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5 snake superpOWers yOu WOn’t beLieve



gOne WiLD

Get up close to the animals in your backyard






Which animal has

the most heart?



eXtreMe snaiLs

meet the biGGest, most poisonous and fastest Gastropods on earth


to go wild in





How to better know

a betta fighting fish

Meet the


Get to know this

playful marine species



Learn all about these

tiny insect farmers


OF a cave

Uncover the creatures

that thrive in the dark

australia’s sleepy icons


Digital Edition



Did you know that the

puffin’s famous bill only

turns that bright orange

colour to help it attract

a mate, and that the

northern gannet has

evolved built-in airbags

to help it dive and hunt?

Turn to page 48 to find out all about what

makes seabirds so incredible and how they

have adapted to life above the oceans.

Seabirds are not the only animals with

unique bodies adapted to their environment.

On page 12, meet Australia’s sleepiest icon,

the koala. Eucalyptus can be seriously

dangerous to humans, but the koala loves

eating the stuff. Discover how this cuddly

critter has adapted to life in the trees and

how it manages to survive digesting the

toxic leaves it munches on.

Also in this issue, explore life inside a cave,

journey to Mauritius to find out why it is fast

becoming a wildlife haven, and get to know

the animals that inhabit your garden. We’d

love to see pictures of the wildlife in YOUR

garden. Until next time!

Zara Gaspar


Editor’s picks

Return to the Sahara

Here at WOA HQ we have

been celebrating another

conservation success

story. Read all about the

reintroduction of the scimitarhorned

oryx to its former home

on the edge of the Sahara

Desert on page 58.

Walking for wildlife

Do you love animals, but don’t

want to do a bungee jump or

run a marathon? Find out on

page 96 how something as

simple as putting on a pair

of walking shoes and joining

together with others can raise

thousands for wildlife charities.

Meet the team…

© Thinkstock

Lauren Debono-Elliot


Although they are notoriously bad

tempered, I was blown away by

the beautiful colours of Siamese

fighting fish on page 32.

Charlie Ginger

Production Editor

From bats to bullfrogs, many

animals call caves home. Dare

you venture into the dark and

discover the creatures inside?

Tim Hunt

Picture Editor

Seabirds come in all shapes and

sizes, each one perfectly adapted

to their habitat. We take a closer

look at some unique species.

Want to read the

magazine online?

Download the Future

Folio app on the

Apple store.

Follow us at… @WorldAnimalsMag worldofanimalsmag

Which snail is the speediest?

Find out on page 20

Visit www.animalanswers.co.uk for

Exclusive competitions Hilarious GIFs

Upload your photos and win prizes!


Welcome to Issue 46

06 Amazing animals

12 All about koalas

Discover the sleepy Australian

icon that survives on toxic leaves

20 Extreme snails

Meet the biggest, most

poisonous and fastest

gastropods on Earth

26 Painted leopards

Everything you ever wanted

to know about the ocelot

31 Which animal has

the most heart?

Strange facts about

animal hearts

32 Fighting fish

How to better know a

betta fighting fish

38 Gardening

gone wild

Get up close to the

animals in your backyard

46 Lost forever:

sloth lemur

Why the slow–moving relative of

modern lemurs couldn’t survive

human destruction

48 Seabirds

The incredible birds adapted

to life over the oceans

57 Bizarre: horned frog

The cleverly disguised frog

with a cannibalistic streak

58 Conserving

the oryx

Returning this graceful

antelope to its wild home

64 Explore the

Earth: Mauritius

Journey to this island paradise

to find out why it is becoming

a wildlife haven

72 Super serpents

Five snake superpowers that

you won’t believe

74 Leaf-cutter ants

Meet the farmers of

the insect world

80 Meet the dolphins

Get acquainted with these

playful marine mammals

82 Wildlife of a cave

How animals have adapted

to thrive in the dark

96 Walking for wildlife

How to raise funds for

conservation charities




The IUCN red lIsT

Throughout World of Animals you

will see symbols like the ones listed

below. These are from the IUCN Red

List of Threatened Species, the most

comprehensive inventory of the global

conservation status of animal species

in the world. Here’s what they mean:









88 Behind the lens

Conservation photography

with Luke Massey




90 Keeping in touch

94 Readers’ Q&A



74 64


the issue?

Subscribe now

and save 25%

Page 92


The amazing world of animals


The amazing world of animals

A group of northern gannets nose dive to feed

on a shoal of discarded fish just off the coast of

Scotland’s Shetland Islands

Northern gannets are special high-speed divers, able to locate their prey

from up to 45 metres (147.6 feet) in the sky. They hit the water like an

arrow, with their bodies completely rigid and wings tucked back. They

are opportunists, too, regularly following fishing trawlers in the hope of

snatching some tasty scraps.

© NaturePL/The Big Picture


The amazing world of animals

Every winter, monarch butterflies from North

America embark on a mass migration in their

millions to the warmer climates of southern

California and central Mexico

© Getty/Joel Sartore

Monarch butterflies are the only species of butterfly to travel huge

distances every year. They do so in their millions, leaving behind the cold

weather that would literally kill them within weeks, travelling up to 4,828

kilometres (3,000 miles) to return to the same trees as their ancestors.


The amazing world of animals

A young snowy owl nesting in the Arctic tundra

waits patiently in its nest for its parents to return

with some much needed food

During the breeding season, snowy owls rely on small rodents like

lemmings for food. A snowy owl uses a ‘sit and wait’ style of hunting,

pouncing on unsuspecting prey with its sharp talons extended,

swallowing it whole. Unlike other species of owls, snowy owls hunt

during both night and day.

© Getty/Arpad Radoczy/EyeEm


The amazing world of animals

A spread-eagled polar bear plays around in the

snow, scratching its back on some stray wood near

Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada

© Getty/Juan Carlos Muoz

Life is tough for a polar bear, largely due to massive habitat loss, but that

doesn’t stop them being among the most playful species of bear. They

live solitary lives, but have been photographed playing together. Young

males are known to play fight with each other, possibly imitating the

serious battles that may lie ahead.


The amazing world of animals


All about the koala


Phascolarctos cinereus

Class Mammalia

Territory Eastern and

southeastern Australia

Diet Herbivore

lifespan 10-20 years

adult weight 9-15kg (20-33lb)

Conservation Status



All About

The koala

These sleepy Australian animals

have survived on toxic leaves

for centuries, but their habitat is

disappearing and their future is

looking increasingly uncertain

Words Laura Mears

© Shutterstock


All about the koala

Koalas wedge

themselves between

branches to sleep

Stomachs of steel

Koalas eat a diet that’s toxic to most other animals

For us, eucalyptus is dangerous. The oil causes a burning feeling

in the mouth, followed by vomiting, dizziness, problems with

coordination, balance and speech, and loss of consciousness.

In children – who have smaller bodies – it can trigger seizures.

Koalas, on the other hand, eat handfuls of the stuff every day.

They’re picky about which leaves they eat, and prefer certain

species, and certain types of soil; trees growing in fertile areas

seem to be less toxic than those growing in infertile soil. Their

stomachs produce excess acid, and their intestines are adapted to

process the leaves without the nasty side effects.

The major downside to their unusual diet is the lack of nutrients.

The leaves don’t contain much in the way of calories, and koalas

have a slow metabolic rate to compensate. They spend much of

their time sitting or sleeping, and their digestive systems operate

slowly to squeeze as much nutrition as possible from the leaves.

A koala’s life Koalas might seem lazy, but when they’re not eating or sleeping, they get up to all kinds of mischief. A koala’s life is in fact rather busy...

alpha Male

MarKing TerriTory

lone wanDerer

Being the boss is a constant struggle

Koalas are generally solitary, but males like to take charge

of nearby females. Rivals are warned off with loud bellowing

noises, and if that fails, a wrestling match can settle disputes.

Dominant males spread their scent

Male koalas have glands on their chests that secrete an oily

substance. They rub it against trees, especially during the breeding

season, to attract females and warn other males to stay away.

young males travel between groups

When males leave their mothers, they need to find a place of their

own. They move between established groups, hanging out on the

edges and hoping for an opportunity to set up a permanent home.


The koala

Life in the

slow lane

Koalas are slow and steady; they spend the

vast majority of the day sleeping, and most

of their waking hours eating. But they’re

far from lazy. Even running on a diet of

nutrient-poor leaves, they can still manage

to travel over 100 metres (330 feet) per

day. They can walk on land, and will cross

vast areas of ground to reach new trees,

but because their limbs are curved for

climbing, they are bow-legged on the

ground and their palms and soles don’t

properly touch the floor.

They are generally solitary animals,

but don’t live far from their companions.

Individual koalas occupy home territories,

but they overlap at the edges with the

territories of other koalas. They don’t share

food, though, and only visit the overlapping

trees during the breeding season. Should

another koala violate that rule, conflict can

often ensue.

Koalas try to avoid head-to-head battles

by using their voices to deter would-be

aggressors; they have a powerful bellow

that makes them sound much larger than

they are. Coming to blows consumes a lot

of valuable energy. Sometimes, however, a

fight is inevitable. Angry koalas bite, scratch

and wrestle, fighting in the trees and on

the ground. This can be very dangerous,

particularly if one koala loses their footing

and falls, potentially to their death.

“Koalas try to avoid


battles by using

their voices to

deter aggressors”


Mothers talk quietly to their joeys

Females and their offspring stay together for at least a year,

forming a close bond. They communicate using clicks, murmurs,

squeaks and hums. If they are annoyed, they grunt softly.

BalanCeD DieT

The koala diet is hard to stomach

Koalas are one of few animals able to digest eucalyptus. They

tend to snack on the leaves from two or three local species, but

supplement their diets with other plants, including tea trees.

UrBan aDvenTUreS

Many koalas live near people

Koala habitat is broken up by human settlements, and koalas

aren’t afraid to venture into our towns and cities. They can get into

trouble with dogs and cars, but if they’re hungry, it’s worth the trip.

© Alamy; Thinkstock


Inside the koala

Koalas are adapted for an unusual life in the trees. They

have strong legs, flexible paws and curved claws to grip

to the branches, and an enlarged digestive system that

allows them to digest the toxic leaves of eucalyptus plants



large skull

Male koalas have broader heads than

females, and both sexes have large

skulls in comparison to their body

size. This provides an anchor point

for their enormous jaw muscles.

vertical pupils

Most marsupials have horizontal

pupils, but koala eyes have vertical

slits. Their eyesight isn’t very good,

with smell and hearing being

much more important senses.

Sharp, curved claws and two

opposable thumbs on the front

paws help with grip. The back

paws only have one thumb.



Two of the fingers on the back

feet are partially fused. These

strange digits are used for

personal grooming.

Digestive detox

Eucalyptus leaves are

toxic to most animals,

but koala digestive

systems are adapted

to process this

dangerous food.

Tufty fur

The fur of a koala is short and thick,

providing some padding when

they’re sitting in the trees. The

mottled grey and white colouring

helps to break up their outline.

Small brain

Koalas have smaller

brains than other

marsupials in comparison

to their body size, helping

to save energy.

Chubby cheeks

The distinctive cheeks of a koala

conceal powerful jaw muscles

and cheek pouches. Their diet

takes a lot of chewing, so their

jaws are enlarged and their

back teeth are sharp.


large ears

Koalas have sensitive hearing. They

communicate using low bellowing

sounds, particularly during the breeding

season, and their middle ear is enlarged

to help transmit the vibrations.

Muscular limbs

Thick, stocky

limbs enable

koalas to

effortlessly grip

to tree branches.


The koala



a joey is born

0 days

Like kangaroos, koala

babies are known as

joeys. They are just 2cm

(0.8in) long at birth.

in the pouch

0-22 weeks

The joey is blind and

has no ears, but

manages to find its

way to mum’s pouch.

© The Art Agency/Sandra Doyle; Nobu Tamura; JJ Harrison


pap feeding

22-30 weeks

Feeding on its mother’s ‘pap’

(droppings) provides the joey

with the bacteria it needs to

digest eucalyptus later.


Small intestine

Large intestine

Closest family

Most of the koala’s closest relatives are extinct


Like kangaroos, koalas

raise their newborns

inside a pouch. It opens

at the bottom, and has

muscles that tighten up to

prevent the joey falling out.

“The koala’s large head

provides an anchor for

its huge jaw muscles”


The closest living

relatives of the koala

are the wombats.

These stocky animals

live underground

in burrows that can

extend tens of metres.

Their teeth allow them

to eat grass, which

has helped them to

survive to this day.

Marsupial lion

This unusual predator

had teeth like a

lion, a body like a

wombat, and arms

like a primate. It had

a powerful grip and

was able to climb

trees, leaping out to

take on prey as large

as a kangaroo or



This rhino-sized

marsupial is the

largest that ever lived.

It was found across

Australia during the

Pleistocene (the Ice

Age), more than 11,700

years ago, living in

a variety of habitats,

from damp woodlands

to dry plains.



30 weeks-1 year

The joey ventures out of

the pouch and starts to

eat leaves, coming back

for milk for up to a year.


1-2 years

The joey leaves as soon

as its younger sibling is

old enough to poke its

head out of the pouch.

Finding a home

2 years

The first step is finding a

territory. Females often

choose somewhere close,

while males move away.

Sexual maturity

2-3 years

Males and females mature

at the same age, but

males don’t usually mate

successfully until four or five.


3-10 years

Breeding between

October and November,

koalas have one joey

every one to two years.

old age

10+ years

Sadly, many koalas

don’t make it this far.

Road traffic can be a

real problem.


All about the koala

Life in a gumtree

There are two things that a koala looks for in

a home – eucalyptus trees and other koalas

Koalas are native to Australia, but they’re not found

everywhere on the island. The population congregates along

the eastern and southeastern coastline where the climate

is wetter, the soil is more fertile, and there are plenty of

eucalyptus trees.

With food their top priority, koalas tend to cluster in areas

with high numbers of their favourite plants. They like to munch

on just a handful of the over 700 different eucalypt species

found in Australia, and their top food sources include cabbage

gum and ribbon gum. They’ll also snack on other eucalyptus

trees when their favourites aren’t available, including bimble

box, woollybutt and monkey gum. Eucalyptus forests also

contain other tree species that the koalas use for shelter,

including tall, strange-smelling turpentine trees and evergreens

known locally as ‘brush box’.

Koalas have thrived in Australia for thousands of years, but

the eastern and southeastern coasts aren’t just ideal habitat

for them – the fertile soils also attracted human settlers and

now there’s intense competition for space. It’s estimated

that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed since

Europeans first arrived in Australia; some of it carved away to

make space for developments, and some lost to droughts or

fires. From an estimated 10 million animals in 1800, numbers

have plummeted to fewer than 100,000.

Loss of habitat continues to be the biggest threat, and

according to the IUCN Red List, koalas are one of ten species

most at risk of the effects of climate change. As the chance

of droughts and wildfires increases, their future could become

more and more uncertain.

Habitat restoration

programmes are

underway to replace

lost eucalyptus trees

Environmental factors

Life in the trees isn’t as simple as it seems


Humans and koalas share the same

land, attracted to eastern Australia by

the fertile soil. But this close proximity

brings a battle for space, and at the

moment humans are ‘winning’.


Bushfires have shaped the Australian

landscape for millennia, but if koala

populations are penned in by human

developments there’s nowhere to run

when disaster strikes.


With roads carving up the ground

between koala strongholds, traffic

accidents are a real problem. Males

are particularly vulnerable when

they go looking for a mate.


Even though they’re high in the

trees, koalas aren’t invulnerable to

predators. Dingoes, owls, eagles

and pythons all pose a threat, as do

invasive species like cats and foxes.


The koala

Pushed to the edge

Koalas live on the eastern and southeastern edges of Australia, but

their numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 200 years,

and populations are now severely fragmented.

Current population range



Koalas share their treetop

homes with a host of weird and

wonderful animals

Koalas are extinct in most of Australia

Sugar glider

These little marsupials hide in the

hollows of trees during the day, and

spend their nights out foraging for

sap, nectar and insects. Like koalas,

they depend on the trees for survival

and are vulnerable to deforestation.

Short-beaked echidna

Echidnas might look a bit like

hedgehogs, but they aren’t closely

related. They are monotremes (like

the platypus), laying eggs despite

being mammals. Like marsupials,

they have a pouch.

A ‘bear’

down under

Koalas sleep for

20 hours a day

Koalas don’t usually visit

each other unless it’s

breeding season

Southern koalas have

more fur than their

northern counterparts

Koalas get moisture from

their food and rarely drink

Joeys cling tightly to

their mothers for about

a year

Male koalas bite, scratch

and fight for dominance

Koalas use their sharp

claws to shimmy up and

down trees

Koalas eat up to 0.5kg

(1.1Ib) of leaves every day

Male koalas threaten

rivals by bellowing

Ringtail possum

These cat-sized marsupials are

skillful climbers, and use their tail as

an extra limb when swinging in the

trees. They have adapted well to life

alongside humans, and can often be

seen in suburban gardens.

Little red flying fox

These bats can climb as well as fly,

and spend their lives in the trees. They

eat fruit and nectar, and like bees, they

transfer pollen from flower to flower

when they feed. They have a particular

fondness for eucalyptus.

