Monthly Archives: November 2019

New Species: November 2019

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described this month. It certainly does not include all described species. You can see the list of Journals used in the survey of new species here.

Bacteria

SARs

Eudorina compacta is a new green alga from Lake Victoria. Credits to Kawachi et al. (2019).*

Plants

Chrysosplenium macrospermum is a new eudicot from China. Credits to Kim et al. (2019).*

Fungi

Simplicillium formicae is a new fungus that parasitizes ants in Thailand. Credits to Wei et al. (2019).*

Sponges

Cnidarians

Flatworms

Mollusks

Onchidium melakense is a new slug from Southeast Asia. Credits to Dayrat et al. (2019).*

Annelids

Nemerteans

Nematomorphs

Nematodes

Tardigrades

Arachnids

Heptathela sumiyo is a new spider from Japan. Credits to Xu et al. (2019).*

Myiapods

Crustaceans

Hexapods

Croscherichia armass is a new beetle from Morocco. Credits to Ruiz et al. (2019).*

Chondrichthyans

Actinopterygians

Amphibians

Reptiles

Acanthosaura tongbiguanensis is a new lizard from China. Credits to Liu & Rao (2019).*

– – –

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Systematics, taxonomy

Friday Fellow: Cherry Spot

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Butterflies and moths, the insects that make up the order Lepidoptera, have a relationship of love and hatred with flowering plants, since their caterpillars feed voraciously on plant tissues but the adults are important pollinators.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, from Cameroon to South Africa, a relatively common lepidopteran is Diaphone eumela, known as the cherry spot. This species belongs to the family Noctuidae, one of the most diverse families of moths.

A caterpillar with its typical color. Photo by Felix Riegel.*

The caterpillars feed on several plants of the family Amaryllidaceae and have a yellow to light green background color. Each segment of the body has some pale orange spots that are surrounded and connected by a black area, forming a series of irregular rings. The head is orange and the orange spot of the first thoracic segment and the last abdominal segment are darker than in the rest of the body.

When it’s time to pupate, the caterpillar buries itself in the ground and makes an earth coccoon, inside of which it molts into a brown pupa. About three weeks later, the pupa turns into an adult.

A caterpillar about to turn into a pupa inside the coccoon (left) and two pupae (right). Photo by Sally Adam.*

The adult is a beautiful creature. The thorax is covered by gray hair with six yellow spots. The forewings have a gray and white background and three transversal black lines crossing them. Connected to the posteriormost line, there is a red spot with a cherry-red tinge, hence the common name. Along the outer border of the forewings, there’s a yellow line interrupted by gray projections of the background color. The hindwings, often hidden under the forewings, are fully white and the abdomen, also hidden most of the time, has yellow and black rings as a reminescent of the caterpillar.

A beautiful adult. Photo by Sally Adam.*

I was not able to find much information about the life history of this species. By analyzing photographs on iNaturalist, adults seem to emerge between August and December. The females tend to lay eggs on plants whose flowers are starting to open and the young caterpillars feed preferentially on flower buds. Older caterpllars, on the other hand, feed mainly on the fruits produced by the flowers that they did not devoured early in life.

Although beautiful and conspicuous, the cherry spot is still surrounded by many mysteries. We only need someone interested in studying them.

– – –

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

– – –

References:

Stirton CH (1976) Thuranthos: notes on generic status, morphology, phenology and pollination biology. African Biodiversity & Conservation 12(1): a1389. doi: 10.4102/abc.v12i1.1389

Wikipedia. Diaphone eumela. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaphone_eumela >. Access on October 22, 2019.

– – –

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Entomology, Friday Fellow, Zoology

Friday Fellow: Cochineal Nopal Cactus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Cacti form a diverse family of flowering plants that is endemic to the Americas, from southern Canada to Patagonia. We haven’t had any cactus as a Friday Fellow until now but this changes today with the presentation of Opuntia cochenillifera, known as the cochineal nopal cactus.

Cochineal nopal cactus growing in Mexico. Photo by Rigel Nava.**

Native from Mexico, the cochineal nopal cactus belongs to the genus Opuntia, known in English as prickly pears, paddle cacti or nopal cacti. Species of this genus are characterized by the paddle-like branches. As most cacti, they lack leaves and the stems are soft and green, retaining water and performing photosynthesis. The cochineal nopal cactus grows as a tree and can reach up to 4 meters in height. Its flowers are pink and the fruit becomes red when mature. Both the paddles and the fruit are edible but must be carefully peeled to remove the thorns and the very small hairly prickles called glochids, which detach easily and penetrate the skin even more easily.

