Diving around the coral reefs of the Maldives is well worth it!
- The Maldives is a tropical Asian archipelago consisting of 26 atolls, broken into 1,192 individual coral islands, found in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India.
- The ‘Republic of Maldives’ is the official name of the ‘Maldives’, which is likely derived from the Malayalam or Tamil words for ‘garland island’ – ‘maala’ and ‘dweepu’, or ‘maalai’ and ‘theevu’ respectively.
- From the top to the bottom most islands, the Maldives stretch 820 kilometres (510 miles), and the territory extends over an area of approximately 90,000 square kilometres (34,750 square miles); while the land area of the islands covers around 298 square kilometres (115 square miles).
- Of all the Maldives islands, only 200 of the islands are populated, with the total number of people living on the islands to be approximately 393,000 (as of 2015), while 80 more of the islands are used as resorts for the large number of tourists that visit each year.
- The settlers of the Maldives is often disputed, but are thought to have been from Sri Lanka, India or other parts of Asia.
- The Maldives were once ruled by kings, who encouraged Buddhism, and during the Islamic conversion of 1153, they were remodelled as sultans; and since the country became a republic in 1968, the ruler has been a president.
- The capital of the Maldives is the island of Malé, and the island’s city has a very dense population.
- If sea levels continue rising, the Maldives risk being completely submerged by 2100, due to the country being the lowest on earth, with only a small portion of land being higher than 1 metre (3.3 feet) above sea level.
- The Maldives area features over 1000 individual fish species, and at least 328 species of crustaceans, 400 molluscs and 187 coral species, that populate its stunning coral reefs.
- The Maldives’ coral reefs and crystal clear waters have rendered the site quite popular among tourists since 1972, when the first resort was opened.
Burmese pythons are a length and a half!
- Burmese pythons are a species of lengthy snake, native to parts of south to southeast tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, and they can be found in (but not limited to) Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, China, and India.
- The scientific name of the Burmese python is Python bivittatus, formerly known as Python molurus bivittatus (up until 2009), and it is from the family Pythonidae, the family of pythons.
- Burmese pythons are generally between 3.7 to 5.7 metres (12 to 18.7 feet) long, and are among the lengthiest snakes in existence; and while the longest of this species was originally thought to have been 7.6 metres (25 feet) or more in length, this measurement has been disputed.
- Brown coloured patches are found over the entire length of Burmese pythons, which are surrounded by a cream to beige colour, although albino colourings exist; and they are a popular pet, in part due to the interestingly patterned appearance.
- Burmese pythons are typically found among thick undergrowth; in trees; or in water, as the python can remain up to 30 minutes underwater without air; and their diet consists primarily of small mammals, including rodents, as well as the odd reptile or bird.
- Burmese pythons generally have a maximum weight between 90 to 137 kilograms (198 to 302 pounds), and females tend to be larger than males.
- To locate prey, a Burmese python uses its tongue to sense chemicals in its environment, while it can detect the body warmth of other animals due to its own inbuilt sensors; and it kills its prey by suffocating it by constriction and subsequently consuming it whole.
- Burmese pythons are listed as a vulnerable species, threatened by exotic pet trade; hunting for their skin and food; and a decline in habitat quality.
- Florida’s wetland Everglades, in the United States, saw the introduction of Burmese pythons around the 1980s, which have since become invasive; this being a serious issue as many native mammals they eat as prey, have had significant population decline over the past few decades.
- During a breeding season, female Burmese pythons can lay as many as 80 to 100 eggs, and the snake surrounds the eggs to incubate them at a consistent temperature, which it helps to control by its own muscle movements.
Barker D, Barten S, Ehrsam J & Daddono L, The Corrected Lengths of Two Well-known Giant Pythons and the Establishment of a New Maximum Length Record for Burmese Pythons, Python Bivittatus, 2012, Vida Preciosa International, Inc., http://vpi.com/sites/default/files/Barker-et-al_CorrectPythonLengths_2.pdf
Stuart B, Nguyen T, Thy N, Grismer L, Chan-Ard T, Iskandar D, Golynsky E & Lau M, Python Bivittatus, 2012, The ICUN Red List of Threatened Species, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/193451/0
The sacred lotus will spice up your aquatic garden.