© freevectormaps.com; Thinkstock; Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures/FLPA




Famous for their slow speed and fragile shells,

these molluscs possess secret powers that are

almost beyond belief

Words Amy Grisdale

An estimated 80,000 snail species exist on Earth,

surviving in arid deserts and abyssal ocean depths.

Most are marine species, while around 40 per cent

live on land. All of these species share common

traits as members of the Gastropod class. This

name literally translates as ‘stomach foot’, as the

insides of a snail are twisted in such a way that the

digestive organs lie directly above the fleshy ‘foot’.

Their protective shell is made from tough calcium

carbonate; a substance that can withstand high

pressure and temperature and acts as armour.

Most terrestrial species are herbivorous, but a

great number that live in the ocean are meat-eaters,

and some have developed extreme adaptations to

take down animals that are larger and faster than

themselves. Those that live on shores face exposure

to predators and battle the elements on a daily basis,

while some invade fresh water despite breathing air.

Snails make up 80 per cent of all living molluscs

and are an incredibly successful group of animals that

emerged around 250 million years before the first

dinosaurs, and survive across the planet to this day.



Extreme snails


tongues are

tougher than


A common sight at the seaside,

these hardy snails are miniature

scouring pads that scrape every

scrap of food from bare rock

The life of a limpet may look almost nonexistent

to the casual observer. Their shells

stick to rocks and appear to stay still while

waiting for the tide to cover them back up,

but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Beneath the conical shell is the radula,

which is a ribbon-shaped organ similar

to a human tongue. The big difference is

that the radula is covered with tooth-like

daggers made of the strongest material

known to humans. These ‘teeth’ are

compressed fibres and can be 100-times

thinner than a human hair. Despite being

microscopic, they are designed to scrape

back and forth across rocks for hours

on end without eroding throughout the

limpet’s life, which can be up to 20 years.

Each tooth has equal strength regardless

of its size, and lifts particles of algae from

the rocks that can then be eaten by the

limpet. The animal is always on the move,

and footage of foraging limpets can be

sped up to reveal how far they travel each

day. Once all the food has been prised free

from the rock the snail moves on to find

more, though some species return to their

original place at the end of each day. This is

known as the ‘home scar’, and they follow

their own trail of chemicals to find it.

On top of this, limpets compete with one

another for space. More than 300 snails

can live within a single square metre

(10.7 square feet) and have even been

known to shove one another off rocks.


This long tongue can

grow to double the

length of the shell and

the teeth are stronger

than any substance

known to humankind.

“An estimated 80,000

species exist, most of

which are marine”


Extreme snails

Most protective

Apple snail

eggs destroy

the central



As if living underwater while needing

to breathe air isn’t enough, these

snails go the extra mile to protect their

progeny from predators

This tropical freshwater species takes child

safety seriously. Females risk their lives by

leaving the water to find an aerial surface

for their eggs to develop in peace. In some

apple snail species the preferred location is

a stone or log at the surface, but most seek

out high-up plant stems that tower above

the water.

Their eggs are bright pink to warn off

egg hunters – those that do eat them meet

a grisly end. The toxin inside is a unique

combination of proteins that remains

active even when it has passed through a

predator’s entire digestive system. Of all

their natural predators, only tropical fire

ants are able to survive eating these eggs.

Apple snails are able

to lay so many of these

protected eggs that the

species has colonised

new environments and

even become a pest



Extreme snails

Queen conches give

vulnerable ocean

animals a home

Prized as a decoration above the waves, this giant

snail goes through life helping others, asking for

nothing in return

Sometimes animals form mutual

relationships where both species

rake in benefits. But that’s not

what happens with the queen

conch. Interactions with this

peaceful vegetarian are known as

commensal because they don’t

benefit the host in any way.

Measuring up to 30 centimetres

(12 inches), its large shell provides

a surface for animals to bind to,

such as barnacles, who can’t feed

unless they’re stuck down. Small

fish and crabs even make their

way inside the spacious shell to

hide from predators, and the

conch tolerates these invasions.

This snail is even a breeder of

bacteria that is at the bottom of

the ocean food chain. Microbes

feed on scraps the conch can’t

finish and provide the ocean with

life-giving bacteria that in turn

feeds plankton.

Friends of

the queen

These are just some

of the animals that the

queen conch allows to

share its shell

Slipper limpet

Porcelain crab

Cardinal fish


Extreme snails


Cone snails pump prey with poison

Even humans fear this predator, which is known by scuba divers as an animal to avoid at all costs

The problem this species faces is simple – it’s

a slow-moving snail that eats fast-swimming

fish and needs to be able to catch prey without

expending too much energy. A high-speed

chase is out of the question, but thankfully for

this snail it has a lethal trick in its shell. During

its evolution it developed a weapon that allows

it to kill anything that gets too close.

Cone snails can modify

their venom to create

different lethal cocktails

to stun a variety of prey

Tucked beneath its speckled shell is a

harpoon filled with venom for which there is no

antidote. The fluid inside is so toxic that fish are

paralysed instantly, allowing the cone snail to

eat a meal without having to move. In fact, it’s

potent enough to take down an adult human,

and this snail alone is responsible for more than

30 fatalities to date.

This is not only the world’s deadliest snail;

it’s one of the most venomous animals alive.

Researchers are working to pick apart the

hundreds of chemicals that make up its venom

and have found proteins that are 10,000 times

more effective than morphine as a painkiller. It

also contains a form of insulin that causes the

blood sugar of prey to drop to a fatal level.

How it hunts

This static sharpshooter sits and waits for prey




The waiting game

With an arsenal of deadly poison ready to fire, the

cone snail stays in the same place waiting for prey

to cross its path. It even waves its long proboscis to

lure fish into the danger zone.

Harpoon action

Once prey is in range the snail throws out a hollow,

modified tooth that contains the fatal cocktail. The

fish will become motionless in less than a second,

saving the snail from having to pursue its meal.

Down in one

Stretching its mouthparts wide, the snail swallows

the fish whole; the venom has no effect on the snail.

It can wolf down animals that are equal in size to it,

and only the prey’s bones are excreted.

Violet sea snails

are pelagic (Greek

for ‘open sea’),

meaning they

drift along on the

ocean surface


Violet sea snails sail the oceans

While it’s impossible to determine how intelligent a snail is, this specimen

definitely tops the charts for being the most enterprising

This snail forms a buoyant raft at the

entrance of its shell by inflating bubbles of

mucus. It’s the pirate of the snail world and

spends its entire life floating at the ocean’s

surface feeding on venomous animals like

the Portuguese man of war jellyfish.

Interestingly, all violet sea snails are born

male and mature into females as they age.

Male snails release a case of sperm into the

water, which drifts towards a female who

can then use it to fertilise her eggs.

Everything in this animal’s life is

precarious, from the raft that prevents

it sinking to certain death to predators

seeking a meal. Its purple colouration

helps the shell stay hidden using a type

of camouflage called countershading. The

dark base faces upwards and blends in

with the sea when viewed from above,

while the tip of the shell that hangs upside

down is light in colour, making it hard to

distinguish from the sky if seen from below.



Garden snails are secret speedsters

The world’s speediest snail uses special tactics to get around ‘quickly’

Archie the garden snail holds a Guinness World Record for

speed, having completed a 33-centimetre (13-inch) course

in two minutes. When the numbers are crunched, that boils

down to 0.01 kilometres (0.006 miles) per hour, which sounds

extremely slow. In reality, it is slow, but this snail species uses

techniques to navigate its environment better than any other.

The two types of movement in land snails are crawling and

loping. Garden snails crawl across flat surfaces secreting a

characteristic trail of lubricating mucus as they go. In times of

dry weather, to prevent water loss, snails will touch the ground

The Latin name for the

common garden snail is

Cornu aspersum


Extreme snails

with only a few parts of their ‘feet’, thereby conserving as much

of their vital mucus as possible. This is known as loping, and

snails also do this when trying to evade a predator.

When retreating a snail can either hide in its shell or burrow

underground. Sticky mucus helps it seal itself inside its spiral

chamber or stick the whole of its shell to the ground. When

under soil, it uses a sheet of solidified mucus to barricade itself

in, and can shut down its body to stay dormant for lengthy

periods. These hardy snails can even survive temperatures of

minus ten degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).

African land snails decimate the landscape

This mollusc is very good at doing two things: eating everything in

its path and popping out baby snails

Being big is a great way to avoid

predators, and in order to be big this

snail needs to eat a lot. It’s a herbivore

that feasts on plant matter, and uses its

keen sense of smell to sniff out crops.

Growing snails prefer soft, decaying

fruit, but lose their fussiness with

age. Digestion begins outside the

mouth as the toothed radula

works the vegetation into a

pulp before it’s swallowed.

Very few predators seek out the giant

land snail, but rodents, terrestrial crabs

and even smaller carnivorous snails

have been known to hunt it. This snail is

a survivor and farmers often find that

their crops have been shredded by these

mammoth molluscs. Even in death these

snails have a tremendous impact, as

their calcium shell rots, changing the pH

of soil and altering its potential for future

plant growth.

“Few predators will seek

out the giant land snail”



© Alamy/Paul R. Sterry; NaturePL/Joris van Alphen; Alex Mustard; Georgette Douwma; Thinkstock




A life spent prowling the rainforests of Central and

South America has produced a formidable and uniquely

adapted hunter in the form of the striking little ocelot

Words Hannah Westlake

Standing at only 71 to 89 centimetres (28 to 35

inches), the ocelot is one of the most breathtaking

small wild cats found in the rainforests and

thickets of Central and South America. The

pattern of each individual cat’s fur is unique and

hard to describe, consisting of open and closed

black bands and stripes on tawny fur, as well

as smatterings of spots and smudges that look

‘painted on’, hence the name painted leopard.

These markings help the ocelot stay

camouflaged in the dappled shade of a forest and

blend in during the twilight hours. Accomplished

climbers and swimmers, ocelots have a varied

diet, from birds and insects to small mammals

and even fish. They have been observed stalking

prey and tracking by scent, but they will also

sometimes lie still and partially hidden, waiting

for prey to pass by their hiding spot. Like most

carnivores the ocelot has sharp teeth meant for

tearing meat rather than chewing, and it is also

known as a fussy eater, skinning or plucking its

prey before tucking into a meal.

Unfortunately, the species faces many threats

to its survival. Ocelots are no longer legally

hunted for their pelts, but the fur trade had a

devastating effect on the population, leading to

the ocelot being classified as Vulnerable by the

IUCN from 1982 to 1996. However, with proper

conservation efforts, it is possible that the species

may start thriving once again.


Painted leopards


Leopardus pardalis

class Mammalia

territory Central & South

America, with a small

population in Texas, US

Diet Small mammals, birds,

reptiles, fish and insects

lifespan Up to 20 years

Adult weight 10.9-15kg


conservation status

Least ConCern


Painted leopards

Hunters of

the night

Keen senses make the ocelot

an extremely successful hunter

The ocelot is typically nocturnal,

though it can also be observed being

crepuscular, meaning that it is active

in the twilight hours preceding dawn

and following dusk. Even in the day, it

can get quite dark in the shade of thick

forests, so the ocelot needs to have

the keenest senses to search for prey.

Ocelots have very sensitive hearing

and they also have a strong sense of

smell, having been observed in the

wild tracking prey on the ground by

following odour. Whiskers also give the

ocelot an extra edge when it comes

to hunting; they help the cat sense

the world around them. But by far the

biggest evolutionary advantage is the

ocelot’s incredible night vision.

Cats – the species as a whole – tend

to have good night vision, and the

ocelot is no different. Their eyes have

more rod cells than a human’s, and

these rods are more sensitive to low

light. Feline eyes also have a tapetum,

which is a layer of tissue that reflects

light back to the retina, helping gather

more light as well. It’s also responsible

for that reflective shine in their eyes.

DiD you


Ocelots are also known as

dwarf leopards because of their

markings and their small stature.

However, they are only distantly

related to leopards. Leopards

are members of the Panthera

genus, whereas ocelots

are in the Leopardus


“At this time, the biggest

threat to the survival of ocelots

is habitat loss and fragmentation”

Ocelots are

preyed upon by

eagles, jaguars

and anacondas


Painted leopards

The water

inside a


is full of the

ocelots’ prey

Aquatic adaptations

Ocelots are one of the few strong feline swimmers

Ocelots hunt a variety of prey, and their diet is not just limited to

small land-dwelling mammals, insects, and the small birds they

manage to catch. This wild cat will also hunt aquatic and semiaquatic

prey throughout the seasons, such as fish and amphibians,

if the prey is available in their habitat.

Most cats can swim, but swimming well and swimming willingly

are other matters entirely. Tigers and jaguars, which live in lush

tropical jungles with wide rivers, are strong swimmers because their

environment calls for it, and being large, they have the muscles and

strength to fight the currents. It might be surprising, then, to learn

that ocelots, which are only twice the size of a typical housecat,

are strong and confident swimmers. Their fur is short and smooth,

which means it does not hold water and weigh the cat down too

much. The pattern of stripes and spots helps to camouflage the cat

as it waits for prey, and their sharp claws hold fast to wriggling fish

and bring the prey back up to the shoreline for eating.

Life for the

painted leopard

Females raise

their kittens alone

Male ocelots aren’t involved

in the raising of their

kittens. Kittens are around

three months old when they

begin to hunt alongside

their mother, and may stay

in close proximity to her

for another year before

venturing out alone.

Some ocelots

still live in the US

Only 50 ocelots are now

left in two small separate

populations in the state of

Texas, US. A decade ago,

there were over 100. This

decline is largely due to the

number one cause of ocelot

deaths in the area: vehicle

collisions on the roads.

Ocelots can get

very vocal

Ocelots make a variety

of vocalisations when

body language and scent

marking do not get their

point across. They make

a chuckling sound when

excited and yowl at each

other during courtship in

breeding season.

Rough tongue

The ocelot’s rough

and rasping tongue is

perfect for stripping

off the last morsels of

meat from the bone

and careful


Round ears

Unlike the rest of

their body, ocelot’s

small, round ears

are marked by a

bright white spot,

contrasting with the

black background.

Sharp teeth

Ocelot’s mouths are

adapted for eating meat.

Their piercing fangs deliver

the killing bite and their

sharp back teeth tear the

meat into edible chunks.


Painted leopards



Current territory range

Hunted almost

to extinction

Thousands of ocelots have been killed for their fur

© Thinkstock; Dreamstime; freevectormaps.com; Gerard Lacz/FLPA; ZSSD/Minden Pictures/FLPA; Alamy/Terry Whittaker/Linda Kennedy

Though ocelots are an adaptable species and can

sometimes be found in the vicinity of villages and other

human settlements (or even highways and convenience

stores in the case of the last few ocelots living in Texas),

there are some threats that are insurmountable.

At this time, the biggest threat to the survival of ocelots

is habitat loss and fragmentation. Home ranges for males

can be anywhere between two square kilometres (0.8

square miles) and 43 square kilometres (16.6 square miles),

possibly even over 50 square kilometres (19.3 square

miles). A loss of this space can result in a lack of available

prey in hunting grounds and make it harder for mature

ocelots to find mates and raise the next generation.

In the past, ocelots have been assessed as Vulnerable

by the IUCN Red List, and were only re-assessed as Least

Concern approximately nine years ago (having been first

listed as Least Concern back in 1996). But despite this, the

population is still decreasing.

The threat began with the fur trade, when thousands of

ocelots were slaughtered by hunters for their beautifully

patterned fur. This led to a severe decrease in population,

and although the fur trade was made illegal decades ago,

illegal hunting still persists today.

Cats of the Americas

The ferocious felines that share the ocelot’s home


The jaguar is the largest cat in the

Americas. An adept climber and

swimmer, its recognisable coat is

covered in rosettes, which are good

camouflage in dappled light.


Also known as the mountain

lion or puma, the cougar has an

incredibly large habitat range, from

the Canadian Yukon to the Andes of

South America.


Slightly smaller than the ocelot, the

margay is solitary and nocturnal,

spending almost its entire life in the

treetops of tropical and cloud forests.

These carnivorous cats also eat fruit.


More closely related to the cougar,

the jaguarundi has short legs and a

long body and prefers to hunt on the

ground despite being a good climber.

They are also able swimmers.


Resembling the ocelot and margay

but with a more slender and lighter

build is the oncilla. They are generally

a nocturnal hunter, preying on small

mammals and birds.


What’s at the heart of

the animal kingdom?

From self-repairing tissue to record-breaking speed, each

heart in the animal kingdom is unique and imperative for

survival, be it during fight or flight

Cephalopods (aka tentacular

marine animals) such as the

octopus, squid and cuttlefish have

three hearts. One is a systematic

muscle, while two branchial

hearts force blood to the gills



Hummingbirds beat their wings

approximately 15 times per

second, so their hearts have

to keep up. The blue-throated

hummingbird’s heart beats

around 21 times each second

The resting heart rate of

an elephant is only 30

bpm – that’s nearly half of

that compared to a human

A blue whale’s heart

is the size of a

small car, weighing


180kg (396Ib). It is

the largest heart in

the animal kingdom

The zebrafish can regrow

its heart if it’s damaged.

