The skies are blue and we are air born for today’s Around the World in Fifty Weeks. Our V – W haiku whisk us off to some Islands; Indonesia & New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands and the Channel islands of California. I do hope our worm is safe between the largest and smallest of sea birds on our planet!
Velvet Worms, they squirm
and claw. They spray their prey with
sticky squirted slime.
Found in the southern hemisphere in places like New Guinea, The Caribbean Islands and New Zealand, Velvet worms are land-dwelling creatures with down-like skin that are caterpillar-like in appearance (and they even possess antennae). They are claw-bearing creatures with flattened cylindrical body cross-sections, and they possess several rows of unstructured body appendages known as “stub feet.”
Some bright green, blue, gold and white velvet worms have been observed. They are very secretive, living in moist places, such as rotting logs and leaf litter, and they seem to be very sensitive to light. Although they may seem gentle at first glance, they are voracious and active carnivores, preying on smaller animals such as termites, woodlice, and small spiders. They capture their prey by squirting sticky slime from their oral tubes. The slime is also used as self-defence by squirting the face of potential predators and temporarily blinding them, allowing the worm to escape.
Velvet worms have recently become popular in the exotic pet trade due to their bizarre appearance and eating habits. The IUCN Red lists them as critically endangered. Threats include loss of habitat to industrialization and the draining and burning of wetlands for agricultural purposes.
Waved Albatross glides,
catching winds – wings stiff in flight.
They partner for life.
Albatrosses are the largest of the sea birds. with extremely long, narrow wings which are held stiffly in flight. They have long, stout, hook-tipped bills with raised tubular nostrils, and shortish legs with large, webbed feet. Albatrosses are exceptional gliders, rarely flapping their wings other than in calm conditions. During such conditions they often sit on the sea for long periods. Albatrosses only come to land to breed and when they do they are somewhat ungainly, walking with a slow, rather waddling gait. The sexes are alike.
The Waved Albatross is a localised resident of Galapagos, breeding only on Española Island. Total population is estimated at c. 50,000 – 70,000 birds. They partner for life, which can be up to fifty years!
They are silent at sea, but give a long, loud “whoo-oo” during courtship displays. An albatross aloft can be a spectacular sight. These feathered giants have the longest wingspan of any bird—up to 11 feet (3.4 meters)! They perform bill-snapping and bill-rattling courtship displays at breeding colony mainly towards the end of the breeding season.
They are classified as vulnerable on the endangered species list.
Rare, shy, they fly far from land.
The Xantus’s Murrelet is a diminutive bird. At just under 10 inches in length, it is slightly smaller than an American Robin. Adults have a 15-inch wingspan and weigh only six ounces. Black above and white on the chin, throat, and belly. This small bird of coastal Pacific waters is among the world’s rarest seabirds. It is also among the most threatened, nesting in as few as 10 locations. Rarely seen from the coast, Xantus’s Murrelets prefer the deep, warm offshore waters of the Pacific. They breed much further south than most other members of the alcid family.
Xantus’s Murrelet numbers have been decreasing over the past century. Their historically small range has also been shrinking as populations have been eliminated entirely from certain locations. While overall trends have been negative, the Xantus’s Murrelet has rebounded somewhat in recent years on islands where sound conservation measures have been employed.
Xantus’s Murrelets are impacted by a number of threats. Much of their small population lives and breeds along the busy shipping lanes of southern California’s major port cities, where they are particularly vulnerable to pollution. A single oil spill could prove disastrous to all Channel Island breeding colonies.
A more tangible threat has been the recent introduction of non-native species to every single island where Xantus’s Murrelets nest. Habitat destruction and devouring of eggs and young by introduced species have driven the murrelets entirely from some breeding colonies, and reduced their numbers drastically at many others. In 1978, the removal of feral cats from Santa Barbara Island resulted in an increased murrelet population. Since then, a major effort has been underway to remove introduced rats, cats, rabbits, sheep, goats, and pigs from Xantus’s Murrelet nesting colonies. The murrelets have responded well. In December 2004, when it was listed as threatened by the California Fish and Game Commission.