Triassic beetle research mistake rectified


This May 2014 video says about itself:

The rove beetles are a family (Staphylinidae) of beetles, primarily distinguished by their short elytra that leave more than half of their abdomens exposed. With approximately 58,000 species in thousands of genera, the group is currently recognized as the largest family of beetles. It is an ancient group, with fossil rove beetles known from the Triassic, 200 million years ago, and possibly even earlier if the recently described Leehermania proves to be a member of this family. They are an ecologically and morphologically diverse group of beetleI, and commonly encountered in terrestrial ecosystems.

I did not leave all these inverts together, this video was taken just after I dumped what i’d found into a container to sort through them (I brought a small container with me in the woods).

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Identity crisis for fossil beetle helps rewrite beetle family tree

September 9, 2019

Summary: A tiny fossil beetle, about the size of FDR‘s nose on the US dime, is a totally different species than scientists thought it was, meaning that the beetle family tree needs a rewrite.

There are more different kinds of beetle than just about any other kind of animal — scientists have described about 5,800 different species of mammals, compared with nearly 400,000 species of beetles. Of those 400,000 kinds of beetles, more than 64,000 species are members of the rove beetle family, Staphylinidae. These mostly small earwig-looking insects are found all over the world, and they’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. But scientists are still figuring out exactly when rove beetles first evolved. A new study in Systematic Entomology suggests that the fossil beetle species believed to be the oldest rove beetle isn’t a rove beetle at all, meaning the beetle family tree needs a rewrite.

The beetle at the center of this mix-up, about the size of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s nose on the U.S. dime, is Leehermania prorova. When the fossils of Leehermania were first discovered in the 1990s along the Virginia and North Carolina border, they were believed to be the oldest rove beetles ever discovered — by about 50 million years.

Until 2012, the only public information on the fossils was two images, published in 1996 and 2005, but no formal description. Anyone who didn’t have direct access to the fossils of the species could only make guesses about its placement in the tree of life based on those photos.

So, when a formal description of the beetle was finally published, beetle scientists around the world were excited to read it.

“When Leehermania was formally described, and more photos came out, we thought to ourselves ‘that doesn’t look quite right for a staphylinid,'” says Margaret Thayer, a scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the paper’s nine authors. It didn’t look like the rove beetles that Thayer has spent her career studying.

“I happened to be at the museum when I first read the paper, so I went and looked through the specimens in our collection to compare,” said Alfred Newton, also a Field Museum scientist and paper author. His hunch was that this beetle might be more closely related to Hydroscaphidae, a living family of miniature insects known as skiff beetles, placed in a different suborder from rove beetles.

Across the Atlantic, Martin Fikáček recalled a similar feeling upon comparing the description and photos with the classification of Leehermania as a staphylinid. To Fikáček, a scientist at the National Museum in Prague, the beetle seemed to be a closer fit in the Myxophaga — the suborder that contains skiff beetles. Scientist Chenyang Cai at China’s Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology and several other authors came to the same conclusion.

One of the clues that Leehermania wasn’t really a staphylinid was its mandibles — the pincer-like jaws. “Staphylinids all have exposed mandibles, from at least some angle,” says Newton. “In Leehermania, what were originally interpreted as mandibles are actually maxillary palpi — a different mouthpart structure entirely. The mandibles aren’t exposed here at all, at least from what we can see.”

Another hallmark of staphylinid beetles is their somewhat club-shaped antennae, which start with a narrow base and get wider toward the tip. In Leehermania, the antennae were club-shaped, but the club was more narrowed toward the tip.

Given the hidden mandibles, distinct antennal shape, and other features, including “paratergites” — little plates on the sides of most staphylinid abdomens that are absent in Leehermania — and the shape of the female insects’ genitalia, something wasn’t adding up. Leehermania seemed to be a much better fit in the suborder Myxophaga than in Staphylinidae.

Thanks to the power of the internet, the scientists were able to collaborate freely and quickly across four continents. “The international collaboration that occurred here was really important to the success of the study,” said Shûhei Yamamoto, a Field Museum scientist and paper author who studies staphylinidae and other beetles.

