Nature Pages


flamingos Birds have always fascinated people, not just because of their mastery of flight, but also because of their wide variety of shapes and behaviors.

For instance, the different flamingo species are the only birds with a downward kink in their beak, though the definition of "down" is something of a problem for a bird which feeds with its head inverted!

Another part of the appeal of birds is the kaleidoscopic array of colors and patterns which can be found on their feathers, from the shining iridescence of a peacock's tail feathers with their spectacular eyespots, to the bright yellows and oranges of other birds.

Kingfishers are just one family of birds among many which are known and loved for the beauty of their plumage.

common kingfisher
takahe and chick New Zealand was once a paradise for birds, since there were no land mammals except for two species of bat.   The largest bird of all, the eleven foot tall moa, once lived here alongside its main predator, Haast's Eagle, largest of all eagles.   Unfortunately, the arrival of Polynesian hunters, and animals introduced by European colonizers spelled the end for many of these unique species.

However there are still many wonders here, including the takahe (the world's largest rail), the kakapo (the world's largest parrot, which is flightless and nocturnal) and the kea (the world's only alpine parrot).


Butterflies are the favorite type of insect for most people - not only are they gentle and harmless, they also come in a huge variety of colors and patterns.

But did you know that some butterflies drink sweat, tears and even blood?   Or that a favorite delicacy of many species is - how do I say this on a family website? - Poop!

leopard lacewing butterfly
lantern fly You probably think you know what a bug is, but do you know what a true bug is?

There are in fact about 80,000 species of true bug in the world, including those in such familiar families as cicadas and aphids.   The tropics have many true bugs with strange shapes and behaviors, like this lantern bug from south-east Asia.

And let's not forget some of our bug friends who, unlike most insects, don't have six legs!

The most obvious non-insect bugs are arachnids like spiders and scorpions.   However we shouldn't forget myriapods like centipedes and millipedes or even critters with no legs at all, such as slugs and snails, which can be surprisingly colorful.

ant-mimic spider


fly agaric It's said that fly agaric mushrooms are the source of the Santa Claus story.   In Lappland shamans used to eat them, the chemicals producing first a coma and then strong hallucinogenic effects, which are said to be the origin of the flying reindeer myth.   When Christian missionaries arrived they assimilated these myths into the legend of Saint Nicholas, using the red and white of the mushroom's cap as the color scheme for Santa Claus.

Whether or not it is the model for Santa Claus, the fly agaric is undisputably the most popular type of mushroom for garden gnomes to sit on or under!

Although most people are aware only of "mushroom" shaped fungi, in fact they come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes.   Giant puffballs can reach an incredible 70 or more centimeters across, and even average-sized ones are said to contain around 7 trillion spores, which are so tiny that they can be carried from one continent to another by the wind, which is why this species is found all around the world.

Some puffballs come in extraordinary shapes, like this earthstar which begins as a solid ball whose thick outer layer splits to reveal the thin-walled inner chamber, which has the characteristic hole at the top.   Many puffballs are edible while they're still white inside.   The outer layer might not look tasty to us, but as you can see the nearest "petal" has been nibbled by a snail or a beetle.

bioluminescent mushroom A surprisingly large number of mushrooms are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark!   This very small bioluminescent mushroom was growing in a large, spread-out colony in the rainforest of Malaysia, but there are many glow in the dark species living in temperate areas like the United States.

There are many other strange fungi, including species which specialize in feeding on ants, moths and other insects while they're still alive!


Lizards are perhaps the most appealing order of reptile, though it wouldn't pay to get too cuddly with one of the giants, like the Komodo dragon of Indonesia.

This flying gecko in Thailand is much more manageable, though as you can see I was able to annoy it pretty badly.   In spite of their name, flying geckos can't actually fly, but they do a very good job of gliding from tree to tree using the large membranes attached to their legs and bodies as wings.

flying gecko
Cambodian pit viper For someone like myself who comes from New Zealand, snakes have a particular fascination, because my homeland is the largest unfrozen landmass in the world without any of these critters!

Nowadays I hunt them out whenever I travel to tropical places, tempering my interest with a healthy respect for their venom.   Annoying a lizard is one thing, but irritating a snake might be the last thing I ever do!

Turtles are thought to be the oldest type of reptiles, first appearing about 215 million years ago.   They can be found anywhere there's warm weather and water, whether that's fresh water or, in the case of marine turtles, sea water.

Their close relatives the tortoises have been almost entirely able to dispense even with the need for water, often thriving in desert areas where they obtain all the liquid they need from the food they eat.

Florida soft-shelled turtle

Underwater Life

long-beaked coralfish The tropics are filled with many beautiful fish like this long-beaked coralfish living on a reef in Malaysia.

It's a type of butterflyfish, a family with members which rival their terrestrial namesakes for their marvelous colors and appealing shapes.   There are many other attractive and interesting fish families, too, like angelfishes, triggerfishes, wrasses and groupers.

It's not only the fishes which are beautiful - many marine invertebrates such as corals and molluscs are just as delightful.

One group of molluscs, the sea slugs, has over 3000 members, most of which are brightly colored to warn predators that they're toxic.   Many underwater photographers spend lots of time underwater hunting out just this one type of prey!

Maid of the Mist boat trip
fimbriated moray eel As everyone knows, there are also many scary creatures underwater, including sharks, stingrays and moray eels.

However it's often the innocent-looking animals, many of which move slowly or not at all, which can be the deadliest.   Harmless-looking fire coral, attractive lion fishes, tiny irukandji jellyfishes and beautiful cone snails are all venomous enough to kill a person.   So the first law of diving is "don't touch!", for your own protection as much as anything.