Beautiful dream-like footage of Antartica from above

By on May 5th 2015 in Nature

While sailing through the vast icy wilderness of Antartica, Swedish filmmaker Kalle Ljung made this breathtaking video short of the far-away continent. The aerial footage he shot during his three week trip, using only a drone and a GoPro, will simply blow you away. To see a pod of whales surface from above, fly through an iceberg, and hang still above a glacier is simply mesmerizing. But Ljungs feel for colour and calmness are what really make this video stand out. The palet of airy purples and icy blues give this video a dream-like atmosphere that highlights Antartica’s serene landscape like you will not have seen before. Enjoy! (via Vimeo Staff Picks and Colossal)

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10 Amazing Close-ups of Animal Faces

By on April 21st 2015 in Animals

A great aspect of nature photography is that it allows us to look at our natural world in a different way. It allows us to change perspective, and I don’t just mean a change of visual perspective! This is especially the case for close-up photography, which enables the appreciation of animals in all their detail. Here I made a selection of 10 of the most awe-inspiring close-up photos of animal faces from some world-class photographers that I hope will make you change perspective too. Enjoy!

Getting up-close with a Crested Gecko

Getting up-close with a Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus), an amazing shot by Igor Siwanowicz

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Amazing detail showing red eye-spots on a female band-eyed drone fly (Eristalinus aenus). Photo by John Hallmen.

Beautiful black with red face of a Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), a species of African eagle endemic south of the Sahara. Photo by Matthias Kretschmar.

A beautiful black and red contrast in the face of a Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), a species of African eagle endemic south of the Sahara. Photo by Matthias Kretschmar.

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What a shot! Alan Hinchliffe got really close to capture this stunning photo of a Golden Eagle entitled ”The Staredown”.

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Don’t get too close to a Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), the world’s largest forest bird that cannot even fly! Photo by Andy Ratter, Queensland, Australia.

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The awe-inspiring brown bear lives in the forests and mountains of northern North America, Europe, and Asia and lives a predominantly solitary life. Photographer unknown…

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“Watching ewe”, a beautifully creative symmetry by Alison Roberts.

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This photo is unique in this series as it is an actual selfy! Whilst visiting a national park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, award-winning photographer Slater left his camera unattended for a while, which quickly attracted the attention of an inquisitive female black macaque which by accident managed to get this amazing selfy shot!

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Growing up to eight metres and weighing a couple tonnes, Minke whales are exceptionally inquisitive and often approach boats, divers and snorkelers very closely. Luckily this enabled this photographer from the Minke Whale Project to get this stunning facial shot.

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Titan triggerfish cannot really be said to be amongst the beautiful creatures of our oceans, with funny looking teeth and protruding eyes! Photo by Christian Loader.

Penguins have poor taste and cannot detect sweet, bitter or savory flavours

By on April 16th 2015 in Animals science
A group of penguins on the main land of Antartica. Photo by Antartica abound.

A group of penguins on the main land of Antartica. Photo by Antartica abound.

Although most bird species already lack the ability to detect sweet flavours, penguins loose out on even more and are not even able to detect bitter or pleasant savoury tastes. By analysing the genomes of a range of penguin species, scientists discovered that all penguins appear to lack the genes that allow them to detect these flavours.

It is likely that penguins lost their taste between 20 and 60 million years ago, a period that saw dramatic climate cooling in Antartica, as the necessary protein are inhibited at very low temperatures. It may also be down to penguins slippery diet, as the primary aim of their bristles-covered tongues (see photo below!) seems to be to catch and hold their prey after which it is swallowed whole.

Penguins thus perhaps do not need taste perception, although it remains unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss, according to the study published in Current Biology. Unfortunately for the penguins it still means they are left with only sour and salty sensations when enjoying their slippery meals.

This is how an Adélie Penguin's mouth looks like from the inside! Photo by Gordon Tait.

This is how an Adélie Penguin’s mouth looks like from the inside! Photo by Gordon Tait.

Zhao H, Li J, & Zhang J (2015). Molecular evidence for the loss of three basic tastes in penguins. Current biology, 25 (4) PMID: 25689905

Plastic bottles beautifully repurposed as art objects

By on April 14th 2015 in Artistic

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Did you know that worldwide 50 billion bottles of water are consumed every year? In the US alone that is 1500 bottles every second! Sadly, as most of you will hopefully know, all this plastic waste has immense negative environmental impacts.

