By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News
Giant rat found in 'lost volcano'
From a new species of giant rat to ants that took over the world, 2009 was a good year for new animal discoveries.
It was a year for all creatures great, with the mating ritual of the humpback whale filmed for the first time and the unearthing of a colossal sea monster.
And for the small, with one of the world's tiniest parrots caught on camera, as was a polar bear cub hitching a ride on its mother's back.
It was also a year where many species headed ever closer to extinction.
Nature of course is red in tooth and claw, and there were some illuminating insights into how death becomes every animal.
For start, it emerged that there is a generic
'smell of death'
to which all animals may respond.
Stags locked in 'mortal combat'
eagles hunting reindeer calves,
two stags locked in mortal combat,
while we learnt how intelligent primates can struggle with grief.
Orang utans were recorded cannibalising their own already deceased young,
perhaps in response to the emotional turmoil that apes go through when they lose an infant.
struggling with the loss of their newborn offspring were also recorded drinking their own milk.
On a more heartening note, we gained a number of insights into primate family life including: film of a
family of spectral tarsiers,
battle between two vast baboon troops,
grandmother monkeys seen stepping in to care for their grandchildren,
a behaviour not recorded before, and
gorilla mums clapping to attention
badly behaved younger gorillas and male silverbacks.
Other family moments recorded this year were
three cheetah brothers filmed cooperating
to bring down a giant bird, and
superpods of killer whales gathering into 'social clubs'.
and the discovery that
lions form prides
to ensure they win turf wars with their neighbours.
Epic cheetah hunt caught on film
The ultimate family story of 2009, and perhaps of all time, was the news that a
megacolony of ants has taken over the world.
Without sex, there cannot be family.
Filmmakers from the
BBC natural history series Life
'humpback heat run'
in its entirety for the first time.
They also filmed a
marvellous hummingbird display,
where a male spatuletail hummingbird put on an extraordinary show in a bid to convince a female to mate with him, and the ghostly yet entrancing
dance of two mating seadragons.
Downright bizarre discoveries included the
undersea crab that eats trees,
coral that eats jellyfish,
squirrel seen savaging a fruit bat
and a host of
found in the lost world of an extinct volcano crater, including a
one of the world's largest rat species discovered for the first time by scientists.
Professional and amateur palaentologists were pleasantly shocked by the unearthing of a
colossal sea monster
from rocky cliffs on the south coast of the UK, a place known as the 'Jurassic Coast.'
The ferocious sea monster, which terrorised oceans 150 million years ago, may yet turn out to be the largest marine pliosaur yet discovered.
Palaeontologist Richard Forrest explains why the T. rex was a kitten compared with this monster
Other discoveries about extinct creatures included the
world's oldest dinosaur burrow,
and the revelation that
starvation may have wiped out the giant deer,
the largest deer species to have lived.
However, despite the wondrous and celebratory tone of many of the new things we learnt about the natural world in 2009, the year also saw its share of less optimistic stories, those that act as a reminder of the perilous state of many species and the efforts of conservationists to preserve them.
Conservation groups uncovered evidence of a significant
trade in big cat skins in China,
the scale of gorilla poaching in Africa
Both Europe's largest mammal,
and the world's largest cat, the
were found to be on the 'genetic brink' with the genetic health of their remaining populations falling.
Reindeer herds were found to be in global decline
and it was realised that a
giant fish verges on extinction,
with a three-year quest to find the giant Chinese paddlefish in the Yangtze river failing to sight or catch a single individual.
First film of a 'giant' stingray
In a bid to help some species,
safe havens were created for rare primates
while a new population of one of the world's
rarest crocodiles was returned to the wild.
But despite the extinction crisis threatening biodiversity across the planet, 2009 showed that animals everywhere still have a capacity to surprise and awe us.
Researchers revealed how they had witnessed
the largest ever herd of Mongolian gazelles,
where a quarter of a million Mongolian gazelles gathered on the country's steppes, one of the world's last great wildernesses.
Cameramen captured the
first film of a giant stingray,
rare Cross River gorilla
was caught on camera, as was an
elusive golden cat.
'lost seabird' returned to the ocean
while the world became excited by a new species of
giant meat-eating plant
discovered in the highlands of the central Philippines.
And last, but not least, after hundreds of years of studying them, scientists only just worked out that the
cephalopods can hear you.