What animals are the masters of camouflage?

Scorpionfish

Scorpionfish, one of the most venomous fish in the world, are found across the world in warm waters. They are most common in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are also known as rockfish and stonefish as they commonly live among rocks. They are perch-like fish with large, spiny heads and strong, sometimes venomous. fin spines. While their spines protect them from predators, it is their colouring that helps them in hiding. They are carnivorous and generally sedentary. The fin spines, even ones without venom, can inflict deep, painful wounds. While some are dull in colour, others are brighter, often some shade of red. The largest members of the family grow about 39 inches long.

Walkingstick

Suddenly seeing a twig crawling down a tree trunk? It isn't a twig but a walkingstick, also called stick insect. The stick-like trickster uses its appearance to save itself from enemies. They are commonly found in tropical and temperate (or mild) forests across the world. Though related to grasshoppers, crickets, and mantises, these crawlies are either brown, green, or black. They're also the world's longest insects. The largest one found was 22 inches long with its legs extended. They spend most of their time on trees, munching on leaves. When predators like birds approach, the bug tries to remain still to blend with the branches. However, if the predator manages to catch the bug by its legs, the insect can detach the leg and scuttle away. The leg will later regenerate, or grow back.

Camouflage

Also known as cryptic colouration, is a defence mechanism used by organisms to disguise their appearence, usually to blend/ in with their surroundings. This tactic is used to mask their location, identity and even movement. This helps the prey to protect themselves from predators.

Chameleon

Chameleons have the ability to change their colour and pattern. They are found in warm climates and in parts of the Middle East, southwestern Asia, and southern Europe, Madagascar nearly all of Africa, and parts of India and Sri Lanka. There are more than 200 species of chameleons, of which 76 are found on the island of Madagascar. Their diet consists of insects and plants, though some may eat rodents or small birds. They live in a range of habitats, including deserts, rainforests, and savannahs. The word chameleon comes from the Greek 'khamai' meaning on the ground, earth and leon' meaning 'lion'. probably because the head of some species resembles a lion's mane. The distinctive features of these lizards are their telescopic eyes, grasping tail, colour-changing skin, and projectile tongue.

Great Potoo

The Great Potoo is a nocturnal bird of the American tropics. Its name is similar to its wailing cry, "po-TOO," made by some species. Their patterns of grey, black, and brown plumage resemble tree bark. Their camouflage helps them to even sleep while perched out in the open during daylight During the day, the birds sleep, vertically perched and virtually indistinguishable from the dead branches they roost on They wake up at dusk with their huge, wide-open eyes capable of spotting moths and other flying insects in the dark. They are mainly solitary creatures and highly restricted nesters. Instead of building a nest, they choose a branch or stub with a crevice just enough to accommodate the single egg they lay.

Nightjar

Nightjar is a medium-sized bird that are mostly active at night feeding on flying insects. They have a protective colouring of grey, brown, or reddish brown. There are about 60 to 70 species of nightjars. They are found almost worldwide in temperate to tropical regions, except for New Zealand and some islands of Oceania. They do not make nests, instead deposit their eggs on the ground or on the leaf-covered floor of the woodland. Some of the species, mainly the North American nighthawks, have adapted to urban life and nest on flat gravel-covered rooftops. The nightjar’s soft plumage and variegated colouring help it blend in with its surroundings. Despite their skill at camouflage, some nightjar species are endangered.

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What are some of the animals that go into hibernation?

Every year, certain animals stay in a comatose state, sending themselves into a sleepy stupor. They hibernate to conserve energy. They cool their bodies by 5° to 10°C and slow down their metabolism. For instance, the Arctic ground squirrels cool themselves to subfreezing temperatures! They do wake up and warm up intermittently. Some animals even hibernate as a response to the shortage of food. Here we take a look at some of the animals that go into hibernation.

SNAKES

In the case of snakes, they experience brumation, where they remain dormant. is technically different from hibernation, but they prepare for the winter by going into a state of partial sleep. This helps them conserve energy for breeding. The length of the dormancy varies according to the location of the snakes. While some may go into brumation for weeks, others might for months. There are also occasions when they venture out of their resting spot for hydration. While some snakes brumate alone, some such as the garter snakes brumate together, more like a communal brumation.