Flower of the cochineal nopal cactus. Photo by Dick Culbert.*

Originally, the cochineal nopal cactus was cultivated to be a host for cochineals (scale insects of the genus Dactylopus), which were used for the production of red dye, hence the common name. Its cultivation for consumption increased over time but is still not as common as that of its most famous relative, the common prickly pear Opuntia ficus-indica. It is cultivated mainly in the southern United States, in California and Texas, and not that much in Mexico. It can also be cultivated as an ornamental plant. In northeastern Brazil, it is cultivated especially to be used as food for cattle during the dry season of the semi-arid region, although it is also eventually consumed by humans. This plant is also cultivated in Jamaica, especially because of alleged medicinal and cosmetic properties.

Ripe and somewhat dried fruits. Photo by inaturalist user elizabeth1.**

Recently, other uses for the cochineal nopal cactus have been explored. For example, it was found that its stems contain a natural coagulant that can be efficient to help clean water for human consumption. Another study revealed that the cochineal nopal cactus is very efficient in absorbing chromium from the soil and could be used to extract this element from contaminated sediments.

There is probably a lot more to be found about this already very important but still neglected plant.

– – –

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

– – –

References:

Adki VS, Jadhav JP, Bapat VA (2013) Nopalea cochenillifera, a potential chromium (VI) hyperaccumulator plant. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 20(2): 1173–1180. doi: 10.1007/s11356-012-1125-4

Freitas BLS, Sabogal-Paz LP (2019) Pretreatment using Opuntia cochenillifera followed by household slow sand filters: technological alternatives for supplying isolated communities. Environmental Technology. doi: 10.1080/09593330.2019.1582700

Jiménez-Antillón J, Vargas-Camareno M, Quirós-Bustos (2012) Evaluación de la tuna (Opuntia cochenillifera) para la remoción del color en agua potable. Tecnología en Marcha 25(4): 2012.

Santos DC, Farias I, Lira MA, Santos MVF, Arruda GP, Coelho RSB, Dias FM, Melo JN (2006) Manejo e utilização da palma forrageira (Opuntia e Nopalea) em Pernambuco. Recife: IPA: 48 pp.

Stintzing FC, Carle R (2005) Cactus stems (Opuntia spp.): A review on their chemistry, technology, and uses. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 49(2): 175–194. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200400071

– – –

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Botany, Friday Fellow

Friday Fellow: Common Water Flea

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Sometimes a single water drop from a freshwater lake can contain several different organisms from the plankton that lives near the surface. And a common group in freshwater plankton is the crustacean order Cladocera, known as water fleas. The most common and widespread species is Daphnia pulex, or the common water flea.

Having a worldwide distribution and measuring about 3 mm in length, the common water flea has a typical water-flea body. It is usually transparent and the head is small and smooth, with two easily visible black eyes and a well-developed pair of second antennae that are used for swimming, being the largest pair of appendices. The thorax and abdomen are fused and are surrounded by a transparent, somewhat oval shell, making the common water flea look like a pot-bellied creature. The shell has a posterior tip that looks like a pointy tail. The thoracic legs, more difficult to distinguish because of the carapace, are smaller than the second pair of antennae and are used to create a water current that brings food to the common water flea’s mouth.

Typical look of the common water flea. The left eye can be seen as a large dark spot on the head, the intestine is the long greenish tube and there are some eggs behind it. The long second antennae make the common water flea look like if it is trying to hypnotize someone with that cliche gesture of stretching the arms and waving the fingers. Photo by Paul Hebert.*

This food consists mainly of algae and other small organisms, such as bacteria, as well as of organic fragments. The common water flea is, therefore, a filter feeder. Its predators include both invertebrates, such as predatory arthropods, and small vertebrates, such as some fish.

The common water flea is considered a model organism and has been extensively studied regarding several biological aspects, including, for example, ecological stoichiometry, which investigates the response of organisms to changes in resource availability. The response of the water flea to predators has also been extensively studied and revealed, for example, that it can increase in size in the presence of invertebrate predators, in order to become too big to be eaten, and decrease in size in the presence of vertebrate predators, in order to become too small to be seen. The common water flea can also develop special structures in the presence of specific predators, such as head protrusions in the presence of glassworms.

