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King vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)

The king vulture is a large bird found in Central and South America. It is a member of the New World vulture family Cathartidae. This vulture lives predominantly in tropical lowland forests stretching from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. Its overall length ranges from 67–81 cm and its wingspan is 1,2–2 m.This vulture is a scavenger and it often makes the initial cut into a fresh carcass. It also displaces smaller New World vulture species from a carcass. The king vulture eats anything from cattle carcasses to beached fish and dead lizards. Principally a carrion eater, there are isolated reports of it killing and eating injured animals, newborn calves and small lizards. King vultures have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity. It is non-migratory and it generally lives alone or in small family groups.

photo credits: Eric Kilby, Olaf Oliviero Riemer, jon hanson, at-web, sandiegozoo

Our planet’s diverse, thriving ecosystems may seem like permanent fixtures, but they’re actually vulnerable to collapse. Jungles can become deserts, and reefs can become lifeless rocks. What makes one ecosystem strong and another weak in the face of change? The answer, to a large extent, is biodiversity.

Happy Earth Week! 

From the TED-Ed lesson Why is biodiversity so important? - Kim Preshoff

Animation by TED-Ed

Animals are dying at up to 100 times faster than the natural rate.

Planet Earth is dying all around us on a scale not seen since the annihilation of the dinosaurs. That’s the alarming finding of a new study on extinction rates recently published in Science Advances. Earth’s ecosphere is on the precipice of an epoch on the scale of the Cretaceous-Palogene extinction event. This would be like “sawing off the limb we’re sitting on” as humans.

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“It was a stunning scene—a 45-foot-long, 70-ton right whale hovering over the bottom just a few feet away from a diver standing on the bottom. … At some point I stopped and kneeled on the sand to catch my breath, and I was certain the whale would just keep swimming. Instead, the whale also stopped, turned, and hovered over me as it stared with that soulful eye. A few seconds later, I resumed swimming alongside the whale, making pictures, and savoring every second.”

- Brian Skerry, Diver & Photographer.

Check out Brian Skerry’s prints here.

(Nat geo)

(1,2)

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Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica)

The Indian giant squirrel is a large tree squirrel species genus Ratufa native to India. It is a large-bodied diurnal, arboreal, and herbivorous squirrel found in South Asia. The Indian giant squirrel is an upper-canopy dwelling species, which rarely leaves the trees, and requires tall profusely branched trees for the construction of nests. It travels from tree to tree with jumps of up to 6 m. When in danger, the Ratufa indica often freezes or flattens itself against the tree trunk, instead of fleeing. The Giant Squirrel is mostly active in the early hours of the morning and in the evening, resting in the midday. The species is endemic to deciduous, mixed deciduous, and moist evergreen forests of peninsular India. There is some disagreement between biologists regarding how many subspecies belong to the Ratufa indica lineage. It is generally acknowledged that there are either four or five subspecies, depending on the source. The Indian Giant Squirrel lives alone or in pairs.

photo credits: wiki, wiki, Rakesh Kumar Dogra, adityajoshi

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Splendid fairywren (Malurus splendens)

The splendid fairywren is a passerine bird of the Maluridae family. It is found across much of the Australian continent from central-western New South Wales and southwestern Queensland over to coastal Western Australia. It inhabits predominantly arid and semi-arid regions. Exhibiting a high degree of sexual dimorphism, the male in breeding plumage is a small, long-tailed bird of predominantly bright blue and black colouration. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles are predominantly grey-brown in colour. These birds are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such trysts. Male wrens pluck pink or purple petals and display them to females as part of a courtship display. The splendid fairywren mainly eats insects and supplements its diet with seeds. There are four subspecies.

photo credits: tumblr, Nevil Lazarus, Aviceda, Nationstates

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Punch Junk: a Zebraplatys Jumping Spider (Salticidae)

I came across this little beauty yesterday in Langi Ghiran State Park in western Victoria, Australia. He was under the loose bark of a River Red-gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) minding his own business. The under bark ’subcortical' habitat of eucalypts is an important one for Australian invertebrates (and many reptiles too), yet we know remarkably little about the ecology and broader significance of this distinctively Australian habitat.

