A load of round yellow eggs weighs down this Hemiphractus fasciatus , the casque headed tree frog. Mama frog will carry these eggs on her back until they hatch as mini-frogs — no tadpoles here! These frogs are threatened with extinction and are one of 11 species of high conservation concern being bred in captivity in Panama.
Zigs and Zags
My, what a zig-zaggy mouth you have! The cock's comb oyster (Lopha cristagalli) is a common site in tropical waters in the Indo-West Pacific. This specimen was photographed in Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia, in 2006. Like other oysters, these creatures survive by cementing themselves to one spot and filtering edible debris out of the water.
A huddle of starfish adds a splash of color to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington State. The Sanctuary protects 2,408 square nautical miles off the coast, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Living in this protected area are organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to sea otters to albatross to migrating gray whales. It's a high-nutrient environment, which is why intertidal species like these starfish thrive.
My, how many tentacles you have! This alien-looking creature is known as Nematostella vectensis, or the starlet sea anemone. Like other anemones, starlets start life as free-swimming larvae. They then settle into an appropriately mucky spot on the seafloor and metamorphose into their adult polyp form, seen here. Anemones lack brains, but the section of the larvae containing the sensory organs actually becomes the bulbous root end of the adult, while the other side sprouts delicate tentacles and transforms into a filter-feeding mouth.
Researchers have now found that the "head genes" of N. vectensis, though held in what eventually becomes the animal's "foot," correspond to the head genes found in the actual heads of higher animals. Humans and other brainy beasts share a common, brainless, ancestor with sea anemones that lived 600 million to 700 million years ago. The findings were released Feb. 20, 2013 in the journal PLOS Biology.
An unidentified dragonfly species shows off delicate wings in this photo taken in a maize field in Italy in 2010.
A Great Blue Heron wades in the wetlands. These majestic birds rely on watery environments for their food supply (fish and other aquatic animals), but humans are no less dependent. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands and streams are a crucial source of water, with 117 million Americans relying on water supplies that, in turn, rely on the nation's hundreds of thousands of miles of streams. Wetlands also provide a buffer against storm-induced flooding. South Carolina's swamps alone can store the equivalent of 7,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water, according to the EPA. Just constructing a stormwater treatment facility for that amount of water would cost more than $200 million.
A black-tailed prairie dog gets the jump on a rival in a snowy mating-season fight. A new study published March 8 in the journal Science finds that female prairie dogs like to stay close to mom. Unlike many species that move away from their families to avoid competing with kin, prairie dogs are more likely to disperse when their families move away.
Hanging in the Keys
Good new for fish in the Florida Keys: A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report finds that the declaration of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve has done wonders to combat overfishing in this sensitive ecosystem.
Black and red grouper and yellowtail have all rebounded since the formation of the reserve in 2001. Mutton snapper, once thought wiped out by overfishing, have started to return to the area to spawn. Even better, the reserve is a win-win for humans and fish. Commercial catches of reef fish in the area have actually increased with better management, and there were no financial losses among local commercial and recreational fishers. [Read More: Best Underwater Cameras for Reef Photography]
Bad News for Bats
Bad news for everyone's favorite flying mammals: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that bats at Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama have white-nose syndrome. The disease is a fungus that grows on hibernating bats, causing them to exhibit often-fatal behavior such as flying outside in cold weather. In eastern North America alone. 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have died of white-nose syndrome.
Fern Cave is the winter home for multiple bat species, including the largest documented colony of gray bats, which are federally endangered. So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had detected the syndrome in two groups of tri-colored bats in the cave.
Mommy and Me
Wait up, Mom! Shomili, a four-month old greater one-horned rhinoceros runs behind her mother Sundari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Shomili, or "Mili" as zookeepers call her, was released into the park's Asian Savanna habitat to join the rest of the zoo's herd on April 23, 2013. Mili is the 65th greater one-horned rhino born at the zoo, which is working to conserve this endangered species. Only about 3,400 of these rhinos survive in the wild.