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PET bottles require huge amounts of fossil fuels, both for producing and transporting them. Not only that, their plastic does not biodegrade but photodegrade, which means it breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments over time which can take up to a 1000 years! Those fragments absorb toxins that pollute our environment, such as our waterways and the earth, and kill millions of sea birds and marine mammals each year.

For instance, thousands of baby Albatross chicks die because of being fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean (see photos). Instead of throwing bottles away we need to minimise our usage and recycle them as much as we can. Plastic bottles can even be used in art!

I love the ingenious and creative way Czech artist Veronika Richterová has repurposed thousands of plastic bottles. Look for example at this amazing array of funny looking plants, all created from bottles thrown away as waste. The past decade she has also created many usable objects from PET bottles that are a great showcase of the many ways in which plastic bottles can be used in and around our house and garden.

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Hopefully such wonderful art projects as these “PET plants” will help raise further awareness about the huge negative impacts plastics have on our natural world..

Exploring Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest Cave

By on April 9th 2015 in Nature

An amazing green entrance of the world's largest cave Hang Son Doong

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Hang Son Doong, located in Vietnam, is the world’s largest cave. It is so enormous, measuring 200 meters wide, 150 meters high and almost 9 kilometers long, its caverns are big enough to fit entire city streets inside of them.

It was created over millions of years by rivers eroding away the weaker limestone layers inside the mountain. Over time the massive caverns became so big that at certain points the ceiling collapsed, creating huge skylights. Now those parts of the cave have turned into a vast green jungle-like world complete with underground rivers.

Surprisingly, it was only found in 1991 by a local and only properly discovered in 2009 by a British caving expedition. To capture this amazing natural phenomenon, cave, adventure, and travel photographer Ryan Deboodt went into the cave, using a drone and a whole array of cameras and lights.

His phenomenal 6-minute film of the cave will help you appreciate its shear size, especially when you start to notice that the tiny moving objects are actually people. The place is really otherworldly and is something that probably can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world. (Via Colossal, petapixel).

Amazing aerial photos of a hoopoe feeding its young

By on April 2nd 2015 in Animals
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Hoopoe showing its crest, viewed from below. Photo by Peter Damerell.

One of my favourite birds is the exotic-looking hoopoe. It is an magnificent bird that lives across most of Europe, Asia and Africa and is famous for its giant mohican-like crest. Hoopoes often nest in cavities in the walls of derelict buildings, as is brilliantly shown in these stunning pictures by Peter Damerell.

Peter, a good friend of mine, was conducting research on the critically endangered Saiga antelope in the remote regions of the Ustyurt Plateau, Uzbekistan. While taking a break from work to avoid the 40+ degree heat, he found a nice cherry tree to rest under. But as soon as he sat down, he suddenly heard the chirping of nestlings nearby and discovered a hoopoe nest a couple meters away hidden in the wall of a crumbling outbuilding .

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Whilst the adults would sometimes perch to feed their chicks, food was mostly delivered ‘on the wing’ to speed up the feeding. Photo by Peter Damerell.

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Hoopoe delivering a beetle grub to its nest in the side of an outbuilding. Peter estimates that the adults were making between 30 and 40 deliveries per hour to their 4 offspring.

Peter set-up a cleaver trigger system to take these amazing photos of the birds coming to feed their young, even without them knowing as Peter explained:

By observing the parent’s behaviour I could accurately time their arrival and set-up my DSLR whilst they were away foraging. I then set-up a remote trigger that I could control while hidden away in the shade of the cherry tree, thereby minimizing my impact and at the same time enjoying a few cherries. I like using a remote camera in this way as it provides minimal disturbance for your subject, something that is really important to me.

Hoopoes mainly forage on bare ground, probing the ground with their long curved bill to look for big grubs and other insects, clearly visible in these photos. It’s salmon colour with black and white wings and extraordinary crest make the hoopoe instantly recognisable. I very clearly remember the times I managed to see them in the wild whilst travelling in Spain and France, a wonderful experience. However, I still hope to see them on an English lawn sometime as these birds do actually arrive in Britain each year!

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With this many chicks close to fledging it is a full time job for the parents to collect enough food for them all. Photo by Peter Damerell.

