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Featured Video: new family of legless amphibians discovered

(03/07/2012) Researchers exploring northeast India have discovered a new family of legless amphibians, known as caecilians. Although caecilians superficially resemble giant earthworms, they are in fact vertebrates and are most closely related to their amphibian kin, frogs and salamanders.


Sawfish impale, cleave prey with snout

(03/05/2012) Although all seven species of sawfish are nearly extinct, scientists have spent little time studying these vanishing species. However that is changing as a new study in Current Biology sheds light on the sawfishes' most distinguishing feature: its long toothed snout, which gives the fish its name. "I was surprised to see how skilled sawfish are with their saw," said co-author Barbara Wueringer of the University of Queensland in a press release. "They use their saw to impale prey on the rostral teeth by producing several lateral swipes per second."


When giant coyotes roamed the Earth

(02/27/2012) Not long ago, geologically speaking, coyotes (Canis latrans) were bigger and more robust than today's animals. In the late Pleistocene, over 10,000 years ago, coyotes rivaled grey wolves (Canis lupus) in size. But, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), coyotes shrunk significantly following the megafaunal extinction—including the disappearance of big herbivores like giant sloths and mastodons and predators like the smilodon—due to changes in prey and predator competition.


Paleontologists reconstruct extinct, "elegant" penguin

(02/27/2012) Around 25 million years ago a penguin with a long, sharp beak and massive flippers lived in a New Zealand that was almost entirely underwater. The bird, named Kairuku after a Maori word that means "diver who returns with food," was first discovered in 1977, but has only recently been reconstructed by scientists in a study in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


Scientists discover world's deepest terrestrial animal

(02/22/2012) It's not the prehistoric monsters from the Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth or the human-bat hybrids of The Decsent, but it's an astonishing discovery nonetheless: intrepid scientists have discovered the world's deepest surviving terrestrial animal to date, a small wingless insect known as a springtail. Explorers discovered the new species, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis at a shocking 1.23 miles (1.98 kilometers) below the surface. The species was discovered by the Ibero-Russian CaveX Team Expedition in Krubera-Voronja Cave, the world's only known cave to go deeper than 2 kilometers.


Wild orangutans to watch film about orangutans

(02/22/2012) Born to be Wild 3D, an IMAX documentary in part about the plight of orphaned and injured Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), will soon be aired in the rainforest that inspired it. Producer Drew Fellman is setting up a screen in the rainforest to screen the film for orphaned orangutans. "They came to be like members of the crew," Fellman told the Associated Press.


Photo: World's smallest chameleon discovered in Madagascar

(02/15/2012) Scientists have discovered four new species of super-tiny chameleons in Madagascar, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The smallest of the new species, Brookesia micra, is found only on the small island of Nosy Hara and has been dubbed the smallest chameleon in the world, measuring from nose to tail 29 millimeters (1.14 inches) at its largest. Scientists believe it represents a notable example of island dwarfism.


Tiny tarsier makes big, ultrasonic noise

(02/13/2012) The Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), a 5-inch tall Southeast Asian primate, has long resembled a ventriloquist's doll. It would open its mouth as though chattering away, but researchers heard nothing. Now, a new study in Biology Letters has found out why: the Philippine tarsier communicates ultrasonically, surpassing all other primates, and nearly all terrestrial mammals, in its ability to create sounds in the upper registry.


Jurassic insect sings again

(02/06/2012) Innovative research has made a long-extinct katydid—which inhabited the world of dinosaurs like stegosaurus, allosaurus, and diplodocus—sing again. The discovery of an incredibly well-preserved fossil of a new species of katydid, dubbed Archaboilus musicus, gave biomechanical experts the opportunity to recreate a song not heard in 165 million years according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


Vampire and bird frogs: discovering new amphibians in Southeast Asia's threatened forests

(02/06/2012) In 2009 researchers discovered 19,232 species new to science, most of these were plants and insects, but 148 were amphibians. Even as amphibians face unprecedented challenges—habitat loss, pollution, overharvesting, climate change, and a lethal disease called chytridiomycosis that has pushed a number of species to extinction—new amphibians are still being uncovered at surprising rates. One of the major hotspots for finding new amphibians is the dwindling tropical forests of Southeast Asia.


Fungus from the Amazon devours plastic

(02/02/2012) Students from Yale University have made the amazing discovery of a species of fungus that devours one of the world's most durable, and therefore environmentally troublesome, plastics: polyurethane. The new species of fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is even able to consume polyurethane in zero-oxygen (anaerobic) conditions, which would be important in eating plastics in the deep dark layers of landfills where little sunlight, water, or oxygen is found.


