Beautiful dragonflies at old swimming pool

This video says about itself:

18 October 2013

Southern Hawker [aka blue hawker] Dragonfly, video footage of male and female of the species, filmed in the New Forest and East Dorset (United Kingdom).

Near Santpoort town in the coastal sand dunes region in the Netherlands, there used to be a hospital. A swimming pool for the patients was built.

In 1986, the hospital closed down. The area became a nature reserve. Various wildlife species started to use the swimming pool. Prominent among them, blue hawker dragonflies.

There is a report by Sjek Venhuis on blue hawkers at that pool in 2013-2017 on the Internet. In summer, adults of this beautiful insect species come there to mate. Females deposit their eggs on the banks of the old swimming pool. In winter, dragonfly larvae crawl on the bottom.

The old pool is now one of the most important blue hawker spots in the Netherlands. In 2017, at least 200 females deposited eggs there.


Fossil embryos turn out to be jellyfish

Pseudooides. Credit: University of Bristol

From the University of Bristol in England:

Fossil orphans reunited with their parents after half a billion years

December 13, 2017

Everyone wants to be with their family over the holidays, but spare a thought for a group of orphan fossils that have been separated from their parents since the dawn of animal evolution, over half a billion years ago.

For decades, paleontologists have puzzled over the microscopic fossils of Pseudooides, which are smaller than sand grains.

The resemblance of the fossils to animal embryos inspired their name, which means ‘false egg’.

The fossils preserve stages of embryonic development frozen in time by miraculous processes of fossilisation, which turned their squishy cells into stone.

Pseudooides fossils have a segmented middle like the embryos of segmented animals, such as insects, inspiring grand theories on how complex segmented animals may have evolved.

A team of paleontologists from the University of Bristol‘s School of Earth Sciences and Peking University have now peered inside the Pseudooides embryos using X-rays and found features that link them to the adult stages of another fossil group.

It turns out that these adult stages were right under the scientists’ noses all along: they have been found long ago in the same rocks as Pseudooides.

Surprisingly, these long-lost family members are not complex segmented animals at all, but ancestors of modern jellyfish.

Dr Kelly Vargas from the University of Bristol said: “It seems that, in trying to classify these fossils, we’ve previously been barking up the wrong branch of the animals family tree.”

Professor Philip Donoghue, also from the University of Bristol, co-led the research with Professor Xiping Dong of Peking University.

Professor Donoghue added “We couldn’t have reunited these ancient family members without the amazing technology which allowed us to see inside the fossilized bodies of the embryos and adults.”

The team used the Swiss Light Source, a gigantic particle accelerator near Zurich, Switzerland, to supply the X-rays used to image the inside of the fossils.

This showed that the details of segmentation in the Pseudooides embryos to be nothing more than the folded edge of an opening, which developed into the rim of the cone-shaped skeleton that once housed the anemone-like stage in the life cycle of the ancient jellyfish.

Luis Porras, who helped make the discovery while still a student at the University of Bristol, said: “Pseudooides fossils may not tell us about how complex animals evolved, but they provide insights into the how embryology of animals itself has evolved.

“The embryos of living jellyfish usually develop into bizarre alien-like larvae which metamorphose into anemone-like adults before the final jellyfish (or ‘medusa‘) phase.

“Pseudooides did things differently and more efficiently, developing directly from embryo to adult. Perhaps living jellyfish are a poor guide to ancestral animals.”

Professor Donoghue added: “It is amazing that these organisms were fossilised at all.

“Jellyfish are made up of little more than goo and yet they’ve been turned to stone before they had any chance to rot: a mechanism which some scientists refer to as the ‘Medusa effect’, named after the gorgon of Greek mythology who turned into stone anyone that laid eyes upon her.”

The Bristol team are still looking for fossil remains of the rest of Pseudooides life cycle, including the ‘medusa’ jellyfish stage itself. However, jellyfish fossils are few and far between, perhaps ironically because the ‘Medusa effect’ doesn’t seem to work on them.

In the interim, the embryos of Pseudooides have been reunited with their adult counterparts, just in time for Christmas.

