Friday Fellow: Cuban Laurel Thrips

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Last week I presented the magnificent Chinese banyan Ficus microcarpa. Today I’m bringing a little insect that loves it but is not loved in return, the Cuban laurel thrips, Gynaikothrips ficorum.

As its name suggests, the Cuban laurel thrips is a thrips, i.e., an insect of the order Thysanoptera. Adults of this species measure about 3 mm in length and have a black and elongate body and two pairs of thin wings that fold over the dorsum when at rest. Its mouth parts, as typical of thrips, are asymmetrical, with a reduced right mandible and a developed left mandible that it uses to cut the surface of plants in order to suck its juices. It is, therefore, a plant pest.

Adult Cuban laurel thrips in Hong Kong. Photo by iNaturalist user wklegend.*

The Cuban laurel thrips prefers to feed on juices of fig trees, such as the Chinese banyan from last week. It’s common name, though, is a reference to another fig species, Ficus retusa, commonly known as the Cuban laurel. Both fig trees, as well as the thrips itself, are native from Southeast Asia. Other, less common host plants include Citrus trees and orchids. They prefer to feed on young, tender leaves, and cause dark, usually purplish red dots, on the leaf’s surface. It is common for the leaf to curl and become hard, eventually dying prematurely. Although most infestations do not cause serious damage to the plant’s development, the curling of the leaves can reduce a plant’s ornamental value.

Ugly curled leaves caused by the thrips’ infestation in New Zealand. Photo by Stephen Thorpe.*

The reproduction of the Cuban laurel thrips is basically constant, so that several generations occur across one year. The adults take advantage of the curled leaves produced by their feeding behavior and use them as a protection to put their eggs. The immature stages, after hatching, remain inside the shelter provided by the curled leaf. They are transparent in the first two instars and then become light yellow. Only the last, adult stage, is black.

When you open the leaf, you can find a whole family. Here you can see the eggs (small white grains) and several immature specimens in different stages. Photo by James Bailey.*

Since the Cuban laurel thrips makes ornamental plants ugly, humans are always trying to find ways to kill them, especially by using pesticides or, sometimes, natural predators of the thrips. But the little insect can also fight back. When the thrips accidentally fall on people’s bodies, they tend to bite, most likely by accident, but this can end up causing a serious and annoying itch. That’s the price for messing with them.

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Denmark HA, Fasulo TR, Funderburk JE (2005) Cuban laurel thrips, Gynaikothrips ficorum (Marchal) (Insecta: Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae). DPI Entomology Circular 59

Paine TD (1992) Cuban Laurel Thrips (Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae) Biology in Southern California: Seasonal Abundance, Temperature Dependent Development, Leaf Suitability, and Predation. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 85(2): 164–172. doi: 10.1093/aesa/85.2.164

Piu G, Ceccio S, Garau MG, Melis S, Palomba A, Pautasso M, Pittau F, Ballero M (1992) Itchy dermatitis from Gynaikothrips ficorum March in a family group. Allergy 47(4): 441–442. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.1992.tb02087.x

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


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Friday Fellow: Chinese Banyan

by Piter Kehoma Boll

With today’s post, I intend to start a series of three Friday Fellows that are connected. After all, that’s what life is, right? Organisms interacting.

So to start, let’s talk about a magnificent tree today, the fig tree Ficus microcarpa, commonly known as Chinese banyan, Malayan banyan, Indian laurel, curtain fig, gajumaru and many other names. Its native range goes from China to Australia, including all the southeastern Asia and several Pacific islands in the way. However, it can be found in many other countries today as it has become a somewhat popular ornamental plant.

A Chinese banyan at the Maui Nui Botanical Garden, Hawaii. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr.*

In its natural tropical habitat, the Chinese banyan reach a height of 30 meter or more, with a crown spreading across more than 70 meters and a trunk more than 8 m in thickness. Most trees are smaller, though, and they never reach such an astonishing size in temperate climates. Its bark has a light gray color and its leaves are smooth, entire, oblanceolate, and about 5 to 6 cm long. Its figs are considerably small, hence the name microcarpa (small-fruited). It is common for large specimens to produce aerial roots, which grow from the branches and touch the soil, forming an intricate and beautiful system.