New meteorological theory argues that the world's forests are rainmakers

(02/01/2012) New, radical theories in science often take time to be accepted, especially those that directly challenge longstanding ideas, contemporary policy or cultural norms. The fact that the Earth revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa, took centuries to gain widespread scientific and public acceptance. While Darwin's theory of evolution was quickly grasped by biologists, portions of the public today, especially in places like the U.S., still disbelieve. Currently, the near total consensus by climatologists that human activities are warming the Earth continues to be challenged by outsiders. Whether or not the biotic pump theory will one day fall into this grouping remains to be seen. First published in 2007 by two Russian physicists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, the still little-known biotic pump theory postulates that forests are the driving force behind precipitation over land masses.


Invasion!: Burmese pythons decimate mammals in the Everglades

(01/30/2012) The Everglades in southern Florida has faced myriad environmental impacts from draining for sprawl to the construction of canals, but even as the U.S. government moves slowly on an ambitious plan to restore the massive wetlands a new threat is growing: big snakes from Southeast Asia. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found evidence of a massive collapse in the native mammal population following the invasion of Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) in the ecosystem. The research comes just after the U.S. federal government has announced an importation ban on the Burmese python and three other big snakes in an effort to safeguard wildlife in the Everglades. However, the PNAS study finds that a lot of damage has already been done.


Picture of the day: the world's largest bromeliad

(01/30/2012) Found in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, the world's biggest bromeliad Puya raimondii is imperiled by climate change and human disturbances.


Frog perfume? Madagascar frogs communicate via airborne pheromones

(01/25/2012) Researchers have found that some frogs in Madagascar communicate by more than just sound and sight: they create distinct airborne pheromones, which are secreted chemicals used for communicating with others. A paper published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition relates that some male members of the Mantellinae family in Madagascar use large glands on their inner thighs to produce airborne pheromones. Interestingly, the pheromones are structurally similar to those produced by insects. Scientists have identified frogs producing water-borne pheromones before, but this is the first instance of airborne.


Pangolins imperiled by internet trade--are companies responding quickly enough?

(01/24/2012) You can buy pretty much anything on the internet: from Rugby team garden gnomes to Mickey Mouse lingerie. In some places, consumers have even been able to purchase illegal wildlife parts, such as ivory and rhino horn. In fact, the internet has opened up the black market wildlife trade contributing to the destruction of biodiversity worldwide. Pangolins, shy, scaly, anteater-like animals in appearance, have not been immune: in Asia the small animals are killed en masse to feed rising demand for Chinese traditional medicine, placing a number of species on the endangered list.


Geology has split the Amazon into two distinct forests

(01/19/2012) The common view of the Amazon is that it is one massive, unbroken forest. This impression is given by maps which tend to mark the Amazon by a large glob of green or even by its single name which doesn't account for regional changes. Of course, scientists have long recognized different ecosystems in the Amazon, most especially related to climate. But a new study in the Journal of Biogeography has uncovered two distinct forest ecosystems, sharply divided, caused by million of years of geologic forces.


Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn

(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.


Photos: program devoted to world's strangest, most neglected animals celebrates five years

(01/16/2012) What do Attenborough's echidna, the bumblebee bat, and the purple frog have in common? They have all received conservation attention from a unique program by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) called EDGE. Five years old this week, the program focuses on the world's most unique and imperiled animal species or, as they put it, the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. In the past five years the program has achieved notable successes from confirming the existence of long unseen species (Attenborough's echidna) to taking the first photos and video of a number of targeted animals (the purple frog).


Beyoncé honored with new horse fly named after her

(01/16/2012) Musical artists, and dancer extraordinare, Beyoncé has been awarded a new honor this week: entomologists in Australia have named a new horse fly after the American singer. The new horse fly, dubbed Scaptia beyonceae, is found in Queensland's Atherton Tablelands.


Climate change may make lizards smarter, if they don't go extinct first

(01/12/2012) A new study in Biology Letters has found that warmer temperatures may make lizards smarter, even as past studies have linked a global decline in lizards to climate change.


New frog trumps miniscule fish for title of 'world's smallest vertebrate'

(01/12/2012) How small can you be and still have a spine? Scientists are continually surprised by the answer. Researchers have discovered a new species of frog in Papua New Guinea that is smaller than many insects and dwarfed by a dime. The frog trumps the previously known smallest vertebrate—a tiny fish—by nearly 1 millimeter.


