Category Archives: Zoology

Friday Fellow: Pliable Brachionus

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Charles Darwin had already noticed that small animals, such as those found in zooplankton, are widely distributed around the world, even those that are found in small ponds of freshwater. This seemed to go against the speciation theories, but it was thought to be the result of passive transport by other animals, such as migratory birds. One of such species is the tiny rotifer Brachionus plicatilis, or the pliable brachionus, as I decided to call it, a 0.1 to 0.2 mm long species found worlwide in saline lakes.

brachionus_plicatilis

A specimen of the pliable brachionus. Photo by Wikimedia user Sofdrakou.*

The pliable brachionus is a euryhaline species, meaning it can tolerate a wide range of salinity. Recent molecular studies have shown that it is actually a complex of at least 22 different species, but as this was not yet taxonomically defined, I will continue to use the terms Brachionus plicatilis and plicate brachionus in the broad sense.

In the last half century, the pliable brachionus became a commercially important species, being raised as a food source for fish larvae. It may be fed with a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria, algae and yeasts. In the natural environment, it is considered a generalist filter-feeding species.

As many rotifers, the pliable brachionus usually reproduces by parthenogenesis, where the so-called amictic females produce diploid eggs that originate other amictic females. Under certain conditions, however, they may produce eggs that originate mictic females, which only lay haploid eggs. Unfertilized haploid eggs originate males, while those that are fertilized originate new females. A bit complex, right?

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Gómez, A., Serra, M., Carvalho, G., & Lunt, D. (2002). Speciation in ancient cryptic species complexes: evidence from the molecular phylogeny of Brachionus plicatilis(Rotifera) Evolution, 56 (7) DOI: 10.1554/0014-3820(2002)056[1431:SIACSC]2.0.CO;2

Øie, G., Makridis, P., Reitan, K., & Olsen, Y. (1997). Protein and carbon utilization of rotifers (Brachionus plicatilis) in first feeding of turbot larvae (Scophthalmus maximus L.) Aquaculture, 153 (1-2), 103-122 DOI: 10.1016/S0044-8486(96)01514-1

Suatoni, E., Vicario, S., Rice, S., Snell, T., & Caccone, A. (2006). An analysis of species boundaries and biogeographic patterns in a cryptic species complex: The rotifer—Brachionus plicatilis Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 41 (1), 86-98 DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2006.04.025

Walker, K. (1981). 13. A synopsis of ecological information on the saline lake rotifer Brachionus plicatilis Müller 1786 Hydrobiologia, 81-82 (1), 159-167 DOI: 10.1007/BF00048713

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Badass females are unpopular among praying mantids

by Piter Kehoma Boll

One of the most iconic representations of praying mantids is that of a female eating the male after (or during) sex, an unpleasant scenario that starts with a beheading before the poor male even finishes his job.

Mantismeal

Delicious male meal. Photo by Wikimedia user Classiccardinal.*

According to some studies, when the male is beheaded, he increases the pumping of semen into the female, thus increasing the chances of fecundation. This could make one think that being eaten is actually an advantage to the male, as it makes him have more offspring.

Several observations with different species show the opposite though. Males make everything they can to avoid being eaten by the female, as it allows them to copulate with additional females. But how can they escape from such a gruesome destiny?

It is known that hungry females are more eager to eat the partner than satiated ones. Well-fed females (fat ones) are also less likely to have a meal in bed than malnourished ones. Males can tell whether a female is hungry or malnourished and thus avoid those in such conditions. They like fat and fed females. But this is not the only thing that males take into account when choosing the appropriate mother for their children.

A study from 2015 by researchers of the University of Buenos Aires have shown that males of the species Parastagmatoptera tessellata, found in South America, also choose females based on their personality.

In a laboratory experiment, a male was put in a container where he could see two females, one aggressive and one non-aggressive. Another male was presented to both females (which were unable to see each other) and the aggressive female always attacked the male, while the non-aggressive one never did. After watching how each female behaved, the male received access to both and could choose his favorite one.

And guess what? The non-aggressive one was chosen most of the time. This means that males are not only able to tell whether they are likely to be eaten based on the female’s hunger and nutritional condition, but also by analyzing the behavior of the female towards other males.