A specimen with many aerial roots. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr.*

As typical among fig trees, the Chinese banyan is pollinated by a fig wasp, in this case the species Eupristina verticillata. Outside of its native range, the tree can only produce viable seeds in the presence of the wasp, so the insect must be introduced along with it. Its fruits are very attractive to birds, who spread its seeds in their feces. After passing through a bird’s gut and reaching the outer environment again, the seeds attract ants, which spread them even further. Being quite versatile regarding the substrate to germinate, the Chinese banyan can grow on a lot of surfaces, often sprouting through crevices on walls and sidewalks and breaking them as it grows.

Leaves and fruit. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr.*

The Chinese banyan is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, fever, flu, malaria, bronchitis and rheumatism. Laboratory studies have isolated anti-cancer, antioxidant and antibacterial compounds from the bark, leaves, aerial roots and fruits, as well as anti-fungal compounds from its latex. The tree has, therefore, the potential to be used for the development of many medicines.

A seedling growing on a wall. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr.*

Due to its impressive size and the intricate labyrinth formed by its network of aerial roots, the Chinese banyan tree has an important role to many religious groups in its native range, being often considered the house of spirits, either good or bad ones and its presence usually marks places of worship. Regardless of these beliefs, though, this magnificent tree deserves the admiration that it gets.

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Ao C, Li A, Elzaawely AA, Xuan TD, Tawata S (2008) Evaluation of antioxidant and antibacterial activities of Ficus microcarpa L. fil. extract. Food Control 19(10): 940–948. doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2007.09.007

Chiang YM, Chang JY, Kuo CC, Chang CY, Kuo YH (2005) Cytotoxic triterpenes from the aerial roots of Ficus microcarpa. Phytochemistry 66(4): 495–501. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2004.12.026

Kaufmann S, McKey DB, Hossaert-McKey M, Horvitz CC (1991) Adaptations for a two-phase seed dispersal system involving vertebrates and ants in a hemiepiphytic fig (Ficus microcarpa: Moraceae). American Journal of Botany 78(7): 971–977. doi: 10.1002/j.1537-2197.1991.tb14501.

Taira T, Ohdomari A, Nakama N, Shimoji M, Ishihara M (2005) Characterization and Antifungal Activity of Gazyumaru (Ficus microcarpa) Latex Chitinases: Both the Chitin-Binding and the Antifungal Activities of Class I Chitinase Are Reinforced with Increasing Ionic Strength. Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry 69(4): 811–819. doi: 10.1271/bbb.69.811

Wikipedia. Ficus microcarpa. Available at < >. Access on June 8, 2019.

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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Whose Wednesday: Harry Johnston

by Piter Kehoma Boll

More a politician than a naturalist, today we remember a British explorer that was central in the mess that Europe turned Africa into, but also a important in recording Africa’s culture and biodiversity.

Henry Hamilton Johnston, more commonly known as Harry Johnston, was born on 12 June 1858 in London, the son of John Brookes Johnstone and Esther Laetitia Hamilton. He studied at Stockwell grammar school and later at the King’s College London, after which he studied painting at the Royal Academy for four years. During his studies, he traveled through Europe and visited the interior of Tunisia.

In 1882, aged 24, he traveled to southern Angola with the Earl of Mayo (which I guess was Dermot Bourke at that time). Traveling north from there, he met the Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley in the Congo River the following year. There, he became one of the first Europeans to see the Congo River above the Stanley Pool (currently known as Pool Malebo), a widening of the river near the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville. He published a book in 1884 called “The River Congo: From its Mouth to Bolobo” and, in that same year, was appointed leader of a scientific expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, in current Tanzania. In this expedition, he managed to conclude treaties with local chiefs. The reports of this expedition were published in his 1886’s book “The Kilema-Njaro Expedition”.

Harry Johnston, probably during the 1880s.

In 1886, the British government appointed Johnston the vice-consul in Cameroon and the Niger River delta area. The British had claimed the area but the local leader, Jaja of Opobo, refused to give up the territory. Invited by Johnston to negotiate, Jaja was arrested and deported to London. During the following years, Johnston took part in several expeditions and diplomatic missions that helped the British Empire to dominate more and more of Africa’s territory.

