Author Archives: Piter Keo

About Piter Keo

PhD in Biology working with ecology, behavior and taxonomy of land planarians. I love biology, astronomy, languages and mythology, among other things.

Friday Fellow: Golden Wattle

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you walk through eucalyptus forests in eastern Australia, you may find today’s fellow in its natural environment. Its name is Acacia pycnantha, commonly known as the golden wattle and, as obvious by its scientific name, is a species of acacia.

A golden wattle among eucalyptus trees in southern Australia. Photo by David Muirhead.*

The golden wattle is a peculiar tree. It reaches a height of about 8 m, although most individuals grow only up to 6 m. As common among Australian species of the genus Acacia, the golden wattle does not have true leaves. Instead, it has modified leaf stems, called phyllodes, that are widened to look and function like leaves. The phyllodes have a lanceolate and falcate shape, i.e., they look like a typical leaf that is slightly curved to one side, like a sickle. The outer side of this “sickle” has an extra-floral nectary, a structure that produces nectar and attracts insects and birds that feed on it.

Phyllodes of the golden wattle with the extrafloral nectary seen as a small round protuberance. Photo by Wikimedia user Melburnian.**

The plant produces flower buds all year round but only those produced between November and May will develop further and open between July and November of the next year. The flowers occur in inflorescences and have a strong yellow color and the typical fluffy aspect of acacia flowers caused by the very long stamens.

One inflorescence with several flowers and their very long stamens. Photo by Patrick Kavanagh.***

Despite the huge amount of flowers that a single tree produces, this species is self-incompatible, meaning that it cannot fertilize itself and needs its pollen to be taken to the flowers of another individual of the same species. It has been shown that birds are very important pollinators of the golden wattle and the tree uses the extra-floral nectaries to aid that. When a bird visits the tree, it feeds on the nectar from the extra-floral nectaries and, in the process, brushed against the flowers, becoming covered with pollen. When the birds visit the next tree and brush against its flowers, part of the pollen of the first plant passes to the flowers of the second one.

The bark of the golden wattle produces large quantities of tannins, more than any other Australian acacia, which led to its cultivation for this purpose. When stressed, the trunk exudes a gum (resin) that is similar to the gum arabic produced by African species of acacia.

Gum exuding from the trunk of the golden wattle. Photo by Patrick Kavanagh.***

The golden wattle has been introduced in several other countries, especially in Europe and Africa, for ornamental or economic purposes. In South Africa, its cultivation for tannin production made it spread quickly through the native ecosystems, becoming invasive. And now, as always, we have to deal with the consequences of our irrational acts and run to solve this problem.

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References:

Hoffmann JH, Impson FAC, Moran VC, Donnelly D (2002) Biological control of invasive golden wattle trees (Acacia pycnantha) by a gall wasp, Trichilogaster sp. (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae), in South Africa. Biological Control 25(1): 64–73. 10.1016/S1049-9644(02)00039-7

Vanstone VA, Paton DC (1988) Extrafloral Nectaries and Pollination of Acacia pycnanthaBenth by Birds. Australian Journal of Botany 36(5): 519–531. doi: 10.1071/BT9880519

Wikipedia. Acacia pycnantha. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acacia_pycnantha >. Access on 9 August 2019.

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Friday Fellow: Mottled Caddisfly

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s time to introduce a new insect order here and, again, this is a complicated taxon. The order Trichoptera consists of small moth-like insects known as caddisflies. They are closely related to moths and butterflies, the order Lepidoptera, being a sister-group of them. Having 10 times fewer species than the order Lepidoptera, the order Trichoptera is less common and much less popular, so that it is hard to find species that are well studied to present here.

The species I picked is called Glyphotaelius pellucidus and popularly known as the mottled caddisfly or mottled sedge. It lives in middle and northern Europe and has the typical life cycle of any caddisfly.