In 2002, scientists

discovered that 20 per

cent of the muscle could

be regrown in two months

While humans have four chambers

in their hearts, cockroaches have

approximately 13 chambers in their

unusual, tube-shaped hearts

After a large meal, a python’s heart can

grow up to 40 per cent larger to provide

the necessary oxygenated blood to their

other expanding organs as it digests

A bear’s heart rate is

approximately 40 bpm

when it is active, but during

hibernation that rate drops

to as little as 8 bpm

If you compare a dog’s

body weight to its

heart size you will find

that it has the largest

heart to body mass

ratio of all mammals

A giraffe’s heart weighs

about the same as 12

litre bottles of water,

and has to fight gravity

to pump blood up their

long necks to the head

Starfish do not technically

have hearts. Instead, these

creatures have millions of

hair like structures called

cilia that constantly pump

seawater (not blood)

through their system

The fairy fly, a type of

wasp, has the smallest

animal heart. Its body

measures about 0.2mm

(0.07in), so you will

need a microscope to

see its heart




Discover fascinating facts about one of the world’s

most irritable, feisty and colourful fish from the

streams of Southeast Asia

Words Amy Best


Fighting fish


Fighting fish

That’s not my name

The fighting fish are known by

many different names, but are

most commonly known as Siamese

fighting fish, due to their origins in

Southeast Asia. Some of their other

names include Japanese fighting

fish and Betta splendens, which is

their scientific classification.


Fighting fish

I can see a rainbow

The fighting fish can be found in

virtually any colour, ranging even

into marble and metallic tones. These

colours are caused by the presence

of guanine crystals that are found on

layers of the fish’s scales. It is through

selective breeding that the fish

become so colourful, as wild fighting

fish are usually a dull green colour.

Temper, temper

Siamese fighting fish are most

famously known for their

aggressive temperaments.

Without it, their name would

be obsolete. They typically

become defensive around

other males of their kind,

but can also become feisty

towards any creature that

they deem a threat. Females

can typically live together in



Fighting fish

I choose you

The mating process of

the fighting fish could

easily be mistaken for

a dance. They spiral

around one another with

eggs being released and

then fertilised with each

encounter. The female is

then chased away, leaving

the male to care for the

fertilised eggs in a bubble

nest until their birth.


Fighting fish

Belle of the ball

Due to their colourful and

attractive fins and small size,

the fighting fish are sought

after by many creatures. Cats,

salamanders and larger fish

prey on the Siamese fighting

fish, while humans catch

them to display in fish tanks.

They are popular pets.

© Getty/Jaturapat Pattanacheewin/EyeEm




Fancy turning your garden into a thriving nature

reserve? Follow these biodiversity-boosting tips to

spot captivating creatures in your own backyard

Words Matt Ayres


Gardening gone wild

Insects provide food for larger animals

and protect your plants from pests


specialise in

feeding on plantdestroying


such as aphids

While you may not spot them as easily as

birds and other larger animals, an abundance

of insects are likely to live in your garden.

These mini beasts form an important part

of the food chain, supplying numerous

animals with the nutrition they need to

survive. What’s more, several insect species

can serve as a natural defence against more

destructive pests, protecting your favourite

plants from the likes of slugs and aphids.

Ladybirds are some of the most familiar

garden insects and should be welcomed.

These charming red and black beetles are

brilliant at controlling aphid populations,

which can be a scourge on all kinds of

foliage. Ladybirds can be attracted by

plants such as dill and dandelions.

Other beneficial insects include

ground beetles (which eat slugs)

and dragonflies (which eat

mosquitoes). And while

they’re not technically

insects, spiders are a

fantastic first line of

defence against flies

and earwigs.

© Thinkstock;Gary K Smith /Alamy Stock Photo

How to attract insects

It’s well worth putting in a little effort in order to

build a bug haven in your back garden

Build a bug hotel

Include a pond in your garden

Leave some long grass and weeds

Avoid pesticides and insecticides

Choose insect-friendly plants

Don’t fear the weaver

Despite their portrayal as the stuff of

nightmares, spiders are useful guests

Before you brush away the next cobweb you find, stop

for a moment to consider the many advantages of

having these eight-legged hunters in your garden.

Along with other garden critters, spiders are

considered beneficial predators due to the nature

of their prey. While some actively hunt the likes of

woodlice on the ground, others spin a web and await

the arrival of pests such as flies and moths.


Gardening gone wild

Hedgehogs help

to keep your

garden slug-free

Hedgehogs are familiar icons of the

countryside in the UK, and their presence in

our gardens is a welcome sight. These snuffling

critters are a worthy ally for gardeners,

gobbling up pests like slugs and beetles in

order to fatten themselves up in time for their

winter hibernation.

Unfortunately, gardeners don’t always return

the favour by looking out for hedgehogs. Many

of our everyday activities can be harmful to

these spiny mammals. From mowing the lawn

to lighting bonfires and leaving out slug pellets,

seemingly harmless outdoor chores can lead

to fatal consequences for the hedgehogs that

inhabit our gardens. Sadly, this means that

hedgehog populations are declining rapidly,

with recent reports showing that their numbers

have declined by more than 30 per cent in the

last decade or so.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to help

hedgehogs in their fight for survival. One step

is to assess your garden for hedgehog hazards.

Slug pellets and pesticides should be avoided

wherever possible; bonfires should be checked

thoroughly before being set alight; and bricks

should be placed on the inner edges of ponds

to provide hedgehogs with a safe way out.

Leaving out a pile of logs will also help

hedgehogs, attracting a range of insects for

them to eat and providing a shady place for

them to hide during the day.


are nocturnal,

so rarely seen

during the day

Hedgehog hazards


Hedgehogs seek refuge

in woodpiles, not realising

the risk they face when the

bonfire is lit. Always check

your bonfire thoroughly

before lighting it.


Although hedgehogs can

swim, they sometimes

become trapped in steepsided

ponds. Bricks can be

used to create steps for the

soggy critters to climb out.

Slug pellets

Slug pellets can be fatal if

ingested by hedgehogs.

Sprinkle ground shells

around your plants

instead for a nontoxic pest

prevention method.


Gardening gone wild

Five rather

helpful insects


These famous aphid-eaters are

beautiful to look at and an excellent

ally for gardeners who want to keep

their plants free of the leaf-piercing

pests that ravage gardens.

Damsel bug

They aren’t much to look at, but

damsel bugs are surprisingly useful

pest controllers, curbing populations

of plant-devouring insects such as

mites, aphids and caterpillars.


You’ll find these elegant insects

buzzing over ponds and other bodies

of water. They’re incredibly efficient

hunters, preying on flies, termites,

mosquitoes and other pesky bugs.

How to help


Five top tips for supporting

these rare critters

Cut hedgehog holes in

your fences

Create a cosy woodpile

for hibernating hogs

Provide pet food and

water (but not milk!)

Cover over holes and

swimming pools

Remove sports netting

when not in use

Ground beetle

While some beetles are considered

pests, ground beetles are very useful

to gardeners as they eat slugs and

insect larvae that might otherwise

cause damage to plants.


Although they look like wasps,

hoverflies are a species of fly. They

dart around eating aphids, thrips and

caterpillars, making them one of the

most useful garden insects.

© Alamy/FLPA; Thinkstock


Gardening gone wild

Bees pollinate our plants and provide honey

Bees are one of the most familiar and iconic insect

families, yet they need our help more than ever.

With vast areas of the countryside set aside for

environmentally damaging industrial agriculture,

bees have lost much of the varied rural habitat that

they previously relied upon. As a result, many of

the UK’s bee species are now extinct, and a host of

other species are now endangered.

Wildlife-friendly gardens serve as an important

refuge for bees, providing them with the diversity

Gathering nectar is the

bumblebee’s favourite

daytime activity

of plants and natural shelters that they need if they

are to survive. The bees in our gardens can be

broadly categorised into three groups: honeybees,

bumblebees and solitary bees. All are important

pollinators, and can be attracted by planting flowers

such as crocuses, alliums, geraniums, lavender,

sunflowers and wisteria.

Trees are also a vital food source for bees – just

five established trees can provide the same amount

of pollen as an acre (0.4 hectares) of meadow.

How to attract bees

Beckon these buzzing little workers

and watch your garden flourish

Invest in an insect house

Keep weeds like dandelions

and clover

Avoid pesticides and insecticides

Plant bee-friendly flowers and trees

Leave out water droplets on

pebbles or marbles


Gardening gone wild

Butterflies showcase biodiversity

and pollinate flowers

Butterflies are undeniably beautiful, and also serve an important

role as pollinators in our countryside. Sadly, these impressive

winged insects are in decline, with some four species having gone

extinct in the last decade and more looking as though they will

follow suite unless we take responsibility for their conservation.

There are six different families of butterflies, and you can find

many of them in your garden. You can increase your likelihood of

seeing these fluttering beauties by investing in the right types of

plant. Many butterflies favour a particular type of flower or herb,

so including a variety in your outdoor area can maximise your

chances of spotting different species.

Choosing the sunniest spots of your garden for flowers will

not only help your foliage to flourish; it will also give butterflies

a place to bask in the sunshine, charging up their cold-blooded

bodies with the heat and energy they need to fly.

The buddleia, or

butterfly bush, is a

favourite plant of

these winged insects

How to attract butterflies

These delicate fliers are always a welcome

sight. Here’s how to make a butterfly paradise

Create sunny spaces in your garden

Plant butterfly-favoured flowers and herbs

Avoid pesticides and insecticides

Provide tall grass and rocks for shelter

Leave a puddling area for thirsty butterflies

The best plants for butterflies

Painted lady

One of the UK’s most

recognisable butterflies, the

painted lady loves buddleia

for the high levels of glucose,

sucrose and fructose in

its nectar. Common blues,

red admirals and peacock

butterflies also adore it.

Holly blue

As its name implies, the

holly blue is attracted to holly

bushes, which provide an

important source of food for

its caterpillars. Ivy, gorse

bushes and brambles are

also popular with these little

blue beauties.

Meadow brown

The meadow brown is

particularly attracted to

fragrant herbs such as

marjoram. Other species that

you may find fluttering around

your herb patch include the

common blue and speckled

wood butterflies.

Clouded yellow

A migratory butterfly that

visits the UK from North

Africa and southern Europe,

the clouded yellow is often

seen perched upon patches

of clover, which is the

preferred food plant for its

hungry caterpillars.


Wild and cultivated crucifers

such as garlic mustard and

lady’s smock are popular

with the orange-tip, an aptly

named butterfly seen during

spring and early summer.

The females of this species

lack the orange tips.


Named for the commashaped

white marking on

its underside, the comma

is one of many butterfly

species attracted by Verbena

bonariensis. This plant is

popular with honeybees as

well as butterflies.

© NaturePL/Stephen Dalton; Alamy/Richard Becker; Thinkstock


Gardening gone wild

Five birds in

your garden


The most widely seen garden bird,

blackbirds eat a wide variety of

food. Look out for them pecking

earthworms out of the ground or

singing from the treetops.

Green woodpecker

These vibrant birds are particularly

attracted to gardens with large trees,

which provide the cover they need.

Woodpeckers eat peanuts and suetbased

foods alongside insects.

Birds control insect populations

and give your garden life

Keen twitchers may organise exotic trips

around the world to spot rare and unique

birds, but you needn’t go to such lengths to

witness the wonders of the avian world. A

variety of birds enjoy visiting gardens up and

down the country; you can invite them into

yours by equipping your outdoor space with

a few simple provisions.

All birds need food, so a bird feeder is a

good place to start if you want to encourage

feathered friends into your garden. A simple

mix of seeds, nut granules and flaked maize

will be enough to attract sparrows, finches,

dunnocks, doves and blackbirds. Robins,

blue tits and wagtails prefer live food such as

mealworms. If you can stomach them, these

squirming bugs will bring greater diversity to

your garden.

As well as food, birds require water. While

heavy stone birdbaths are aesthetically

pleasing, an upturned dustbin lid half buried

in soil will do the same job for a fraction of

the cost. Remember to clean and refill your

birdbath regularly to prevent dangerous

bacteria from building up, threatening the

health of visiting birds. For shelter, place nest

boxes around your garden to provide birds

with a cosy place to hunker down.

“You can invite birds into your garden by

equipping it with a few simple provisions”


The goldfinch has a thin beak

that’s perfect for picking out the

spiny seedheads of teasel plants.

Try planting some to attract these

handsome birds.


Jays are members of the crow family.

They are often seen during autumn,

when they bury acorns to retrieve

during winter. Scatter nuts around

your garden for them to eat.


Sparrowhawks are one of the most

common birds of prey in the UK,

targeting small birds. Listen out

for the alarm calls of starlings and

thrushes to spot these predators.

Bird feeders can

attract a variety of

species, including

blue tits and great tits


Gardening gone wild

How to

attract birds

Build it and you can be sure

that avian visitors will come

Hang bird feeders

in open spaces

Provide a birdbath

Place nest boxes

around your garden

Leave out nesting

materials like wool

or pet hair

Plant trees with

fruits or berries

Nest box

size guide

The size of the entrance hole in

your nest box will determine

the birds able to use it. To

attract a variety of bird species,

use this size guide.

25mm: blue tits, coal tits,

marsh tits

28mm: great tits, tree

sparrows, pied flycatchers

32mm: sparrows, nuthatches

45mm: starlings

© NaturePL/Stephen Dalton


ost forever

Sloth lemur

This slow-moving relative of modern lemurs

couldn’t survive after humans arrived in

Madagascar and set fire to its forests


Skeletal remains suggest

that their bodies were

much larger than those

of any extant lemur.

Lemur claws

Their claws were

short and flat,

not curved like

those of sloths.


Their limbs might have

been better suited to

hanging rather than

swinging from branches.


What the sloth lemur is

believed to have looked like

Vegetarian diet

Their teeth suggest

they ate a diet of leaves,

fruit and nuts picked

from the trees.

Considering the fate of the flightless dodo, it may

seem advantageous to be a species that lives

entirely off the ground when it comes to evading

humans. Unfortunately, that does not appear to

have been true for Madagascar’s sloth lemurs.

Biologists believe that most of the species in this

group lived in trees, yet they were probably all

extinct by the middle of the 17th century, partly

because of encounters with people.

Four genera of sloth lemur have been identified

from subfossil skeletal remains found in caves

and pits, including one that might have been

terrestrial. These bones have features that suggest

they belonged to mammals that were like sloths.

Analysis of DNA has confirmed, however, that

sloth lemurs evolved from a common ancestor

of extant lemurs. Even so, all sloth lemur species

appear to have been much larger than any

modern lemurs and the biggest one possibly

resembled a prehistoric ground sloth.


The long limbs of the smaller sloth lemurs

would have been ideally suited to a life spent in

the trees, but even these species are thought to

have been slow-moving. That would have made

them easy targets when humans began colonising

Madagascar from around 1,800 to 1,500 years ago.

Some of the oldest evidence of human presence

on the island includes a sloth lemur bone that has

signs of damage from what could have been a

primitive cutting tool.

Why sloth lemurs went extinct is not known for

sure. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they were

solitary, which might have meant they had a slow

reproductive rate. In combination with hunting by

humans, the burning of the forests by settlers and

the effects of climate change, this behaviour may

have led to a slow decline in sloth lemur numbers

until eventually there were not enough individuals

to sustain the population. The fate of these gentle

giants was then sealed.

Last seen…

Date: 1658

Location: Madagascar

One of the last records of a sloth lemur could

have been made by Étienne de Flacourt,

France’s governor of Madagascar in the

mid-17th century. In his book, L’Histoire de le

Grande Île de Madagascar, published in 1658,

he described a creature called the ‘tretretretre’

that had long, monkey-like hands and feet, a

flat face and was the size of a two-year-old

calf. If Flacourt’s account is of a sloth lemur, it

means some were still alive 360 years ago.

“Why sloth lemurs

went extinct is

not fully known”

© freevectormaps.com; Alan Batley





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Despite being a huge family that spans the globe, these

nautical navigators are now endangered thanks to humans


Words Darran Jones

From the smallest storm petrel to the largest

albatross, seabirds come in a range of different

shapes and sizes and are able to survive in some

of the harshest conditions imaginable. They are

masters of adaptation, typically form large groups

(called colonies) for protection and many are

excellent flyers, able to travel enormous distances

around the globe in search of both food and a

potential mate.

Seabirds typically live far longer than their landbased

relatives and breed at much later ages than

other birds do. Some species, like albatrosses and

shearwaters, tend to mate for life, while others,

such as penguins, have evolved massively, losing

the power of flight completely.

The vast seabird family includes gannets,

pelicans, frigatebirds, fulmars, petrels, cormorants

and tropicbirds, and they can be found

throughout the world occupying a variety of

important niches on the food chain. Some

seabirds spend so much time at sea that very little

is known about them, while others are incredibly

well documented, which gives great insight into

their fascinating lives.

Seabirds are now some of the most threatened

birds on the planet, and it is humans who are

driving certain members of this expansive group

to the brink of extinction. Here, we’ll not only

be highlighting some of the most common and

interesting seabirds around the world, but we’ll

also explain how they’ve evolved to face

a life at sea and the many steps

that are now being taken by

conservationists in a bid to

save them from going the

way of the dodo.