Common water flea in Canada. Photo by iNaturalist user millsy3.**

The reproductive cycle of the common water flea is another aspect that is very well studied. As in most species of the genus Daphnia, the common water flea reproduces by cyclical parthenogenesis. Most of the population consists of females and, during their growth season, females produce a brood of diploid eggs (which are clones of the mother) every time they molt. The eggs hatch very quickly, usually after only a day, but the newly hatched water fleas remain inside the mother for about three days before being released. After passing through about 5 instars, they can start to produce their own eggs.

When environmental conditions become difficult, the second mode of reproduction is triggered. Some of the offspring produced by parthenogenesis turn into males and females start to produce haploid eggs, which are then fertilized by males and turn into resting eggs with a hardened coat, called ephippia. An ephippium can remain in the environment for many years, withstanding cold, drought or lack of food, and hatch into females when conditions improve.

The common water flea was the first crustacean species to have its genome sequenced. It was revealed that this species contain about 31 thousand genes due to an elevated rate of gene duplication. This is about 10 thousand more genes than humans have and is the reason why the common water flea has such an amazing capacity to adapt to environmental changes.

– – –

More model organisms:

Friday Fellow: Touch-me-not (on 19 April 2013)

Friday Fellow: Red flour beetle (on 6 February 2015)

Friday Fellow: Pea aphid (on 12 June 2015)

Friday Fellow: Many-headed slime (on 1 April 2016)

Friday Fellow: Baker’s yeast (on 4 August 2017)

Friday Fellow: C. elegans (on 20 April 2018)

– – –

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

– – –

References:

Colbourne JK, Pfrender ME, Gilbert D, et al. (2011) The ecoresponsive genome of Daphnia pulex. Science 331: 555–561. doi: 10.1126/science.1197761

Krueger DA, Dodson SI (1981) Embryological induction and predation ecology in Daphnia pulex. Limnology and Oceanography 26(2): 219–223. doi: 10.4319/lo.1981.26.2.0219

Tollrian R (1995) Predator‐Induced Morphological Defenses: Costs, Life History Shifts, and Maternal Effects in Daphnia pulex. Ecology 76(6): 1691–1705. doi: 10.2307/1940703

Wikipedia. Daphnia pulex. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphnia_pulex >. Access on 22 October 2019.

– – –

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

*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.

1 Comment

Filed under crustaceans, Friday Fellow, Zoology

Friday Fellow: Black Stonefly

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Insects are so diverse that it will take quite a time to present all groups here. Today I am going to show you the first species of the order Plecoptera, commonly known as stoneflies. Our species is named Austroperla cyrene and commonly known as the black stonefly.

The black stonefly is endemic to New Zealand, being found in both North Island and South Island. The adults measure about 1.5 cm in length and have a black body with black wings. The only part of the body that is not black or very dark brown is a yellowish region on each leg and at the base of the forewings. Males tend to be smaller than females.

Adult black stonefly in the North Island. Photo by Erin Powell*.

As common among many adult insects, adult black stoneflies rarely eat but they prefer plant matter when necessary. They live only a few weeks, enough time to mate and start laying their eggs. The females lay the eggs in streams and the nymphs are aquatic, with a dark brown body and two very short cerci (“tails”). The nymphs feed on dead plant matter, such as rotten wood and dead leaves, and can also feed on dead animals or fungi growing on dead plant matter. They take about three years to become adults. Most nymphs leave the water and molt into adults from late spring to late summer.

A nymph captured in the South Island. Photo by iNaturalist user anna-mac.*

Both nymph and adult black stoneflies have some amount of hydrogen cyanide in their tissues. As a result, they are avoided by both aquatic and terrestrial predators. The yellow marks on the adult may serve as a warning about the species’ toxicity and unpalatability, telling predators to stay away or face the consequences of a very unpleasant meal.

– – –

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

– – –

References:

McLellan, ID (1997) Austroperla cyrene Newman (Plecoptera: Austroperlidae). Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 27(2): 271–278. doi: 10.1080/03014223.1997.9517538

Thomson MS (1934) An account of the systematics, anatomy and bionomics of Austroperla Cyrene Newman. Master Thesis, Canterbury University.

– – –

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Entomology, Friday Fellow, Zoology

Should we save or should we get rid of parasites?

