Amazing tree root pattern on city street

By on July 10th 2014 in Nature
Beautiful patterns of tree roots among the circular stones of the pavement near one of Bankok's most busiest roads.

Beautiful patterns of tree roots among the circular stones of the pavement near one of Bankok’s most busiest roads. Photo Horst Kiechle

The roots slowly taking over the pavement

The roots slowly taking over the pavement. Photo Horst Kiechle

Closer view of the tree base

Closer view of the tree base. Photo Horst Kiechle

View of the base of the tree and its narrow city space  to grow

View of the base of the tree and its narrow city space to grow. Photo Horst Kiechle

Full view of the tree on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road

Full view of the tree on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. Photo Horst Kiechle

Amazing root close-up

Amazing root close-up. Photo Horst Kiechle

second-roots-close-up

Beautiful patterns evolving between the pavement stones

Beautiful patterns evolving between the pavement stones. Photo Horst Kiechle

In between concrete and electricity lines, on one of the Bangkok’s largest roads, this amazing tree has managed to survive and develop quite a special looking set of roots.

As most city trees, it has to compete for space with the concrete jungle that we humans create around us. For this particular tree, this competition has resulted in some beautiful root patterns over the years, with individual roots zigzagging in-between the circular pavement stones.

For most tree species, more than a third of a tree can be found beneath the ground. Although hidden, the roots are vitally important for gathering water and nutrients as well as providing support.

I hope that by seeing photos of this amazing tree one will not only appreciate the beauty and adaptability of nature, but also makes one aware of the space that is needed for trees to thrive.

The amazing birds of paradise

By on November 14th 2013 in Animals
Greater bird of Paradise

A greater bird of paradise showing off its beautiful feathers. Photo by Tim Laman.

Blue bird of paradise

A portrait of a male blue bird of paradise perched on a branch. Photo by Tim Laman.

The twelve-wired bird of paradise

The unusual twelve-wired bird of paradise. Photo by Tim Laman.

A Wilson's bird of Paradise. Photo by

A Wilson’s bird of Paradise. Photo by Tim Laman

Birds of paradise are amongst the most amazing and beautiful animals on our planet. Found in the nearly inpenetrable jungle of New Guinea, they are an extraordinary example of evolutionary adaptation. Sexual selection in particular, which explains why females choose mates based on certain characteristics, thereby increasing the chance that those traits will pass on to the next generation.

In New Guinea, food is abundant and predators rare, therefore these birds were able to flourish and exaggerate their most attractive traits to an absurd degree with the goal to attract a mate. The displays of male birds of paradise are unrivalled in the animal kingdom and combine extreme feathers with vibrant colours and crazy movements.

The 39 species of birds of paradise
The colourful Greater bird of paradise.

The colourful greater bird of paradise. Photo by Tim Laman

King of saxony bird of paradise

King of saxony bird of paradise. Special muscles let this bird of paradise swing each antenna-like head feather through a 180-degree arc when trying to impress a female. Photo by Tim Laman.

A Western parotia is known for its six head wires and ballerina-like “tutu” of stiff feathers. Male parotias flash their iridescent breast feathers as they display for females. Each male clears a patch of forest floor several feet across, creating a stage where he performs a bizarre dance: hopping, prancing sideways, curtsying, and bobbing his head. Photo by

A Western parotia is known for its six head wires and ballerina-like “tutu” of stiff feathers. Male parotias flash their iridescent breast feathers as they display for females. Each male clears a patch of forest floor several feet across, creating a stage where he performs a bizarre dance: hopping, prancing sideways, curtsying, and bobbing his head. Photo by Tim Laman

The males of the birds of paradise have special display feathers, which are highly evolved versions of a basic feather that do no longer have its standard structure. Some even evolved into large plumes or stiff wires and now only serve to improve the male’s chances to court a female.

Some of the most unusual feathers can be found on the king of saxon bird, which has feathers coming from behind the eye and extend to more than double the size of the bird and are fused into a plastic-like structure!