The incredible lives of seabirds

Evolution of the seabird

Learn how seabirds have evolved in order to deal with their

challenging lifestyles and the threats they face

The sea is one of the harshest and most unpredictable

environments on Earth, so it should come as no surprise to learn

that many birds have evolved in numerous ways to live and thrive

in such a dangerous, inhospitable place.

One of the most obvious indications of this distinctive evolution

is the webbed feet that virtually all seabirds have; another is

their ability to deal with any salt they consume with the help of

salt glands. With the exception of cormorants and several terns,

all seabirds have waterproof plumage and typically have far

more feathers than other birds, allowing for greater protection in

harsh conditions. The wings of many seabirds have also evolved,

depending on where they live, with species like the albatross having

gigantic wingspans that allow them to effortlessly glide in search

of food. Birds like gannets and boobies have binocular-like vision,

designed to help them easily locate their next meal, while the

Procellariiformes order, which includes albatrosses, shearwaters

and various petrels, have a highly adapted sense of smell.

Perhaps the most evolved group, however, are penguins, which

have developed into such adept fish hunters that they have become

completely flightless, using their short, stubby wings to cut through

the water in order to chase after their prey.

“Species like the albatross

can glide through the sky

effortlessly thanks to their

gigantic wingspans”

Plumage colouration

Many seabirds are quite

drab to look at and are

typically dark on top with

lighter undersides. Some

scientists believe this is

to counter predators and

to make sure they are not

seen by potential prey.

Salt glands

Seabirds have

extremely specialised

nasal glands that act

as useful desalinators.

They effectively allow

the bird to drink

saltwater or eat

salty foods without

suffering side effects.

Webbed feet

Virtually all seabirds

have webbed feet to

some degree. They

not only allow many

seabirds to swim at

fast speeds, but also

act as useful propellers

when they take flight.

© NaturePL/Andy Rouse




Arctic tern

This diminutive flier is a

master of migration

Despite weighing 90-

120g (3.2-4.2oz) this

bird flies from the Arctic

to the Antarctic every

year and back. Some

cover up to 90,000km

(55,923m) in a year!

Wandering albatross

This bird travels huge

distances and mates for life

This seabird is a master

of travelling thanks to its

gigantic wingspan, which

can reach over 3.5m

(11.5ft). All albatrosses

are threatened to some

extent and this species

is no exception, listed as

Vulnerable by the IUCN.



The bully of the high seas

While frigatebirds will

happily catch fish on the

wing, they’re equally adept

at stealing it from others. All

species of frigatebirds are

masters of kleptoparasitism,

meaning they will harry

other seabirds until they

drop their catch.

Emperor penguin

A bird that’s perfectly

adapted for a life at sea

This penguin is perhaps

the most famous, thanks

to its focus in numerous

nature documentaries, as

well as wide-reaching

films like Happy Feet.

It’s the only penguin

that breeds during the

Antarctic winter.


Herring gull

This highly adaptable scavenger is

one of nature’s best opportunists

Although herring gulls fare

well in most parts of the

world, they’ve become

endangered in the UK in

recent years, with less than

half the country’s breeding

population confined to

fewer than ten sites.




Atlantic puffin

Nature’s colourful clown is

currently fighting for survival

This tiny auk is arguably one

of the most delightful seabirds,

thanks to its bright bill and

equally colourful character.

Sadly, it’s become extremely

threatened in recent years.

Great cormorant

This large seabird is moving

inland in increasing numbers

The great cormorant, like

the herring gull, is highly

adaptable. While it can still be

found on coastlines in great

numbers, it’s equally at home

on large stretches of water

inland, and can be found at

many lakes and reservoirs.

The range of

the seabirds

Meet some of the most interesting

members of the vast seabird family,

present all over the world

High adaptability and the ability to fly has

allowed seabirds to spread to every corner

of the planet. Some have taken to forming

gigantic colonies for protection, while others

have adapted to plundering booty from

other smaller seafaring birds. Each and

every one has evolved to fill an incredibly

important niche.

© Abi Daker


The incredible lives of seabirds

This large-billed bird is actually

the world’s smallest pelican

Once listed as an endangered

species, the brown pelican has

bounced back and is now a

common sight throughout the

Americas. Although it’s one of the

largest seabirds we’re covering,

the brown pelican is actually the

smallest of the eight pelicans.

However, it maintains the typical

characteristics of the species,

particularly its large, unmistakable

bill, which is perfect for capturing

its primary food – fish. An

accomplished hunter, this bulky

seabird likes to catch its prey by

diving into the water to catch any

stunned fish, although it will also

take small invertebrates when it

gets the chance.

Extremely gregarious, the brown

pelican is typical of many seabirds

in that it likes to breed in large

colonies, which helps to protect

it from predators. It typically lays

two to four eggs and has one

brood a year. In addition to being

the national bird of St Kitts, it’s

also the state bird of Louisiana.

BroWn Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

class Aves

Territory North and South


Diet Small fish and


lifespan On average 10-20


adult weight 2-5kg


conservation status


“This bulky seabird

likes to catch its

prey by diving into

the water to catch

any stunned fish”

Disturb the fulmar and you’ll receive

a very nasty surprise indeed

The northern fulmar is a true seabird in the

sense that it only comes to land in order to

breed a single, white egg. Like many other

members of its family, the northern fulmar

has prominent looking nostrils that can

norThern fulmar

Fulmarus glacialis

class Aves

Territory North America,

Greenland, Iceland, northern

Europe, northern Asia

Diet Fish, plankton, squid,

jellyfish, shrimp, carrion and


lifespan 32 years on average

adult weight 450-1000g


conservation status

discrete a stomach oil to repel predators or

provide a nourishing food source (handy,

considering how long the bird spends at sea).

Its actual name derives from Old Norse, with

fÚll meaning ‘foul’ and már meaning ‘gull’.

Role reversal plays an

important part in this

penguin’s upbringing

These iconic birds are endemic to Antarctica, and

they do things differently to many other animals

when it comes to parenting. Young emperor

penguin eggs are incubated by the male while

the female searches for food. They are expert

divers, able to stay underwater for up to 20

minutes in search of food, while their barbed

tongue stops a caught meal from escaping.

emPeror Penguin

Aptenodytes forsteri

class Aves

Territory Antarctica

Diet Fish, cephalopods and


lifespan 15-20 years

adult weight 22-45kg


conservation status




The incredible lives of seabirds

This lovable little

auk is also known

as the sea parrot

The huge, seemingly oversized bill of the Atlantic

puffin may make it look like a clown, but there’s

nothing comical about its current life-threatening

status. Numerous conservation projects have

been set up to save it over the years, including

Project Puffin and SOS Puffin, but the bird’s

population is still declining in many regions.

While hunting and pollution have caused

problems for the puffin in the past, climate

change is now thought to be one of the main

reasons for the bird’s most recent decline. It is

thought that fish populations are being displaced,

stopping the puffin from acquiring its staple food,

leading to emaciated adults and starving chicks.

Interestingly, the puffin’s famous brightlycoloured

bill, which is perfect for stockpiling fish,

only develops its vivid colours during breeding

season. It’s otherwise far duller, but is rarely seen

due to the bird spending the winter at sea.

A breeding pair of

puffins will work

together to dig a burrow

in which the female will

normally lay one egg

“Climate change is

thought to be one

of the main reasons

for the puffin’s most

recent decline”

aTlanTic Puffin

Fratercula arctica

class Aves

Territory Northern Europe,

Greenland and North America

Diet Fish, crustaceans and


lifespan 20-30 years

adult weight 500g (17.5oz)

conservation status


© Alamy; Thinkstock


The incredible lives of seabirds

norThern ganneT

Morus bassanus

class Aves

Territory North America,

Greenland, Europe and

North Africa

Diet Fish and squid

lifespan Up to 21 years

on average

adult weight 2.2-3.6kg


conservation status


A spectacular diver

with a built-in airbag

The northern gannet is a

marvellous looking bird that’s

a master of both air and sea.

Years of evolution have turned

it into an effective hunter, and it

is able to pull off heart-stopping

dives that reach speeds of up

to 100 kilometres per hour

(62 miles per hour). The sheer

impact and velocity from a

gannet’s dive allows them to

travel up to 16 metres (52.5

feet) under the water’s surface,

where they chase after prey.

To help with this, gannets

have evolved over the years

so that parts of their body –

particularly the airbags in their

neck and throat – help protect

them from the initial impact.

This large seabird

was originally


by Christopher


The most notable aspect of

the magnificent frigatebird

is its scarlet throat pouch,

which is inflated during

breeding season and

used to attract a mate.

It’s the largest of the five

frigatebirds in existence,

and, along with the great

and lesser frigatebird,

the least threatened. The

females are typically larger

than the males.

This huge bird is

one of the world’s

greatest fliers

Wandering albatrosses

use a technique known as

dynamic soaring to fly for

huge distances of up to

16,093 kilometres (10,000

miles) without needing to

land. They have the largest

known wingspan of any

albatross and are believed

to be declining in numbers

due to the continual use of

longline fishing.

LEFT Wandering albatrosses can

mate for life and have an elaborate

courtship display


The incredible lives of seabirds

A superb hunter

known by many

different names

The worldwide reach of this excellent fisher

also means it’s known by many names,

including black cormorant, black shag and

large cormorant. It’s had a difficult relationship

with humans over the years due to its love of

fish, and some fisheries in the UK now have

licences for culling a set number of these birds

in order to protect their stock.

But sometimes humans and cormorants

work together. Cormorant fishing is still

popular in some parts of the world, with

fisherman sending them out to catch fish. The

birds’ throats are tied with string to prevent

them swallowing their catches.

Unlike many other seabirds, great

cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers,

and can be seen drying their wings. They

can dive to considerable depths and can stay

underwater for up to 30 seconds at a time.

greaT cormoranT

Phalacrocorax carbo

class Aves

Territory North America,

Africa, Europe, Asia and


Diet Fish

lifespan 15 years on average

adult weight 1.3-5.3kg


conservation status


BELow Once they’ve finished eating,

cormorants regurgitate pellets of fish

bone and animal parts they can’t digest

© Alamy/Keirsebilck Patrick; Thinkstock; NaturePL/The Big Picture

This legendary

migration expert

sees two summers

every year

Also known as sea

swallows, Arctic terns are

masterful fliers and migrate

over vast distances during

the course of a year. Due

to their long lives, the

average arctic tern migrates

an astonishing 1.5 million

miles over the course of a

lifetime; enough to fly to the

moon and back three times!

LEFT Arctic terns are extremely

aggressive during breeding season

and will attack nearby humans

A bird that’s equally

at home on land or

out at sea

Few seabirds in our list

are as opportunistic as the

herring gull. It’s thrived in

the presence of humans in

some respects, feeding on

the refuse we leave behind

in town centres, dumps and

landfill sites. It will take all

sorts of food and has been

seen to catch earthworms

by shuffling back and forth

to simulate the falling of

rain. Pesticides, oil pollution

and new fishing practices

threaten some populations.


The incredible lives of seabirds

Seabird protector

Seabirds are some of the most

threatened birds in the world, and many

conservationists now work tirelessly to

protect them from a range of dangers

Berry Mulligan is a

conservationist working for

Birdlife International and is

currently involved with the

Albatross Task Force, which

is doing everything it can to

protect this majestic species

longline fisheries

A single longline boat sets up to

2,500 hooks at a time. Birds get

caught in these hooks, causing

160,000 seabird deaths each year.


Plastic represents around 90

per cent of the floating marine

debris. Ingesting plastic is

deadly for marine life and

damages seabird populations.

What dangers are seabirds currently facing?

Seabirds have the dubious honour of being one

of the most threatened groups of animals on

the planet – almost half of all seabird species

are in decline and under threat. They face

dangers on land at their breeding colonies,

where they fall prey to invasive alien predators

such as rats and cats, or suffer from human

disturbance and habitat destruction. At sea, it

is fisheries – competing for prey or accidentally

catching birds – and pollution that are the

major issues driving declines. Albatrosses and

other enigmatic seabirds such as penguins are

in serious trouble globally, with some species

teetering dangerously towards the brink.

Trawl fisheries

Trawl boats work individually or in tandem.

Deaths occur at warp cables at the back of the

boat, or in nets during setting and trawling.

climate change

Climate change disrupts the

oceanographic cycles governing

marine ecosystems. Seabirds are

increasingly affected by it.

gillnet fisheries

Gillnets are set at many different

depths. Birds get entangled in

them and drown. This causes over

400,000 seabird deaths each year.

© Bird Life; Rachel Hudson/butterflytrack.co.uk; Jack Barton; Helen Mulligan

So what is Birdlife International doing to

combat this?

We are tackling accidental bycatch, identifying

special sites for seabirds and the threats to

them, and ridding seabird islands of any invasive

species of animals.

Solving the bycatch crisis requires working

directly with fishermen to develop simple

and inexpensive measures to prevent the

unintentional deaths of seabirds on hooks and

in nets. To achieve this, BirdLife established

the groundbreaking Albatross Task Force,

an international team of bycatch mitigation

instructors working in southern Africa and South

America. Using this collaborative approach,

albatross bycatch has been reduced by 99 per

cent in the South African hake trawl fisheries

and seven of ten fisheries we have targeted now

have seabird conservation regulations.

human disturbance

All animals can be threatened

by close contact from

humans, and seabirds are no

exception. Loud noises and

unwanted disturbances near

colonies can cause havoc.

“Albatross bycatch has reduced by 99 per cent

in the South African hake trawl fisheries”

What are invasive species and how do they

effect seabirds?

Invasive alien species are animals and plants

that are introduced accidently or deliberately

into a natural environment where they are

not normally found, often wreaking havoc

on the species already there. The problem is

particularly acute on islands as the species

present tend to lack adequate defences against

introduced predators, like rats.

While they present a huge conservation

challenge, when the invasive species are

removed, nature bounces back. Invasive

species have been successfully eradicated from

small seabird islands in the tropics to large

subantarctic islands, and many sites around the

UK. The number of breeding pairs of the rare

Manx shearwater are fast increasing on Ramsey

Island in Pembrokeshire, for example, following

the removal of introduced brown rats.

Why are the numbers of birds like puffins

dropping so rapidly?

Warming seas affecting puffins’ food sources

are thought to be one of the main issues. While

fisheries may exacerbate the negative impact

of climate change on puffin prey, the evidence

invasive species

The arrival and/or spread of an invasive alien species (IAS)

can threaten the native biological diversity. When the likes of

rats reach islands they impact massively on local seabirds.

is pointing towards sea warming causing

broad disruption to the entire food web in the

North Atlantic, from plankton through to small

shoaling fish, puffins, kittiwakes and other

species of seabirds.

Puffins provide a good example of the

multiple pressures placed on our seabird

populations. They are also impacted by

bycatch in some fisheries, invasive species, and

even being hunted for food. Joined-up and

collaborative approaches are therefore required

to tackle the dangers to seabird survival at sea

and at nesting sites.

What can our readers do to help?

Use your consumer power. If you eat fish, look

for the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

label and pick species ranked one or two on

the Good Fish Guide. Support organisations

that stand up for seabirds, from local

groups protecting specific colonies to global

partnerships such as BirdLife International.

Visit a nesting colony, too! The oceans and

their magnificent seabirds might feel distant

from our daily lives but the UK holds some

amazing seabird sites. Breeding colonies are

inspiring places, bursting with noise and colour.



The cleverly disguised frog

with a cannibalistic streak

Despite being masters of disguise and ferocious predators, Bornean horned

frogs have a somewhat surprising enemy – others of the same species

They will even eat

their relatives

Horned frogs are ambush predators;

lying in wait for prey to come past before

lunging out to catch it. They will eat

almost anything they can catch, including

spiders, scorpions, rodents, lizards and

other frogs. They have even been known

to eat their own young, and females

sometimes eat their mates once they

have served their purpose.

Tadpoles have



Female horned frogs lay their eggs either

partially or totally submerged in water.

These capsules are quite large and few in

number. They hatch within ten to 12 days,

and the emerging tadpoles have huge

funnel-shaped mouths, which they hold

at the surface of the water. They suck

tiny microorganisms into their mouths,

which are then filtered out through the

gills before being swallowed.

Often mistakenly

called a toad

The Bornean horned frog has several

other common names, such as the large

horned frog, the long-nosed horned frog

and the Malayan leaf frog. It is also often

called the horned toad, even though it

doesn’t have either of the two features

that usually define toads – warty skin and

parotoid glands (external skin glands that

secrete toxins).


horns help

them hide

True to their name, Bornean horned frogs

have pointy, horn-like structures above

their eyes. As these frogs are a mottled

brown and grey colour, these structures

look a little like leaves and help them to

blend in perfectly with the forest floor.

This disguise is useful for evading

their predators and also allows

them to be very effective

ambush hunters.

