Friday Fellow: Giant red velvet mite

by Piter Kehoma Boll

While walking through an Indian market, you may end up finding something like this being sold as food:

Hmm, it looks like some sort of chips or dried seeds. Photo by Pankaj Oudhia.*

Hmm, it looks like some sort of chips or dried seeds. Photo by Pankaj Oudhia.*

It may look as some sort of crispy seed or dried fruit, some local chips, maybe? But they are actually giant mites… edible mites! They are used in India as a medicine, especially to treat paralysis and allegedly to increase sexual drive, a reason for the popular expression “Indian Viagra”.

But this edible arachnids are actually quite cute when alive. Known cientifically as Trombidium grandissimum and popularly as giant red velvet mite, they are fluffy like a piece of velvet, have a strong red color and reach up to 2 cm in length, a record for mites, which usually measure way less than a milimeter.

I would love to raise them as a pet. Wouldn't you? Photo by Brian Gratwicke.**

I would love to raise them as a pet. Wouldn’t you? Photo by Brian Gratwicke.**

As adults, the giant red velvet mites live freely and prey on small animals, mainly insects, and their eggs. The larvae, on the other hand, start their life as a parasite, attaching themselves to another invertebrate, usually an insect, but sometimes an arachnid, and suck their hemolymph (“blood”). Later, this parasitic larva develops into a free-living nymph that abandons the host and begins to live more like an adult.

The genus Trombidium has many species in the Palearctic Ecozone, so if you are wandering in a forest in Europe or Asia, you may find the giant red velvet mite or one of its cousins.

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References:

Southcott, R. V.  1986. Studies on the taxonomy and biology of the subfamily Trombidiinae (Acarina: Trombidiidae) with a critical revision of the genera. Australian Journal of Zoology, 123: 1-116.

Wikipedia. Trombidium. Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trombidium&gt;. Access on July 21, 2016.

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New Species: July 11 to July 20

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described from July 11 to July 20. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and Systematic and Applied Microbiology, as well as journals restricted to certain taxa.

Pseudoechthistatus sinicus(top) and P. pufujiae are two of the more than 40 new species of beetles described in the last 10 days.

Pseudoechthistatus sinicus (top) and P. pufujiae (bottom) are two of the 40 new species of beetles described in the last 10 days.

Archaea

Bacteria

SARs

Plants

Excavates

Fungi

Sponges

Flatworms

Annelids

Mollusks

Roundworms

Arachnids

Myriapods

Crustaceans

Hexapods

Cartilaginous fishes

Ray-finned fishes

Reptiles

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Friday Fellow: Elegant sunburst lichen

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Bipolar and Alpine in distribution, occurring in both Arctic and Antarctic regions, as well as on the Alps and nearby temperate areas, the elegant sunburst lichen (Xanthoria elegans) is a beautiful and interesting creature. As all lichens, it is formed by a fungus associated with an alga.

An elegant sunburst lichen growing on a rock in the Alps. Photo by flickr user Björn S...*

An elegant sunburst lichen growing on a rock in the Alps. Photo by flickr user Björn S…*

The elegant sunburst lichen grows on rocks and usually has a circular form and a red or orange color. Growing very slowly, at a rate of about 0.5 mm per year, they are useful to estimate the age of a rock face by a technique called lichenometry. By knowing the growth rate of a lichen, one can assume the lichen’s age by its diameter and so determine the minimal time that the rock has ben exposed, as a lichen cannot grow on a rock if it is not there yet, right? This growth rate is not that regular among all populations. Lichens growing closer to the poles usually grow quickly because they seem to have higher metabolic rates to help them survive in the colder climates.

Beside its use to determine the age of a rock surface, the elegant sunburst lichen is a model organism in experiments related to resistance to the extreme environments of outer space. It has showed the ability to survive and recover from exposures to vacuum, UV radiation, cosmic rays and varying temperatures for as long as 18 months!

