In science, every species has a genus, and that genus has a family, an order, a class, a phylum, and a kingdom. This is Haemanthus coccineus, the paintbrush lily, the blood flower, the April fool, with its unique spotted scape, part of kingdom Plantae, sister to Animalia, Protozoa, Fungi, Eubacteria, Archaebacteria, and Chromista. And what are these kingdoms part of? They're part of Luca, the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Luca evolved approximately 4 billion years ago, and represents the oldest organism on Earth to still have living descendants. By comparing genomes of all modern organisms, researchers identified 335 genes that suggest Luca possessed complex, co-adapted features, such as transcription and translation mechanisms that convert information from DNA to RNA to proteins. The genes also revealed adaptations to living in gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes, such as deep sea vents, where seawater interacts with magma erupting through the ocean floor. Side track of note, but the point is that we can thank Luca for Haemanthus. 🎶 @cheloumusic
This is Frigid Fred, the frozen rock penguin. Fred is napping after a cold front snapped across his chill zone on an icy volcano in the sub-Antarctic. Fred’s world is changing rapidly, with average air temperatures at @marionisland having increased by more than two degrees Celsius since 1950. The Southern Ocean as a whole is changing rapidly, but this frigid wilderness supports ecosystems far too precious to lose. By proclaiming and enforcing large Marine Protected Areas, we increase the resilience of Antarctic ecosystems to change and protect their role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Please lend your voice to the movement to protect the thriving waters that surround Antarctica 🐧 @onlyone 🐧
“No filming please.” This chacma baboon kindly reminded me that it’s rude to film someone while they’re eating. At low tide, these coastal foragers make their way down to exposed reefs to find salty snacks, like these black mussels, which are packed with fatty acids. Interestingly, these mussels are originally from the Mediterranean Sea and were accidentally introduced to South Africa in the 70s by visiting ships. The mussel’s unique ability to tolerate long periods out of water allows them to survive higher up the shore than indigenous mussels, which makes it easier for baboons to access a free seafood buffet.
For those of you who haven’t met this human, his name is Steve, the founder and frother of @animalocean. Steve is one of the most passionate and warm-hearted people I know, forever sharing inspiring stories about the natural world, whether above or below the water. His kindness and generosity in helping others experience the ocean is inspiring, whether it’s a boat trip to see humpback whales or donating his photos, videos and time to good causes. For those of you who know Steve, you’ll agree that the world is a more inspiring place because of his relationship with his camera. I mean, if Steve didn’t have a camera, how would we keep up to date with all the ocean creatures along the Cape Peninsula?! The fact that Steve is out there documenting the secret lives of the animal world and sharing them with us means that we get to revel in the incredible beauty that surrounds us, and I’m sure many of you will agree that this inspires us to get outside and experience this beauty for ourselves. Unfortunately Steve recently lost his camera to the ocean while filming sharks and sardines off Durban’s south coast. It’s going to be a while before he can afford to buy a new camera, housing and lights, and that means no underwater images from Steve for the next while… a sad prospect for all of us who admire and are inspired by his work. If you would like to support Steve’s work, please consider purchasing some of his amazing images to use as wallpapers - link in his bio - @animalocean
The south-western tip of Africa 🌍 high up on Swartkop peak we came across a beautiful memoir set in granite: When night closes in and shadows lengthen along the boulder-strewn shore And high above the full moon reflects on the starlit sea Then deep below in the midnight hour The music of the reef will begin to play And once again her soul will rise to dance in the waves And frolic in the spray. In loving memory Cherry Cardwell 1947 - 1995
Happy #worldalbatrossday 🥳 There are 22 albatross species on the planet, which live on islands in the tropics all the way to the poles. This wandering albatross on @marionisland is incubating her egg, but the chick will be emerging into a very uncertain world. If you’d like to help protect albatrosses please ensure that the fish you eat is from a sustainable fishery, reduce your plastic consumption and make sure you recycle what you use, and lastly, help conservation initiatives that are working towards removing introduced and invasive rodents from islands home to albatrosses. Check out mousefreemarion.org and goughisland.com to donate to great causes. Have a great #worldalbatrossday 🥳
Stories from Nightingale and other islands. Tomorrow evening I’ll be chatting with @mike.raimondo from @green.renaissance about albatrosses, penguins, thrushes and other curious creatures from islands all over this wonderful planet 🌍 a few of which I travelled to with storytelling guru and @natgeo photographer @thomaspeschak 🏝 Thursday 18 June 6PM SAST | 12pm EST Find the Zoom link to register in my stories ⛰ P.s. #worldalbatrossday is on Friday!
It’s always great finding new gems! Yesterday @laurenvannoort and I hiked up to Swartkop Peak above Simon’s Town. Two and a half years ago this mountain was engulfed by flames and now there is some really healthy fynbos sprouting up! The first two photos are of Tetraria thermalis - aka Bergpalmiet - which recovers rapidly after fire and aids the regrowth of other species. The third photo is Serruria hirsuta - aka Swartkop Spiderhead - that only occurs on the sandstone slopes above Simon’s Town and nowhere else on Earth! There are roughly 1,500 bushes of these peculiar proteas and they are currently in bloom! The fourth and fifth photos are of freedom -something we are so lucky to have.