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Parasites are special types of organisms that live on or inside other lifeforms, slowly feeding on them but usually not killing them, just reducing their fitness to some degree. This is a much more discrete way to survive than killing or biting entire parts off, as predators (both carnivores and herbivores) do. However, different from these creatures, parasites are often regarded as unpleasant and disgusting. Yet parasitism is the most common way to get food in nature.

When I introduced the rhinoceros tick in a recent Friday Fellow, I mentioned the dilemma caused by it. Since the rhinoceros tick is a parasite of rhinoceroses, and rhinoceroses are threatened with extinction, a common practice to improve the reproductive fitness of rhinos is removing their ticks, but this may end up leading the rhinoceros tick to extinction.

This actually happened already with other parasites, such as the louse Coleocephalum californici, which was an exclusive parasite of the California condor Gymnogyps californianus. In order to save the condor, a common practice among veterinarians working with conservationists was to delouse the birds and, as a result, this louse is now extinct. The harm that the louse caused to the condor was so little, though, that its extinction was not at all necessary, being nothing more than a case of negligence and lack of empathy for a small and non-charismatic species.

The California condor louse Coleocephalum californici was extinct during a poorly managed campaign to save the California condor Gymnogyps californianus. Image extracted from https://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/the-power-and-plight-of-the-parasite

The louse Rallicola (Aptericola) pilgrimi has also vanished forever during the conservation campaigns to save its host, the little spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii, in another failed work.

The efforts to save the little spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii, from extinction led to the extinction of its louse. Photo by Judi Lapsley Miller.*
The now extinct Rallicola (Aptericola) pilgrimi. Credits to the Museum of New Zealand.***

Another group of parasites that is facing extinction are fleas. The species Xenopsylla nesiotes was endemic to the Christmas Island together with its host, the Christmas Island rat, Rattus macleari. The introduction of the black rat, Rattus rattus, in the island led to a quick decline in the population of the Christmas Island rat, which went extinct at the beginning of the 20th century and, of course, the flea went extinct with it. The flea Acanthopsylla saphes has likely become extinct as well. It was a parasite of the eastern quoll, Dasyurus viverrinus, in mainland Australia. The eastern quoll today is only found in Tasmania, as the mainland Australia’s population went extinct in the mid-20th century. However, the flea was never found in the Tasmanian populations, so it is likely that it died away in mainland Australia together with the local population of its host.

The Manx shearwater flea Ceratophyllus (Emmareus) fionnus. Photo by Olha Schedrina, Natural History Museum.*

But things have been changing lately and fortunately the view on parasites is improving. A recent assessment was made on the population of another flea, the Manx shearwater flea, Ceratophyllus (Emmareus) fionnus. This flea is host-specific, being found only on the Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus. Although the Manx shearwater is not at all a threatened species and has many colonies along the North Atlantic coast, the flea is endemic to the Isle of Rùm, a small island off the west coast of Scotland. Due to the small population of its host in this island, the flea has ben evaluated as vulnerable. If the Manx shearwater population in the Island were stable, things would be fine but, as you may have guessed already, things are not fine. Just like it happened in Christmas Island, the black rat was also introduced in the Isle of Rúm and has become a predator of the Manx shearwater, attacking its nests.

The Manx shearwater, Puffinus puffinus, is the sole host of the Manx shearwater flea. Photo by Martin Reith.**

Some ideas have been suggested to protect the flea from extinction. One of them is to eradicate the black rat from the Isle or at least manage its population near the Manx shearwater colonies. Another proposal is to translocate some fleas to another island to create additional populations in other Manx shearwater colonies.

But why bother protecting parasites? Well, there are plenty of reasons. First, they comprise a huge part of the planet’s biodiversity and their loss would have a strong impact on any ecosystem. Second, they are an essential part of their host’s evolutionary history and are, therefore, promoters of diversity by natural selection. Removing the parasites from a host would eventually decrease its genetic variability and let it more vulnerable to other new parasites. Due to their coevolution with the host, parasites are also a valuable source of knowledge about the host’s ecology and evolutionary history, helping us know their population dynamics. We can even find ways to deal with our own parasites by studying the parasites of other species, and parasites are certainly something that humans managed to collect in large numbers while spreading across the globe.

Parasites may be annoying but they are necessary. They may seem to weaken their host at first but, in the long run, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

– – –

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

– – –

References:

Kirst ML (2012) The power and plight of the parasite. High Country News. Available at < https://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/the-power-and-plight-of-the-parasite >. Access on 3 November 2019.