Maybe when we finally reach a new inhabitable planet, we will find out that the elegant sunburst lichen had arrived centuries before us!

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References:

Murtagh, G. J.; Dyer, P. S.; Furneaux, P. A.; Critteden, P. D. 2002. Molecular and physiological diversity in the bipolar lichen-forming fungus Xanthoria elegans. Mycological Research, 106(11): 1277–1286. DOI: 10.1017/S0953756202006615

Wikipedia. Xanthoria elegans. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthoria_elegans >. Access on June 30, 2016.

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New Species: July 1 to July 10

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described from July 1 to July 10. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and Systematic and Applied Microbiology, as well as journals restricted to certain taxa.

Three new species of agamid lizards were named after the three dragons of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. (From top to bottom): Pseudocalotes drogon, P. rhaegal and P. viserion.

Three new species of agamid lizards were named after the three dragons of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. (From top to bottom): Pseudocalotes drogon, P. rhaegal and P. viserion.

Bacteria

SARs

Plants

Amoebozoans

Fungi

Sponges

Annelids

Water bears

Arachnids

Crustaceans

Insects

Cartilaginous fishes

Ray-finned fishes

Reptiles

Mammals

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Friday Fellow: Green Tiger Beetle

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It is small, it is green, it is a fearsome predator… it is the green tiger beetle!

Look at this evil face. Photo by Wikimedia user Captainpixel*

Look at this evil face. Photo by Wikimedia user Captainpixel*

Cientitically known as Cicindela campestris, the green tiger beetle is a small and beautiful beetle found throughout Europe, being the most common tiger beetle in the continent. The adults can be seen from April to September and are 12–15 mm long, females being slightly larger than males. The dorsal color is green and the elythra have some small yellowish spots. The eyes and mandibles are large, revealing its predatory nature.

A pair of Cicindel campestris mating.

A pair of Cicindela campestris mating. Photo by Sander van der Molen.**

The green tiger beetle likes sunny places, usually open sites with little vegetation, and can run fast on the ground, chasing other small invertebrates, usually insects. The larvae are predatory as well and dig burrows from where they ambush other insects, especially ants.

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References:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Green Tiger Beetle. Availabe at: < http://eol.org/pages/2869562/overview >. Access on June 16, 2016.

Wikipedia. Cicindela campestris. Availabe at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicindela_campestris >. Access on June 16, 2016.

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Biological fight: kites, mites, quite bright plights

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

A recently described fossil from the Silurian Herefordshire Lagerstätte in the United Kingdom has called much attention.

A photo of the fossil itself. Image by Briggs et al., extracted from news.nationalgeographic.com

A photo of the fossil itself. Image by Briggs et al., extracted from news.nationalgeographic.com

The appearance of the creature was build by scanning the rock and creating a 3D reconstruction of the fossil. It revealed that the animal, obviously and arthropod, had several smaller creatures attached by long threads, like kites. The species was named Aquilonifer spinosus, meaning “spiny kite-bearer”.

A 3D reconstruction of what Aquilonifer and its kites would have looked like. Image by Briggs et al. extracted from sci-news.com

A 3D reconstruction of what Aquilonifer and its kites would have looked like. Image by Briggs et al. extracted from sci-news.com

The authors (Briggs et al., 2016) thought about three possibilities to explain the unusual “kites”. They could be parasites, phoronts (i.e., hitchhikers), or babies. The idea of parasites was discarded because such long threads separating them from the host would have made it difficult to feed properly. They also considered it unlikely to be a case of phoronts, i.e., a species that uses the host as a mean to move from one site to another, because there were too many of them and the host most likely would have removed them by using the long antennae.

Artistic impression of Aquilonifer spinosus by Andrey Atuchin.

Artistic impression of Aquilonifer spinosus by Andrey Atuchin.

The remaining option is that the kites were offspring. The mother (or father) would have attached them to itself in order do carry them around in a unique mode of brood care. The authors compare it to several other arthropod groups in which some species carry their babies around during their first days. They also consider that the animal could have delayed its molting process to avoid discarding the babies with the exoskeleton.