Zebraplatys are apparently uncommon with fewer than a 30 records from Australia, mostly from western Australia, and only around five from the east. The eastern records are all of the species Zebraplatys harveyi Zabka, which this one may be - it is very similar to the drawn image in Zabka’s 1992 revision of the genus. The related genus Holoplatys is much more numerous, both in terms of number of species and of records. Zebraplatys can be distinguished from Holoplatys by the occurrence of distinctive zebra stripes on the abdomen of Zebraplatys.

A number of related salticid genera in the Australian region have adapted to this habitat and like other groups that are important here - Ground Beetles (ironically) for example - have distinctive adaptations to living in a tight space. The most obvious character of these subcortical adapted taxa is the distinctive  fattened body. In this case short little chelicerae (mouth parts) and strong front legs are probably also adaptations to the narrow space under-bark place.

This specimen in clearly a male (hence the ‘he’ above) because of his well-advertised palps. He is one of the Many Little Things with boxing glove palps!

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I found some Earthstars (Geastrum spp.), which like growing on rotting wood.

I thought it would be fun to “plant” some spores on my wood chip mulch. I often bring back pieces of wood or clumps of soil with fungal fruiting bodies or mycelium on them from the woods, to really get a little forest ecology going here.

It’s paid off so far: the amount of fungal diversity I am seeing since I started mulching heavily and “seeding” local species is really encouraging: there is a new species fruiting every two or three weeks (like bracket fungi in the hügelkultur mounds, jelly-like fungi on the borders of my veggie bed, big old white mushrooms some insect likes to eat, and a heavy crop of December ‘shrooms).

Mycelium is definitely running in these parts! Besides looking cool, fungi helps the bees, the trees, and soil.

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A Collembolan with Charisma Coming out of its…Everywhere!

Whenever I am out in the bush I’m always excited to come across an Acanthanura springtail. I have a feeling this might be true of most people who appreciate nature and wander about in the forests of southeastern Australia - at least those that do it with their eyes open to the Many Little Things!

Most springtails are not as effusively blessed with the combination of size, colour and ‘armature’ of Acanthanura and their relatives, although if you do look up close at even some of the small species, they are pretty amazing. Now, consider they occur at huge densities (thousands or tens of thousands per metre square) making them one of the most abundant animal types on the planet. After mites.

Acanthanura belongs to the neanurid subfamily Uchidanurinae. This subfamily  has representatives in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Micronesia and southeast Asia - all of them large, for springtails, some reaching over 10 mm long, and many of them gorgeous. Acanthanura itself is reasonably common in and under rotting wood in wet forest habitats in southeastern Australia and Tasmania and many be found openly foraging during the daytime. The images here, all of the same undescribed (but known) species, show an individual actively searching habitat on a green, bryophyte covered log, and a specimen from inside a rotten log, covered in jewel-like water condensation droplets.

How is it possible that something so conspicuous and charismatic in its group remains undescribed? Well…that is the way of the small things. Everybody wants to work on the big stuff so we continue to know much less about, to paraphrase E.O. Wilson, the Many Little Things that run the world.

france24.com
Germany turns military bases into rare-bird nature reserves

Germany agreed Thursday to turn more than 60 former military bases into nature preserves, with the aim of creating vast new green oases and sanctuaries for rare species of birds.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said an ongoing overhaul of the German armed forces had made it possible to set aside more than 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of forests, marshes, meadows and moors.

She said the government had opted against selling the land, in some cases, prime pieces of real estate, to investors in favour of creating natural refuges.

“We are seizing a historic opportunity with this conversion – many areas that were once no-go zones are no longer needed for military purposes,” she said.

“We are fortunate that we can now give these places back to nature.”

In recent years, large swathes of land in the former communist east that had been occupied by the military, including the so-called “Green Strip” along the once-fortified heavily border to then West Germany, have been turned into nature reserves for flora and fauna.

The 62 bases and training areas earmarked as nature reserves Thursday by the parliamentary budget committee are mainly in the densely populated former West Germany.

The sites will primarily serve as bioreserves, which the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation said would provide crucial habitats for threatened species such as certain bats, woodpeckers, eagles and beetles.

Leadership in Germany.

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Boophinae Eyes.

Photo credit: PBertner.

These amazing photos highlight the diversity in frogs eyes of the Boophis genus. They’re part of a larger family called the Mantellids found on only two islands Madagascar and Mayotte.

Most of the worlds biodiversity is actually concentrated in specific regions. They tend to be areas like the tropics or coral reefs. Where lots of energy, food and competition combine causing selection for a whole host of interesting animals

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