Photos: scientists find new species at world's deepest undersea vent

(01/10/2012) It sounds like a medieval vision of hell: in pitch darkness, amid blazing heat, rise spewing volcanic vents. But there are no demons and devils down here, instead the deep sea vent, located in the very non-hellish Caribbean sea, is home to a new species of pale shrimp. At 3.1 miles below (5 kilometers) the sea's surface, the Beebe Vent Field south of the Cayman islands, is the deepest yet discovered.


Weird carnivorous flower devours worms underground

(01/09/2012) A worm measuring only a millimeter in length scoots its way through relatively massive grains of white sand. The worm, known as a nematode or roundworm, is seeking lunch in the form of bacteria. Suddenly, however, its journey is interrupted: it is caught on a large green surface. Unable to wiggle free the worm is slowly digested, becoming lunch itself for an innocuous purple flower called Philcoxia minensis.


'Lost world' dominated by Yeti crabs discovered in the Antarctic deep

(01/03/2012) Scientists have discovered a deep sea ecosystem dominated by hairy pale crabs off of Antarctica. The new species of "Yeti crabs" survive alongside many other likely new species, including a seven-armed meat-eating starfish, off of hydrothermal vents, which spew heat and chemicals into the lightless, frigid waters. According to the paper published in PLoS ONE, this is the first discovery of a hydrothermal vent ecosystem in the Southern Ocean though many others have been recorded in warmer waters worldwide.


Mysterious pygmy hippo filmed in Liberia

(12/19/2011) Conservationists have captured the first ever footage (see video below) of the elusive pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis) in Liberia. The forest-dwelling, nocturnal species—weighing only a quarter of the size of the well-known common hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius)—has proven incredibly difficult to study. But the use of camera traps in Liberia's Sapo National Park has allowed researchers a glimpse into its cryptic life.


Giant snakes commonly attacked modern hunter-gatherers in Philippines

(12/13/2011) Humans have an ambivalent relationship with snakes. The legless reptiles are often feared and reviled, becoming stand-ins for the Devil and movie monster characters; yet many people have grown to love snakes, raising large, even dangerous, specimens as pets. Now, new research suggests that the ecological role between snakes and humans, as well as other primates, is more nuanced than expected. After spending decades living among the Agta Negritos people in the Philippines, anthropologist Thomas Headland has found that the hunter gatherer tribes were quite commonly attacked by reticulated pythons (Python reticulatus), while the people themselves had no qualms with hunting, killing, and consuming python.


New species of frog sings like a bird

(12/12/2011) If you're trudging through the high-altitude rainforests of northern Vietnam and you hear bird song, you might want to check the trees for frogs. Yes, that's right: frogs. A new species of tree frog has been discovered in Vietnam that researchers say has a uniquely complex call that makes it sound more like a bird than a typical frog. Discovered in Pu Hoat Proposed Nature Reserve, the new species, dubbed Quang's tree frog (Gracixalus quangi), dwells in the forests at an altitude 600-1,300 meters (nearly 2,000-4,265 feet).


Estimating the rich diversity of galling insects

(12/12/2011) How does one estimate the number of tiny, cryptic "galling" insects without finding and describing every one (a task that could take centuries of taxonomic work)? According to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, you count the plants. Galling insects use plant tissue for development creating a "gall," or abnormal growth on the plant. Such little-known insects include gall wasps, gall midges, aphids, and jumping plant lice. The groups are known to be highly diverse, with over 2,000 species described from the US alone; scientists have previously estimated that there may be as many as 132,000 different species.


Evidence mounts that Maya did themselves in through deforestation

(12/08/2011) Researchers have garnered further evidence for a smoking gun behind the fall of the great Maya civilization: deforestation. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, climatologist Ben Cook presented recent research showing how the destruction of rainforests by the Mayan ultimately led to declines in precipitation and possibly civilization-rocking droughts. While the idea that the Maya may have committed ecological-suicide through deforestation has been widely discussed, including in Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse, Cook's findings add greater weight to the theory.


Picture of the day: Amazonian shaman with hallucinogenic frog

(12/06/2011) The giant monkey frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor) is known for its mind-altering skin secretions. A small handful of tribes deep in the Amazonian rainforest between Peru and Brazil have used this species in hunting rituals.