See also:

Gender conflict: Who’s the man in the relationship?

Male dragonflies are not as violent as thought

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Lelito, J., & Brown, W. (2008). Mate attraction by females in a sexually cannibalistic praying mantis Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 63 (2), 313-320 DOI: 10.1007/s00265-008-0663-8

Scardamaglia, R., Fosacheca, S., & Pompilio, L. (2015). Sexual conflict in a sexually cannibalistic praying mantid: males prefer low-risk over high-risk females Animal Behaviour, 99, 9-14 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.10.013

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Don’t let the web bugs bite

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you think spiders are scary creatures, today you will learn that they are scared too. But what could scary a spider? Well, a web bug!

We usually think of spider webs as an astonishing evolutionary achievement of this group of arachnids and a very efficient way to capture prey without having to pursue them. Webs are sticky, resistant, and only spiders themselves can move freely through them. The only problem is that this is not true.

emesaya_feeding

A thread-legged assassin bug (Emesaya sp.) feeding on a spider after invading the spider’s web in the Western Ghats, India. Photo by Vipin Baliga.*

A group of bugs that conquered the spider world are the so-called thread-legged assassin bugs, which comprise the subfamily Emesinae of the assassin bugs (family Reduviidae). As the name implies, the assassin bugs are a group of true bugs (suborder Heteroptera) that are expert killers of other creatures.

During their evolution, the thread-legged assassin bugs seem to have acquired a special taste for spiders and throughout the world they are usually associated with this eight-legged predators. In many cases, such as the one seen in the picture above, the bugs prey on the spiders, having developed the ability to move through the webs. They usually produce vibrations on the web that attract the spiders. Those, thinking that they caught a prey, are lured directly to their death in the legs and proboscis of the terrible bug.

Some thread-legged assassin bugs have, however, found another way to harass spiders: by stealing their food. In the latter scenario, the bugs usually wait close to or on the spider’s web and, when an insect is caught, they steal it from the spider by ripping it off the web. This kind of behavior is called kleptoparasitism, which means “parasitism by stealing”.

But how can spiders avoid this bug nightmare?

Until recently, it was thought that spiders were safe inside caves. Although emesinid bugs do occurr in caves, their association with spiders seemed to be weaker or non-existent there. But new findings are revealing that they pursue our arachnid fellows even to the deepest abysses of Earth.

The earliest cave-dwelling thread-legged assassin bug known to prey on spiders is Bagauda cavernicola, from India. Its spider-eating habits are known since the first decades of the 20th century.

The second species, Phasmatocoris labyrinthicus, was found almost a century later, in 2013, in Arizona, USA. More than only preying on spiders, such as the species Eidmanella pallida that lives in the same cave, P. labyrinthicus seem to have developed the ability to manipulate abandoned spiderwebs and use them to detect and capture prey for their own consumption. Only a single instance of such a behavior has been recorded and the species’s behavior needs further studies.

phasmatocoris_labyrinthicus_eating

Phasmatocoris labyrinthicus feeding on the spider Eidmanella pallida in the Kartchner Caverns, Arizona, USA. Photo extracted from Bape, 2013.

Now, only 3 years later, there are new evidences of more thread-legged assassin bugs molesting spiders in caves. And this time the observations were made in Minas Gerais, Brazil. One individual of the bug species Emesa mourei was seen standing on the web of a recluse spider (Loxosceles similis) while the spider was at the web’s edge. Another specimen of E. mourei was seen feeding on a fly near the web of a pholcid (cellar spider). The fly and the legs of the bug had vestiges of silk, indicating that the bug stole the fly from the spider. Another bug species, Phasmatocoris sp., was observed on a web of the cellar spider Mesabolivar aff. tandilicus. If this species of Phasmatocoris manipulates spider webs the same way that P. labyrinthicus seems to do is something yet to be investigated.

emesa_mourei_eating

Nymph of Emesa mourei feeding on a fly that it apparently stole from a pholcid spider in the cave Lapa Arco da Lapa, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Photo by Leonardo P. A. Resende, extracted from Resende et al., 2016.