A mottled caddisfly in Germany. Photo by Wikimedia user Pjt56.*

The larva of the mottled caddisfly inhabits still and slow-running waters that are overgrown by trees, especially alders, oaks and beeches, in areas of lower altitude. As usual among caddisflies, the larva of the mottled caddisfly builds a silk case (a “caddis”) in which it lives and attaches pieces of debris, especially leaf fragments of the trees mentioned above, to make it stronger. In this species, the fragments that are attached make the case very large and characteristic. To the sides of the case, the larva attaches small and irregular leaf fragments, while to the dorsal and ventral sides, it attaches large, circular sections that are much wider than the larva’s body.

A larva inside its case in Germany. Photo by iNaturalist user fuerchtegott.**

The larva lives several months, from about October to April, and feeds on leaf fragments, the same material with which it builds its case. In April, the larva turns into a pupa which, usually during summer (around June or July), turns into an adult. The adult is not aquatic as the larva and the pupa. Thus, the pupa swims to the surface before breaking and releasing the adult. During this moment, the adult is very vulnerable to predators, especially fish. This is why fake adult caddisflies are commonly employed as fishing baits.

Adult mottled caddisfly in the UK. Photo by Philip Mark Osso.**

If the adult menages to leave the water alive, it still has to spend some time waiting for its wings to dry, which is another very vulnerable moment. The color of the adult is brown and the wings have a mottled pattern of dark and light marks that makes it resemble a fragment of dried leaf.

Egg mass on a leaf in the UK. Photo by Martin Cooper.***

Adult caddisflies in general rarely eat and this is not different with the mottled caddisfly. The only purpose of adults is to mate and lay eggs. After mating, the female lays the eggs in a mass on the surface of leaves hanging over a water body. One female may lay up to six egg masses, which decrease in size from the first to the last, and then dies. When the eggs hatch, the larvae fall into the water, restaring the cycle.

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References:

Crichton MI (1987) A study of egg masses of Glyphotaelius pellucidus (Retzius), (Trichoptera: Limnephilidae). In: Bournaud M., Tachet H. (eds) Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on Trichoptera. Series Entomologica, vol 39. Springer, Dordrecht. doi: 10.1007/978-94-009-4043-7_30

Gullefors B (2010) Seasonal decline in clutch size of the caddisfly Glyphotaelius pellucidus (Retzius) (Trichoptera: Limnephilidae). Denisia 29: 125–131.

Kiauta B, Lankhorst L (1969) The chromosomes of the caddis-fly, Glyphotaelius pellucidus (Retzius, 1783) (Trichoptera: Limnephilidae, Limnephilinae). Genetica 40: 1–6.

Otto C (1983) Behavioural and Physiological Adaptations to a Variable Habitat in Two Species of Case-Making Caddis Larvae Using Different Food. Oikos 41(2): 188–194. doi: 10.2307/3544262

Rowlands MLJ, Hansell MH (1987) Case design, construction and ontogeny of building in Glyphotaelius pellucidus caddisfly larvae. Journal of Zoology 211(2): 329–356. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1987.tb01538.x

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Friday Fellow: Strawberry Top Snail

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Look at this thing:

It is so beautifully red like a strawberry that I feel my mouth salivating and an urge to bite it. But instead of a juicy sweet fruit like a strawberry, this is a hard salty seashell belonging to the species Clanculus puniceus that has the appropriate common name of strawberry top shell.

This species is found in the Indian Ocean along the eastern coast of Africa, from the Red Sea to Cape Agulhas, including nearby islands such as Madagascar and the Mascarenes. It belongs to the family Trochidae, commonly known as top shells or top snails because their shell resembles a spinning top.

Strawberry top shell in South Africa. Photo by iNaturalist user jaheymans.*

The shell of the strawberry top snail measures, in the adult, at least 15 mm in diameter, reaching up to 23 mm, and has a beautiful red color, caused by uroporphyrins, that can vary from orange-red to crimson. The spiral of the shell, when seen from above, has a line formed by black dots, caused by melanin, intercalated by two or three white dots. When seen from below, there are two additional lines with this pattern that run side by side near the shell opening.