Yeti crab cultivates bacteria on its claws to feed itself

(12/02/2011) A species of deep-sea crab found in hydrothermal vents off Costa Rica cultivates "gardens" of bacteria on its claws to feed itself, reports Nature News.


Eat like an orangutan to save rainforests

(11/30/2011) One doesn't have to be a scientist or a government official to help save the world's vanishing rainforests, one can also be a chef. World-renowned chef Andre Chiang has added a new item to his menu called Orangutan Salad, reports the Wall Street Journal, which he hopes will raise awareness for the endangered apes at his Singapore eatery, Restaurant Andre. The new salad gives restaurant-goers the chance to enjoy all the subtle, earthy tastes of a typical orangutan meal, including ferns, tree fungi, figs, berries, orchid leaves, and durian flowers.


$500 offered for rediscovery of extinct snake

(11/29/2011) Need to make a quick 500 bucks? Easy: head to Glades County, Florida and find a specimen of the South Florida rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma seminola), which the US government says is extinct. In an unusual bid two NGOS, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Center for Snake Conservation, are offering a substantial reward to the first person who can prove that the South Florida rainbow snake has not vanished forever.


Photos: bizarre new mammal discovered in Vietnam

(11/28/2011) A new species of omnivorous mammal has been found in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. A part of the weasel family, the new species is known as a ferret-badger, a strange subfamily of mammals that have been little-studied by researchers. Smaller than proper badgers, ferret-badgers have elongated faces and long bushy tails.


Bathtub-sized marine sponge rediscovered after a century of extinction

(11/22/2011) Not found alive for over a century the evocatively named Neptune's cup sponge (Cliona patera) has been rediscovered off the shores of Singapore. Researchers with the environmental consulting DHI Group found the species during a routine dive. Although the specimen they found was small, the goblet-shaped sponge can reach nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and the same in diameter.


One night only: new orchid species surprises scientists

(11/22/2011) A mysterious new orchid blooms for one night only, opening around 10 PM and closing at 10 AM. Discovered on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea, the new species is the world's first orchid that flowers only at night. Scientists found the new flower, named Bulbophyllum nocturnum, in a logging concession on the tropical island.


800 nearly-extinct giant snails freeze to death in conservation center

(11/14/2011) Eight hundred large carnivorous snails, known as Powelliphanta snails (Powelliphanta augusta), died in a Department of Conservation (DOC) fridge in New Zealand over the weekend. A faulty temperature gauge caused the fridge to cool down to zero degrees Celsius, slowly killing all the molluscs but a lone survivor. The snails in question were taken from Mount Augustus into captivity before their habitat was mined for coal.


Photos: bizarre shell of new snail baffles researchers

(11/10/2011) A new species of snail with a bizarre shell has surprised scientists. Discovered near massive waterfalls in pristine lowland rainforest in New Guinea, the tiny new species' shell is shaped like a cornucopia, spirals flying freely instead of fused together like most shells. Latvian malacologist (one who study molluscs) Kristine Greke, who described the new species, named it Ditropopsis mirabilis, meaning miraculous or extraordinary. To date, scientists are uncertain why the super small snail—2 to 6 millimeters (0.07 to 0.23 inches)—would have evolved such a strange shell.


Small mammals use Borneo pitcher plant as toilet in exchange for nectar

(11/08/2011) Tree shrews and nocturnal rats in the forests of Borneo have a unique relationship with carnivorous pitcher plants. The mammals defecate, and the pitchers are happy to receive. A study published on May 31 in the Journal of Tropical Ecology shows a species of giant mountain pitcher plants (Nepenthes rajah) supplements its diet with nitrogen from the feces of tree shrews (Tupaia montana) that forage in daylight and summit rats (Rattus baluensis) active at night. When the small mammals lick nectar from the underside of the pitcher’s lid, they stand directly over the jug-shaped pitcher organ.


Beetle bonanza: 84 new species prove richness of Indo-Australian islands

(11/08/2011) Re-examining beetle specimens from 19 museums has led to the discovery of 84 new beetle species in the Macratria genus. The new species span the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, tripling the number of known Macratria beetles in the region. "Species of the genus Macratria are cosmopolitan, with the highest species diversity in the tropical rainforests. Only 28 species of this genus were previously known from the territory of the Indo-Australian transition," Dr. Dmitry Telnov with the Entomological Society of Latvia, who discovered the new species, told mongabay.com.