As the group’s hunch turned to a theory, then a study, then a formal analysis, the tests they ran showed Leehermania fitting nicely as a member of the beetle suborder Myxophaga, likely as a sister to the ancestors of today’s skiff beetles. This discovery means that the rove beetle family isn’t yet documented to be as old as scientists thought, but the skiff beetle family is now way older — Leehermania lived 226 million years ago, 100 million years before the next oldest fossil skiff beetle known.

Misclassification of extinct species happens all the time in science, for a variety of reasons.

For one, fossils can be extremely difficult to decipher. Since compression fossils like Leehermania are trapped in a sheet of rock, there is often only one viewing angle, though two in this case: a bird’s-eye-view called “dorsal,” or the top surface, and the “lateral” or side view. Any information about the species has to be gathered from these limited perspectives, so some information on colors, textures, patterns, anatomical details, and of course life-cycle information may be impossible to retrieve. Analysis is even more challenging when your specimens are only 2-3 mm long.

Lack of comparative data also causes problems for researchers. Not only are many characteristics of the insects lost in fossils, but until 2011, the large amount of data used here to test Leehermania’s placement in different families didn’t exist.

“Our analysis made use of a huge data set of morphological characters of beetles gathered for the ‘Beetle Tree of Life’ [BToL] project,” says Thayer. “That project was really crucial to our analysis and provided a framework upon which we were able to analyze Leehermania.” Four authors of the new paper, including Thayer and Newton, were among the authors of the published version of the BToL morphology paper. DNA-based analyses published by the BtoL project and other researchers were also essential to the Leehermania analyses.

Testing and revising the placement of living things in the tree of life is like working on a huge sudoku puzzle with contributors from all over the world. You have methods to figure out where the numbers should go, but if they’re incorrectly placed, you only know — eventually — based on their relationships to the surrounding numbers. If you carry on with the puzzle for too long with an incorrect placement, numbers filled in after the fact might also be incorrect. Revisiting Leehermania’s classification was important to help other researchers avoid using the fossils incorrectly to date analyses of beetles as a whole or identify other beetles as staphylinids based on Leehermania.

For the staphylinid family, losing their oldest ancestor produces new questions about how the family evolved.

“The re-classification of Leehermania means that staphylinids are now 50 million years younger than we thought,” says Fikáček. “But if staphylinids are so much younger, that means that this family evolved into many lineages much more rapidly than we thought they did.” Of course, older staphylinidae fossils are likely to turn up in the future and new analyses will be needed.

At a time in the Earth’s history when life was still recovering after a mass extinction, the appearance of Leehermania and staphylinidae is a testament to how resilient and adaptable beetles can be to diverse, and often harsh, living conditions.

“Throughout history, beetles have survived conditions that other animals have not,” says Fikáček. “As we study these insects, we might reveal some secret to evolutionary success that beetles possess.”

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Trump’s FBI spying on opponents of xenophobia


This 9 September 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump‘s Remain in Mexico Program Condemns Refugees to Mortal Danger

Those seeking refugee status in the United States at the US-Mexico border are now forced to remain in Mexico while their refugee status is being processed. Laura Carlsen spoke to refugees and advocates on the Mexican side, in Tijuana.

By Eric London in the USA:

Leaked document reveals state spying

FBI targets groups opposing Trump’s concentration camps as “Extremists”

9 September 2019

A leaked Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intelligence report reveals that the US government is using informants and trawling social media to spy on domestic left-wing protest groups opposed to fascist border militias and the Trump administration’s attack on immigrants.

The document, titled “Anarchist Extremists Very Likely Increasing Targeting of US Government Entities in Arizona, Increasing Risk of Armed Conflict,” produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office, was published on September 4 by Yahoo News.

The report exposes unconstitutional activity that parallels the crimes of the FBI under former Director J. Edgar Hoover. It is a serious warning sign: the military-intelligence apparatus is covertly creating the legal and physical framework for the criminalization of free speech and the suppression of left-wing political activity. As the fascist in the White House establishes concentration camps for immigrants and political opponents, a bipartisan group of politicians and intelligence agents are working to crush dissent.

