You have to get up very early on a cold and frosty morning to see these: the phenomena known as frost flowers is formed when water drawn up into the stem of a plant forms into a thin layer of ice. The temperature above ground must be below zero while the temperature below ground is not. The plant can still draw up water from the ground but above the ground it will begin to freeze and stem crystals form in the cold air make the stem walls crack. Capillary action draws up more water that in turn becomes ice that may form into ribbons and delicate “petals.” But the minute the sun comes out, they melt away.
Can you imagine the excitement? The spider tortoise is one of the world’s smallest and rarest tortoises and it is possible it can become extinct in the wild. But the Paignton Zoo in England have a breeding pair, an experienced keeper and an egg that’s about to hatch.
Based on his researches, keeper Andy Meek has tried to mimic the environmental conditions of the south west coast of Madagascar to help this little egg survive. Spraying with water to make it feel like a rainforest was one, a cooling period to imitate a dormancy time within the incubation period was another.
The single egg was monitored constantly and on April 25th, after a period of 180 days, a tiny tortoise was born. The adults can grow up to six inches long and live up to 70 years. They get their name from the designs on their shells.
This breeding success will help assure that the breed continues, if only in captivity.
Cave formations also reveal stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over millions of years. Tours of the caves take you through various limestone levels including the Catacombs, Banquet Chamber and the Cathedral and the tour end with the boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto along the underground Waitomo River where the light is provided by the glowworms alone.
The Shape-shifting Tanuki
Is it a badger or a raccoon or maybe a fox? This is actually a Japanese Raccoon dog or a Tanuki. It is famous in Japanese legend for shape shifting as well as being cheeky, playful and mischievous. It is said to have eight traits that bring good fortune and statues of the Tanuki are available all over Japan to symbolize good luck.
The Tanuki also appears in some Super Mario games. Mario dons a tanuki suit that allows him to fly and dodge his enemies.