- Sacred lotuses are an aquatic species of perennial plant, native mostly to tropical and warm temperate climates of Asia and north to north-eastern Australia, and while they have a similar appearance to water lilies, they are unrelated.
- The ‘sacred lotus’ is also known simply as ‘lotus’, as well as ‘sacred water lotus’, ‘Indian lotus’, ‘sacred water lily’, ‘rose of India’, ‘lotus lily’, ‘pink lotus lily’, ‘pink water lily’, and ‘bean of India’.
- The scientific name of the sacred lotus is Nelumbo nucifera and it is from the family Nelumbonaceae, the family of lotuses, and it is one of two living species in the family.
- The sausage-like tubers of sacred lotuses grow from seeds deposited at the muddy bottom of bodies of water, and they grow stems of leaves, 1 to 2.5 metres (3.3 to 8.2 feet) in height to reach the surface of the water, and the diameter of the leaves ranges from 20 to 70 centimetres (8 to 27.6 inches).
- The flower head of the sacred lotus sits above the water and is 15 to 25 centimetres (6 to 10 inches) in diameter, and can be coloured pink, to white sometimes with a reddish tint, and they have a sweet scent.
- Seeds of sacred lotuses grow in a receptacle that is originally the centre of the flower head, while the head turns downwards as the seeds mature; and seeds of ancient specimens have been known to be still usable centuries later, while one seed, estimated to be almost 1300 years old at the time, was germinated in 1994.
- Sacred lotuses are considered symbolic in a number of religions including Buddhism and Hinduism, and are said to represent creation, purity, incarnation, and beauty, among other things.
- Much of the sacred lotus plant, including the flowers, is edible, with the tubers being able to be used like a vegetable by boiling, frying, baking, and steaming them; while the seeds and leaves can be eaten both raw and cooked; and the leaves can also be used as a food wrapper.
- The sacred lotus is a fundamental plant in traditional Asian medicine with all parts of the plant being utilised; and a wide variety of illnesses are treated with the plant, including nausea, fever, diarrhoea, and mushroom poisoning.
- The temperature of sacred lotus flowers will remain at a constant 30°C to 35°C (86°F to 95°F), even despite changes in the temperature around them; while the leaves are extremely water repellent and as such are self-cleaning, with this phenomena being described as the ‘lotus effect’.
Mangshan pit vipers are stunning in more ways than just one.
- A Mangshan pit viper is a large species of nocturnal pit viper snake, found in a small region of mountainous forests in the Guangdong and Hunan provinces in southern China.
- ‘Mangshan pit vipers’ are also known as ‘Mangshan iron-head snakes’, ‘Chinese pit vipers’, ‘Mang Mountain pit vipers’, ‘ironhead pitvipers’, ‘Mount Mang pitvipers’, ‘Mangshan vipers’ and ‘Mt Mang pit vipers’.
- The scientific name of the Mangshan pit viper is Protobothrops mangshanensis, from the family Viperidae, the family of vipers, and it was first scientifically documented in 1990 and was formerly referred to as Trimeresurus mangshanensis.
- Mangshan pit vipers are one of two snakes that are not technically a cobra, that can spit their venom.
- Mangshan pit vipers generally grow to be a length of 1.4 to 2.1 metres (4.6 to 7 feet) and they weigh 3 to 5 kilograms (6.6 to 11 pounds).
- The venom of Mangshan pit vipers can be spat up to a distance of 2 metres (6.6 feet); however they will more often bite prey with their large fangs, such as frogs, birds, insects, or small mammals, to inject toxins.
- The scales of Mangshan pit vipers range from green to yellow and brown in colour, layered in intricate camouflaging patterns, making it an attractive snake, and sought after as a pet.
- The Mangshan pit viper population had shrunk to an estimated 500 specimens in 2009, partly as result of habitat destruction, as well as illegal trade for the pet industry, and with this continuing to be a prominent threat, the species is considered endangered.
- Mangshan pit vipers have a tail tip that is white, that is used to attract prey by appearing to be a grub.
- The venom of Mangshan pit vipers can cause severe blood clotting and corrode muscle tissue, and thus it can be fatal to humans.
