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Image of the Day: October 2013

All hail the queen

Victoria Crowned Pigeon

(Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

This majestic creature is a Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria), a large, bluish-grey bird native to New Guinea. The bird is named in honor of the British monarch Queen Victoria. The elegant crest of feathers on its head also forms the pigeon's "crown."

In addition to its bluish hue, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon has several features that distinguish it from the pigeons that roam around New York City: It has a distinctive, maroon breast, a crest of feathers with white tips, and bright red irises. The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest of all living pigeons, and can even stand as tall as a turkey. [Related: 10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know about Animals]

Frozen in time

Lava Structures in Afar Region of Ethiopia

(Image credit: David Pyle)

These structures were created after fresh lava erupted onto the desert floor in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia. The viscous molten rock cools and hardens into unique formations. Over time, the sharp features erode away.

The Afar region sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates, which are all spreading apart. As the plates tear away from each other, parts of the Earth's crust fractures and mantle rocks beneath the crust melt from lowered pressure, which creates magma. [Related - Amazing Images: Volcanoes from Space]

Among the mangroves

The Sundarbans Mangrove Forest

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

The Sundarbans is the largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world. The lush tapestry of waterways, mudflats and forested islands stretch across part of southwestern Bangladesh and southeastern India.

The Sundarbans is home to the endangered Bengal tiger, sharks, crocodiles, freshwater dolphins and nearly 200 species of birds. In this satellite photo, the Sundarbans appear deep green, surrounded by agricultural lands to the north, which appear lighter green. The towns in the photo appear tan, amid the network of blue streams. The photo was created by merging observations taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in November 1999 and November 2000. [Related Images: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth]

Lightning Strikes Over California's Alabama Hills

Named after a Civil War battleship, California's Alabama Hills Recreation Area is home to ancient rocks and amazing views.

(Image credit: David Parry/U.S. Department of Interior.)

Now that U.S. National Parks are open again, get out and explore!

In the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, one intrepid photographer took an amazing photo of lighting striking over the park's famous rock formations. Despite their name, the Alabama Hills are not actually in Alabama, but about 200 miles (321 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. The Alabama Hills are a range of hills, so to speak, and include rock formations near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Alabama Hills were named after the CSS Alabama, a Confederate battleship. Confederate sympathizers in the hills named their mining claims after the storied Civil War ship. Eventually the name spread to the entire hilly range. A nearby mining district, mountain pass and mountain peak were named after the USS Kearsarge, which sunk the Alabama in 1864.

In the Alabama Hills today, you'll find a different kind of history — ancient rocks. One kind of rock here is a volcanic rock that is 150 million to 200 million years old. The hills are also home to an 82 million- to 85 million-year-old rock that in many locations in the park has weathered into large potato-shaped boulders, many of which stand on end. Dozens of natural arches are also found in the Alabama Hills.

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It's the little things

Partula Snail

(Image credit: Ross Poulter/Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)

An international consortium of zoos is collaborating on a conservation project to reintroduce three species of Partula tropical tree snails to their native Polynesian home. These types of snails are among the most endangered species in the world, according to officials at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

In mid-October, three varieties of Partula snail will be released in Tahiti: Partula affinis, Partula nodosa, and Partula hyalina. These snails were bred at zoos around the world, including Edinburgh Zoo and London Zoo in the United Kingdom, Thoiry Zoo in France, and Detroit Zoo in the United States.

In this photo, a snail keeper at the Edinburgh Zoo shows off a type of snail called Partula affinis, which is one of the smallest varieties of Partula snail. This tiny creature grows to be less than an inch (1 cm) when it is fully grown. [Related: Amazing Mollusks: Images of Strange & Slimy Snails]

Diamond in the rough

Clown Beetle

(Image credit: Michael S. Caterino)

This spectacularly colored beetle is one of a treasure trove of new clown beetles discovered in North and South America. Researchers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History recently described 85 new species of jewel-like clown beetles with brilliant color patterns and bizarrely flattened bodies.

This image shows one of the new species, Baconia katieae. While many groups of beetles are known for their spectacular colors, researchers are still unsure what purposes the eye-catching hues may serve. [Related: 101 Animal Shots You'll Go Wild Over]

Arctic Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice

(Image credit: Stefan Hendricks, Alfred Wegener Institute)

This pristine photo of Arctic sea ice was taken by scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in German. In the summer of 2012, the researchers journeyed to the high Arctic to investigate the physics and biology of Arctic sea ice. The scientists also monitored reactions of the deep sea ecosystem to changes in sea ice cover. [Related: 10 Things to Know About Sea Ice]

Puppy debut

African Hunting Dog Born at Edinburgh Zoo

(Image credit: Edinburgh Zoo/Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)

Earlier this week, officials at the Edinburgh Zoo announced the birth of its first-ever African hunting dog. These dogs (Lycaon pictus), are typically found only in Africa, in wooded areas and grasslands.

African hunting dogs are currently endangered, and it is estimated that there are less than 5,500 remaining in the wild. As such, the new puppy's arrival at the Edinburgh Zoo is seen as an important achievement for conservation.

"We are all really excited about the arrival of this puppy," Darren McGarry, head of living collections at the Edinburgh Zoo, said in a statement. "Hunting dogs, like many other pack animals, are very difficult to breed successfully."

Zookeepers will determine the sex of the puppy in two weeks, when it receives its first major health check. For now, the newborn already seems to be comfortable in its surroundings. "It's very bold for such a young age and we've often spotted it tugging along joints of meat that are twice its size," McGarry said. "All of the dogs have been seen feeding it and it looks like an established member of the pack." [Related: Images of the 500 Cutest Animals]

Fall Colors in Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

(Image credit: Manish Mamtani/U.S. Department of Interior)

Fall is a special, fleeting time of year, when the weather turns colder and the daylight hours grow shorter. Those who venture into national parks at this time are rewarded with views that only come once a year. At many parks, this involves leaf peeping, but in Canyonlands National Park, no leaves are required to see the reds and oranges of autumn.

At Canyonlands the sunlight paints a colorful landscape across the carved sedimentary rock. Canyonlands preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River. Located in southeastern Utah, the park is an explorer's paradise full of canyons, mesas and deep river gorges, all part of a unique desert ecosystem.

Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.

Canyonland's beauty is no secret. On average 440,039 people visited the park each year. Hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers and four-wheelers all enjoy the rugged, remote trails within the park. So grab a jacket, and get out and explore.

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A year later

Hurricane Sandy - Seaside Heights, N.J.

(Image credit: Glynnis Jones | Shutterstock)

Today marks the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the devastating storm that wreaked havoc along the U.S. East Coast one year ago. The late-season storm swept through the Caribbean and made landfall in the U.S. on Oct. 29, striking near Atlantic City, N.J., with winds of 80 mph.

The storm caused more than 100 deaths, and was one of the costliest natural disasters on record in the U.S.

This photo, taken on January 13, 2013, shows some of the devastation in Seaside Heights, N.J., where the iconic Casino Pier Star Jet roller coaster remained submerged in the sea 75 days after Sandy struck the area. [Related: On the Ground: Hurricane Sandy in Images]