Ticks drank dinosaur blood

This 2017 video says about itself:

In this video we will explore 10 bugs, insects and invertebrates from the dinosaur times [and earlier].

By Laurel Hamers:

Ticks had a taste for dinosaur blood

But it’s not clear which species the bloodsuckers preferred

Ticks once tickled dinosaursfeathers.

The tiny arthropods have been surreptitiously sucking blood for more than 100 million years, but evidence of early ticks’ preferred hosts has been scant. Now, samples of amber from Myanmar have caught the critters with their spiny mouthparts inside the cookie jar. A hunk of 99-million-year-old amber holds a tick tangled in a dinosaur feather, researchers report December 12 in Nature Communications. Other pieces of amber suggest that a different tick species from the same period, dubbed Deinocroton draculi, hung out in feathered dinosaur nests (SN: 8/23/14, p. 15).

The tick enmeshed in the feather belongs to the same group of ticks as the deer ticks that bite humans and other animals today. But it’s hard to say what type of dinosaur the tick dined on.

While the researchers say the age of the feather places it on a dinosaur, they can’t tell how birdlike that creature may have been. The feather shares characteristics with the plumage that helps modern birds fly, such as longer barbs on one side of the feather’s shaft than the other. But that shape doesn’t necessarily mean that the feather’s former owner could fly, says study coauthor Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, a paleobiologist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“In the future, we may be able to further narrow down the range of potential hosts, but this is currently the best that can be done with an isolated feather,” adds Ryan McKellar, an invertebrate paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina who wasn’t part of the study.

Another chunk of amber contained two ticks preserved so close together that they were likely entrapped at the same time. Both had what looked like tiny barbed hairs stuck to their bodies — these hairlike structures are frequently found on beetle larvae that hung out in dinosaur nests. “So we think that those beetle hairs were acquired by the ticks in a feathered dinosaur nest”, says Pérez-de la Fuente. That’s further evidence that early ticks fed on dinos, he says.

There’s a “strong case” for that interpretation, McKellar says. “It is impressive to see small clues and associations build up to form a larger picture of ancient ecosystems.”

Crabs decorating themselves, new research

This video from the USA says about itself:

Decorator Crabs Make High Fashion at Low Tide | Deep Look

9 May 2017

When you live by the seashore, one day you’re in, the next day you’re lunch. So these crabs don the latest in seaweed outerwear and anemone accessories to blend in.

From the University of Delaware in the USA:

Sandy claws: Like holiday enthusiasts, majoid crabs decorate their shells

December 8, 2017

Summary: Majoid crabs — known as decorator crabs — adorn themselves with items secured from their surroundings such as sponges, algae and other marine debris. Scientists are exploring what factors drive this behavior.

‘Tis the holiday season and it seems homes are festively trimmed at every turn. Ornaments of all shapes and sizes embellish everything from trees to windows and yards.

While tinsel originated in 17th century German decorating and modern day Christmas lights can be traced to the Victorian era, the idea of decorating is not an exclusively human trait.

Majoid crabs — known as decorator crabs — are well-known among marine scientists for adorning their surface with items secured from their surroundings. About 75 percent of majoid crab species are notorious for decorating with sponges, algae and other marine debris.

Scientists are uncertain what physical and environmental factors drive this decorating behavior, though it appears to be used as a means to hide from, or deter, predators.

University of Delaware marine scientist Danielle Dixson and a team of researchers that included undergraduate students studied the majoid species Camposcia retusa to identify the factors that determine patterns of, and investment in, decorating.

“The decorator crab is a perfect study example because the IndoPacific species has velcro-like substances on its shell and hooks on its appendages that enable it to secure items on its exterior,” Dixson said.

The researchers ran a series of experiments with decorator crabs that were placed in individual containers and provided with craft pom-poms that had been soaked in water so they would sink to the bottom.

Half of the crabs were given a shelter for habitat to see whether having somewhere to hide affected how much or how fast the crab decorated.

Over a 24-hour period, the team photographed the crabs every hour for the first 12 hours, and at hour 24, and analyzed the images to determine where the crabs decorated, whether they rearranged things and what parts they decorated first.