In 1896, Johnston married Winifred Mary Irby, daughter of the fifth Baron Boston. That same year, afflicted by tropical fevers, he was transferred to Tunis as consul-general in order to recover. In 1899, he was sent to Uganda as special commisioner to end an ongoing war. There, he found out that a showman was abducting Pygmy inhabitants of the Congo for exhibition. Johnston helped to rescue them and the pygmies mentioned to him a creature, some sort of “unicorn donkey” previously referred to by Stanley. There were some reports about explorers seeing an animal with a zebra-like pattern moving through the bushes and the expectation was that it was some sort of forest-dwelling horse. The pygmies showed tracks of the creature to Johnston and he was surprised to find out that it was actually a cloven-hoofed beast and not a single-hoofed animal as a horse. Johnston never saw the animal, but managed to obtain pieces of the striped skin and a skull, which led the creature to be classified as Equus johnstoni in 1901. The inclusion in the genus Equus was mostly motivated by the pygmies referring to the creature as a kind of horse. Analyses of its skull, however, soon concluded that it was a relative of the giraffe. This animal is currently know as the okapi, or Okapia johnstoni.

The two pieces of okapi skin sent to England by Johnston and the first concrete evidence of the animal’s existence.

In 1902, when Johnston was back to London, his wife gave birth to twin sons, but both died few hours later. They did not have any other children. That same year Johnston was appointed member of the Zoological Society of London. In the following years, he spent most of his time at home writing novels and accounts of his voyages through Africa. In 1925, he had two strokes that partially paralyzed him. He died two years later, on 31 July 1917, aged 69.

Johnston, as all imperialists of his time, believed that Europeans, and British especially, had superiority over Africans. Nevertheless, he was against using violence against the subjugated peoples and had a more paternalistic view. Although such views are seen as horrible today (or at least they should to any reasonable human being), he was considered some sort of radical for his time, as others had a much worse vision of the African cultures.

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Wikipedia. Harry Johnston. Available at < >. Access on 11 June 2019.

Wikipedia. Okapi. Available at < >. Access on 11 June 2019.

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Friday Fellow: Common Grainlouse

by Piter Kehoma Boll

No matter where you live in the world, if you had flour or grains stored for too long, you may have found some sort of insect that appeared in this food, feeding on it. There are many insect species that exist as kitchen pests, including moths, beetles and also our fellow for today, the common grainlouse Liposcelis bostrychophila.

The common grainlouse, also known as the house psocid, is a member of the insect order Psocoptera, which include most species known as lice, such as booklice, barklice and common parasitic lice of mammals and birds. It is a very small insect, measuring only about 1 mm in length as an adult, and is wingless. Probably of tropical origin, it was first identified from specimens collected under tree bark in Mozambique but, during the 20th century, it started to spread quickly around the world.

Common grainlice on old whole wheat flour. Photo by iNaturalist user sea-kangaroo.*

In its natural habitat, which are likely tropical forests, the common grainlouse is not very common. However, once he ended up inside human residences, he found the perfect spot to thrive. Stored food, especially grains, are like a food paradise for them. With food being transported from one country to another, the common grainlouse conquered the whole planet in a few decades. And they are not only associated with stored food, but with almost any sort of plant matter, including straw used in mattresses and sometimes in partition walls. Despite feeding on these materials, the common grainlouse usually does not cause serious damage to them and the main problem is that its population tends to grow enormously, making it become kind of a nuisance by being there.

The reproduction of the common grainlouse occurs almost exclusively through parthenogenesis, in which females are able to generate offspring from unfertilized eggs. Males are very rare and have only been recorded recently for the first time. This is likely one of the reasons why this species is so successful invading new environments, since a single female is able to originate an entire population. There are reported cases of houses so heavily infected that the walls were completely covered by grainlice.

Several methods have been tried to contain the advance of this little creature, but most are unsuccessful. They appear to be quite resistant to chemical pesticides and even entomopathogenic fungi, i.e., fungi that infect insects. Their cuticle has a peculiar chemical composition, different from that found in other insects, that prevent fungal spores to germinate.

We can conclude that the common grainlouse is a species that is here to stay, no matter what we try to do to get rid of them.