The shell seen from several angles. Photo by H. Zell.**

As usual among top snails, the strawberry top snail lives in intertidal and subtidal zones and feeds on algae that it scrapes from rocks using its toothed tongue (the radula). They are dioecious, i.e., there are male and female individuals, as in most sea snails, but there is no sexual dimorphism.

Due to its beauty, the shell of the strawberry top snail is highly desired by shell collectors. However, little is known about the natural history of this particular species. I wasn’t even able to find a photograph in which the snail itself is visible.

This was the only photograph I found in which the soft part of the body of a snail in the genus Clanculus is visible. The species, from Taiwan, was not identified. Photograph by Cheng Te Hsu.***

If you work with this species or at least has a photograph of a living specimen showing the snail inside the shell, please share it! We need more available information on the wonderful creatures that share this planet with us.

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More marine snails:

Friday Fellow: Ornate Limpet (on 3 May 2019)

Friday Fellow: Tulip Cone (on 29 December 2017)

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References:

Herbert DG (1993) Revision of the Trochinae, tribe Trochini (Gastropoda: Trochidae) of southern Africa. Annals of the Natal Museum 34(2): 239–308.

Wikipedia. Trochidae. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trochidae >. Access on 29 July 2019.

Williams ST, Ito S, Wakamatsu K, Goral T, Edwards NP, Wogelius RA, Henkel T, Oliveira LFC, Maia LF, Strekopytov S, Jeffries T, Speiser DI, Marsden JT (2016) Identification of Shell Colour Pigments in Marine Snails Clanculus pharaonius and Cmargaritarius (Trochoidea; Gastropoda). PLoS ONE 11(7): e0156664. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156664

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New Species: July 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.

Bacteria

SARs

Primulina cerina is a new flowering plant from China. Credits to Li et al. (2019).*
Tashiroea villosa is another new flowering plant from China. Credits to Zhou et al. (2019).*

Plants

Guatteria aliciae is a new flowering plant from Panama. Credits to Maas et al. (2019).*
Rhaptopetalum rabiense is a new flowering plant from Gabon. Credits to Kenfack & Nguema (2019).*

Fungi

Dicephalospora yunnanica is a new fungus from China. Credits to Zheng & Zhuang (2019).*
Amanita ahmadii is a new mushroom from Pakistan. Credits to Jabeen et al. (2019).

Poriferans

Rotiferans

Flatworms

Annelids

Mollusks

Sinochloritis lii is a new species of snail from China. Credits to Wu et al. (2019).*

Kinorhynchs

Nematodes

Tardigrades

Arachnids

Hyleoglomeris roukouqu is a new millipede from China. Credits to Liu & Winne (2019).*

Myriapods

Sarothrogammarus yiiruae is a new amphipod from China. Credits to Zheng et al. (2019).*
Hyalella puna is a new amphipod from Argentina. Credits to Peralta & Miranda (2019).*

Crustaceans

Geosesarma mirum is a new semi-terrestrial crab from Taiwan. Credits to Shy & Ng (2019).*
Macrobrachium laevis is a new shrimp from China. Credits to Zheng et al. (2019).*

Hexapods

Paranthrenella helvola is a new species of moth from Taiwan. Credits to Liang & Hsu (2019).*
Scolopsis lacrima is a new fish from New Caledonia. Credits to Nakamura et al. (2019).*

Actinopterygians

Cirrhilabrus wakanda is a new fish from Tanzania. Credits to Tea et al. (2019).*
Nidirana yaoica is a new frog from China. Credits to Lyu et al. (2019).*

Amphibians

Cnemaspis tarutaoensis is a new gecko from Thailand. Credits to Ampai et al. (2019).*

Reptiles

Mammals

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Friday Fellow: Portuguese Millipede

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Millipedes, which make up the class Diplopoda, are very cute arthropods in my opinion and include amazing species, such as the animal with the largest number of legs in the world. Many species are not well studied, though. However, one that is very well known is the Portuguese Millipede Ommatoiulus moreleti.