With three different and very distant records of thread-legged assassin bugs associated with spiders in caves, it is clear that the poor arachnids cannot get rid of those bugs even if they run down into the bowels of the Earth.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

PAPE, R. (2013). Description and Ecology of A New Cavernicolous, Arachnophilous Thread-legged Bug (Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Emesini) from Kartchner Caverns, Cochise County, Arizona Zootaxa, 3670 (2) DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3670.2.2

Resende, L., Zepon, T., Bichuette, M., Pape, R., & Gil-Santana, H. (2016). Associations between Emesinae heteropterans and spiders in limestone caves of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil Neotropical Biology and Conservation, 11 (3) DOI: 10.4013/nbc.2016.113.01

Wignall, A., & Taylor, P. (2010). Predatory behaviour of an araneophagic assassin bug Journal of Ethology, 28 (3), 437-445 DOI: 10.1007/s10164-009-0202-8

Wygodzinsky, P. W. 1966. A monograph of the Emesinae (Reduviidae, Hemiptera). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 133:1-614.

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Friday Fellow: Ocean Sunfish

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Let’s swim to the world of fishes once more. And today we are meeting the heaviest of the bony ones, the ocean sunfish!

mola_mola

The ocean sunfish looks like a giant piece of mushroom, don’t you think? Photo by Per-Ola Norman.

Scientifically known as Mola mola, the ocean sunfish is found in tropical and temperate oceanic waters throughout the world and has a very strange look. And this is not the only strange thing about it. More than being the heaviest bony fish in the world, weighing up to 1,000 kg, it feeds almost exclusively on jellyfish, eating a huge amount of them to become that big. Also, the female ocean sunfish is known to produce up to 300 million eggs at a time, more than any other vertebrate!

The weird lump on their rear end is not a caudal fin. Actually, sunfish have no tail at all. This structure, called clavus, is formed by projections of the dorsal and anal fins.

Despite their huge size, sunfishes are not a direct threat to humans. People can swim among them without any problem. The most common forms of accidents with these fish are caused when boats collide with them or when a sunfish jumps out of the water and ends up inside a boat. Imagine a 500-kg fish landing on your head!

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References:

McGrouther, Mark (2011).”Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola“. Australian Museum Online. Available at <http://australianmuseum.net.au/ocean-sunfish-mola-mola&gt;. Access on December 8, 2016.

Wikipedia. Ocean sunfish. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_sunfish&gt;. Access on December 8, 2016.

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Obama invades Europe: “Yes, we can!”

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

This information was known by me and some other people for quite a while, but only recently has caught attention of the general public. Obama is the newest threat in Europe.

No, I’m not talking about the president of the United States. I’m talking about a land flatworm whose name is  Obama nungara.

obama_marmorata_7

This is the magnificent Obama nungara. This specimen is from Brazil and looks particulary yellowish due to the strong light of the camera flash. Photo by Piter Kehoma Boll.*

It has been a while since a new invasive land flatworm started to appear in gardens of Europe, especially in Spain and France and eventually elsewhere, such as in the United Kingdom. It was quickly identified as being a Neotropical land planarian and posteriorly as belonging to the genus Obama, whose name has nothing to do with Barack Obama, but is rather a combination of the Tupi words oba (leaf) and ma (animal) as a reference to the worm’s shape.

obama_nungara

When you find Obama nungara in your garden, it will look much darker, like this one found in the UK. Photo by buglife.org.uk

At first it was thought that the planarian belonged to the species Obama marmorata, a species that is native from southern Brazil, but molecular and morphological analyses revealed it to be a new species. Actually, much of what was called Obama marmorata in Brazil was this new species. Thus, it was named nungara, which means “similar” in Tupi, due to its similarity with Obama marmorata.

obama_marmorata

This is Obama marmorata, the species that O. nungara was originally mistaken for. Photo by Fernando Carbayo.**

Measuring about 5 cm in length, sometimes a little more or a little less, O. nungara is currently known to feed on earthworms, snails, slugs and even other land planarians. Its impact on the European fauna is, however, still unknown, but the British charitable organization Buglife decided to spread an alert and many news websites seem to have loved the flatworm’s name and suddenly a flatworm is becoming famous.

