkable piece of film shows a spider laying its eggs. Scientifically speaking I should have said a spider ovispositing its egg sac but now you have that you know what it means in everyday speak!

The detail here is stunning – quite remarkable – you can see the eggs inside the spider before their sack is oviposited.  Not only that it shows the care that the spider gives its young before they are born and even takes us to the birth itself.

This outstanding footage was taken by Alvaro Mendoza Productions, otherwise known as Amprods, a Spanish production company specializing in nature documentaries and, more specifically, in filming animal behavior.

The Incredible Glasswing Butterfly

Saturday 13 March 2021

A butterfly with transparent wings? Surely not. Yet there is a species that exhibits this trait. Take a close look at the incredible Glasswing, an enchanting species that confounds science.

Maleo - The Bird That Can Fly The Moment it Hatches

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Beneath the red hot sand of an Indonesian island something stirs.  A large egg is hatching and soon the newborn creature will dig its way out to the surface and take its first gulps of fresh air.  Yet no parent watches over it. This sounds as if it should be a young turtle, thrusting its flippers sideways as it makes its desperate lurch towards the ocean.  It is not, however. This is a bird.  More remarkable still is that when it emerges the chick will already be able to fly.

The Maleo is a surprising bird.  Although it only numbers around ten thousand in the wild – and close to zero in captivity – it is remarkable amongst our feathered friends for the unique way it cares for its young.  Instead of incubating their eggs, the Maleos lay theirs in the baking sand of Sulawesi island – the only place in the world in which they can be found in the wild.  It sounds like an April Fool trick, but be assured, this bird is very much alive and kicking.  Whether it will be around in another fifty years, however, is altogether a different question.

The Bald Eagle Next Door

Sunday 7 February 2021

It may be the national bird, but many Americans go through their entire lives without seeing one.  Not so the residents of Unalaska (in, unsurprisingly enough, Alaska).  It is one of the biggest fishing ports in the world and when the fishing boats return, bald eagles are waiting for them – in their droves.  Great Big Story takes a look at this fascinating bird which is about as opportunistic a feeder as you can get (that means it’s not desperately fussy!).

What Are Those Things on Giraffes’ Heads?

Are they antlers? Perhaps they are horns?  They are definitely not antenna – the Serengeti is not (as far as we know) wired for giraffid telecommunications.  They are called ossicones – and giraffes are born with them.

Image Credit

The Red Elephants of Kenya

Sunday 31 January 2021

Ask anyone what color an elephant should be and you may get a raised eyebrow (or two) but the answer will normally be grey or greyish – perhaps even black or brown. The more observant might say there is pinkness around some parts of the body such as the ears and trunk. Red would almost certainly not be the answer even though some would swear they had witnessed pink elephants on parade. Yet in the Kenyan National Park of Tsavo East you will find red elephants aplenty.

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