BEARS

Think hibernation and the first animal that comes to your mind is the bear. Of course, when the winter sets in, they go into hibernation and survive the winter thus. But with climate change and changes in the temperature, bears have been seen to come out of their hibernation a bit earlier than usual. According to wildlife experts, this early emergence from hibernation isn't good for the animal.

COMMON POORWILLL

 You wouldn't have heard about birds going into hibernation. Yet there is one bird that does the unthinkable. The Common poorwill is the only bind that hibernates, the sole reason being that the bird's insect food isn't available during the winter season! So instead of migrating, like other birds do, they pull through the winter by huddling inside a hollow log, lowering their metabolism and hibernating.

MARMOTS

With the onset of fall, marmots use dirt and plants to cover their tunnel entrances. They are preparing for the annual ritual of hibernation to hide from predators. For about 8 months of a year, the marmots go into hibernation. During this inactive state, they burn the fat that they stored and slow down their vitals. They even reduce their heart rate. And once spring sets in, they emerge from the hibernation.

SNAILS

Did you know that snails also hibernate? Well, some snails hibernate during the colder months. They cover their bodies in a layer of mucus. They crawl into their shell and seal the entrance with mucus. This thin mucus layer prevents them from drying out. The same  activity is carried out by some snails during the summer and this is called aestivation, a prolonged period of inactivity to survive the dry periods.

BUMBLEBEES

While not all bees go into hibernation, bumblebees do. In fact, they hibernate for a longer period of their lives. Some queen bees even hibernate for nine months. That is like three-fourths of their entire life span!

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Do penguins face threat of extinction?

As much as 98% of colonies of this penguin species is at risk of extinction by 2100. So, the U.S. has listed the bird as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. There's still hope to save them.

Where do emperor penguins live?

Different species of penguins are found in different parts of the Southern Hemisphere. The emperor penguins are found only in Antarctica, where they live and breed. Emperor penguins thrive on Antarctica's coastlines in icy conditions any human would find extreme. The penguins breed on fast ice, which is sea ice attached to land But they hunt for food within the pack ice-sea ice floes that move with the wind or ocean currents and may merge. Sea ice is also important for resting, during their annual moult, and to escape from predators.  

The U.S. lists them as "threatened".

If current global warming trends and government policies continue, Antarctica's sea ice will decline at a rate that would dramatically reduce emperor penguin numbers to the point that 98% of all their colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100, with little chance of recovering, a new study has shown. That's why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalised a rule listing the emperor penguin as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, effective November 25, 2022. The director of the service said the listing "reflects the growing extinction crisis". The U.S. Endangered Species Act has been used before to protect other species that are primarily at risk from climate change, including the polar bear, ringed seal, and several species of coral, which are all listed as threatened.

But, these penguins don't even live in the U.S.!

Sure, these penguins don't live on US. territory, so some of the Endangered Species Act's measures meant to protect species habitats and prevent hunting them don't directly apply. Being listed under the Endangered Species Act could still bring benefits, though. It could provide a way to reduce harm from U.S. fishing fleets that might operate in the region. And, with expected actions from the current administration, the listing could eventually pressure U.S. agencies to take actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Bureau of Land Management has never acknowledged that emissions from oil and gas extraction on public lands and waters could harm climate-imperiled species. It issued more than 3.500 oil and gas drilling permits in New Mexico and Wyoming on public land during the first 16 months of the Joe Biden administration.

What's harming the birds?

The greatest threat emperor penguins face is climate change. It will disrupt the sea ice cover they rely on unless governments adopt policies that reduce the greenhouse gases driving global warming. If there's too much sea ice, trips to bring food from the ocean become long and arduous, and their chicks may starve. With too little sea ice, the chicks are at risk of drowning. Climate change is now putting that delicate balance and potentially the entire species at risk. Emperor penguins are adapted to their current environment, but the species has not evolved to survive the rapid effects of climate change that threaten to reshape its world. Major environmental shifts, such as the late formation and early loss of sea ice on which colonies are located, are already raising the risk.

How can we save them?