Peter has travelled and conducted research across the world and is currently doing a PhD at the University of Cambridge to look at the relationships between people and wildlife in Romania. You can see more of his amazing photos and learn about his work on his website.

NB: When birds are nesting it is very important that they are not disturbed as this can cause them to abandon the nest. If not sure wether you will disturb a bird, then the simple rule is not to take the picture at all but just to enjoy watching the birds. Thanks!

Wonderful collection of miniature animals made using crochet

By on March 27th 2015 in Animals Artistic

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Most textile arts like knitting and crochet result in the warm cloths we wear, the cozy pillows we sit on and the funny bags we carry. However there is a kind of textile art that is there purely to enjoy: cute miniature crochet animals!

Su Ami is a Vietnamese family of five that have created a large range of the most adorable miniature animals that easily fit on the tip of your finger. From dogs and cats, to tiny turtles and even platypuses, all made using crochet. It is impressive the crafters were able to give these tiny animals so much detail and showcase the animal’s main features, such as the cat’s whiskers, the platypus’ beak and even the kiwi’s egg!

I am always fond of artists and craftsmen playing with the natural world and these tiny pieces of craftsmenship are a great example of that. The crochet animals are for sale in Su Ami’s own Etsy shop, see some of my favorites below.

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Amazing photos of waves that look like mountains

By on March 25th 2015 in Nature

A wave that looks like a mountain, by Ray Collins

Amazing ocean photography by Ray Collins

Waves photos look like mountains, by Ray Collins

Waves photos look like mountains, by Ray Collins

Waves photos look like mountains, by Ray Collins

Waves photos look like mountains, by Ray Collins

I love it when photography makes you look in a different way at the world. When it makes you change perspective. These amazing photos of ocean waves do exactly that. Professional photographer Ray collins shot these waves in such a way that they look like majestic mountains standing still in time. His close-up perspective and his artistic blending of water and light give these photos some allure of a grand painting.

Ray only started taking photos of the ocean in 2007, mainly to shoot his friends surfing waves near home. But in a number of years his photos have been used by big companies such as Apple, Nikon, National Geographic and Red Bull. You can see more of his amazing work on his website. (via ghost in the machine)

Pygmy seahorse camouflage explained

By on February 8th 2015 in Animals

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Pygmy seahorses are beautiful tiny fish that spent their entire adult life on beautifully coloured sea fans, a type of soft coral found especially in tropical waters. With only the size of an average fingernail and matching the colour and structure of the corals on which they live, they are extremely hard to see.

It has long been a mystery to scientists how these beautiful tiny creatures blend so perfectly with the brightly coloured coral around them. Now after a couple years of preparations, biologists at the California Academy of Sciences found out how the pygmy seahorse does it. Have a look at this wonderful short film about their findings below:

This video was created by KQED Public Media and is part of a new series of videos called Deep Look, which explores the big world of science by examining the very small.

Bilateral gynandromorph: the fate of a half-male, half-female bird

By on December 24th 2014 in Animals science

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Yes I know what you are thinking, this photo must be photoshopped. However it is not! It is a gynandromorph, an organism that contains both male and female characteristics.

Even more interesting, this particular bird, a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a bilateral gynandromorph, with its left side appearing as a male cardinal, and the right side as a female. The demarcation is so clear that only when both halves of the bird were observed simultaneously was it evident that the bird was a bilateral gynandromorph.

Bilateral gynandromorphy arises very early in development, typically when the organism is still only a few cells large. This happens when one of the dividing cells does not split its sex chromosomes as normal, leading to one of the two cells having sex chromosomes that cause male development, and the other cell having chromosomes that cause female development.

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Researchers have long known such split-sex gynandromorphs exist in a range of animals such as insects, crustaceans, and birds but rarely have scientists been able to study them. For this particular bird two scientists were able to follow it for more than 40 days and to document how it interacted with other birds and responded to various bird calls.

What they found is that the cardinal did not have a mate nor was it ever heard singning, the researchers report this month in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. The observers luckily also observed that the bird’s unusual looks did not raise any fierce aggression in its fellow cardinals.

References

Peer, B. D., & Motz, R. W. (2014). Observations of a Bilateral Gynandromorph Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 126 (4), 778-781 DOI: 10.1676/14-025.1