Who said flatworms cannot be under the spotlight? Yes, they can!

See also: The Ladislau’s flatworm, a cousin of Obama nungara.

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References:

Álvarez-Presas, M., Mateos, E., Tudó, À., Jones, H., & Riutort, M. (2014). Diversity of introduced terrestrial flatworms in the Iberian Peninsula: a cautionary tale PeerJ, 2 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.430

Boll, P., & Leal-Zanchet, A. (2016). Preference for different prey allows the coexistence of several land planarians in areas of the Atlantic Forest Zoology, 119 (3), 162-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.zool.2016.04.002

Carbayo, F., Álvarez-Presas, M., Jones, H., & Riutort, M. (2016). The true identity of Obama (Platyhelminthes: Geoplanidae) flatworm spreading across Europe Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 177 (1), 5-28 DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12358

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Friday Fellow: Sun Beetle

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Who says beetles cannot be cute? Take a look at those guys:

pachnoda_marginata

They are eating a piece of banana. Photo by Wikimedia user Evanherk.*

These little fellows are beetles of the species Pachnoda marginata, commonly known as sun beetle or taxi cab beetle. Native from Africa, they reach up to 30 mm as adults and 60 mm as larvae and are one of the most common beetles raised as pets.

pachnoda_marginata_peregrina

An adult with the wings exposed, about to fly. Photo by Wikimedia user Drägüs.*

The sun beetle has nine subspecies, each with a particular color pattern. The most well known subspecies is Pachnoda marginata peregrina and is the one shown in the photos above.

Since the sun beetle is easy to keep in the lab, it has been eventually used in scientific studies, especially some related to the neurology of the olphactory receptors.

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References:

Larsson, M. C., Stensmyr, M.. C., Bice, S. B., & Hansson, B. S. (2003). Attractiveness of Fruit and Flower Odorants Detected by Olfactory Receptor Neurons in the Fruit Chafer Pachnoda marginata Journal of Chemical Ecology, 29 (5), 1253-1268 DOI: 10.1023/A:1023893926038

Stensmyr, Marcus C., Larsson, Mattias C., Bice, Shannon, & Hansson, Bill S. (2001). Detection of fruit- and flower-emitted volatiles by olfactory receptor neurons in the polyphagous fruit chafer Pachnoda marginata (Coleoptera: Cetoniinae) Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 187 (7), 509-519

Wikipedia. Pachnoda marginata. Availabe at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachnoda_marginata >. Access on September 8, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Helicopter Damselfly

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Damselflies are usually delicate versions of dragonflies, but some species challenge their place among the odonates. The most extreme example comes from the moist forests of Central and South America and is known as Megaloprepus caerulatus or the “helicopter damselfly”.

With a wingspan up to 19 cm, the helicopter damselfly is the largest of odonates and a voracious predator in both the aquatic naiad and the aerial adult forms.

megaloprepus_caerulatus

An adult female. Photo by Steven G. Johnson*

Female helicopter damselflies lay their eggs in water-filled tree hollows. Males are territorialists and defend the larger holes as territory, mating with females interested in laying eggs there.

The aquatic juvenile stage, known as naiad or nymph, is a top predator in this reduced ecosystem, feeding on mosquito larvae, tadoples and even other odonates. As adults, they feed mainly on web-building spiders that they capture in areas that receive direct sunlight, such as forest glades.

As the population size of the helicopter damselfly depends on the number and size of available tree hollows and considering that they avoid crossing large gaps between forest patches, any environmental disturbance may have profound impacts on this species. Recent molecular studies also suggest that what is known as Megaloprepus caerulatus is actually a complex of species, as there is no genetic flow between the populations. This makes it (or them) a much more vulnerable species.

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References:

Feindt, W., Fincke, O., & Hadrys, H. (2013). Still a one species genus? Strong genetic diversification in the world’s largest living odonate, the Neotropical damselfly Megaloprepus caerulatus Conservation Genetics, 15 (2), 469-481 DOI: 10.1007/s10592-013-0554-z

Wikipedia. Megaloprepus caerulatus. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megaloprepus_caerulatus >. Access on September 7, 2016.

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