As its common name suggests, the Portuguese millipede is native from Portugal, more precisely from Southern Portugal and nearby areas in Spain, living in the soil of pine and oak forests. Its body, measuring about 4 cm as adults, has the typical cylindrical and elongate shape seen in most millipedes and is very dark, almost black, with legs that have a light color, usually whitish, but sometimes purplish.

A Portuguese millipede in Portugal. Photo by Romulo Arrais.*

Despite its relatively small size, the Portuguese millipede takes more than a year to reach maturity and grow for about three years. The mating period is usually during Autumn, and after having its eggs fertilized, the female lays from 60 to 80 of them in a chamber about 2 cm deep in the soil. When the eggs hatch, the first stage is a small, pupoid legless animal that remains inside a membrane until it molts into a small six-legged larva. During the first year, the juvenile molts about 8 times and the number of legs increases at each new stage. At about stage 10, they are sexually mature, but continue to molt and gaining more legs until reaching about 90 legs at the 14th stage. Males have an interesting reproductive strategy called periodomorphism, in which mature individuals molt into a “castrated” form, with reduced sexual organs, and becomes sexually mature again in the next molt, only to return to the immature form again in the next molt and so on.

The Portuguese millipede became famous after its accidental introduction in southeastern Australia, apparently in the 1950s. It soon became a very abundant species and, as a consequence, a nuisance for humans. As most millipedes, the Portuguese millipede is mainly detritivorous, feeding on dead plant material, such as rotten wood and dead leaves, so its introduction is not that much an ecological catastrophe, although it can have some negative impacts by competing with native millipede species.

A Portuguese millipede in Australia. Photo by iNaturalist user corunastylis.**

The main problems caused by the introduction of the Portuguese millipede in Australia affect mostly humans. They are attracted to weak light sources, such as those emitted by houses at night, and, as a result, end up invading residences, sometimes hundreds of them at a time. When threatened, the Portuguese millipede emits a pungent yellow secretion that can irritate the eyes and, in contact with clothes, mark them with a permanent stain. Addtionally, the Portuguese millipede sometimes can feed on some crops, especially fruits.

In Portugal, the populations of the Portuguese millipede are controlled by native predators, such as the European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus and the beetle Ocypus olens. Released from these natural enemies, the millipede spread quickly through southeastern Australia. However, about 30 years later, its population in Australia started to decrease. Apparently some nematode parasites that infect native millipedes adapted to parasitize this invasive species as well, helping to contain its population size. Some other native Australian predators have also observed feeding on the Portuguese millipede, including the blue garden flatworm, Caenoplana coerulea.

Other than Australia, the Portuguese millipede was also introduced in several Atlantic Islands, such as the Macaronesian Islands, Bermuda and the UK, as well as in South Africa. However, it does not seem to be that much of a nuisance there.

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More millipedes:

Friday Fellow: Leggiest Millipede (on 12 February 2016)

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References:

Baker GH (1985) Predators of Ommatoiulus moreletii (Lucas) (Diplopoda: Iulidae) in Portugal and Australia. Australian Journal of Entomology 24(4): 247–252. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-6055.1985.tb00237.x

Baker GH (1978) The post-embryonic development and life history of the millipede, Ommatoiulus moreletii (Diplopoda: Iulidae), introduced in south-eastern Australia. Journal of Zoology 186: 209–228. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1978.tb03366.x

Gregory SJ, Owen C, Jones G, Williams E (2018) Ommatoiulus moreleti (Lucas) and Cylindroiulus pyrenaicus (Brölemann) new to the UK (Diplopoda, Julida: Julidae) and a new host for Rickia laboulbenioides (Laboulsbeniales). Bulletin of the British Myriapod & Isopod Group 30: 48–60.

McKillup SC, Allen PG, Skewes MA (1988) The natural decline of an introduced species following its initial increase in abundance: an explanation for Ommatoiulus moreletii in Australia. Oecologia 77:339–342. doi: 10.1007/BF00378039

Terrace TE, Baker GH (1994) The blue land planarian, Caenoplana coerulea Moseley (Tricladida: Geoplanidae), a predator of Ommatoiulus moreleti (Lucas) (Diplopoda: Julidae) in southern Australia. Australian Journal of Entomology 33(4): 371–372.