Males are

small but noisy

Adult male Bornean horned frogs are

much smaller than the females; generally

less than half the size. What they lack in

size they make up for in noise, though,

emitting a loud croak at night. Females

are not known to make any vocalisations

at all, and spend most of their time hiding

in the leaf litter waiting for unsuspecting

prey to come past.


horned frog

Megophrys nasuta

Class Amphibia

Territory Widespread across

Southeast Asia, including

Borneo, Thailand, Malaysia,

Singapore and Indonesia

Diet Spiders, crabs, scorpions,

nestling birds, lizards and

other frogs

Lifespan Over 5 years

Adult weight Unknown

Conservation Status




Conserving the scimitar-horned oryx




scimitar-horned oryx

What are the options when

an animal is classified as

Extinct in the Wild? A

reintroduction scheme

proved a lifeline for these

African grassland natives

with elaborate horns and a

resilient spirit…

Words Ella Carter

The scimitar-horned oryx cuts an impressive silhouette.

With long, lean legs and a lithe, athletic body, it’s a

graceful beast that now roams almost exclusively across

grassland plains in central Chad. The oryx’s defining

feature are its almighty horns. Curving dramatically away

from its skull, adorned with delicate ridges and tapering

to a fine point, it’s very clear to see how this animal got

its name. The scimitar, a long, curved blade originating

from the Ottoman Empire, is an impressive weapon, and

these graceful animals are kitted out to wield two of these

‘swords’ simultaneously, albeit in horn form.

The scimitar-horned oryx species is one of four

members of the oryx genus along with the Arabian, east

African and gemsbok. The scimitar-horned variety was

once widespread across the Sahelian grassland system – a

narrow strip of land that stretches from the Atlantic in the

west of Africa to the Nile. However, thanks to numerous

factors, they are now classified as Extinct in the Wild.

This classification is defined by the IUCN as a species

where the only living members are kept in captivity or as

a population living outside the perimeters of its historic


To combat this, dedicated reintroduction programmes

are now in effect, with captive-bred oryx being released

into protected reserves. Schemes like this ensure that,

with a bit of luck, there will still be wild oryx roaming the

Sahel in years to come.

The Oryx Reintroduction Programme in Chad does

precisely what it says on the tin. It’s a dedicated initiative

to return these amazing antelope to live freely in their

home range where they belong, but have been absent

for nearly 50 years. Jointly run by the Government of

Chad and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (with

the on-the-ground implementation of the project carried

out by the Sahara Conservation Fund), the reintroduction

© Dreamstime


The open plains

beckon! The first

oryx make their

way out of the

enclosure to start

life in the wild

programme has also

involved the work of the

Zoological Society of

London (ZSL).

“At the moment I spend

a lot of my time out in

the field in Chad as part

of the team monitoring

the recently reintroduced

oryx,” says ZSL wildlife

biologist Tim Wacher,

who has worked with oryx

of varying species since

1985. ZSL played a key role

in the habitat surveys for the

selection of the reintroduction

site. “The Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi

Achim Reserve is a very large

grassland and desert reserve of

80,000 square kilometres (30,888

square miles),” Wacher tells us. “It isn’t a

national park; it’s used by livestock grazers, so

the range is shared with lots of camels and other

types of livestock.”

This safe haven isn’t just for the antelope, however; there

are also some other critically endangered neighbours,

too. “The area supports one of the world’s only remaining

populations of the critically endangered and very beautiful

dama gazelle, as well as the world’s biggest population

of wild dorcas gazelle, important numbers of three large

bustard species, and breeding vulture populations,”

Wacher explains. There are also plenty of migrating birds

that pass through, making this reserve a very important

part of Chad’s biodiversity.

So what’s special about the scimitar-horned oryx

and why is it essential that we save them? Wacher says:

“Scimitar oryx are the largest wild herbivore of the

Sahelian grassland system. The species once existed

throughout this area, and according to local tradition

abundant oryx were linked to prosperity, as both oryx and

livestock need the same good pasture conditions.

“Historically, the large wild predators of the oryx were

cheetahs and hunting dogs, both of which vanished from

this area of Chad not long before the oryx. They are brave

antelopes who will defend themselves vigorously. Today,

the only large predators they may encounter are striped

hyenas and perhaps jackals, which may be a risk to small

calves, but healthy adult oryx will chase both away.”

Strong, brave and resilient are just three features

boasted by these amazing antelope species, which are

perfectly adapted to the sweltering heat of their semiarid

home. Conserving water is the aim of the game

and the oryx has specialised kidneys and guts to ensure

that maximum moisture is retained. Grazing at night

Desert living

The scimitar-horned oryx has perfectly

developed adaptations to cope with their

arid desert home


The imposing horns are for deterring

predators like hyenas. Should one

approach, the oryx will adopt a

sideways stance to look larger. Males

also use their horns for fighting, so they

are prone to breakages.

Body temperature

To deal with the extreme heat of

the desert, oryx’s bodies work

hard to preserve moisture. This

involves elevating the internal

body temperature to minimise

water loss through sweating.


Oryx have black skin to prevent

sunburn in the blistering heat

– the tips of their tongues are

also black for the same reason.

Light-coloured hair covers the

skin to reflect heat away.


In the wild these oryx would

roam over large home ranges.

Their hooves are broad and flat,

ideal adaptations to prevent

them sinking into the sand and to

conserve energy while walking.


Scimitar-horned oryx



Oryx dammah

class Mammalia

territory Previously found

across the Sahara and Sahel

diet Grasses, shrubs and roots

Lifespan 15-20 years

adult weight 200kg (440.9lb)

conservation Status


also minimises heat stress,

and the oryx may also lick

dew off each other’s coats

at night as a means of

consuming additional fluid.

“Oryx are preferentially

grazers,” Wacher says,

“but are adaptable and

can browse on selected

plants when conditions

become tough in the long

dry season, which lasts

from October to the end

of May.” Getting most of

their moisture from their

food can be hard during the

dry seasons, but incredibly these animals can survive for

weeks at a time without drinking!

The scimitar-horned oryx was classified as Extinct in

the Wild in 2000 after a long struggle with habitat loss.

“The major factor impacting the oryx across their original

range was probably the invasion of their living space by

livestock,” Wacher explains. Rapidly evolving technology

to bring water to dry lands was also part of the issue. “For

example,” Wacher continues, “water tanker lorries and

giant plastic bladder reservoirs all enabled livestock to stay

longer on dry land that they previously had to leave early

for lack of surface water, so they continue to chew down

on, and ultimately kill, the naturally drying vegetation.”

This combination of factors resulted in the oryx being

pushed to the brink of extinction. “The last significant oryx

populations were in Chad, where they still existed in large

numbers of up to tens of thousands at the beginning of

the 1970s,” says Wacher. “However, a period of civil unrest

in the area, in which the frontline lay across the heart

of the oryx range, ultimately drove the last remaining

scimitar-horned oryx population to die out.”

But despite this sad story, all is not lost. Indeed the oryx

was driven to extinction in the wild, but thanks to the fact

that these antelope are incredibly hardy and adaptable

animals, they now have a second chance. “The founder

group of oryx now represented in the world’s zoos and

more widely in private collections mainly derive from a

group of 40 individuals from the wild from the late 1960s,”

Wacher elaborates when asked about the origins of the

oryx now living in the Ouadi Rime-Ouadi Achime reserve.


oryx on the map

These antelope are the buffalo of North Africa. Once ranging

widely across the whole Sahara and Sahel region, they are

now limited to small pockets of protected land.

Historic range

The introduced population living in

the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Reserve

© Alamy; Dreamstime; freevectormaps; ZSL


Conserving the scimitar-horned oryx

“In order to provide the best individuals for

reintroduction to the wild, the Environment

Agency of Abu Dhabi worked to assemble a

‘world herd’.” This involved cooperation with

organisations across the world to select the best

possible oryx in captivity to make a genetically

diverse herd to release into the reserve.

There are some animals that need special

treatment to prepare them for life in the wild,

but the scimitar-horned oryx is a hardy beast

and its resourceful nature means it needs little

coaxing to begin a new life out on the plains.

“There has been a relatively long history of

transporting scimitar-horned oryx from lush

European pastures to thorny North African

steppes in Tunisia and Morocco, starting

in 1985,” Wacher says. “These exercises

showed that even naïve and inexperienced

young animals, born in a meadow in the UK,

nevertheless undertook a pragmatic and

sensible approach to strange potential food

plants, some poisonous, many very thorny. They

proved very good at identifying the palatable

grasses that are typical food of all oryx species.”

So the oryx make a great candidate for

these types of schemes. Wacher goes on to

take us through the release process. “The main

way individuals are prepared for their release

is through a protected ‘pre-release’ stage at

the release location. Animals are given time to

acclimatise in a large pen at the release site,

where they learn to orientate themselves to the

new surroundings and gain a sense of place.

For ungulates, it is also an important period to

transition gradually from their captive diet to

the new natural diet through slow reduction of

artificial feed. Food and water is available at the

release site if the animals want to take it.

“Watching the oryx leave the pre-release

pen is always a happy experience,” reflects

Wacher on the moment the oryx leave their

travelling crates and venture into the reserve.

“The reaction of the oryx themselves varies

immensely depending on the individual. One

group, released in the wet season, took a whole

day to decide to approach the open gate, and

another before they decided to step through it.

They then travelled off and none came close to

the release site for six months.”

Wacher also tells us of another group that

was released in the cooler dry season. These

oryx ventured through the gate within ten

minutes and went off on a nine-kilometre (5.6-

mile) trip! They returned later in the day to take

advantage of the plentiful food and drink left

out for them. “This group will move off with the

first rains,” anticipates Wacher.

To ensure that the oryx are doing well, each

animal is kitted out with a tracking collar that

collects GPS data. This allows scientists to track

the oryx’s movements as well as look at their

behaviour. The tracking data has revealed that,

six months into the project, the oryx are doing

well. “The first four calves have been born!”

Wacher says, “And movement patterns and

social groups are beginning to break out from

the combinations in which they were released,

with patterns typical of other oryx species

emerging.” This is a great sign that the oryx are

settling into their ancestral home.

So, what’s next for this species? Wacher

tells us of the plan for the oryx’s future. “The

goal is to build up a population of at least 500

oryx in the reserve through a combination of

reintroduction plus on-site breeding over the

next five years.”

If you want to see the majestic scimitarhorned

oryx with your own eyes, there’s an

amazing herd at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and some

members of this group have been selected for

the world herd. If you would like to learn more,

visit the ZSL or Abu Dhabi Environment Agency

websites at www.ZSL.org and www.ead.ae.

“One group took a whole day to leave their

crates, while another took just ten minutes”

Oryx in numbers

4 37



Their horns can

reach up to 1.2m

(3.9ft) in length –

that’s over 50

per cent of their

body length!

8.5 14 1000s 46.6

calves WILD

Before their


Four oryx

calves have

now been born

to reintroduced

mothers in the

reserve – great

news for the herd.

There are

currently 37



in the reserve,

with more

joining soon.

The approximate

number of

months a female

oryx is pregnant

before giving

birth to a calf.

The number of

weeks a calf

spends with its

mother before



extinction in the

wild, oryx would

gather into huge

herds numbering

in the thousands

to prepare for

their migration.


Celsius (116



that an oryx

can raise

its body

temperature to.


The oryx are released from

their crates, getting their first

taste of the Chad sunshine at

the reserve









from all good

newsagents and



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Explore the Earth

A wIL dlIfE


Mauritius may be best known as the final resting

place of the dodo, but this tropical island is

starting to get a new reputation as one of the

leading lights of conservation

Words Adam Millward


A wildlife paradise

Travel expert

Dr Vikash Tatayah is the conservation director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

(MWF). He manages a number of programmes that have helped wildlife to recover

Mauritius is among the most isolated islands in the world. Plants and

animals arrived naturally from the Afro-Malagasy region, Australasia

and Asia, with a high proportion becoming endemic.

Despite high levels of extinction following the arrival of man to an

uninhabited Mauritius, the island is home to an amazing endemic fauna

and flora with a dozen different native forest types. One can see Round Island bottle

palms, ebonies and various hardwoods, Mauritius kestrels, pink pigeons, echo parakeets,

Mauritius fodies, olive white-eyes, cuckoo-shrikes, Telfair’s skinks and surrogate giant

tortoises by visiting Ile aux Aigrettes, Ferney Valley and the Black River Gorges National

Park. Mauritius has led the rescue of plants and animals that would have joined the

dodo, with a number of species brought back from the verge of extinction. For more

information, visit www.mauritian-wildlife.org.

Spinner dolphin

You can get up close to these marine

acrobats in their natural environment

and also go whale watching off the

west coast of the island.

Pink pigeon

It might seem counterintuitive travelling

halfway around the world to see a

pigeon, but this isn’t your average

urban cooer. In 1986, there were just 12

wild individuals left, but they refused to

go the way of their unlucky relative the

dodo and continue to recover.

Travel guide

Fruit bat

The only mammals native to the

Mascarene Islands (consisting of

Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion)

are these charismatic flying foxes.

When to go

When it’s winter in the UK, it’s summer in

Mauritius. The off-peak cooler months (July

to September) are more comfortable for

exploring the island.





Map key

1 Black River Gorges National Park

2 Bambous Mountains

3 Ile aux Aigrettes

4 Tamarin Bay

5 Black River Gorges National Park

6 Trou-aux-Biches


Find Nemo, Dory and a whole lot more

when you descend beneath the waves

in a submarine, the only such leisure

sub in the entire Indian Ocean.



Mauritius kestrel

Another resident that

has made a remarkable

recovery is the island’s

only remaining bird of

prey. Once classified

as the rarest bird in the

world, this raptor is on

many a birdwatcher’s

bucket list.

Aldabra tortoise

Although Mauritius’ own

native giant tortoises were

driven to extinction in the

19th century, a successful

rewilding programme

with these Seychelles

natives has seen great

success in recent years.

How to get there

Limited direct flights are available from

the UK to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam

International Airport, from where you can

take a taxi on to your hotel.

What the weather will do

Mauritius has a tropical climate year-round,

so expect sun and intense rain showers,

especially in the summer. January to

February is peak period for cyclones.

What to take

In addition to your bathing suit, you’ll want

to take light clothing. Pack something

smart for the evenings as many hotels

and restaurants request formal wear.

What you’ll see

Mauritius is a lot more than sandy

beaches and turquoise seas. Make time

to visit its wild forests, unusual geological

sites and bustling capital, Port Louis.


Watch the bats rise as the Sun sets

Even in a tiny country famed for its

biodiversity and high number of endemic

animals, the Mauritian fruit bat stands

out. It’s the sole surviving native mammal

found on the island. These mega

bats, also known as flying foxes, have

wingspans of up to 0.8 metres (2.6 feet)

and their ginger-coloured furry heads lend

them their fox-like appearance.

Fruit bats play a vital role in pollinating

and dispersing the seeds of some of

Mauritius’ most endangered plants. Although

they can be spotted in forested areas all

over the island in the evenings, one of the most

impressive displays takes place at sundown in

Black River Gorges National Park. You can easily

spend a day hiking in the country’s only national

park, and it’s a hot spot for many of Mauritius’

rarest birds, including pink pigeons, olive whiteeyes

and echo parakeets. As the light begins to

fade, thousands of bats fly up en masse from

the caves and ravines where they rest during

the day. Be sure to keep a close eye on the time,

though, as the gates shut in the evenings – or you

might want to consider stopping the night at the

campsite next to the Black River Visitor’s Centre.

See Darwin’s

plan in action

Sadly, just like the dodo, the many native

tortoises that once called Mauritius home

were wiped out by the arrival of European

settlers. This was not just a loss for

chelonian-kind. It also left a huge gap in

the regional ecology, as the turtles were

the principal grazers, keeping wild plants

in check and spreading seeds, like those

of the ebony tree. It was history’s most

famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, who

suggested that a similar species might be

introduced to take their place. Enter the

Aldabra giant tortoise, the last of their

kind in the Indian Ocean.

In 2000, the Mauritian Wildlife

Foundation (MWF) released 20 of

these gentle giants – originally from the

Seychelles – on the Ile aux Aigrettes

nature reserve off the southeastern coast.

The focus of a long-term conservation

project, this 26-hectare (64-acre) islet

contains the only remnants of Mauritius’

once prolific dry coastal forest, providing

a refuge for many animals long since

driven off the mainland. The initiative

has proven so successful that over 100

tortoises have now been translocated

to another island to build up a second

population. The MWF leads walking

tours on Ile aux Aigrettes, so as well as

meeting the shelled stars, you’ll also have

an expert at hand to explain exactly how

rewilding works.


A wildlife paradise

Beyond the beach

Explore Port Louis

Set around a busy harbour, the Mauritian

capital is a melting pot of cultures. You’ll find

colourful temples, markets and museums,

and don’t miss the Pamplemousse Gardens.

Get active

Mauritius offers many outdoor activities, from

kayaking to caving. But top of the list must

be abseiling down a 95m (312ft) cliff beside

Chamarel Falls, Mauritius’ highest waterfall.

Listen to some sega

Typically sung in Créole (the native tongue),

sega is one of the most popular musical

genres in Mauritius. Variants of it include

seggae – a cross between sega and reggae.

Climb Le Morne

If you’re feeling energetic, why not tackle

the 556m (1,824ft) Le Morne Brabant? This

UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to

several rare plants and offers amazing views.

Enjoy a very sweet

history lesson

Discover the huge role sugar has played in

shaping Mauritius at the Beau Plan sugar mill.

You can buy some souvenirs produced from

the local sugarcane, including Mauritian rum!