But can we be sure that this is the case? The entomologist Ross Piper thinks differently. He compares the kites to uropodine mites, in which the juveniles (deutonymphs) attatch themselves to beetles by long stalks in order to be transported from one food source to another. As there are marine mites, that could be the case. He also points out that the kites are scattered through the body, which would make them unlikely to be offspring, as such a distribution would only hinder the parent’s mobility.

Briggs at al. responded to Piper’s critique arguing that marine mites have only recently evolved and that Aquilonifer is very different from a terrestrial beetle. It was most likely a bentonic species, crawling on the ocean’s floor, and not a swimmer, so that it would not be a very good dispersal agent.

What do you think of it? I find it difficult to choose one side. Piper’s comparison with mites is interesting, but only as a way to suggest a convergent evolution. I cannot see how the kites would have been really mites or even arachnids. Now the argument on the kites’ position on the body is a good point. No other group of animals carries their young attached to long stalks spread all over the body. Furthermore, how would the parent properly place the juveniles there? I can only see it as a plausible way if the host were the father and the mother crawled over him to stick the eggs in place. Additionally, couldn’t they be true phoronts  that were benefitial to the host? The little fellows could benefit by moving around on the big pal and reaching new food sources while giving protection or other advantage in return. And regarding the delay in molting, I cannot see any evidence that there was any delay. We don’t know how long the kites remained there and perhaps after molting they could simply leave their little houses and build new ones on the host’s new skeleton.

We may never know the truth, but we can keep exchanging ideas.

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References:

Briggs, D., Siveter, D., Siveter, D., Sutton, M., & Legg, D. (2016). Tiny individuals attached to a new Silurian arthropod suggest a unique mode of brood care Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (16), 4410-4415 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1600489113

Briggs, D., Siveter, D., Siveter, D., Sutton, M., & Legg, D. (2016). Reply to Piper: Aquilonifer’s kites are not mitesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (24) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1606265113

Piper, R. (2016). Offspring or phoronts? An alternative interpretation of the “kite-runner” fossil Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (24) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1605909113

Switek, B. 2016. This bizarre creature flew its babies like kites. National Geographic News. Available at < http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160404-bizarre-creature-flew-babies-kites-arthropod-fossils-science/ >. Access on July 07, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Glacial calanus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow comes swimming tinily through the freezing waters in the north. It is a small crustacean, more precisely a copepod, and its name is Calanus glacialis. It lacks a common name, but I adapted it as the “glacial calanus”.

Tiny, but beautiful. Credits to University of Alaska Fairbanks*.

Tiny, but beautiful. Credits to University of Alaska Fairbanks*.

Found in the Arctic Ocean and the northernmost areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the glacial calanus is one of the most abundant polar species of copepods and one of the main components of the zooplancton in this region. As a result, it is an important food source for other animals, such as fish, birds and even whales.

The life cycle of the glacial calanus varies from 1 to 3 years and depends on the temperature and food availability. Most of its development occurs in summer, when the water is warmer and there is plenty of food, which for our fellow consists mainly of algae, such as diatoms. In autumn, the glacial calanus starts to accumulate lipids and then migrates downwards to deep waters and becomes dormant to survive the long, dark and food-poor winter.

As its life cycle depends on such seasonal variations, global warming may have profound impacts on the populations of the glacial calanus and on that of other species that depend on it as food.

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References:

Kosobokova, K. N. 1999. The reproductive cycle and life history of the Arctic copepod Calanus glacialis in the White Sea. Polar Biology 22:254–263. DOI: 10.1007/s003000050418.

Søreide, J. E.; Leu, E.; Berge, J.; Graeve, M.; Falk-Petersen, S. 2010. Timing of blooms, algal food quality and Calanus glacialis reproduction and growth in a changing Arctic. Global Change Biology 16:3154–3163. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02175.x

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