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Friday Fellow: Stonewort Seed Shrimp

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s time to talk about an ostracode, or seed shrimp, again and, as usual, this is a difficult time due to the little information easily accessible regarding any particular species of this group. But there is, indeed, one that is considerably well studied. Being one of the most common ostracodes in North America and Eurasia, its scientific name is Cypridopsis vidua, to which I coined the common name “stonewort seed shrimp”.

The stonewort seed shrimp is a freshwater crustacean with the typical ostracode appearance, looking like a tiny bivalve measuring about 0.5 mm in length. Its valves have a distinctive light and dark pattern.

A stonewort seed shrimp with a closed shell. Credits to Markus Lindholm, Anders Hobæk/Norsk institutt for vassforsking.*

A relatively mobile species, the stonewort seed shrimp lives at the bottom of water bodies, over the sediment, and is common in areas that are densely vegetated by stoneworts (genus Chara). This association with stoneworts gives the stonewort seed shrimp both protection from predators, which are mostly fish, and a good food source.

The main food of the stonewort seed shrimp are microscopic algae that grow on the stems of stoneworts. While foraging, the stonewort seed shrimp swims from one stonewort stem to another using its first pair of antennae and clings on the stems using the second pair of antennae and the first pair of thoracic legs. Once realocated, it starts to scrape the microscopic algae using its mandibles.

The body of a stonewort seed shrimp as seen when one of the valves (the left one here) is removed. Credits to Paulo Corgosinho.**

The stonewort seed shrimp is one more of those species in which males do not exist, not even in small quantities. During the warm months of summer, females produce the so-called subitaneous eggs, which develop immediately into new females. However, when winter is approaching, they produce another type of eggs, the so-called diapausing eggs, which remain dormant in the substrate during winter. The adult animals all die during this season and, when spring arrives, a new population appears from the hatching eggs. Since not all eggs hatch in the spring, some of them may remain in the substrate for years before hatching, which usually increases the genetic diversity every year, as it not only depends of the daughters of the last generation.

But how does genetic diversity appear if there are no males and, as a result, the daughters are always clones of the mothers? This mystery is not yet fully solved. Genetic recombination during parthenogenesis, by exchanging alleles between chromosomes, does not seem to be very common. It is possible that different populations are genetically different and that they colonize new areas very often, mixing with each other. Since males are known in closely related species, it is still possible that, some day, we will find, somewhere, some hidden males of the stonewort seed shrimp. It is also possible that, somehow, males went all extinct in the recent past, like in the last glaciation, for example. If so, only time can tell what is the destiny of the stonewort seed shrimp.

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More Ostracods:

Friday Fellow: Sharp-Toothed Venus Seed Shrimp (on 22 June 2018)

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References:

Cywinska A, Hebert PDN (2002) Origins of clonal diversity in the hypervariable asexual ostracode Cypridopsis vidua. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15: 134–145. doi: 10.1046/j.1420-9101.2002.00362.x

Roca JR, Baltanas A, Uiblein F (1993) Adaptive responses in Cypridopsis vidua (Crustacea: Ostracoda) to food and shelter offered by a macrophyte (Chara fragilis). Hydrobiologia 262: 121–131.

Uiblein F, Roca JP, Danielpool DL (1994) Experimental observations on the behavior of the ostracode Cypridopsis vidua. Internationale Vereinigung für Theoretische und Angewandte Limnologie: Verhandlungen 25: 2418–2420.

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Instead of toxic chemicals, use helping plants to get rid of crop pests

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Finding efficient ways to deal with agricultural pests in crops is a challenging work. Currently, as we all known, the main strategy to control such pests is the use of chemical pesticides. However, this approach only serves the interests of those seeking profit over well-being, as we all know that such pesticides increase the risk of several health issues in those consuming the crops. More than that, chemical pesticides not only kill the targeted pest but many other life forms, causing a devastating effect on ecosystems.