But having amazing feathers is not enough, therefore the males move their feathers in a special way and perform peculiar dances to impress the females. Several kinds of birds-of paradise even transform their bodies into a dark oval shape when they display, thereby creating an amazing contrast to show off their bright patch of vibrant colourful feathers.

Great video with an illustrated introduction of natural and sexual selection

Just as each species looks different, they sound different as well, but females have the final decision, and even after seeing the beautiful feathers and stunning dance of the male birds and hearing their remarkable tunes, they remain choosy and touch the males to make make their final decision.

vivid-tail-feather-colors-TimLaman

The Birds-of-Paradise Project is the first to capture all 39 species of birds on tape. Evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman spent almost a full decade trekking in this isolated wilderness in pursuit of all 39 species of this miraculous family. The explorative couple went on a total of 18 expeditions and logged a total of over 2,000 hours simply sitting in blinds, waiting and watching! The video below gives a sense of their monumental undertaking and the spectacular footage that resulted.

Greater bird of paradise display

King of saxon bird of paradis

The great goal of the Birds-of-Paradise Project is to advance knowledge and promote conservation through exploration, research, and education focused on the birds-of-paradise. Click here to learn more about it and here to see thousands of sound and video clips.

Unique impaling behaviour of Shrikes

By on November 30th 2011 in Animals

There are many fascinating stories to be told about the unique feeding behaviours of the 10,000 or so bird species that roam the earth. From hitting your head against a tree trunk 20 times a second, eating bones, drinking nectar, or cleaning a crocodiles teeth! However, one of the most ferocious and graphic ones must be that of the shrike family.

Great grey shrike

An amazing picture of a Great Grey Shrike having impaled a Dunnock. Photo by Glenn Vermeersch

Shrikes are formidable hunters that have the habit of catching insects and small mammals and impaling their dead bodies on thorns! Since they don’t have clawed feet this peculiar behaviour helps them to tear their prey into small eatable pieces. It furthermore serves as a cache so that the shrike can come back later, which may help males to impress a female (Yosef & Pinshow, 2005). Impressingly, the impaling behaviour of shrikes have even enabled them to eat extremely toxic grasshoppers by waiting for 1-2 days for the toxins to degrade (Yosef & Whitman, 1992).

The amazing picture above was taken by Glenn Vermeersch and shows the impaling behaviour in all its detail. Here is his story about how he managed to get this amazing shot:

As a nature photographer specializing in birds, I have been trying for five years to capture this behaviour with no success at all. In northern Belgium where I live, the shrike occurs only as a winter guest. It is also a very shy and intelligent species making it extremely difficult to photograph.

Shrike with mouse

A great grey shrike with a freshly caught shrew! Photo by Glenn Vermeersch

A few weeks ago I found a bird that was slightly less shy than I was used to. It occupied a small winter territory in a protected area. I contacted the owner and got permission to place a hide. Then, a long period of observation began. I got to know his favourite places and in which bush he impaled his prey. While observing, I got lucky and was able to photograph the bird with a freshly caught mouse shrew.

Eventually I built a small hide under one of the lookouts of the bird and one evening some it come back with a freshly caught Dunnock! The next morning I installed myself in my hide for the first time and waited for a long time. But it was all worth it because after 4 hours, the shrike came to collect his prey! An unforgettable experience!

Yosef, R. & Whitman, D. W. (1992). Predator exaptations and defensive adaptations in evolutionary balance: no defence is perfect. Evolutionary Ecology 6: 527-536. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2005.02.023Yosef, R. & Pinshow, B. (2005). Impaling in true shrikes (Laniidae): A behavioural and ontogenic perspective. Behavioural processes 69: 363-367. doi:10.1007/BF02270696

15 of the best animal videos!

By on April 30th 2011 in Animals

Animal videos top 10For you to enjoy on your relaxed saturday afternoon, 10 of the most amazing animal videos! This is the second in a series of animal videos posts that feature the most interesting, fascinating, weird and beautiful videos on the web. Go to Mudfooted’s youtube channel to see my favorites! See Part 1 here!