The report explains that the FBI is targeting “anarchist extremists” (which it refers to as “AEs”) because they “view US immigration policies and procedures for handling illegal immigrants—including arrests, removal, and border barriers—as violations of human rights and supporting government facilities and personnel as symbols of US tyranny.”

US immigration jail in Texas [credit: CBP, WikiMedia]

The FBI justifies labeling groups as “extremists” based on the fact that they are “monitoring various US Border Patrol activities, right-wing militia groups, and other groups favoring the border wall, mostly to expose human rights abuses and communicate threats to humanitarian groups operating in the area.”

The use of terminology is legally significant: groups opposing fascists are “extremists” while fascists are merely listed as “right-wing groups”. The FBI is effectively serving as the fascist militias’ protectors.

The report explains that the FBI has gathered information from “human and open source reporting with varying access and reliability, the majority having direct access.” Translated into plain English, the FBI is trawling websites and personal social media pages for “open source” gathering while working with “human” informants or infiltrating agents with “direct access” to the targeted groups and individuals.

The report exposes the antidemocratic nomenclature and legal categories employed by the intelligence agencies in their investigations of left-wing opposition.

The FBI reviewed “extremist websites”, including one “AE website” which advocates “disruptive actions” against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The FBI referenced another “extremist website” on the grounds that it advocates “a trajectory of rebellion.” One individual was targeted for social media surveillance because he was “a self-identified antifascist” who had “expressed support” for “AEs.”

The FBI admits that “the majority of AEs do not further their goals with firearms” and that “AE groups have banned firearms or carrying loaded weapons.” In other words, the groups are targeted despite having explicitly renounced violent behavior.

The FBI report is one small but dangerous part of a broader effort to criminalize left-wing social opposition under the auspices of combatting “domestic terrorism.”

In August, President Trump tweeted that “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘organization of terror.’”

The intelligence agencies and a bipartisan network of politicians and officials have indeed been giving “major consideration” to labeling domestic groups as “terrorists.”

In its 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism document, the Trump administration added several sections addressing “domestic terrorism” for the first time.

The document pledged to “investigate and integrate threat information relating to domestic terrorists,” noting “the US has long faced a persistent security threat from domestic terrorists who are not motivated by a radical Islamist ideology.” Further, the administration pledged to “raise awareness of radicalization and recruitment dynamics” and to “promote grassroots efforts to identify and address radicalization to insulate civilian populations from terrorist influence.”

In a statement published in May 2019 supporting legislation making “domestic terrorism” a federal crime, FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division Michael McGarrity wrote that “domestic terrorists” act “in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as racial bias and anti-government sentiment.”

McGarrity added that the FBI is collaborating with foreign intelligence agencies to monitor international political activity: “We are working with our foreign partners to investigate subjects in their countries who may be radicalizing Americans…”

Earlier this summer, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff introduced legislation that would create a federal law barring support for individuals or groups labeled “domestic terrorists”. Though Schiff and the Democrats claim the legislation would be aimed at right-wing mass shooters, violent terrorist acts are already illegal in every jurisdiction, meaning the chief purpose of such a federal law would be to criminalize free speech and association, particularly on the left.

Robert Chesney, the cofounder of Lawfare Blog and a former Obama administration lawyer, explained on August 8 that a federal domestic terrorism statute would be “useful” to criminalize noncriminal speech and activity.

Speaking in support of the measure, he wrote that a domestic terrorism law would facilitate “anticipatory prosecutions of persons whom the government thinks are personally dangerous but cannot yet be linked to particular conspiracies, attempts or completed acts of violence.” Chesney notes that “what is missing in the domestic terrorism scenario” is “a list of proscribed organizations to which it becomes a crime to provide, knowingly, any form of support.” “Active membership” in such a group would make an individual a “domestic terrorist.”

One key architect of the clandestine plans to create the legal framework for crackdowns on free speech is former Obama administration Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord.

On February 27, McCord authored a Lawfare article titled “A Road Map for Congress to Address Domestic Terrorism” with Jason Blazakis, the former State Department Director of the Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office, the agency responsible for determining which groups are listed as “foreign terrorist organizations” under the PATRIOT Act.