Explore the Earth

Go island-hopping

to see rare reptiles

In relation to land area, the Mascarene island group

once claimed more endemic reptiles than anywhere

else on Earth. Although some of these have now

been lost for ever, others managed to cling on in

isolated communities on offshore islets. These mini

ecosystems – the last remaining pockets of a precolonisation

era – formed the foundation for a longterm

project to restore Mauritius’ reptiles.

After decades of groundwork, replanting native

plants and trying to manage invasive species like

shrews and land snails, small groups of endangered

lizards have been moved to neighbouring islands to

increase their range and odds of survival.

Some of these island nature reserves are

closed to the public to avoid jeopardising the

rewilding process, but others are accessible. The

aforementioned Ile aux Aigrettes is home to new

populations of Telfair’s skinks and Guenther’s geckos

– one of the world’s biggest gecko species – as well

as the colourful ornate day gecko. Ile aux Fouquets

now supports a healthy community of Ilot Vacoas

skinks, while Gabriel Island has a small number of

orange-tailed skinks, but you will need permission

before you can visit the island.

Meet the ultimate

comeback kid

It’s terrifying to think how close the Mauritius

kestrel came to extinction. A deadly cocktail of

forest destruction, introduced species raiding

their nests and harmful pesticides used in

agriculture reduced the population to just two

mating pairs by the 1970s. A huge conservation

initiative, including monitoring of wild birds,

captive breeding and the installation of pest-proof

nest boxes, has reversed their fortunes. Although

they are no longer Critically Endangered, with an

estimated 400-500 kestrels island-wide, these

rare raptors are not completely out of the woods

yet; there have been worrying declines in some

areas in recent years.

To see Mauritius’ last endemic birds of prey,

your best bet is to spend some time hiking in the

Bambous Mountains nature park on the southeast

coast of the island. There are sometimes feeding

sessions at a visitors’ centre in the Vallée de

Ferney, where a few wild kestrels have learned

that they can pick up a free lunch!


A wildlife paradise

Learn about the

dodo’s demise...

Today, dodos have acquired almost legendary status. But

what was this flightless bird really like? And just how did this

Mauritian native – now synonymous with extinction – meet

its maker? You can find the answers to these questions and

more at the Mauritius Institute (aka the Dodo Museum) in

Port Louis, where an exhibit including skeletons, models and

artist impressions will help shine a light on this ill-fated fowl.

More Mauritian avifauna

Mauritius fody

Distinguished by the males’ bright red head during the

breeding season, these charismatic little birds have

staged an impressive comeback.

...then meet the

dodo’s closest

living relative

In the 1980s, pink pigeons came very

close to extinction. Luckily for them,

their fate was not to be the same as

their doomed dodo relations. Thanks to

a huge conservation drive, the perilously

low population of 12 birds in 1986 is now

estimated to have grown to almost 500.

One of the best places to see them is the

Macchabee Trail, which starts at the Pétrin

Visitors’ Centre in the Black River Gorges

National Park.

Olive white-eye

Following the same recovery programme that has seen

great results with the fody, it’s hoped that this critically

endangered green songbird with its distinctive white

‘spectacles’ can also be brought back from the brink.

Red-tailed tropicbird

Easily recognised by their long, red tail feathers and

crimson bills, tropicbirds are being translocated

from larger populations to new areas of Mauritius to

encourage the development of new seabird colonies.

Explore a

reef without

getting wet

Diving and snorkelling aren’t for everyone, but

that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all

the amazing marine life Mauritius has to offer.

Near Grand Baie in the north, you can book a

place on a submarine or even hire your very

own ‘subscooter’ to go on an underwater

adventure. The larger ten-seater sub passes

through several coral banks and also tours

the Star Hope, a shipwreck that has become

a haven for marine life since it sank in 1988.

Indian Ocean residents you might encounter

on your marine odyssey include clownfish,

trevally, rays, eels, crabs, lionfish, swordfish

and even turtles.

Mauritius bulbul

Mauritius also boasts its very own species of bulbul, a

songbird similar in size to blackbirds. Their plumage is

fairly dull (mainly brown and grey), so you’re most likely

to spot the bright orange-pink beak and legs first.

Mauritius cuckoo-shrike

Cuckoo-shrikes are another endemic species that has

benefitted from an intensive push to preserve native

forests. They are often easy to hear – listen out for short

whistles followed by a string of sharper staccato notes.


Explore the Earth

Dive with dolphins

Off the west coast lies Tamarin Bay, where it’s

possible to see both spinner dolphins – famed for

their playful, acrobatic displays – and their larger

bottlenose cousins. Take pictures from the boat

or, for an even more memorable experience, take

the plunge to become an honorary member of the

pod for a short while. There are also trips that head

further out in search of larger cetaceans. Sperm

whales are found in Mauritian waters year-round,

while humpbacks pass through between July and

September during their migration.

Listen out for echoes

Once dubbed the world’s rarest parrot, echo parakeets are

another shining example of what can be achieved when

governments and conservationists work together. The

population has multiplied approximately 30-fold since the

1980s, when numbers in the wild had dwindled to around 20.

That said, they are still endangered and only found in one

place: Black River Gorges National Park. Their green plumage

can make the parakeets tricky to spot in the forest, so be

sure to spend some time at one of the parrot-friendly feeding

stations set up by the MWF.


A wildlife paradise

Top tips

Gone but not forgotten

While enjoying the wide variety of fauna

on Ile aux Aigrettes, keep an eye out

for the bronze statues that pay tribute

to Mascarene species no longer around

today. It’ll make you appreciate the

animals that do remain even more.


a Hammamas!

visit www.animal

answers.co.uk to

enter tHe draw

Visit mini Mauritius

About an hour’s flight east of Mauritius

is the small volcanic island of Rodrigues.

Part of the Mascarene archipelago, it too

boasts creatures found nowhere else on

the planet, including its very own species

of warbler, fruit bat and fody.

Learn the lingo

Mauritius is a multilingual society, with

Mauritian Créole being the main language

spoken by the locals. However, English and

French are also widely used, particularly in

tourist areas, so it’s worth brushing up on

your Français before you go.

Key kit

Merrell Kahuna

III sandals

For adventurers looking for

something more durable

than a pair of basic flipflops,

the Kahuna III sandals

are ideal. The thick rubber

soles and padded suede

uppers make for a winning

combination of comfort

and ruggedness.



HERO5 Black

GoPro’s HERO5 allows you

to capture nature on the go

like never before. It can be

used while snorkelling to a

depth of ten metres (32.8

feet) without a case. Out

of the water, it includes a

voice-command feature, so

you don’t even have to hit a

button to take a photo!



Clash spearmint,

azure and orange

Colourful Hammamas

are the next generation

of beach towel. Light,

compact and quick to

dry, a Hammama works

just as well as a picnic

blanket, tablecloth, casual

beachwear or even as a

makeshift bag.



Bushnell Equinox

A lot of Mauritian wildlife

is on the small side and

well camouflaged, so it

makes sense to take along

some optical assistance.

Bushnell’s Equinox works in

all light conditions, so is as

suited to viewing dolphins

in the day as it is fruit bats

during the night.



WakaWaka Base 10

Mauritius is blessed with

eight-plus hours of bright

sunshine most days, and

you can take advantage of

that with the WakaWaka

Base 10. Fully charged,

this solar power kit has

enough juice to replenish

four smartphones and also

includes two LED torches.



© freevectormaps.com; Alamy; NaturePL; Thinkstock; Dreamstime

Who to travel with


Mauritian Wildlife



Ile aux Aigrettes ecotour

Two-hour tours offer the chance to see

many of the country’s rarest animals and

plants for less than £20 per adult.

Beach retreat

Steppes Travel


This ten-day trip includes seven nights halfboard

at the 20 Degrees Sud boutique hotel

on the north coast, just a short drive from the

departure point for the reef tours. From £2,295

per person, with all flights and transfers.

Safari combo

Rainbow Tours


Kenya Safari & Mauritius Escape

This 13-day trip starts in Kenya’s Maasai Mara

viewing traditional game before heading to

Mauritius. From £3,240 per person; includes

flights, transfers and accommodation.




Snakes are some of the most

fascinating animals alive. Here

are just five of their amazing,

and sometimes utterly

terrifying, superpowers

Words Ella Carter

Some snake species don’t

need males to reproduce

When male snakes are scarce, the North American

copperhead snake can still keep the species going by

undergoing parthenogenesis – a ‘virgin birth’. First witnessed

in captivity, experts have recently found that wild snakes are

also capable of this phenomenon. Other species are also able to

reproduce without male fertilisation. In 2012, a female reticulated

python (the world’s longest-growing snake) called Thelma produced

a brood of eggs with no male parent in Louisville Zoo in the US.

Skin shedding

Snake skin doesn’t stretch with

growth like human skin, so to grow

and to remove parasites the snake

has to loosen its old skin, wriggle

out of it and grow a new one.

Snake chemical weaponry

About 20 per cent of all snakes are

venomous, to varying degrees.

Venom is delivered through the

fangs from venom sacs, and some

can even spit their venom at prey.

Forked tongues aid stereo smells

Having two tips to their tongues

means that snakes can take chemical

information from the air around them

from two separate points – handy for

accurately following a prey trail!


With a flattened body

it makes a slithering

motion in mid-air for

more efficient gliding.

It jumps from

a branch in a

J position.

It lowers its head

to gain speed.

To flatten its body the

snake spreads its ribs.

The internal organs are

flattened with the body.

Super serpents

Tree snake species have

evolved to glide in mid-air

In Southeast Asia’s jungles, five species of ‘flying’

tree snake have evolved an ingenious way to get

from tree to tree without touching the forest floor.

After an initial jump into the air from the edge of

a branch, the snake flattens its body to twice the

normal width, expanding its surface area to allow

it to glide. It can then undulate its body to wriggle

in mid-air, which helps to keep the flight going

and also provide steering.

On landing after a successful

dive the snake can adjust

its body to the normal nearcylindrical


Snakes can ‘see’ infrared

Vipers, pythons and boas have pit organs on

their faces that can detect infrared radiation

from warm bodies close by, allowing them to

sense prey by ‘seeing’ body heat.

Snakes hear with their jaws

Believe it or not, despite it being widely reported

that they don’t have ears, a snake’s hearing is

actually very good. Instead of using external ears

like many other mammals, vibrations

(from the ground and also from

low-frequency airborne noises)

travel through the snake’s body to

the quadrate bone, which is the

connection between the lower

jaw and skull. From here the

vibrations are passed to the

snake’s inner ear where

nerves link to the brain.

Elastic ligaments

allow the bottom

jaw to expand to

swallow large prey.

The quadrate bone attaches the

‘floating’ jaw to the skull, allowing

the jaw to move independently.

When swallowing prey, the

snake uses large, sharp

teeth for leverage to ‘walk’

its jaw over the prey.

© Thinkstock; Alamy

Some snakes can

swallow super-sized meals

For snakes, the laborious act of eating a massive

meal has the benefit of not needing to hunt for a

long while afterwards – it’s hard work to digest,

but less work than hunting. These snakes can fit

colossal animals relative to their size into their

bodies thanks to highly elastic skin and specialized

jaws that can expand to let in the largest of prey.


Leaf-cutter ants


With super strength, unrivalled teamwork and incredible

foraging abilities, these tiny critters are expert cultivators

of the rainforest

Words Amelia Jones


Leaf-cutter ants

While many animals are often praised for their hunting and

food gathering abilities, it is easy to overlook the millions of ants

foraging on the forest floor for food to ensure the survival of their

colony. Among these tiny critters is a particular tribe that is highly

adapted for foraging: leaf-cutter ants.

Native only to Central and South America, living among

the tropical rainforests, the Attini tribe, otherwise known as

leaf-cutter or fungus-growing ants, features two genera: Atta

and Acromyrmex. These closely related genera are easily

distinguished; Acromyrmex have four pairs of spines on their

back and a rough exoskeleton, while Atta have three pairs and a

smooth exoskeleton. But both possess the amazing ability to cut

and carry leaves 50 times their body weight, making them one

of the strongest creatures on Earth in terms of their power to

weight ratio.

Leaf-cutter ants are rusty in colour and between two and

22 millimetres (0.07 and 0.8 inches) in length, with their size

determining their role within the colony. They have compound

eyes and fairly poor vision, instead using their extendable and

retractable antennae to investigate any objects they come across.

While small in size, a leaf-cutter ant’s brain is highly complex and

allows these tiny critters to adapt and react to their surroundings.

They have an exceptional memory and can remember the smell

of their colony, its location and where they have placed objects.

A gland in their head also produces alarm chemicals, which

alert nearby ants to danger and sends them into battle mode,

Strong scent

trails left by ants

returning to the

colony from a

good foraging site

attract other ants

to the plant

“Carrying leaves 50 times their body weight, they are one of the

strongest creatures on Earth in terms of power to weight ratio”


Leaf-cutter ants

Leaf-cutter ant

Atta cephalotes

class Insecta

territory Central and South


Diet Fungus

Lifespan 1-2 years (worker

ant); 10-15 years (queen)

adult weight 1-5mg

conservation status


Below Highly in tune with the fungus

they cultivate, leaf-cutter ants will stop

collecting a certain plant species if the

fungus releases toxic chemical signals

Ant anatomy

Leaf-cutter ants are highly adapted

for foraging on a colossal scale


A small selection of female

and male leaf-cutter ants

will develop wings during

the mating season to

allow the nuptial flight, or

revoada, to take place.

Size variation

These ants range in size from

the 2mm (0.07in) length of the

minim ants to the 22mm (0.8in)

length of the queen of the colony.

Their size determines their role

and function within the colony.

chemical signals

The ants leave pheromone trails

to good sources of vegetation for

other worker ants to follow. They

also let off chemical signals when

faced with danger, signalling for

other ants to defend the colony.

triggering a chain reaction that spreads rapidly through

the colony.

But a leaf-cutter ant’s most prized tool are its powerful

jaws and incredible strength. As their name suggests, leafcutter

ants use their jaws and mandibles to cut through

leaves, and most of their head is filled with the muscles

that close the jaws, but this is not for the purpose of

eating. A common misconception is that these ants eat

the leaves they cut. In fact, the ants cut the leaves and,

using the spines on the back of their thorax, carry them

home. Here, the leaf segments are cut into smaller pieces

and allowed to decompose. It is this fungus that the

ants feast on, making leaf-cutter ants the only creatures

on Earth, aside from humans, that grow and farm other

creatures. But with approximately 8 million ants in a

colony, that requires the decomposition of a lot of leaves,

and a single colony can strip a tree bare in just one day.

Similar to human societies, leaf-cutter ant colonies

are highly complex and intricate structures. Their

underground nests can be up to nine metres (29.5 feet)

deep and cover an area one acre (0.4 hectares) in size,

with some sub-entrances found 80 metres (262.4 feet)

away. The central mound can be 30 metres (98.4 feet)

wide and features complex tunnels and ventilation

chambers. These are carefully positioned to remove

poisonous carbon dioxide produced by the fungus

garden and to allow fresh air inside the nest.

With millions of inhabitants to keep in line,

colonies are ordered into castes, with each

ant having a crucial role within the nest. The three main

castes are mostly based on size and consist of the queen,

workers and soldiers, which are all female. The males are

purely there to breed with the queen.

Larger worker ants go out foraging, harvesting the

leaves with their strong jaws and carrying them back

to the nest. But they are often working in tandem with

tiny hitchhikers. The smallest leaf-cutter ants, known as

minims, will climb onto the leaves as they are being carried

and decontaminate them before they reach the fungus

garden, as well as feeding on the leaf sap. The minims also

protect the larger worker ants, often sitting on their backs

to ward off parasites such as phorid flies, which lay their

eggs in the crevices of the worker ants’ heads.

Medium-sized worker ants tend to the fungus garden,

care for the larvae and excavate tunnels within the colony,

while a special caste of worker ants is responsible for

waste management alone, shuffling the waste around

to help with decomposition. Sadly, these ‘rubbish’ ants

are exiled from the colony as they are often riddled with

disease and have shorter lifespans, and if they try to leave

the rubbish dump, other ants will force them back or even

kill them, showing how the success of a colony is in each

ant knowing its place within the workforce – an ability

they are born with. As each ant is so dedicated to its job

within the colony, leaf-cutter ants display the ultimate form

of teamwork; they are able to feed each other through a

second ‘social’ stomach, where they store undigested food

in a process known as trophallaxis.

“Similar to human societies,

leaf-cutter ant colonies

are highly complex and

intricate structures”

Super strength

Leaf-cutter ants have

phenomenal strength and

are able to cut, manoeuvre

and carry leaf segments

that are extremely heavy

in relation to their size.

Strong jaws

Leaf-cutter ants have extremely

strong jaws for cutting through

vegetation, which vibrate at 1,000

times per second. The muscles that

close the jaws are much stronger

than the muscles that open them.


Extendable and retractable

antennae are used for

identifying objects and

finding suitable vegetation

for cutting, as the eyesight of

leaf-cutter ants is fairly poor.