My discovery of sheep that were sadly stuck on their back in the middle of their field. Read my full post here

The amazing blue footed booby showing off its feat. Read more about them here

The proboscis monkeys of Borneo, with large pendulous nose, giant bellies, and permanent erect penis! Read more about them here

Amazing footage of great white sharks attacking seals

Goats that faint? Yes indeed!

An interesting video of the unique adaptations of a species of parasite

Fascinating footage of a diver coming close to a Giant octopus

Funny video of two cats that seem to ‘talk’ to eachother!

Just watch it!

Watch how tree climbers associated with National Geographic climb a 300-foot-tall redwood tree!

Mobula rays filmed leaping out of the water!

Narwhals, the unicorns of the sea

By on April 11th 2010 in Animals
Narwhals

A peaceful image of a group of narwhals

In the seas above the Arctic circle lives the narwhal, the ‘unicorn of the sea’. Narwhals are unique in that they have a swordlike, spiral tusk that grows right through their upper lip. Swimming in groups of hundreds of individuals, these unique mammals dive to extreme depths under the arctic ice.

Found primarily in Canadian Arctic and Greenlandic waters rarely south of 65°N latitude, the narwhal is a specialized arctic predator that feeds mainly on fish, shrimp and squid. In the winter, they hunt for prey under the dense pack ice where they can only surface in narrow fissures. The narwhals make some of the deepest dives of all marine mammals, going to depths of up to 1800m. Unbelievably, by some special adaptations they can carry enough oxygen to enable them to spend more than 3 hours a day below 800 meters; a depth where the pressure is enormous and life exists in complete darkness.

Narwhal tooth

Two narwhals underwater. You can clearly see the extreme length of the narwahls tooth!

The most characteristic feature of the Narwhal is its huge tusk. Measuring an incredible two to three meters long, the male Narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, similar like elephants have. The most widely accepted theory for the role of this large tooth is that it is a sexual trait, much like the antlers of a male deer or the feathers of a peacock. Males use their tooth to compete with eachother for females and may help determine social rank. The sexual selection theory was originally put forward by Charles Darwin in his book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Darwin makes a good case:

When the males are provided with weapons which the females do not possess, there can hardly be a doubt that they … have been acquired through sexual selection.

Recent research found evidence that the tusk may furthermore be an important sensory organ to gather valuable information for survival in the arctic waters, since its contains an incredible 10 million nerve endings. Researchers say this enables the narwhal to detect all sorts of information such as temperature, pressure, motion, and the salt contents of the water. Although narwhals mainly use their vocal skills for navigation, sensing prey, and communication, the tusk is expected to share some of these functions.

Narwhals in the arctic

A group of narwhals surfacing above the arctic ice.

Narwhals have gotten their name from the the old Norse word for corpse ‘nar’, referencing to the animals pale colour and mottled skin. While populations appear stable with a world population of some 75000 individuals, the narwhal has been deemed particularly vulnerable to climate change due to a narrow geographical range and specialized diet.

Aye-Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

By on April 8th 2010 in Animals

Few mammals are as weird looking as the Aye-Aye (vingerdier), a lemur found only on the island of Madagascar. Spending most of the night travelling through the canopy like a squirrel, this unique primate fills the same ecological niche as a woodpecker by using its elongated thin middle-finger and rodent-like teeth.

Aye-aye

Adult aye-ayes are not exactly the cutest looking animals on our planet!

Characteristic for the Aye-Aye is its unusual method of finding food. By tapping the bark of trees using their long middle finger (up to 8 times per second!), the aye-aye listens for insect larvae moving under the bark. Once their lovely meal is located, aye-ayes gnaw through the wood with their rodent-like, ever-growing front teeth, after which they remove the food by moving their middle finger at more than 3 times per second!