Arms and legs first

In the study, all of the crabs were fully decorated within 24 hours. Most of the crabs were decorated within six hours of having access to the pom-poms. According to Dixson, this shows that decorating is an important predator adaptation because the crabs do it very quickly.

While other species of decorator crabs adorn their body first, the UD research team’s study showed that Camposcia retusa decorated their appendages (arms/legs) first when a habitat was present.

This was different than other crabs that typically protect their vital organs first, but according to Dixson, still made sense because when they hide, a little bit of Camposcia retusa’s arms remained outside their enclosure.

“This tells us they decorate the parts that stick out,” Dixson says.

A perfect project for undergraduates

According to Dixson, this is a perfect project for undergraduates because the approach is straightforward and the students can have results in just a couple days, making it easy to add layers to the project as they go along.

It’s also good way for undergrads to develop the skills to design an experiment and to refine their design based on the data collected.

For example, when no habitat was present the crabs decorated everywhere.

“The students were able to say, ‘now that we know habitat matters, let’s take the habitat away and see how quickly they decorate,’ ” Dixson said.

But just like in the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, more decoration is not necessarily better. For the decorator crab, more decoration means the animal requires more energy to move around, and the slower they will be to escape predators.

Visual vs. chemical camouflage

Through ongoing research, Dixson and her students are investigating whether the crabs can actually see and choose items based on color — meaning they are visually hiding themselves — or whether their decorating habits are motivated by smell, known as chemical camouflage.

Sea sponges, for example, emit a scent that the crab may be using to chemically mask or camouflage itself from predators like eels, which have terrible eyesight but are known to hunt through smell.

They also plan to explore what could make the crabs decorate faster, such as if it could see an eel in the next tank or if the predator smell suddenly was introduced into their environment and the stakes were higher.

The report on this research is here.

Good British bittern, butterfly news

This video is about a bittern male singing.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Swallowtail butterflies and bitterns mark national park success

Friday 8th December 2017

PETER FROST reports some excellent news from the Broads national park

SINCE 2010 Britain’s family of national parks have experienced cut upon cut in funding from a Tory government that made the hollow pledge to be “the greenest government ever”.

Now Michael Gove has been given the post of environment secretary it is unlikely that we will see any better treatment of these bastions of excellent environmental practice in our green and pleasant land.

Gove’s previous voting record suggests he is not very green at all. He has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, protect wildlife and reduce emissions.

We know he would be happy to sell off our state-owned woodland. He voted in 2011 in favour of selling off all 635,000 acres of public woodlands and forest preserved by the Forestry Commission.

Two years later, he voted against setting a target range for the amount of greenhouse gases produced per generated unit of electricity.

He supports fracking, having voted in 2015 against requiring an environmental permit for hydraulic fracking activities. He also voted against a review of the impact of fracking on climate change and the environment.

He supports both the badger cull and the reintroduction of fox hunting with dogs.

All this bad news from Defra and its Minister Gove hasn’t stopped our wonderful national parks doing what they can from a fast-reducing funding purse.

One really good bit of news is that in the Broads national park it has been a record year for two iconic wetland species.

The first is the bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Britain’s rarest and shyest heron which was hunted almost to extinction by Victorian taxidermists, so-called sportsmen and gourmands. Not for nothing was the shy but delicious bird known as the buttery bittern.

Bittern numbers are increasing dramatically now and nowhere more so than on the broads, rivers and reed beds of Norfolk and Suffolk.

This video shows a swallowtail butterfly, from egg to adult.

A significant increase was noted in recorded numbers of the iconic swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon, pictured right) in 2017 — this rare and Broads-specific species has seen its highest population levels since 2011.

The swallowtail species is dependent on milk parsley. This is the plant upon which they lay their eggs and eat as their sole food source when caterpillars. The Broads national park is a sanctuary for milk parsley, a tall umbrella shaped plant that loves wetlands supplied with chalky water. It depends on open fen as well as the correct water level and management to prevent scrub growth.

The successes of bitterns and butterflies and a number of other threatened wetland species are the result of efforts by the Broads Authority working with biodiversity partners like the RSPB and local landowners.