The colony is protected by larger soldier ants, who

respond to chemical alarm signals and defend the colony

from threats, while the queen ant is much larger again – up

to 22 millimetres (0.8 inches) long – and can live for up to

15 years, compared to the one- or two-year lifespan of the

workers and soldiers. The queen is the only ant that is able

to produce eggs and spends her life deep underground,

laying up to 1,000 eggs per day in order to build her

colony. Alongside sterile worker and soldier ants, she also

lays a small number of winged queens and males who will

one day form new colonies.

At the beginning of the rainy season, winged fertile

females and males take part in a nuptial flight, known

as revoada, after which the males will die. The females

mate with multiple males, lose their wings and search for

a suitable underground location to set up their colony.

Sadly, only 2.5 per cent of females will be successful

in establishing a long-lived colony and 90 per cent will

die before their eggs hatch. But for those queens that

are successful, they begin cutting the first few leaves

themselves and cultivate their fungus garden while their

larvae develop. Most of these larvae will become foraging

workers, while a small number will develop into new

queens and males, and the entire process starts again as

the fungus garden thrives.

Leaf cutting is a vital aspect of fungus cultivation, and

once a worker has located a good source of vegetation,

they will lay down a scent as they return to the colony,

helping to guide other workers to the plant. The more

ants that visit the plant, the stronger the scent trail

becomes. Leaf-cutter ants have adapted to change food

sources constantly, preserving the habitat they live in and

preventing the colony from stripping all the surrounding

plants bare. These tiny insects have a large influence on

their environment and leaf-cutter ants from the Atta genus

are estimated to be responsible for the decomposition of

20 per cent of leaves in South America. However, they are

skilled farmers and expert cultivators.

Leaf cutting

Working in teams, the

medium-sized worker ants

will leave the nest and find

a suitable plant species.

Here, they will begin

cutting the leaves into

segments with their strong

jaws and mandibles.

Leaf transportation

Using their jaws and the spines on their

back to manoeuvre the leaf segments,

the ants begin carrying the leaves back

to their nest. They are incredibly strong

and can carry a segment in their jaws

that is 50 times their own body weight.

Waste management

A special caste of worker ants

lives in the rubbish dump and

constantly removes waste from

the colony. These ants are exiled

from the rest of the colony, as they

often carry bacteria and disease.


As the leaves are being

transported, smaller worker

ants known as minims

hitch a ride on the leaf,

decontaminating it of any

parasites or bacteria. They

may also ride on the backs

of larger worker ants to

protect them from parasites,

such as phorid flies.

fungus garden

The leaf segments are deposited underground in the

fungus garden. Here, the leaves are left to decompose

into the fungus the ants feed on. If a leaf is seen to be

toxic to the fungus it will no longer be collected.

© Ed Crooks

“The smallest worker ants,

known as minims, catch a

ride on the cut sections of

leaf to decontaminate

them before they

reach the nest”


Leaf-cutter ants

“These ants are often seen as major

agricultural pests. They cost the crop

industry around $1 billion each year”

In order to carry an equivalent

weight to the leaves these ants

transport, a human would need

to lift a medium-sized van

In numbers




Width that the

central mound

of a leaf-cutter

ant’s nest can

reach up to.


8 million 15

species dAy

Leaf-cutter ants Average number

The genera Atta

and Acromyrmex

contain a total

of 47 species

between them.

The number of

days it takes a

single colony of

leaf-cutter ants to

strip a tree bare.

1,000 50 20

The number

of times a

leaf-cutter ant’s

strong jaws

vibrate every


are able to carry

leaves up to 50

times their own

body weight in

their jaws.

of leaf-cutter

ants in a colony.

Colonies of 10

million have

been found.


The number of

years a successful

queen leaf-cutter

ant can live up to.

The Atta genus

is responsible for

the decomposition

of 20 per cent

of the leaves in

South America.


Leaf-cutter ants

Through their leaf

cutting, they trim and

maintain the rainforest, allowing

light to reach the forest floor and more plants to

grow. They also have a strong influence on the species

that grow here by selectively bringing seeds into their

underground chambers of various depths, helping the

rainforest floor to flourish.

Like termites and ambrosia beetles, leaf-cutter ant

societies are based on a mutualistic relationship between

the ants and the fungus they cultivate and feed on.

Different species of leaf-cutter ants feed on different

species of fungi; however, all of the fungi they eat is from

the genus Leucocoprinus. As the growth of the fungus is

so crucial to their survival, the ants have adapted to react

to the chemical signals the fungus emits and will stop

collecting certain plant species that are deemed to be

toxic. As such, they rely on each other to stay alive; the

ants grow the fungus to feed their colony and the fungus

relies on the ants bringing fresh foliage underground to

sustain its growth.

However, due to the vast amount of leaves the ants

need to sustain a colony of millions, these tiny critters are

often seen as a major agricultural pest. This is because a

single colony can strip a tree bare in just 24 hours and leafcutter

ants are responsible for destroying more vegetation

than any other animal, costing the crop industry over $1

billion (£803.9 million) each year. But they are a crucial

and influential part of the ecosystem and are often very

selective about the leaves they cut to ensure the survival

of the plants they so heavily rely on. It is because of this

that these ants, while small in size but prolific in number,

should be seen not as pests, but as intelligent and skilled

farmers who have a close and intimate relationship with

the habitat they live in. Carefully cutting plants, farming

fungi and growing their colossal colonies, leaf-cutter ants

display the ultimate form of teamwork, making them the

best sustainable farmers in the insect world.

The vice-like jaws

of a leaf-cutter ant vibrate

1,000 times per second, allowing

them to easily cut leaves. In fact,

large worker ants can even cut

through leather with their


Below Although not native to the

region, leaf-cutter ant populations

have been found in southern US

states and Mexico

Once the male leafcutter

ants have mated

with the fertile females

in their nuptial

flight, they will

die, leaving

the female to

establish the


Leaf-cutter ants are

aggressively territorial

insects, willing to fight to the

death to defend their colony.

Although they don’t seek out a

battle, even members of the same

species will be killed if they stray

into a colony that is not

their own.

© Alamy; Amazon-Images; Alex Hyde/NaturePL/Thinkstock


Meet the family


After making their way back into

the water 50 million years ago, over

40 species of dolphin roam oceans

and rivers all over the world today


The deadliest relative

This is one of the most successful predators on the planet, killing around

95 per cent of the prey it sets out to catch. That’s immensely impressive

compared to a lion’s measly 17 per cent success rate. Orcas charge at prey

at 65 kilometres (40.4 miles) per hour before biting with their 40 to 50

teeth, which can reach ten centimetres (four inches) in length. But their

physical attributes aren’t the most dangerous thing about the aptly named

killer whale. Orcas have intelligence almost beyond belief, and this stems

from their close social bonds. Calves never leave their family pod and are

cared for by their parents, siblings and grandparents. Young orcas are

taught by their parents and given the chance to finish off prey weakened

by the adults. Teams co-ordinate and communicate to hunt animals on ice,

land or in the water by any means necessary.


Orcinus orca

Class Mammalia

Territory Global

diet Fish and marine


lifespan 80 years

adult weight 5,400kg


Conservation status


The dorsal fin on the back contains

no bones – it’s pure cartilage.

Captive fins are prone to collapse

after giving into gravity because the

orcas spend an inordinate amount

of time floating at the surface of

their shallow tanks.

Spinner dolphin

The family acrobat

Aptly named, these dolphins can leap three metres (9.8 feet)

clear of the water and perform

spinner dolpHin

Stenella longirostris

Class Mammalia

Territory Tropical oceans

diet Fish and squid

lifespan 30 years

adult weight 59-82kg


Conservation status


seven 360 degree twists before

landing. The rotation begins

underwater and once the animal

breaches the surface it can

twirl faster without the sea’s

resistance. There are lots of

theories to explain this spinning

but there isn’t a single accepted

explanation. They may be

attempting to dislodge remoras,

which are fish that attach to the

bodies of other sea creatures to

hitch a free ride. These dizzying

displays may also attract

mates or display dominance.

Alternatively, the loud splashes could communicate the

position of dolphin groups to others, or maybe it’s just for fun.

This species visits shallow waters to rest and socialise on a

regular basis, especially in the summer when the calves arrive.

The pectoral fins contain five long ‘finger’

bones and help the spinner dolphin get lift

when attempting a jump.

Hourglass dolpHin

Lagenorhynchus cruciger

Class Mammalia

Territory Southern Atlantic

diet Small fish and squid

lifespan Unknown

adult weight 94kg (207lb)

Conservation status


The black and white colouration

confuses predators. It makes

it difficult to tell where one

animal ends and the next

begins or even which direction

the group is travelling.

Hourglass dolphin

The sub-zero hunter

These rare animals are found in small groups in the freezing waters of

the Antarctic, following fluctuating cold currents. Like most other species

in the family, hourglass dolphins use echolocation to search for food,

beaming out sounds into the water and listening out for the echo. These

animals produce such high-pitched sounds that they are able to travel

twice as far as those produced by other dolphins. This is probably the

result of their ability to dive to depths of at least 1,500 metres (4,921

feet), far too deep for sunlight to penetrate, meaning the dolphins

have to rely on their hearing rather than their eyesight.



Common dolphin

The family’s social butterfly

As the name suggests, these dolphins are found

throughout the Earth’s oceans. Pods of

common dolphins often contain members

of other species, like the acrobatic striped

dolphin. Not only do these two animals

mix, but they breed to produce hybrid

calves. Nobody knows if these

young dolphins are fertile, but

evidence suggests they survive

into adulthood. Common

dolphins form super pods

numbering upwards of

1,000 individuals and use these great armies to hunt in

packs. They are extremely social animals and get to know

one another on a personal basis. Their fondness for other

species extends beyond dolphins, with one individual

forming a long-term partnership with a harbour porpoise.

The pair even travel as far as 65 kilometres (40.4 miles)

inland into sea lochs, which is highly unusual behaviour for

the common dolphin.

The rostrum, or beak, contains

approximately 100 thin, razorsharp

teeth, which are used

to grip or slice prey before it is

then swallowed.

norTHern rigHT

wHale dolpHin

Lissodelphis borealis

Class Mammalia

Territory North Pacific

diet Fish and Squid

lifespan 42 years

adult weight 115kg (253lb)

Conservation status


There are two


of common

dolphins: the


and the



Common dolpHin

Delphinus delphis

Class Mammalia

Territory Temperate oceans

diet Fish and squid

lifespan 35-40 years

adult weight 100-140kg


Conservation status



right whale dolphin

The family’s black sheep

Very little is known about these bizarre animals. They swim in groups of

roughly 150 in the cold waters of the north Pacific Ocean. Here, they feed

on squid, which they chase at top speeds of 40 kilometres (25 miles) per

hour. The missing dorsal fin on the back makes these dolphins streamlined,

and pods swim in four distinct formations to maximise their forward

force. Groups can be densely packed, with uniform spaces between each

member or in small clusters. They can also form straight lines or swim in a

V shape, much like flying geese trying to reduce wind resistance.


1. Rarest


Classified as


extinct’, this river

dolphin may

have already

disappeared. If

any remain, there

aren’t enough to

save the species.

2. Smallest

Maui dolphin

At only 50kg

(100Ib), these

are the smallest

dolphins. Native

to New Zealand,

recent surveys

estimate that

there are only 60

left in the wild.

Not a





3. Slowest

Pilot whale

While incredibly

fast when diving,

this member of

the dolphin family

swims slowly

at the surface –

unless threatened

– to allow calves

to keep up.

4. Shyest


Found in the

waters of South

America (as

well as Atlantic

and Caribbean

coasts), the two

species of sotalia

are very fearful

of humans.

Porpoises are in another family to the dolphins,

and harbour porpoises have several crucial

differences. The dorsal fin is triangular rather

than curved and the iconic long beak is

missing. Porpoise teeth are flat unlike spiky

dolphin teeth, and these animals don’t usually

leap out of the water or approach humans.

The bottlenose’s ‘smile’ is simply

the shape of its mouth, and in no

way means the animal is happy.

BoTTlenose dolpHin

Tursiops truncatus

Class Mammalia

Territory Global

diet Fish, squid and


lifespan 20-40 years

adult weight 136-499kg


Conservation status




The family’s poster animal

Doubtlessly the most famous face in the dolphin world, these animals are held in

aquariums because of their intelligence and relatively long lifespan. Captive life does

not reflect what these animals do in the wild, and bottlenoses can become aggressive

and even depressed without the freedom of the open ocean. Wild bottlenoses can

swim upwards of 120 kilometres (74.5 miles) each day and interact with hundreds

of new friends, even developing ‘social networks’, where dolphins know one another

through mutual friends. These dolphins develop regional accents and are extremely

fast learners, with groups around the world developing new hunting techniques that

are passed down to future generations.


The wildlife

of a cave

Meet the curious creatures that are specially

adapted for a life underground in some of Earth’s

deepest and darkest natural wonders

Words Jo Stass

© Michael Durham/Minden Pictures/FLPA

It’s difficult to imagine any form of life

thriving in a cold, damp and pitch-black

cave, but there are many creatures that do

just that. The name given to these animals

that spend their entire life underground

is troglobite, and they often feature some

very clever adaptations to help them live

in such extreme environments.

However, perhaps the most recognisable

cave dweller, the bat, doesn’t fall into

this category. It is actually known as a

trogloxene, or cave visitor, as it only uses

caves to roost. Nevertheless, these visitors

are still an important part of the cave

food chain. Without them, many of their

underground neighbours could not survive.


The wildlife of a cave

How do caves form?

Discover the processes that create solution

caves over thousands of years



Going underground

Groundwater seeps through cracks or fractures

in the earth to reach the limestone rock beneath.



Creating cavities

The slightly acidic water slowly dissolves the limestone

rock to create a system of small caves.


Joining together

As more water enters, the caves get bigger and eventually

join together, becoming one large cavern.

1. Hard rock

The upper layers of rock are harder

and so dissolve more slowly than the

soft limestone.

2. Acidic water

Groundwater mixes with carbon dioxide

in the air and soil to create weak

carbonic acid.

3. Underwater caves

Caves situated below the water table

are always flooded with water.

4. Collapsing cracks

Cracks in the upper layers of rock

gradually become bigger, collapsing

into sink holes.

5. Rock chemistry

Minerals inside the rock can also make

the groundwater more acidic as it

passes through.

“A troglobite will

spend its entire life

inside a cold, damp,

pitch-black cave”


The wildlife of a cave

The creatures of

Mammoth Cave

With over 650

kilometres (403.9 miles)

of passageways and

caverns, the world’s

longest cave system,

located in Kentucky,

United States is home

to more than 130

species of flora and

fauna, 14 of which don’t

exist anywhere else on

the planet.

Cave cricket

The long-legged, jumping cave cricket is a

keystone species of the Mammoth Cave. By feeding

on the surface and transferring the nutrients to the

subsurface in the form of guano, eggs and bodies,

it subsidises three separate communities of rare or

endemic cave-dwelling invertebrates.

Animals of

the shadows


Troglobites are animals

that have adapted to

spend their entire life cycle

within a cave and could

not survive outside of one.

They typically have poorly

developed or absent eyes,

little pigmentation and

are able to go a long time

without food. Examples

include cavefish, crayfish

and shrimps.



A troglophile is an animal

that can survive outside

of a cave, but prefers to

live inside one. They will

typically only leave the cave

in search of food, but could

live their entire life either

inside or outside of one.

Examples include beetles,

worms, frogs, salamanders

and crickets.


Trogloxenes are animals

that regularly visit caves for

specific parts of their life

cycle, such as hibernation,

nesting or giving birth. They

will never spend an entire life

cycle within a cave and have

no special adaptations for

the environment. Examples

include bats, bears, skunks

and raccoons.


Cave crayfish

Northern cavefish

Specially adapted to the lightless,

low-energy environment of

freshwater cave streams, this

species of fish has ceased to

develop unnecessary eyes and

pigmentation. It navigates by

feeling its surroundings using

sensory organs on its body, and

can live for up to two years without

food due to its low metabolic rate.



The wildlife of a cave

Gray bat

Bats have inhabited Mammoth

Cave for millions of years, and only

150 years ago, the gray bat was

one of its most prominent species.

However, today they are listed

as Near Threatened due to cave

disturbance and are under threat

from a deadly fungal disease called

white-nose syndrome.

Screech owl

Snapping turtle

Cave salamander

The rocky limestone caves are the

ideal habitat for the spotted-tail

cave salamander. A dull yelloworange

coloured amphibian with

black spots, it can reach between

10-20cm in length (3.9-7.9in). It

feeds on insects, earthworms and

mites, which it catches with its long

tongue, and lays its eggs in cave

streams or pools.

Kentucky cave shrimp

This tiny crustacean is endemic

to the Mammoth Cave National

Park, where it inhabits large,

base-level, slow-flowing cave

streams. It grows to just 30mm

(1.2in) in length, has no eyes and

a translucent body and is listed as

Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


The Green River that runs through

the Mammoth Cave National

Park contains the most diverse

population of freshwater mussels in

North America, and one of the most

diverse populations in the world.

Over 50 species of mussels can be

found in the river, several of which

feature on the endangered list.

© The Art Agency/Peter Scott


The wildlife of a cave

The cave ecosystem

How do animals survive in the constant

darkness of a cave environment?

The deepest part of a cave is known as the dark zone,

and this is where troglobites live. As light cannot reach

this region, plant life cannot grow, and so the animal

inhabitants have had to find other sources of sustenance.