Since woodpeckers are lacking on Madagascar, this unique method of foraging enables the Aye-Aye to find insects other animals can not feed on. But next to tasty larvae, aye-ayes also eat fruits, nuts, nectar, seeds and fungi. Leaping through the canopy like a squirrel, up to 80% of the night is spent in search for food.

aye-aye face

A close-up of the face of an aye-aye

Aye-Ayes are dark brown or black and have a bushy tail that is larger than their body. They also have bright, luminous eyes and large sensitive eyes. These rare animals may not look like primates at first glance, but they are. They are even the world’s largest nocturnal primate, spending the day curled up in a ball-like nest of leaves and branches. The aye-aye is so unusual, it is, together with the platypus, one of the most distinctive mammals on earth.

Aye-aye weird looking monkey

Like so many animals, the Aye-aye is endangered because its habitat is being destroyed. Large areas of Madagascar are cleared for sugar cane and coconut plantations. Because this species is predominantly solitary, it exists at low densities and therefore requires large areas of suitable forests for populations to be able to exist. Furthermore, most people of Madagascar believe that aye-ayes are bad omen and a symbol of death and must be killed on sight. This unique primate needs priority for conservation, not only because of its unusual appearance and behaviour but because it is the only surviving member of a unique evolutionary history.

Ugly Aye-aye

The deep sea anglerfish and its bizarre reproduction

By on March 29th 2010 in Animals

In the darkest depths of the ocean where the water is freezing cold, the pressure is enormous and food is scarce lives the angry-looking deep sea anglerfish. This fascinating fish is not only an incredible example of how organisms manage to survive in the most inhospitable environments, it has one of the most bizarre ways of reproducing in the animal kingdom.

Deep sea anglerfish

The ferocious looking deep sea anglerfish has one of the most extreme methods of reproduction

The deep sea anglerfish is one of the deep ocean’s most fascinating residents. Living at the extreme depths between 1.5 and 2.5 km, their most peculiar appearance is a modified fin that acts as a lure, hanging above their huge mouths containing needle-like teeth. The tip of this “fishing rod” on top of their head is bioluminescent (glowing in the dark) because of bacteria living inside it and attracts prey in a similar way like moths to a lightbulb. By wiggling the glowing outgrowth, it lures prey close enough to devour them whole. Because of thin, soft bones and jelly-like skin, these scary looking fish can expand their jaws and stomach to such an extent that they are even able to actually swallow prey up to twice their own size. In the deep sea where food is very scarce, being able to eat large quantities at once is a great adaptation.

Deep sea anglerfish close-up

The scary looking deep sea anglerfish has long needle-like teeth

Despite their ferocious appearance, the deep sea anglerfish is actually pretty small. Females will only reach a length of about 10 centimetres, while male are only a fraction of this and can be more than 10 times smaller. Males of one specific species of are even the world smallest fish, measuring only some 6.2 mm. However, because of the much larger size of females, it is not the smallest species of fish in the world.

Deep sea anglerfish male

Males of the deep sea anglerfish are very very tiny and may only measure some 6mm!

Because individuals are so sparsely populated, finding a mate in the depths of the deep sea is problematic. To still be able to reproduce, the deep sea anglerfish have one of the most bizarre methods of reproduction.

When scientists first discovered these fish, they kept wondering why all the fish they captured where females. However, after some time they noticed small “growths” on the females skin that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be males (see image below). The tiny males actually only live to find a female. Upon encounter, a male bites into her skin after which the tissues of the male and female become completely fused together so that their blood vessels join as one. The male now assured of a life without the need to hunt for food degenerates his eyes and all internal organs except for its testes.

World smallest fish male angler fish

This 46 mm female Photocorynus spiniceps has what looks like a small nub in the middle of her back. Actually, that’s a 6.2 mm long male, the world’s smallest known, sexually mature vertebrate

A female can carry up to six males on her body at a time and is therefore assured of a fresh supply of sperms. She can reproduce at any time or place without worrying about meeting a male in the darkness of the ocean.

It is astonishing that species can evolve to such extremes that males become nothing more than a small lump on the skin of a female to assure her of her own lifetime supply of fresh sperm.

