Environment Forum

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

Penguins, seals and whales are the best known animals in Antarctica, but none live year-round on land, where the biggest creature is a flightless midge whose name is ”Belgica antarctica” and who’s about 0.5 cm long.

Global warming could mean problems for some of these tiny creatures if it keeps going — the Antarctic Peninsula where Pete showed us the creatures has warmed by about 3 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, the fastest rate in the southern hemisphere.

Magical Madagascar worth saving

A Black and White Ruffed Lemur clings to a branch at the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary near Pletteberg Bay on South Africa’s scenic Garden Route September 30, 2007. Common to Madagascar, the Black and White Ruffed Lemur is currently classified as Endangered by the World Conservation Union. World Animal Day is commemorated on October 4. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA)Scientists have joined forces to save magical Madagascar by using a new method they hope to apply to other hot spots of biodiversity. For full details you can check my colleague Deborah Zabarenko’s story.

As someone who has had the great privilege of visiting this island continent twice I can only say: “Right on!”

Madagascar is a classic example of natural selection at work: most of its species have evolved in splendid isolation because the island broke free from the rest of Africa tens of millions of years ago. 

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