One way they get access to food is through weather,

as rain washes leaves, twigs and other plant matter into

the cave. Alternatively, non-permanent cave dwellers –

trogloxenes and troglophiles – can bring the food in for

them, or of course, become the food themselves. Bats

are an important part of many cave food chains, as their

guano is full of organic matter. As their droppings pile

up, bacteria and fungi break it down into basic nutrients

for others to feed on. These microscopic organisms

also become food for larger creatures, and so the chain

progresses until you reach the larger mammals at the top.

These delicate cave ecosystems can be found

throughout the world, but they differ slightly depending

on the size, location and conditions of each cave. For

example, glacier caves, which have been carved out of

solid ice, create an environment that only a select few

creatures can live in, while certain solution caves are

home to a rich and diverse selection of wildlife.

The olm is well-adapted to cave life

but is currently under threat from the

pollution of its underwater habitat

Cave types The many varieties of caves that can be found around the world

Solution Lava Sea Glacier

Groundwater containing

natural acid seeps through

the earth to dissolve the

soluble rocks – such as

limestone, chalk and

dolomite – beneath.

As lava flows downhill,

its surface cools and

solidifies, but hot lava

will continue to flow

underneath, leaving a

hollow cave behind.

Also known as littoral

caves, these are formed

when waves slowly

erode zones of

weakness in sea cliffs,

carving out caves.

Water running through

or underneath a

glacier gradually

melts the ice around

it. Eventually, a cave is

formed as a result.


The Arachnocampa

luminosa glowworm is

endemic to New Zealand

and can be found in many

of the country’s caves

Cave wildlife

from around

the world

The species that have adapted

to life in different types of cave


These microscopic

organisms are able

to survive in freezing

glacier caves, withstand

temperatures below

freezing and even cope

in outer space!


Glowworms use their

bioluminescent tails to

attract prey, which then

gets stuck in their sticky

feeding lines. Damp, dark

caves are therefore the

perfect habitat.


These blind aquatic

salamanders have lived in

Croatia and Slovenia for

over 20 million years. They

have heightened smell and

hearing and can detect

electric and magnetic fields.


This wingless insect has

no eyes and largely lives

off a diet of fungi. It’s the

deepest land animal ever

found, living at depths of

1,980 metres (6,500 feet)

below the surface.

“The deepest part of

a cave is known as

the dark zone. It’s

home to troglobites”

Large mammals

While fossils of some

bear, lion and leopard

species suggest they

once inhabited caves for

long periods, today, large

mammals mainly use caves

as a temporary shelter.


These tiny crustaceans can

live in caves flooded with

freshwater or saltwater

They have adapted to

dark, oxygen-depleted

environments by swimming

slowly to preserve energy.

© Alamy/Moritz Wolf; Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Fracture Talus Eolian Anchialine

Layers of more soluble

minerals located between

layers of less soluble rock

are dissolved by acidic

groundwater, leaving behind

deep fractures.

The openings that

form between

large boulders that have

fallen into a heap at the

base of cliffs are known

as talus caves.

Common in deserts,

these caves are

formed by winds

blowing fine sand

against a rock face,

eroding the surface.

Typically found

along coastlines,

these flooded caves

contain a mixture of

both fresh water

and salt water.





Luke Massey

Pro photographer Luke Massey invites us

inside the wonderful world of animal

conservation photography

Through my work I try to showcase species that

are under threat or in need of attention. In the

case of proboscis monkeys they’re disappearing

in front of us – it is feasible that they could go

extinct in the next 20 to 30 years due to habitat

destruction. I hoped with my work that I could get

this story out there; I want people to look at my

photos and fall in love with these monkeys.

I headed to Tarakan [Indonesia] where the

city had engulfed the mangroves, leaving only a

tiny patch remaining where just a few proboscis

monkeys survived. With almost all my work I put

a lot of effort into researching beforehand and try

to build contacts on the ground. Here I worked

alongside a Czech primatologist who has been

working with proboscis monkeys for decades, Dr

Stan Lhota.

I’d spend all day with the monkeys; there was

actually a boardwalk so that I could follow them

through the mangroves on foot. There were two

troops in the mangroves; in the true wild with

acre upon acre of mangrove to roam there’d be

no reason for two troops to meet, but if they did

there’d be little conflict. However, in Tarakan there

was; they’d fight at least once a day when they

met, mainly due to the lack of food available.

When I took this shot it was late in the day and

the troop was beginning to prepare for roost. Most

of them were lounging about or grooming high

in the canopy; it was only these three who didn’t

think it was time for bed just yet! As the boardwalk

had a few gaping holes, I had to concentrate on

where I placed mine and my tripod’s feet. On top

of this, the monkeys are a lot more nimble than

me, and there were tall mangroves for them to

shoot through.

I wanted the main action to take centre stage,

hence using a longer focal length. I just waited

for the action to kick off again. I shot this with

a Canon EOS 1D X and a 500mm lens with a 1.4x

converter. This kit is pretty heavy so I was using

a Benro tripod to keep everything steady. In the

mangroves light can be pretty low, so luckily the

1D X is capable of shooting in low light with very

little noise, which is the grain created when you

put your ISO up.

luke Massey


An award-winning wildlife photographer,

Luke has a passion for storytelling through

his imagery, aiming to educate and inspire by

showing people species close to home and

further afield.

Location: Borneo, Indonesia

Camera used: Canon EOS 1D X


Behind the lens

Getting your

message across

Luke Massey’s top tricks for making

your shots more expressive

Give it some context

I try to show the context of where the animal is in

my images so I tend to shoot a little wider. This can

work for both good and bad situations, from an

animal caught up in the illegal wildlife trade to these

black kites, who each morning would swoop down

to be thrown morsels of meat in Old Delhi [India].

Work with light

Light is an incredibly important tool; it can change

an image. From exposing just the lighter sections

and throwing all the darker images in to shadow

you can make an image so much more dramatic.

Use the eyes

Eye contact connects the person looking at the

image to the subject. The eyes can show so many

different emotions in countless species and make

the image stronger immediately.

© Luke Massey


Keeping in touch

Contact us at…



This month we asked World

of Animals readers what their

favourite animal noise is. Here

are some of our favourites:

Superpower dogs update

This month we take a look at the real-life work that Halo’s handler Cat Labrada has been involved

in, and what it’s like to be the human half of a superpower search-and-rescue duo

Trumpets from elephants. They are

my favourite animals. Just like

our little girl.


O wow! I would love to win a copy

for my son Harry. Our favourite

animal noise is a monkey.


My little boy and I love the sound

of an elephant... He often

pretends to be one!


Disaster: Hurricane Katrina

Year: 2005

Location: New Orleans & Gulf Coast

Storm category: Category 5 hurricane

Casualties: 1,836

Search dog: Fancy

“With Katrina it was different because the damage

was caused by water. The majority of the lives

that were lost were due to drowning. That meant

that when the floodwater receded, nobody was to

be found from searching because everybody had

either been evacuated or had drowned.”

Disaster zones

Cat Labrada started training search

and rescue dogs in 2000. Since then

she has worked with her loyal canine

counterparts to find survivors in some

of the world’s worst disaster zones

“I was working at a vet clinic and a woman

walked in with a search and rescue shirt

on,” Cat tells us. “So I enquired, as at that

time I had an eight month-old puppy, so

I started taking her out to training!” That

puppy was Fancy, a yellow Labrador.

Cat and Fancy worked on all kinds of

deployments together, the first one being

hurricane Charley in 2004. “We worked on

hurricane Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Ivan

and Katrina together before Fancy retired.

You get activated, and then you just await

instructions,” Cat explains. “You pack your

bags, have a meeting and a general check

up before getting deployed.

“There’s a lot that goes through

your mind in terms of emotions; it’s the

unknown. The extent of the devastation

depends on the disaster. Was it a bomb,

hurricane, tornado? It all depends on

what’s there and what the recon is going

to find to send you out to.” Luckily, the

dogs are ready for everything. “That’s why

we try to travel as much as we can during

training, so they’re used to getting off a

plane, out of a bus or a car to get straight

to work”.

Disaster: Haiti earthquake

Year: 2010

Location: Haiti

Storm category: Magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale

Casualties: 100,000

Search dog: Bella

“Haiti was the most devastation. The majority of the housing is

shanty towns, so walking across the roofs on steep hillsides is

definitely what we train for in terms of mass casualty and mass

entrapment experience, but it was a Third World country. We were

there for nine days and we had no maps. It was very difficult because

it wasn’t very safe so they didn’t let us search at night.”


Wildlife journeys

Reader Rob Curtis from the Vale of

Glamorgan shares some stunning images

from his trip to Antarctica

Last winter [2016] (or summer in the

Southern Hemisphere) I had the wonderful

opportunity of working in the Antarctic

for the British Antarctic Survey, helping

to move their Antarctic Survey station

Halley across a large crack that had

developed on the ice shelf.

Although the hours of work were long

and hard we still found time to travel

down to the coast on our Sundays off

and enjoy the stunning wildlife that make

Antarctica their home. We even saw

emperor penguins! I was lucky to see

the remains of the emperor colony as

the sea ice had blown out and they

had lost all their eggs and chicks, yet

another indicator of global warming. The

remaining emperors were easy to snap as

they came to us, but timing their ‘flight’

from the sea onto the ice was difficult.

Reader photos

Pelicans waiting

to steal fish from


Tell us

about one of your

wildlife holidays by

emailing your story and

photos to animals@



Animal antics

this month

Our favourite animal news and

stories. Let us know yours at


New nature app


A new app that provides nature

documentaries on demand

has launched in the UK. LOVE

NATURE by Blue Ant Media and

Smithsonian Networks, is a

subscription video streaming

service available from the Apple

App Store.

‘Fake’ fur not fake

A pair of high-heeled shoes at

Misguided had to be taken off

sale after it was discovered they

contained cat fur. The discovery

was made by the Humane

Society International. Misguided

have stated they have a strict

no-fur policy and were unaware

the fur was real, but they are

not the only store with ‘faux fur’

products that contain fur.

A great egret

flying overhead

near a lake

I found this redshouldered


on a powerline

Eating dogs banned

Taiwan has become the first

Asian country to ban the sale

and consumption of dog and cat

meat. Purchasing or eating the

meat now carries a fine of up to

£6,500; anyone who kills these

animals could face prison.

Thanks to Johnny Walker for this stunning selection

of bird images sent in to World of Animals!

We love hearing from readers, whether it’s

receiving letters, emails, photos, drawings or

even feedback. Get in touch and you could be a

lucky winner, too!

© Thinkstock





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Send your animal questions to us at:


How do kangaroos

pause pregnancy?

Kangaroo mums can keep a joey in

reserve; while one baby is growing in the

pouch, a second one waits in the uterus

ready to take its place. And it’s all down to

a feedback loop in their hormones.

If there’s already a joey in the pouch, the

action of it suckling triggers the release of

a hormone called prolactin, which halts the

development of the embryo. The fertilised

kangaroo egg can divide until it reaches a

ball of 100 cells, but after that it stops until

there is room. When the bigger joey is old

enough to leave its mother’s pouch, the

hormone balance changes and the embryo

can continue developing.

This clever adaptation means that the

female kangaroo will always have room for

her new arrival, but she won’t need to wait

until her older joey has left to find a mate,

maximising the number of little kangaroos

she can successfully raise.

There’s only room

for one joey in the

pouch at a time

What’s the difference between

venomous, poisonous and toxic?

These terms can be confusing, but there’s

a simple way to remember the difference. If

something bites or stings you, causing you

harm, it’s venomous. If you eat something

and it damages you, it’s poisonous.

A toxin is a substance that causes harm

when it enters the body through inhalation,

ingestion, injection or absorption. Poisons

can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed, while

venoms are injected via an animal’s teeth,

sting or barbs.

Poison dart frogs are poisonous because

they secrete batrachotoxin. Gathered from

the beetles they eat, it disrupts nerve and

muscle cells, resulting in heart failure.

Pit vipers, on the other hand, inject their

toxins with a bite. They make several kinds

of molecules called metalloproteinases.

These are enzymes - biological catalysts -

that break down other molecules inside the

victim’s body. Many cause bleeding, while

others directly kill cells.

Follow us at...




Animals answers

Can it really rain frogs?

Surprisingly, yes. Frogs, fish and other

small animals can be carried into

the atmosphere by tornadoes before

plummeting down again when the storm

subsides. In 2000, the BBC reported fish

raining down in Norfolk after a minitornado

travelled in from the sea.

These swirling winds form over land,

and if they travel over water they can

create a waterspout with an area of low

pressure in the centre. This pressure

difference draws liquid and other objects

upwards into the air, occasionally

carrying aquatic animals away from

their homes. As the winds start to drop,

the heaviest objects fall first, followed

later by the lighter ones.

It really has

been known

to rain frogs



Why do crabs and spiders have blue blood,

and does blood come in any other colours?



We are used to blood being red, but the animal kingdom has

come up with a rainbow of other options.

Our own blood contains the oxygen-carrying molecule

haemoglobin. It is made from four units of haem, each of

which contains an atom of iron. The molecule absorbs certain

wavelengths of light, giving it its distinctive red colour. When

oxygen is bound, it appears bright, but without oxygen it’s a

deeper hue.

Crabs, lobsters, spiders, squid and octopuses have blue blood

because they use a copper-based system to carry gas to their

tissues. The molecule is known as haemocyanin and, without

oxygen, it is colourless. When the gas binds, the colour changes.

Some marine worms have iron-based systems with even

wilder colours. Green blood is the result of a molecule called

chlorocruorin, while a slightly different iron-containing molecule

called hemerythrin is purple.

And, some animals don’t have any oxygen-carrying pigments

at all. In very cold water, there’s so much dissolved oxygen

that colourful pigments aren’t necessary, so some deep sea

creatures have completely transparent blood.

© Thinkstock

Crabs have copper

in their blood

Q.Why are

March hares mad?

Find out at…


Interview with a…

wildlife fundraiser

Walk 4 Wildlife is a great example of how much we can do to help

animals just by putting on our walking shoes and joining together

In 2015, colleagues

Mark Oliver and

Mike Matthews

wanted to get a few

people together for

a sponsored relay

walk to raise funds for

their favourite wildlife

charities. But as word got out and more

people became interested, the idea turned

into something much bigger. Now they are

holding several fundraising events with the

aim of raising £1million this summer.

What is Walk 4 Wildlife?

Walk 4 Wildlife events are sponsored walks

that bring together like-minded people;

people with an empathy for animals and

a determination to go the extra mile to

help protect wildlife. We have five very

different events this summer, each one

a challenge. The season starts in the

Sussex South Downs with our ‘3-Distance

Challenge’ and ends with a 20-mile

[32.2-kilometre] night safari walk in the

New Forest.

On 19 May, a unique event will be

taking place across the UK. Hundreds

of thousands of primary school children

will be taking part in a mass sponsored

walk, in an attempt to break a Guinness

World Record. On the day, primary schools

around the country will be joining together

to try and break the world record for the

most people walking in an organised event.

The current record is 231,635 people all

walking at the same time!

How was it founded?

In 2015, we came up with an idea to

do a sponsored relay walk to raise

money for five carefully chosen wildlife

charities. Originally, just a handful of people

were each going to be walking a section of

the route for their chosen cause. However,

as the word spread and more people

wanted to join the walk, it quickly became

apparent that we needed to expand our

ideas, and so we put together a Land’s End

to John o’Groats 50-day relay walk. We

wanted to make this first Walk 4 Wildlife

a walk for some of the world’s most iconic

and endangered species and so we came

up with our own ‘Big 5’. Having chosen

cheetahs, elephants, lions, rhinos and tigers,

we then selected five separate charities to

benefit from the proceeds of each walk.

Although a lot of people wanted to join

the walk, for many the route was either too

far away or was coming through their area

on a day that just wasn’t convenient. So we

set about organising other walks up and

down the UK, so that many more people

could join in. With very little publicity and

relying only on word-of-mouth, another

eight walks were held over the summer

of 2016, raising over £25,000 for our five

charities. This year, we are hoping to create

something really special for wildlife.

Why should people get involved?

There is no other event like this where

people can come together to raise

money for wildlife. From the majestic lion

to the humble hedgehog, the critically

endangered black rhino to the mountain

gorilla, animals around the world need our

help. If you have a compassion for animals

and are thinking about doing something

for charity this year; if you want to support

your local wildlife charity, or help protect

endangered species, why not get involved?

Who can take part?

The Big 5 events have been carefully

created so that everyone can take part.

From a gentle stroll along the Sussex South

Downs, to some harsh hill walking over the

Yorkshire Three Peaks, our five sponsored

walks should appeal to everyone. The

Guinness World Record attempt on 19

May is aimed primarily at schools. Anyone

wanting to take part should contact us at

enquiries@walk4wildlife.uk and we can

put them in touch with their local schools.

How can people sign up?

Visit www.walk4wildlife.uk, or email

enquiries@walk4wildlife.uk for more

information and to get signed up.

“Hundreds of thousands of primary

school children across the country will

take part in a mass sponsored walk”


Next issue

Explore even more amazing animals in

World of Animals Issue 47





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