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Archive for the ‘Photo of the Fortnight’ Category

This fortnight’s photo(s) of choice are a set of night shots by photographer Martin Dohrn that I spotted on the BBC Wildlife Magazine website. He’s taken some really interesting thermal images and beautiful after-dark shots of African wildlife that give an unique view of life in the bush. Check them out here.

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This is a great shot, not only due to the beautiful colours, and the fact that underwater photography is tricky, but also because this is a macro photo and yet perfectly in focus – apparently the cuttlefish is only 1cm long in real size. Neil Liddle’s got some lovely other shots from around the world on his Flickr page too, which are well worth a look.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish Macro

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This fortnight’s highlight is a collection of photos by the Smithsonian Institute taken by scientists using camera-traps. Camera-traps are an important tool in zoology research nowadays. Essentially a camera-trap is an infra-red (or, less usually, pressure pad) triggered camera (sometimes pair of cameras) set up across a trail or at a place where the target animal is likely to pass (such as a scent-marking point, salt lick, or waterhole) that takes a photo automatically when an animal breaks the infra-red beam (or stands on the pressure pad). They allow scientists to see rare and cryptic (camouflaged) animals, to make population estimations of animals in dense habitat such as rainforests where you don’t usually see the animals, and to prove that certain species are present or using particular habitats. And as a nice bonus, you get some interesting and beautiful photos of some of the rarer and more secretive animals on our planet.

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Following the Madagascar theme of the currently running BBC documentary (Wed BBC2 8pm), today’s photo is a video clip of one of Madagascar’s unique animals, the streaked tenrec Hemicentetes semispinosus.

Tenrecs are Madagascar’s equivalent of a hedgehog or a shrew. Among the streaked tenrec’s strange quirks are the fact that it keeps its family together by communicating using specialised quills (see the clip below) – and it needs to, because tenrecs have the highest number of offspring in one litter of any mammal… up to 32 babies all at once!

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The New York Times website has a slideshow of species recently lost to extinction, or currently hanging on by a thread. I’d recommend having a look, although it makes for very depressing reading.

There are continual arguments about why we should bother to save animals that are on the verge of extinction – or why we should care if a species does go extinct. My personal view, for what it’s worth, is that I find animals inherently beautiful (e.g. the golden toad) and/or interesting (who knew there was a snail that used to give birth to live baby snails [which is what ‘viviparous’ means]?!) and it is absolutely tragic that no one will see a golden toad alive ever again. From a more selfish, human-centric point of view, many animal and plant species could provide us with medical help (e.g. this amazing frog – now extinct). Finally, although extinctions have always happened naturally, the current rate at which species are disappearing is far higher than the usual background rate of extinction (I’ll look for some refs to back this up, but it is published data) – and, far too often, it is human-related effects, such as overhunting, deforestation, the building of dams, or the introduction of invasive species to an ecosystem, that is to blame for a species’ demise. Frankly, what right does any of us have to wipe out a complete species; what gives another species any less right to live on this planet than a human?

Further Information

Strange Behaviours: lost and gone forever
Action BioScience: the sixth extinction

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Blue tit on feeder (thanks to Alan Weir)

Spring is on its way in the UK, despite grey and drizzly days that try to claim otherwise, and today I watched a group of blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) squabbling in the trees outside my office while I was on a call… a very welcome distraction. So this fortnight’s photo is of this charming bird, found in gardens and woodlands across the UK and Europe.

Interesting random fact: birds and insects can see ultraviolet light (which is invisible to humans), and many flowers that have avian or insect pollinators take advantage of this ‘extra’ vision by advertising the path to their nectar in this spectrum – it often looks like a glowing airplane landing strip!

Further Information

RSPB         
British Garden Birds       
People’s Trust for the Environment      
Elizabeth & Malcolm’s blue tit diary (with live webcam of a nest)       
Britsh Trust for Ornithology      
BBC Springwatch

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This fortnight’s photo is of a plated millipede found in the Amazon rainforest by Alexander Torrenegra – I never even knew such things existed! According to David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth, despite ‘milli’ meaning thousand, no millipede actually has 1,000 legs (more like 100-400 depending on species) and though they look ferocious in actual fact all millipedes are vegetarians, while centipedes are all carnivorous (i.e. eat meat). To tell the difference: centipedes have just one pair of legs per segment, and their legs are long and stick out from their body, while millipedes have two pairs per segment and their legs are shorter and more tucked underneath their body.

plated millepede (by Alex Torrenegra)

Further info on millipedes and centipedes:

Introduction to the Myriapoda

Orders of Millipedes

Millipedes, centipedes and pill bugs

Centipedes and millipedes -how to tell them apart

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