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Lord JC, Howard RW (2004) A Proposed Role for the Cuticular Fatty Amides of Liposcelis bostrychophila (Psocoptera: Liposcelidae) in Preventing Adhesion of Entomopathogenic Fungi with Dry-conidia. Mycopathologia 158(2): 211–2117. doi: 10.1023/B:MYCO.0000041837.29478.78

Turner BD (1994) Liposcelis bostrychophila (Psocoptera: Liposcelididae), a stored food pest in the UK. International Journal of Pest Management, 40(2), 179–190. doi: 10.1080/0967087940937187

Yang Q, Kučerová Z, Perlman SJ, Opit GP, Mockford EL, Behar A, Robinson WE, Steijskal V, Li Z, Shao R (2015) Morphological and molecular characterization of a sexually reproducing colony of the booklouse Liposcelis bostrychophila (Psocodea: Liposcelididae) found in Arizona. Scientific Reports 5: 110429. doi: 10.1038/srep10429

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.

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Whose Wednesday: Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt

by Piter Kehoma Boll

This week we stick once more with the 18th century, starting in Europe but moving to the other side of the world.

Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt was born on 5 June 1773 in Lüttringhausen, which is currently part of Germany. He was the son of Johann George Reinwardt and Katharina Goldenberg. Soon after he was born, his family moved to Remscheid. His father was his first teacher, but he died when Reinwardt was still young. His older brother, Johann Christoph Matthias Reinwardt, moved to Amsterdam after their father died and started to work at a pharmacy. In 1787, Caspar moved to Amsterdam as well and started as an apprentice in the same pharmacy. There, he met several scientists, including the botanist Gerardus Vrolik.

A young Caspar Reinwardt. Portrait by M. J. van Brée and R. Vinkeles. Date unknown.

Settled in Amsterdam, Reinwardt studied chemistry and botany at the Athenaeum Illustre, a school sometimes referred to as the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam, but that did not allow someone to achieve a degree. Nevertheless, Reinwardt developed skills in chemistry, medicine and botany and was, thus, offered the position of professor of natural history at the University of Harderwijk in 1800. Due to his abilities as a professor, the academic senate gave him an honorary doctorate in 1801.

In 1806, Amsterdam became part of the Kingdom of Holland, a puppet kingdom set up by the emperor Napoleón Bonaparte to his younger brother Louis Bonaparte, who was made king. Appealing to Louis in 1808, Reinwardt was offered the work as director of the botanical and zoological gardens that were to be built. That same year, he became a member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands.

In 1810, Reinwardt became a professor in Amsterdam. Only three years later, in 1813, the Netherlands regained their independence from France and were interested in re-establish contact with their colonies. Reinwardt was asked to take over the Royal Comission for the Colonies as head of agriculture, arts and science. As a result, he traveled to the Dutch East Indies (current Indonesia) in 1816 and conducted several botanical investigations throughout the islands. In 1817, he founded the Buitenzorg (now Bogor) Botanical Gardens in Java and became their first director. During the following years, he gathered many plant specimens and sent them to Europe, but most of them were lost in shipwrecks.

An older Caspar Reinwardt. Author and year unknown.

With the death of the botanist Sebald Justinus Brugmans in 1819, the position of professor of natural history at the University of Leiden was empty and Reinwardt was appointed to take it. However, he was allowed to remain in the Dutch East Indies until 1821. Returning in 1822, he started as professor of natural history in 1823. At the University of Leiden, he devoted the rest of his life to chemistry, botany and mineralogy.

Reinwardt retired in 1845 and died on 6 March 1854, aged 80.

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Wikipedia. Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt. Available at < >. Access on 4 June 2019.

Wikipedia (in German). Kaspar Georg Karl Reinwardt. Available at < >. Access on 4 June 2019.

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New Species: May 2019

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described this month. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, Mycological Progress, Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, Systematic and Applied Microbiology, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, PeerJ, Journal of Natural History and PLoS One, as well as several journals restricted to certain taxa.