Dragon blood trees are a reality of another fantasy.
- Dragon blood trees are an evergreen species of tree, endemic to the woodlands of the Socotra islands of Yemen, located in the Arabian Sea near western Asia.
- The scientific name of the dragon blood tree is Dracaena cinnabari and it is from the family Asparagaceae, a family of plants that flower, and in the subfamily Nolinoideae.
- ‘Dragon blood trees’ are also known as ‘Socotra dragon trees’, and they can reach a height of 5 to 10 metres (16.4 to 33 feet).
- Dragon blood trees grow in a shape that resembles that of a mushroom, with branches that are shaped like large sausages and form in a dense structure; while sturdy long, narrow leaves form on the ends of the branches in clusters, and they can be as long as 60 centimetres (2 feet).
- Moisture is absorbed by dragon blood trees from mist or low cloud cover, and often the moisture trickles down cracks in rocks to the roots below.
- Dragon blood trees generally bloom in February, and they produce many small flowers that grow in groups, and are coloured a creamy white to green colour.
- Numerous berries form on dragon blood trees after flowering, and they have a diameter of approximately 1 cm (0.4 inches); are of an orange to red colour when ripe; and contain from 1 to 3 seeds.
- Dragon blood trees are listed as a vulnerable species as reproduction has noticeably declined, likely due to a changing climate, over-harvesting and human interference.
- Dragon blood trees are known for excreting a blood red resin that has been used as dye or varnish, as well as a form of traditional medicine since ancient times in Rome, Greece and Egypt, and the resin is still used in modern times.
- Many young dragon blood trees of present times have failed to grow branches in the dense canopy typical of older specimens, and this has caused conservation concerns, as the canopy allows new plants to grow in its shade, and prevents moisture loss around the base of the tree.
At Socotra, you can take a trip out of this world and still remain in this world!
- Socotra is a group of four islands, found approximately 355 kilometres (220 miles) off the coast of Yemen of western Asia, in the Arabian Sea, and the archipelago also consists of two islets; and while it sits closer to Somalia, Africa, it comes under the jurisdiction of Yemen.
- Socotra’ also has the spellings ‘suqotra’ and ‘soqotra’, and there are various theories about the origin of the name, though it is generally thought to be derived from the Arabic words meaning ‘market of dragon’s blood’ or from the Sanskrit words meaning ‘island of bliss’.
- The largest island, which is also called Socotra, has caves, mountains, dunes, and sandy beaches, and is 132 kilometres (82 miles) in length, while the total archipelago has a land area of approximately 3824 square kilometres (1476 square miles).
- Socotra is known for its exotic flora numbering over 800 species, with more than a third of these species being endemic to the islands; and there is a diverse range of fauna, with at least 34 reptile and 96 land snail species, almost all of which are endemic; along with 730 fish, 300 crustacean, 4 bat and 192 bird species.
- In 2008, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention listed Socotra as a World Heritage Site, thus making it a protected area, due to the islands’ unique biodiversity and species that are threatened.
- Socotra was an ancient hub for trading with people from Rome, Greece and Egypt, selling exclusive medicines; frankincense; and a special red resin known as ‘dragon’s blood‘ that was used as a dye and for medicinal purposes; all extracted from various endemic plants.
- The first sealed road to be constructed on Socotra was built in 2006, and there are only a few roads on the island, in part due to their negative impact on the environment, though transport methods such as bikes, 4WDs and minibuses are used, while an airport also exists.
- The ruins of an ancient city were uncovered on Socotra in 2010 by Russian archaeologists, and there are many caves, as well as nearby shipwrecks, that can be explored.
- As of 2004, Socotra had a population of approximately 44,000 individuals, most of these being indigenous and of Arabian descent living on the main island, and only two of the other islands were inhabited, and housed approximately 550 people between them.
- Industries in Socotra include date growing, pearl harvesting, and fishing; while ecotourism is becoming popular, with an increased number of visitors over recent years, and activities for tourists may comprise of diving, fishing, sailing and other water sports, as well as hiking.
Yemen, The Socotra Archipelago, 2016, Socotra, http://socotra.info/