This is ‘Stompstert’ the Chacma baboon. He lives along the Cape Peninsula next to the Great African kelp forest. At low tide, Stompstert (meaning ‘stump-tail’ in Afrikaans) likes to supplement his diet with mussels and limpets, and when the tide is really low, he even eats shark eggs! It’s always so incredible when a wild animal accepts you and carries on with their natural ways. Looking forward to seeing Stompstert and his mates again when @sanparks re-opens. In the meantime, I’m sure he’s enjoying the peace and quiet of #lockdown in Cape Point.
This is the spirit of the Onderbek who sent us a special book filled with stories we’d like to share with YOU! Onderbek means ‘under-mouth’ in Afrikaans and was first heard when @belowtheflow and I drove out to the Oorlogskloof to chat to the legendary Willem Van Zyl about the mythical Clanwilliam Sandfish. Swipe to see snippets from the book featuring Onderbek stories created by the brilliant @teganphillipscomics 🙋🏼♀️ And importantly, make sure to watch the first episode 🎥 of SAVING SANDISH (link in bio). Saving Sandfish is a conservation and storytelling project led by @belowtheflow and I, aimed at helping save the iconic Onderbek from extinction. We’ll be sharing more freshwater stories via @fishwaterfilms 💦🐸👾 so please do follow the journey. Thanks to @insidenatgeo for supporting our work 🙌🏼
Just an average day in the life of a sub-Antarctic field biologist. Special memories from my year on @marionisland in 2011.
I listened to a @ted podcast the other day that reminded me of just how lucky we are to be alive. You know all those dinosaurs that once roamed the planet? Well, their extinction paved the way for the evolution of early mammals by opening up a massive range of ecological niches for them to expand into. This led to the rapid diversification of mammals and resulted in the wide array of species we see today. And you know the asteroid that crashed into Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs 60 million years ago? Well, if that asteroid had been hurtling through space 5 minutes faster or slower, then there wouldn’t have been a collision and the dinosaurs would likely still be alive, which means that mammals wouldn’t have diversified as they did and humans wouldn’t exist 🤯 pretty mind-blowing. However, it may have been possible that dinosaurs would’ve invented Instagram and hashtags would still exist #yanomaybehey If you ever need a place to stare at the stars and contemplate your existence I highly recommend the Lonely Planet cottage at @enjonaturefarm 🌌
You don’t have to travel to outer space to have an otherworldly experience. If you’re in Cape Town and you haven’t been @sealsnorkeling with @animalocean then you’re missing out on some serious stoke. Music by the talented @si.kohler Filmed with an @insta360 camera in a dive housing
Every year penguins all over the world lose trillions of feathers. But don’t worry, letting go is part of the process. Admittedly, these macaroni penguins are not in their finest hour, but seeing millions of feathers fall from the sky like snow whilst listening to the calls of 40,000 penguins reverberate against the cliffs definitely ranks as one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, and I felt I had to share it with you. The maccies - as I like to call them - gather en masse every April to shed their tattered suits and replace them with new ones. This ensures that they stay insulated and keep warm during the upcoming six-month winter sojourn, which they spend navigating the wild and frigid waters of the Southern Ocean in search of krill. This moulting business doesn’t just take place overnight though - the penguins sit in the same place for 3 weeks, subsisting entirely on only their own body fat. No wonder they get hangry! To make sure they have enough fat to last the 3 weeks ashore, they spend the month leading up to the moult stuffing their beaks with all the krill and fish they can find. This is called hyperphagia, also known as over-eating. Part of my PhD involved finding out where these penguins go to find food, so I attached miniature GPS loggers to a dozen penguins and off they went. After several weeks of biting my fingernails, the penguins finally returned and I got to download the data and see where they went. It turns out they all headed straight south to forage in the eddy-rich region south of the Antarctic Polar Front, with many traveling up to 1000 km away. One has to admire how easily they are able to find their way back to the island after such a long trip. As for the feathers, they eventually break down, releasing nutrients back into the soil and nourishing nearby plant communities.
After a long day feeding at sea, thousands of terns return to a sheltered backwater lagoon to roost for the night. Some of these are locals, like the swift terns, who hang out in South Africa all year round. Others, like the sandwich and little terns, travel all the way from their breeding grounds in Europe, Asia and North America. But why would they travel so far? Everybody knows the classic southeasterly winds that blow across the Cape Peninsula and drive deep, cool Atlantic waters to the surface. This upwelling brings with it vast amounts of nutrients that are gobbled up by phytoplankton, which are eaten by zooplankton, who are munched by fish, that are plucked from the water by dive-bombing terns. Summer is one big all-you-can-eat seafood buffet bonanza. As vital as this incredible food factory is, the terns also need sheltered bays to roost for the night. Luckily for us, who get to marvel at their spectacular murmurations in the sky, the Cape Peninsula has many protected bays, particularly in Cape Point.
Cederberg dreaming. . “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau
Happy 2020 to all the king penguins out there, and the rest of the penguins too 🐧🐧🐧 especially the rockhoppers and macaronis, the adelies, emperors and blues, ah too many to mention. But also happy new year to all you beautiful people who have followed my journey over the last while. It’s been a quiet year on here for me, but looking forward to sharing some exciting projects with you over the next few months. It was a tough year for many, including the penguins, but it was also really inspiring! In the light of all the challenges, there has been a growing wave of positive movements all over the world. Especially from the gentoos, which have moved into the Antarctic with great confidence and a fivefold increase in numbers. But they’re the only species that’s on the increase in Antarctica 😔 Wishing everyone an incredible start to the decade - still can’t believe it’s 2020 - and if you fall on your face just remember to channel your inner king penguin, get up and keep on swaggering. Forever grateful @marionisland