Mitrephora monocarpa is a new flowering plant from Thailand. Credits to Saunders & Chalermglin (2019).*
Fordiophyton jinpingense is a new flowering plant from China. Credits to Dai et al. (2019).*


Lepraria cryptovouauxii is a new lichen from Bolivia. Credits to Guzow-Krzemińska et al. (2019).*


Leifia brevispora is a new basidiomycete fungus from China. Credits to Liu et al. (2019).*
Phylloporus rimosus (top) and P. quercophilus (bottom), two new mushroom species from China. Credits to Montoya et al. (2019).*







Okenia problematica is a new sea slug from the Mediterranean. Credits to Pola et al. (2019).*


Laocaia simovi is a new semislug from Vietnam. Credits to Dedov et al. (2019).*





Agorioides cherubino is a new ant-mimicking spider from Papua New Guinea. Credits to Maddison & Szűts (2019).*


Bestiolina sarae is a new copepod from the Pacific waters of Colombia. Credits to Dorado-Roncancio et al. (2019).*



Bolbochromus setosifrons is a new beetle from the Philippines. Credits to Li et al. (2019).*
Philoplitis trifoveatus is a new parasitoid wasp from India. Credits to Ranjith et al. (2019).*
Lactura nalli is a new moth from the US. Credits to Matson et al. (2019).*





Limnonectes savan is a new frog from Southeast Asia. Credits to Phimmachak et al. (2019).*


Elaphe urartica is a new snake from Eastern Europe. Credits to Jablonski et al. (2019).*
Stenocercus canastra is a new lizard from Brazil. Credits to Avila-Pires et al. (2019).*

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Friday Fellow: Common Goose Barnacle

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The open surface of the oceans may at first look like a large lifeless sheet. However, if you look closer, you’ll see that there is much more life there than you could imagine. And it does not only include the microscopic plankton that floats in the water column, but also large organisms that dwell right at the boundary between the water and the air. These creatures are called the neuston and come in several shapes and one of them is Lepas anserifera, or the common goose barnacle.

Several common goose barnacles found growing on a cuttlebone in India’s west coast. Their modified legs (cirri) are out looking for food. Photo by Abhishek Jamalabad.*

The common goose barnacle is found in tropical and subtropical waters all around the world. It belongs to the subclass Cirripedia, a peculiar group of crustaceans commonly known as barnacles. They live attached to the substrate and are hemaphrodites, both features that are uncommon among arthropods. Within the barnacles, the common goose barnacle belongs to the order Pedunculata, or goose barnacles, which are characterized by the presence of a stalk that attaches them to the substrate.

Common goose barnacles in Taiwan. A younger specimen is seen growing on a larger one. Photo by Liu JimFood.*

The substrate chosen by the common goose barnacle is almost exclusively floating material. This material, which includes sea weeds and all sort of debris, such as pieces of wood, coconuts or animal carcasses, rarely remains floating for a long time, either because its decay makes it sink or fall apart or because it ends up on the shore. Thus, the goose barnacle has to find a way to complete its life cycle very quickly, and that is what it does.

Common goose barnacles growing on an apple that must have floated for some time and ended up at the shore in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Photo by iNaturalist user kuroshio.**
Common goose barnacles growing on a light bulb washed ashore in Palau Pinang, Malaysia. Photo by Al Kordesch.

Goose barnacles start their lives as a planktonic one-eyed larva that, after five stages, develops into another larval form known as cyprid. The cyprid’s only purpose is to find a suitable surface to live and, once it finds it, it secretes a glycoproteinaceous substance that attaches it to the substrate by the head. It then develops into the adult animal and secretes a series of calcified plates that surrounds its body. The adults use their feathery legs (cirri) to capture food, mostly plankton, and carry it inside their shell.

Common goose barnacles growing on a brush washed ashore in New Jersey, USA. Photo by Stan Rullman.**

Due to human activities, the amount of floating material on the ocean surfaces increased greatly. Thus, the number of available substrates for the goose barnacle to grow also increased, and so likely did its population. Unfortunately, the human-generated floating material also includes a lot of small plastic particles, and goose barnacles frequently ingest them together with food. Although the harm caused by ingesting plastic particles has not been assessed yet, they certainly do not improve the barnacle’s health.

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Goldstein MC, Goodwin DS (2013) Gooseneck barnacles (Lepas spp.) ingest microplastic debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. PeerJ 1: e184. doi: 10.7717/peerj.184

Inatsuchi A, Yamato S, Yusa Y (2010) Effects of temperature and food availability on growth and reproduction in the neustonic pedunculate barnacle Lepas anserifera. Marine Biology 157(4): 899–905. doi: 10.1007/s00227-009-1373-0

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

**Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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