Kwak ML (2018) Australia’s vanishing fleas (Insecta: Siphonaptera): a case study in methods for the assessment and conservation of threatened flea species. Journal of Insect Conservation 22(3–4): 545–550. doi: 10.1007/s10841-018-0083-7

Kwak ML, Heath ACG, Palma RL (2019) Saving the Manx Shearwater Flea Ceratophyllus (Emmareus) fionnus (Insecta: Siphonaptera): The Road to Developing a Recovery Plan for a Threatened Ectoparasite. Acta Parasitologica. doi: 10.2478/s11686-019-00119-8

Rózsa L, Vas Z (2015) Co-extinct and critically co-endangered species of parasitic lice, and conservation-induced extinction: should lice be reintroduced to their hosts? Oryx 49(1): 107–110. doi: 10.1017/S0030605313000628

– – –

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

**Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservation, Ecology, Evolution, Extinction, Parasites

Friday Fellow: Eucalyptus Gall Wasp

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Galls are a common abnormal growth on plant tissues, being similar to animal warts, and can be caused by several different parasites, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, arthropods and sometimes even other plants. Sometimes galls can be harmless but they are often able to affect the plant’s fitness to a degree that harms it.

In several species of eucalyptus, including the river red gum presented here last week, a common agent causing galls is Ophelimus maskelli, known as the eucalyptus gall wasp. As its name suggests, this species is a wasp, more precisely a chalcid wasp, therefore related to several parasitoid wasps and the fig wasps.

An adult female eucalyptus gall wasp. Extracted from https://bicep.net.au/pests/ophelimus-maskelli/

The eucalyptus gall wasp is very small, measuring, as an adult, only about 1 mm in length and having a black body. After mating, the female looks for immature eucalyptus leaves, 15–90 days old, growing in the lower tree canopy because leaves are larger there. A female lays about 100 eggs and has a preference for the area close to the leaf’s petiole. As soon as the eggs are laid, a reaction on the leaf tissues leads to the formation of the galls, with one larva growing inside each gall. In heavily infested trees, the whole leaf can be covered and there may be as much as 36 galls per cm². The larva pupates inside the gall and leaves after reaching the adult stage.

A heavily infested eucalyptus leaf with numerous galls. Credits to NHMLA Community Science Program.**

After the adults emerge, the leaves start to desiccate, especially the heavily infested ones, and die, weakening the tree. As a result, the eucalyptus gall wasp is considered a serious eucalyptus pest and can have devastating effects on eucalyptus plantations.

The eucalyptus gall wasp is native from Australia, since most eucalyptus species come from there, but was accidentally introduced in several other countries together with the eucalyptus trees, especially in the last decades. The galls are easily identified as very small, somehow oval eruptions, not very tall, seen from both the upper and lower sides of the leaf. After the adult emerge, there is a visible hole on the gall and the surroundings start to dry.

Several methods to reduce the infections are used, including pesticides and biological control, especially of other chalcid wasps such as the parasitoid Closterocerus chamaeleon. Considering that this pest is a relatively novel nuisance in a global scale, effective control methods are still being developed.

– – –

More hymenopterans:

Friday Fellow: Bullet Ant (on 27 May 2016)

Friday Fellow: Jataí Bee (on 12 August 2019)

Friday Fellow: Turnip Sawfly (on 17 May 2019)

Friday Fellow: Chinese Banyan Wasp (on 5 July 2019)

– – –

References:

Branco M, Boavida C, Durand N, Franco JC, Mendel Z (2009) Presence of the Eucalyptus gall wasp Ophelimus maskelli and its parasitoid Closterocerus chamaeleon in Portugal: First record, geographic distribution and host preference. Phytoparasitica 37(1): 51–54. doi: 10.1007/s12600-008-0010-7

Burks RA, Mottern JL, Waterworth R, Paine TD (2015) First report of the Eucalyptus gall wasp, Ophelimus maskelli (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae), an invasive pest on Eucalyptus, from the Western Hemisphere. Zootaxa 3926(3): 448–450. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3926.3.10

Dhahri S, Ben Jamaa ML, Lo Verde G (2010) First record of Leptocybe invasa and Ophelimus maskelli eucalyptus gall wasps in Tunisia. Tunisian Journal of Plant Protection 5: 231–236.

– – –

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Entomology, Friday Fellow, Parasites