The article advocates for passage of a domestic terrorism statute in order to mobilize the FBI’s “Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs)” which function “in 104 cities across the country, combining over 4,000 federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence specialists,” to address domestic terrorism. McCord and Blazakis say “domestic terrorism” involves acts that are “motivated by political, economic and social extremist ideologies,” a definition that is clearly aimed at encompassing socialist, antiwar and left-wing viewpoints.

The New York Times interviewed McCord, writing on August 9 that she “argued that having domestic terrorism and related weapons-stockpiling charges on the books would give the FBI a stronger basis to investigate people who arouse suspicion that they may pose a risk of politically motivated violence, including by sending informants to see what such suspects say privately.”

The state’s plans for repressing social opposition include threats of physical force. Also on August 9, internet censorship advocate Clint Watts wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How to Fight the New Domestic Terrorism” which calls for the government to “use its hard-won experience against al Qaeda and Islamic State [ISIS]” to combat “domestic terrorism.”

“We must swiftly and carefully apply the best practices of the two decades since Sept. 11, 2001 to counter this decade’s domestic terrorist threat—by passing new laws, increasing resources and enhancing investigative capabilities,” Watts writes.

This is an admission that the ruling class—with bipartisan support—is preparing to employ at home the brutal forces of death and repression used against workers and peasants in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Libya. The aim is to suppress the growth of social opposition and defend skyrocketing levels of social inequality.

The targeting of pro-immigrant groups by the FBI in Arizona shows the intelligence agencies are not primarily concerned with white supremacists. Trump, who has referred to neo-Nazis as “good people”, is clearly not directing this strategy against his allies on the extreme right. After all, one of the chief aides of the president—Stephen Miller—is himself a fascist extremist, and he is effectively running DHS.

The real target is the working class, which must be mobilized against the threat of fascism and dictatorship.

Brazilians protest against far-right Bolsonaro


This 8 September 2019 video says about itself:

Brazil: Cry of the Excluded March

Social organizations and student unions in Brazil hold the annual “cry of the excluded” across the country on Saturday, to commemorate independence day. This year, the marches took a special meaning as demonstrators condemned the policies of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Global pro-climate strikes, 20-27 September


British school students and supporters on 8 September 2019 urged the TUC to back global school strikes on 20th September with a 30 minute stoppage

This photo shows British school students and supporters on 8 September 2019 urging the Trades Unions Congress to back global school strikes on 20th September with a 30-minute stoppage.

From the Global Climate Strike site, 6 September 2019:

Global Climate Strikes to Take Place in 117 countries

  • With two weeks to go until the September 20th climate strikes roll out across the world, there are over 2,500 events registered.
  • Momentum for the strikes has been building across the world as strikers pledge to take action during the week of climate strikes and action around the UNSG summit being held in New York, September 2019.
  • A broad coalition of grassroots organisations including Fridays for Future, NGO’s, unions, businesses, scientists, teachers, faith leaders and celebrities will take to the streets to demand urgent action to stop climate breakdown.

A representative for Fridays for the Future said: “The Global Climate Strikes are fast approaching. Time is running out to implement the changes we need to tackle the climate crisis and create a better world. Youth strikers have called for adults to stand with them and support their demands for climate justice. Now is that moment.”

Driver ants’ queen, video


This 5 September 2019 video is about a royal palace, less expensive than for humans in the Netherlands:

The Queen’s Arrival | Natural World: Ant Attack | BBC Earth

The driver ants march day and night, anticipating the arrival of their new Queen. She is brought to her new palace – a nest made entirely out of live ants.

In a quiet patch of forest, life is about to be turned upside down for its animal residents – the ants are coming. Spiders, scorpions and even forest crabs don’t stand a chance. As food runs out, the ants, driven on by the ever-hungry grubs in the nest, have no choice but to attack the not so easily defeated termites. Armed with chemical weapons and fearsome jaws that could crush an ant to pulp, they’re the ants’ toughest adversaries. From the raw terror of battle to the inner-workings of an ant colony, this is television as you’ve never seen it before.