Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth

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Nature Travel Guide

Wildlife of Planet Earth

"This planet is two-thirds ocean and one-third land. There are a variety of natural habitats with a lot of damage from the indigenous, human civilisation."

Planet Earth orbits a stable star at a relatively consistent distance. This produces surface temperatures that vary between approximately -20 and 40 degrees Celcius.

Water is an important resource, varying between solid (known as ice) and liquid form. Most of the known lifeforms on earth are completely reliant on water. Solid water floats on liquid water: for this reason life is able to survive in the oceans and lakes without being crushed by ice.

The sun is another important resource with many plants http://www.theplantlist.org and animals taking their energy directly from its radiation. Plants and animals can also benefit indirectly from the sun by eating other plants and animals and also via the warming effect on the planet.

A year on earth is the time it takes to orbit once around the sun. The rotational axis is slightly tilted in its orbit: This causes seasonal fluctuations in climate because the sun heats better either the northern or southern hemisphere at different times of year. The indigenous population of humans call the warmest season summer and the coldest season winter. These annual changes cause some of the greatest wildlife spectacles as large numbers of animals move to avoid temperatures that are too hot or too cold for their survival.

  • The Americas has a wide range of habitats ranging from Arctic tundra to rainforest.
  • Europe has mainly temperate habitats with some Arctic tundra in the north and hot, dry steppes in the south.
  • Asia and the Middle East spread from the Arctic in the north to rainforest and desert in the south.
  • Africa has penguins and seasonal wildflowers in the south and desert in the north. Between these extremes are a wide variety of habitats including unique, natural grassland thanks to the tree-felling elephants.
  • Australasia includes rainforest and large dry habitats such as the Australian outback.
  • The Pacific covers a vast amount of the planet and is mainly sea. Small islands are home to many unique animals.
  • The snow and ice of the Arctic and Antarctica has plankton, fish and mammals under the surface with penguins, seals and seabirds above.

Cats are one of the most dangerous predators on land. They have distinctive tracks that lack claw marks: this is because cats have retractable claws which they keep sharp for fighting.

Rainforests in the equatorial regions of the planet are full of wildlife. They have plenty of the sunlight, heat, rain and nutrients that are important for the endemic lifeforms on planet Earth to survive. In rainforest the nutrients are retained, and prevented from being washed out to sea, because of the stabilisation of the soil provided by the plants.

This is a bat which, over millions of years, has developed many features to help it live in the water, then on land and finally in the air. Bats are one of the few mammals able to colonise islands as they can cross the sea: for example they are native to New Zealand. Bats are just one example of the multi-stage, hereditary adaptations that occur on planet Earth in its indigenous animals.

These crakes are called Coots. They are standing on ice. The water-based lifeforms on Earth could not have evolved on this particular planet if it were not for the fact that solid water floats: this prevents the ice from sinking and crushing animals during the cold winters.

Flamingoes are found in wetland areas of the planet and feed with their heads up-the-other-way compared to most other animals.

Pig-like animals are found all over Earth. These are peccaries from the Americas which only give birth to approximately 2 babies compared to 12 for the pigs found in Europe/Asia/the Middle East. Perhaps the availability of an animal that breeds so fast and can be domesticated was one of the many small reasons that led human civilisation to develop in the Middle East.

Advice About Wildlife Watching on Planet Earth

Wildlife watching is both a popular hobby and an area of scientific research. I have found many useful scientific resources for researching places to visit. Birdlife International http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species has a database with interesting information about many birds from all around the world; I find the navigation awkward so I use the search facility. Bird lists for any part of the world can be generated from the Avibase http://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/ website. The Red List for endangered birds http://www.iucnredlist.org is also a good general reference website. Similarly, I find the Birdlife datazone http://www.birdlife.org/datazone is a good starting point to find lots of information: If you follow the links to the taxonomy section you will find their complete list of all the world's bird species which can be amazing to look at.

There are many free online hiking maps https://dzjow.com/2012/04/12/free-online-topographic-maps-for-hiking/ which you can find for yourself or follow this link to get more help. If you really want to explore, the wikipedia page about the largest protected wildlife areas in the world https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_protected_areas_in_the_world might inspire you if you want to do some extreme wildlife watching.

If, like me, you are often reliant on public transport I find seat61 http://www.seat61.com/ is a useful website. Another good site is rome2rio http://www.rome2rio.com/ although I often find their suggestions are overconfident and generic search facilities such as Google can do similar things. If you are travelling by aeroplane remember that if you have the time stopovers are a great way of adding variety and value to your adventures. General online travel resources https://en.m.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Main_Page http://www.cycletourer.co.uk can also be useful for planning a wildlife-watching trip.

Birdwatching is a popular hobby with many online resources http://fatbirder.com http://www.camacdonald.com/birding http://www.cloudbirders.com http://www.birdforum.net/opus created by keen birdwatchers. An inspiration to me many years ago were the books by Nigel Wheatley http://www.wheretowatchbirdsandotherwildlifeintheworld.co.uk/ who also has a website. Stephen Burch http://www.stephenburch.com/ has an excellent personal website with birdwatching and dragonfly-watching articles. Johannes Fischer http://gottatwitchemall.blogspot.co.uk/ has a blog with some inspiring articles. Peter Law https://ramblingsnscribblings.wordpress.com runs a blog with articles about his wildlife-watching adventures. A crafty way I have found to work out a good time of year to see birds a particular country is to go to https://www.cloudbirders.com/tripreport and use the "bar chart of reports by month" facility to see when others are visiting.

Mammal watching http://www.mammalwatching.com is also popular but I find information about it is less easy to find: This is one of the reasons I make a special effort to give good coverage of mammals within my writing.

Many companies run wildlife holidays http://www.wildlifeworldwide.com http://fieldguides.com/ http://greenwings.co/ http://www.tropicalbirding.com/tour-calendar/ all around the world; their websites can be an inspiration for places to go.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on December 10th 2017.

Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.

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