Photos: three bizarre bats discovered in Southeast Asia

(10/30/2011) In the forests of Cambodia and Vietnam, researchers have discovered three new species of tube-nosed bats, known for extraordinary nostrils that look like blooming flowers. The new bats, described in the Journal of Mammalogy, are likely imperiled by deforestation. "They all possess specially shaped nostrils (hence the name for the group) the exact role of which not known yet," Gabor Csorba, lead author of the paper with the Hungarian Natural History Museum, told mongabay.com.


Photo surprise: Antarctic seal shows up on rainforest beach in Gabon, Central Africa

(10/23/2011) A male sub-antarctic fur seal on the beach between Louri and Tassi in Loango National Park, Gabon on September 1, 2011.


Giant one-celled organisms discovered over six miles below the ocean's surface

(10/23/2011) Imagine a one-celled organism the size of a mango. It's not science fiction, but fact: scientists have cataloged dozens of giant one-celled creatures, around 4 inches (10 centimeters), in the deep abysses of the world's oceans. But recent exploration of the Mariana Trench has uncovered the deepest record yet of the one-celled behemoths, known as xenophyophores.


Photos: satellite tracking of the unicorn of the sea

(10/19/2011) A new program aims to track one of the ocean's most enigmatic creatures: the narwhal (Monodon monoceros). Tagging nine narwhales in August, researchers plan to track the species in order to gain new insights about how the little-known toothed whale will withstand a rapidly melting Arctic due to climate change. "[This] is a chance to better understand these animals while their world changes around them. We know narwhals are often associated with sea ice, and we know the sea ice is shrinking. WWF is trying to understand how narwhals, as well as all other ice associated animals in the arctic can adapt to a changing environment," says Peter Ewins with WWF-Canada.


If camera traps don't prove existence of Bigfoot or Yeti nothing will

(10/13/2011) Let me state for the record that I am skeptical of the existence of Bigfoot or the Yeti, however I do have a fascination for following the latest news on the seemingly never-ending search for these hidden hominids. This week a Yeti conference in Russia announced 'indisputable proof' of the legendary hairy ape in the wilds of Southern Siberia. What did this proof consist of? Not DNA, photographs, video, or the Yeti itself (dead or alive) as one would expect from the word 'indisputable', but a few alleged Yeti hairs, an alleged bed, and alleged footprints. Cryptozoologists, those who are fascinated by hidden species such as the proposed Yeti and Bigfoot, don't serve their cause by stating the reality of a species without the evidence long-deemed necessary by scientific community to prove it—either a body or DNA samples combined with clear photographic evidence—instead they make themselves easy targets of scorn and ridicule.


'Indisputable proof' of Yeti discovered

(10/10/2011) A conference has announced that given recent evidence they are 95 percent convinced the yeti, a mythical or perhaps actual primate, exists in the cold wilds of Siberia. Scientists and cryptozoologists (those who have a fascination for the 'study of hidden species' such as Bigfoot) met in the Kemerovo region of Russia to exchange information on the yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, and to conduct fieldwork. According to a statement from the conference, members found new evidence of the yeti's cryptic existence.


Could blockbuster animated movies help save life on Earth?

(09/26/2011) Some scientists may scoff at the idea that animated anthropomorphized animals—from Bambi to Simba to Nemo—could have an important impact on conservation efforts to save real-world species, but a new opinion piece in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that conservationists would do well to join forces with the makers of animated blockbusters to help save the world's dwindling biodiversity. The paper points out that a number of recent films focused on imperiled places, such as coral reefs (Finding Nemo) and the Atlantic Forest (Rio), as well as conservation problems like overfishing (Happy Feet) and climate change (Ice Age: the Meltdown).


Scientists confirm ancient Egyptian knowledge: Nile crocodile is two species

(09/20/2011) DNA has shown that the Nile crocodile is in fact two very different species: a bigger, more aggressive crocodile and a smaller, tamer species that today survives only in West Africa. While the taxonomy of the Nile crocodile has been controversial for over a century, the new study points out that the ancient Egyptians recognized the differences in the species and avoided the big crocodile for its rituals.


Featured video: the Caribbean's last mammals

(09/11/2011) Although they are little-known, the hutia and solenodon are some of the last surviving mammals of the Caribbean. A hefty rodent, the hutia spends its time grazing in trees like a giant arboreal hamster. While, the solenodon may be one of the world's oddest creatures: a 'living fossil', the solenodon's evolutionary origins goes back all the way to the time of dinosaurs.



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