Decades of data since the 1960s are now helping scientists gauge the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the penguins, their sea ice habitat and their food sources. Meeting the Paris Agreement goal could still save the penguins. The results of the new study showed that if the world meets the Paris climate agreement targets, keeping warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) compared with pre-industrial temperatures, it could protect sufficient habitat to halt the emperor penguins decline. But the world isn't on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals. The future of emperor penguins, and much of life on Earth, including humanity, ultimately depends upon the decisions made today.

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What is Self-Publishing?

Several species of agricultural crops depend on bats for pollination. In addition, fruits bats help in the dispersion of seeds, keeping several species of fruit-bearing trees alive. Some species of bats consume insects, considered agricultural pests. This not only prevents the use of billions of dollars worth of pesticides annually but also allows the soil to remain free from harmful chemicals.

The fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans causes white-nose syndrome in bats, and "is responsible for the deaths of over six million bats in North America". This is one of the reasons for the decline in the population of bats globally. And, scientists say that this decline is of concern. What causes the plunge in their numbers, and why should we be worried? Come, let's find out. Often labelled blood suckers and disease carriers, bats seem to get short shrift. Pop culture portayals of vampires and the endless speculation over the origins (often pointing to bats, albeit scientifically unproven) of the ongoing pandemic make it even worse for the world's only flying mammals. Add to the fact that these nocturnal creatures usually do their work under the cover of darkness, their role in healthy ecosystems may not be appreciated by laypeople. Several species of agricultural crops such as banana, mangoes, avocadoes, and figs are said to depend on bats for pollination. In addition, fruit bats help in the dispersion of seeds, keeping several species of fruit-bearing trees alive. Some species of bats consume insects, considered agricultural pests. This not only prevents the use of billions of dollars worth of pesticides annually but also allows the soil to remain free from harmful chemicals. In fact, guano - the excrement of bats - makes for excellent manure. Found in all continents except Antarctica, bats are a part of different types of ecosystems - from rainforests to deserts. Irrespective of the region they inhabit, they play crucial ecological roles, keeping alive the biodiversity and the health of their ecosystems.

While the population of bats in North America has taken a huge hit due to the white-nose syndrome, there's a general decline in their population in other parts of the world too. The reasons for this include climate change, invasive species, loss of habitat due to urbanisation and agriculture, lack of food, especially when pesticide is used to kill the insects they feed on, etc. There's still a lot to be studied about bats. But an aspect of concem in studying bats is that they "roost in lots of different places, from caves to barns to attics, and scientists can't monitor bats in all places at all times".

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On a wild python chase

Articles on animal numbers dwindling may often include hunting as one of the reasons. Over the last few centuries, several creatures - large and small, and marine and land dwelling have been pushed to the brink of extinction due to mindless hunting. But here's a species whose killing has been actively taken up and encouraged. Why? Come, let's find out.

Among the largest of snakes, Burmese pythons are native to Asia. However, in the 1990s, thanks to the pet trade, thousands of them found homes in the U.S. It is said that over the years, many either escaped into the wild or were released there by the pet owners themselves who found it difficult to keep the snakes. When Hurricane Andrew stuck Florida in 1992, it is believed that several snakes escaped a python-breeding facility and found refuge in Everglades, a massive wetland in southern Florida. And, today they've turned into an invasive species. Large as they are - growing up to 20-odd feet, they feed on large mammals such as pigs and goats. Famously, or rather infamously, way back in 2005, a python tried "to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead". In the last few decades, the snakes have decimated native wildlife populations of foxes, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, deer, etc., and are irrevocably altering Everglade's ecosystem.

Considering how vast Everglades is - about 20,000 sq km, and that there are thousands of pythons out there, the authorities are constantly looking for ways to capture the snakes or control their population. In fact, cash is rewarded to those who hunt them. Even a month-long competitive hunt has been organised in the hope that the wetlands would be rid of these non-venomous reptiles.

Though Burmese pythons continue to wreak havoc in another continent, back in their native range, the story is different. They face several threats, and their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, pet trade, and use in traditional medicine. Sadly, they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Did you know?

A few years ago, two Indians - Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal - belonging to Tamil Nadu and from the Irula tribe known for its exceptional snake-catching skills, were flown to Everglades. Within a month, the duo had caught 27 pythons. This is an impressive number considering a month-long python hunting competition in 2016 comprising 1,000 hunters managed a haul of only 106!

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