World’s toughest animal: the water bear

By on March 26th 2010 in Animals

Meet the water bear, the world’s toughest animal. Despite what their name may let you believe, these water-dwelling creatures are very very small, measuring less than a millimeter. Having the unique ability to basically die and come back to live again, these rather adorable animals can survive even the most hostile conditions and environments.

Water bear

The water bear, the world’ thoughest animal.

You can find these fascinating creatures about everywhere: on the bottom of the ocean, under meters of ice, in hot springs, and on the top of the himalaya! Prefering to live on moist lichens and mosses with up to 25000 of their little friends, you can bet that some water bears will be very close to you; even in your backyard! Go search for them yourself!

Water bears really are miniature animals, having tiny legs, claws, eyes, mouth, stomach, and even nerves. They have such precise muscle control that they can even move like higher order animals.

Water bears are able to survive the most extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal. They can take temperatures close to absolute zero and hotter than boiling water, withstand over 1000 times more radiation than humans, can live over a decade without water, endure six times the water pressure in the deepest ocean trench, and even survived in the vacuum of space, making them the only animals to do so.

The key of their remarkable durability is that they are capable of decreasing their metabolism with a factor of 10000 and decrease their water content to 1% of normal. When conditions get though, they basically die, stopping any process in their miniature bodies for up to 120 years! When conditions get better again, they revive and go on with their lives.

Water bear tardigrade

This miniature ‘bear’ measures less than a millimeter.

These fascinating creatures got their name from their miniature resemblance of a bear, as is so nicely put by Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1773) who was the first to ever describe them:

Strange is this little animal, because of its exceptional and strange morphology and because it closely resembles a bear en miniature. That is the reason why I decided to call it little water bear.

Pelicans eating alive birds whole!

By on March 20th 2010 in Animals

Due to people overfishing the worlds seas, not only have fish populations fallen dramatically, also bird species that normally rely on fish for their diet are strongly affected. On some islands off the coast of South Africa, its impact is expressed in the bizarre behaviour of pelicans swallowing gobblets in one go!

Cape gannet

These gannets have the chance to be eaten by hungry pelicans…

Each day, hoards of pelicans fly across to one of the only places Cape gannets still breed. Wandering through the gannet colony, the pelicans target chicks up to 2kg in weight that will fit inside their massive bills. Because of the decreasing fish numbers, both gannet parents need to leave their chicks to forage at sea. This leaves their offspring vulnerable to the large hungry pelican mouth.

This unusual behaviour shows how adaptable and opportunistic pelicans need to be because of the changing food supplies. It is again a sad example how we humans affect entire food chains with our increasing need for resources.

Watch the following video to see how a pelican swallows a pigeon whole.

The dancing blue footed booby with beautiful blue feet

By on March 10th 2010 in Animals

On the western coasts of Central and South America lives a fascinating bird with turquoise blue feet! It is the aptly-named blue-footed booby. Males of this magnificent bird species try to impress females by showing off their fabulous feet and stamping them on the ground in a dance-like fashion. Male boobies even make a whistle noise to further get the females attention.

Blue footed booby

A male and female blue footed booby during their courtship ritual.

Females are so magnetized by the blue colour of the males feet that the males with the bluest feet are the most attractive. Females like bright blue feet especially because the foot color depends on their food intake. Large amounts of fish make their feet brighter, while deprivation of nutrients makes them duller. Also males also prefer brighter blue feet because that indicates a healthier female.

Next to being attractive physical features, the boobies use their blue feet to cover their young and keep them warm.

Blue-footed boobies are exceptional divers and feed on schools of fish and squid. Folding their long wings back around their streamlined bodies they plunge into the water from high up in the air. They can even swim underwater to pursuit their prey.

Blue footed booby dancing

The blue-footed booby likes to dance!

Males and females fish differently. The smaller size and larger tail of the male enables the male to fish in shallower areas because its tail enables him to change direction. The larger size of females enables them to carry more food.

This fascinating marine bird comes only to land to breed and is, like other seabirds, very tame. Watch the video to see them performing their dance ritual.