An elusive Saharan cheetah came into the spotlight in Niger, Africa, where a hidden camera snapped photos of the ghostly cat, whose pale coat and emaciated appearance distinguish it from other cheetahs. How the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is genetically related to other cheetahs is open to question. The cat is so rare and elusive that scientists aren't even sure how many exist. Among the threats to the pale cat are scarcity of prey due to poaching and overuse, and conflicts with herders over stock harassment and killing of their animals, according to the Sahara Conservation Fund. Apparently, cheetah skins are prized as prayer rugs or used to make slippers.
Nemopilema nomurai, known as Nomura's jellyfish, can grow up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) in diameter. It is edible, though it hasn't caught on widely as a food. When Nomura's jellyfish bloomed in 2005, some Japanese coped with the pesky situation by selling souvenir cookies flavored with jellyfish powder, according to The New York Times.
As if attending an underwater gala, seadragons are adorned with gowns of flowing limbs. These graceful characters belong to a family of fish called Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses and pipefish. University of California, San Diego, marine biologists Greg Rouse and Nerida Wilson are using genetics to unlock some of the mysteries of this mystical animal. In popular dive spots off the coast of Australia, the duo took tiny snips of tissue from the appendages of seadragons for genetic testing, before releasing the creatures. While seadragons are generally grouped into three species — leafy (shown here), weedy and ribboned — the team's genetic analyses and examinations of body structure have shown the eastern and western populations of weedy seadragons could be divided into two species. They also found the mysterious ribboned seadragon is not related to the leafy and weedy seadragons.
Caught on Camera
A jaguar in Peru is captured on an automated camera set by Smithsonian researchers. Such cameras allow scientists to monitor wildlife in remote locations.
Ball of Color
This photomicrograph shows the ruby-tailed wasp called Chrysis ignita, which is the most commonly observed of this species. The abdomen's coloring — ruby red and bronze — gives the wasp its name. The underside of the abdomen is also concave, which allows the wasp to roll itself into a protective ball if threatened. Ruby-tailed wasps are "parasitoids," meaning they eventually kill their hosts. Specifically, Chrysis ignita parasitizes mason bees: The females lay their eggs in the same nest as mason bees, so when the ruby-tailed wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the mason bee larvae. Ruby-tailed wasps do have a sting, but it is not functional and most species have no venom.
The fantastical image snagged a spot on the Wellcome Image Awards 2011, which chooses the most striking and technically excellent images acquired by the Wellcome Images picture library in the prior 18 months.
The Downside of Island Life
This colorful, tropical bird called the Tuamotu kingfisher lives on one tiny island — Niau in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean. Today, just 125 of the birds exist, and scientists say the species will go extinct without serious intervention.
By working with farmers and residents on the island inhabited by the kingfishers, Dylan Kesler, at the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources, has come up with factors critical to the birds' survival. These include: hunting perches; clear ground so the birds can spot their primary food, lizards; dead trees for nesting; a means for keeping predators away from the birds' nests.
A Brazilian free-tailed bat flies with its prey -- a moth -- clutched in its mouth. According to an article published April 1, 2011 in the journal Science, bats save U.S. farmers 22.9 billion dollars a year by eating pests that would otherwise destroy crops.
Penguin Pomp: Birds of a Feather
A flock of gentoo penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga puts on a show. At heights of almost 3 feet (1 meter), gentoos are the third-largest penguin species in the world. Gentoos build nests out of round, smooth stones, which are highly prized by females. To curry favor with a potential mate, male gentoos sometimes present "gifts" of these coveted rocks.
'You Lookin' at Me?'
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is the smallest of 12 species of bizarre-looking leaf-tailed geckos. The nocturnal creature has extremely cryptic camouflage so it can hide out in forests in Madagascar. This group of geckos is found only in primary, undisturbed forests, so their populations are very sensitive to habitat destruction. Large Uroplatus species have more teeth than any other living terrestrial vertebrate species.
The gecko species was discovered in Mantadia-Zahamena corridor of Madagascar in 1998 during one of the Conservation International (CI) "Rapid Assessment Program" (RAP) surveys. The animal snagged a spot on CI's "Top 20" list of animals discovered during these expeditions, which began 20 years ago today, April 14, 2011.
A pronghorn fitted with a GPS collar leaps through the snow. Scientists in Idaho have set up a similar collaring program to track the migration of these grazing mammals. The Idaho pronghorns make an 80-mile (129 kilometer) journey between their summer and winter ranges, and human development can cut off their migration routes. The collars, which eventually drop off of the animals, will give researchers a better idea of which areas are crucial to pronghorn migration, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Tooth and Claw
A red fox trots away with its kill — a smaller arctic fox. This scene in northern Alaska is becoming more common as warming temperatures have opened up new territory to red foxes, threatening the survival of their arctic cousins.