The cross-striped cabbageworm (Evergesis rimosalis) is a common pest in plants of the genus Brassica (kale, cabbage, mustard) in the eastern United States. Photo by iNaturalist user margaridamaria.*

Fortunately, there has been an increasing interest in finding alternative, healthier ways to deal with the problem. One way is the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are naturally resistant to pests. There are, however, two main problems with this approach. The first one is that the population in general has an irrational fear of GMOs, apparently believing that they can be more harmful than the poisonous chemical pesticides, which is completely absurd. The second problem with GMOs is that the technology to create them is dominated by the same companies that produce most pesticides and, as all big companies, only seek profit and do not give a damn about the people and the environment.

A third strategy is the use of natural enemies of the pests to control them in organic farms. Although many natural enemies are great doing their job, they may also cause negative impacts by interfering with the surrounding ecosystems. Many crop pests are not native from the area where they are pests, i.e., they are invasive species and, in order to control them efficiently, a predator from its native area must be introduced as well, and this predator may end up becoming a threat to other species that it elects as food.

Coleomegilla maculata is a common predatory lady beetle in the eastern United States. They are great to control agricultural pests locally but should not be deliberately introduced elsewhere. Photo by Riley Walsh.*

Fortunately, some nice strategies have been recently developed. One of them includes the use of additional plants in the fields that change the way that pests behave without posing a threat to surrounding areas. These additional plants consists of two types: trap crops and insectary plants.

The common buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum has been used as an insectary plant. Photo by iNaturalist user jimkarlstrom.*

A trap crop, as the name suggests, is an additional crop that is not intended to be commercially exploited, but serves as a trap for the pests. Instead of attacking the main crop (called the ‘cash crop’), the pests are attracted to the trap crop, reducing their density in the cash crop. This system is more efficient if the trap crop is similar to the cash crop, such as another plant of the same genus, or another variety of the same species, because it must be as attractive to the pest as the cash crop, or perhaps even more attractive.

Insectary plants, on the other hand, are intended to attract other insects to the plantation, especially predatory insects that prey on the agricultural pest. Insectary plants should produce flowers in abundance, thus attracting many insect species, which will increase the interest of predators in the area. However, when used alone, insectary plants will only provide predators to control the pest in crop plants that are near the insectary plants and, as they are usually planted in an area surrounding the plantation, they would not protect the plants that are near the center of the plantation.

In a recent study, Shrestha et al. (see references) decided to combine trap crops and insectary plants together with the cash crops in a strategy that they called a ‘botanical triad’. The cash crap was organic cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) planted in the eastern United States; the trap crops were three other crops of the genus Brassica: mighty mustard (Brassica juncea), kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) and collard (Brassica oleracea var. italica); and the insectary plants were buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima).

Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala). Photo by David Adreas Tønnessen.*

As a result, the number of herbivores (i.e., crop pests) was larger in the trap crops than in the cash crop. The trap crops were, therefore, more attractive than the cash crops for the pests. The presence of insectary plants increased the number of predatory and parasitoid insects, such as lady beetles and parasitoid wasps, in the trap crops when compared to treatments without insectary plants. The number of parasitized pests also increased in the presence of insectary plants.

Field layout of the study by Shrestha et al. (2019).**

In general, the “team work” of trap crops and insectary plants greatly reduced the influence of agricultural pests on the cash crops. The trap crops attracted the pests to an area close to the insectary plants, allowing the predators to reach them.

Efficient ways to raise crops organically are possible. We just have to focus on a healthy ecosystem and not on money. If we work together, we can defeat the “Big 6” corporations that dominate the food production in the world. They are the real pests.

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Reference:

Shrestha B, Finke DL, Piñero JC (2019) The ‘Botanical Triad’: The Presence of Insectary Plants Enhances Natural Enemy Abundance on Trap Crop Plants in an Organic Cabbage Agro-Ecosystem. Insects 10(6): 181. doi: 10.3390/insects10060181

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