Together they have successfully increased the area of restored open fen to a figure last seen as long ago as 1946.

Weather conditions too have played a crucial role in the case of the swallowtail. The growth of the milk parsley, the flight pattern of the swallowtails and the swallowtail pupae lying attached to the base of reed stems can all be affected by wet and dull weather conditions.

The good weather of 2016 and 2017 has given the butterflies an opportunity to thrive without the threat of harsh conditions.

They used to appear in late May and June, but, in recent years, a sizable second brood in late summer has given them a added chance at increasing their numbers.

National Park senior ecologist Andrea Kelly told us: “This summer provided good weather conditions for flying butterflies and some days you could see literally hundreds of these big yellow and black butterflies zooming over the rich fen vegetation finding mates and searching for a drink of nectar.

“With the continuation of vital fen management and landowners creating favourable wetland habitats across the marshes, rich in milk parsley, the Broads Authority hopes to ensure that the swallowtail butterfly population will be resilient to a changing climate.”

So it seems we have good news despite, not because of, Gove’s work as environment minister.

Peter Frost served on the Broads Authority for a decade before his retirement some years ago.

Oldest eye ever of fossil trilobite?

This video says about itself:

7 December 2017

An ‘exceptional’ 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered, according to researchers. The remains of the extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies. Experts made the find while examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled species called a trilobite.

From the University of Edinburgh in Scotland:

530-million-year-old fossil has look of world’s oldest eye, study suggests

December 7, 2017

A 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered, a study reveals.

The remains of an extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies, researchers say.

Scientists made the finding while examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled species — called a trilobite. These ancestors of spiders and crabs lived in coastal waters during the Palaeozoic era, between 541-251 million years ago.

They found the ancient creature had a primitive form of compound eye — an optical organ that consists of arrays of tiny visual cells, called ommatidia, similar to those of present-day bees.

The team, which included a researcher from the University of Edinburgh, say their findings suggest that compound eyes have changed little over 500 million years.

The right eye of the fossil — which was unearthed in Estonia — was partly worn away, giving researchers a clear view inside the organ. This revealed details of the eye’s structure and function, and how it differs from modern compound eyes.

The species had poor vision compared with many animals today, but it could identify predators and obstacles in its path, researchers say.

Its eye consists of approximately 100 ommatidia, which are situated relatively far apart compared to contemporary compounds eyes, the team says.

Unlike modern compound eyes, the fossil’s eye does not have a lens. This is likely because the primitive species — called Schmidtiellus reetae — lacked parts of the shell needed for lens formation, the team says.

The team also revealed that only a few million years later, improved compound eyes with higher resolution developed in another trilobite species from the present-day Baltic region.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was carried out in collaboration with the University of Cologne, Germany, and Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia.

Professor Euan Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago. Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed in half a billion years.”

Professor Brigitte Schoenemann, of the University of Cologne, said: “This may be the earliest example of an eye that it is possible to find. Older specimens in sediment layers below this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to be fossilised and have disintegrated over time.”

New wildlife species discoveries in Malaysia

This video says about itself:

16 September 2017

Incredible nature and landscapes at Penang Hill in Penang, Malaysia.

This beautiful area has a cable car/funicular which takes you up to the top of the mountain. From the top you can go on scenic walks to see wildlife, butterflies and walk through tropical jungles.

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

New species discovered in Malaysian rainforest during unprecedented, top-to-bottom survey

December 6, 2017

Summary: This fall, the California Academy of Sciences partnered with The Habitat Penang Hill and colleagues to conduct a rainforest survey on Malaysia’s island state of Penang. A 117-member team documented flora and fauna from the tops of trees to the dark reaches of caves and discovered several species previously unknown to science living just miles from a major metropolis. Survey results will contribute to this ancient rainforest’s nomination as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

This fall, the California Academy of Sciences partnered with The Habitat Penang Hill and colleagues to conduct a top-to-bottom rainforest survey unprecedented in its comprehensive approach. On Malaysia’s island state of Penang, a 117-member team of scientists documented flora and fauna from the tops of towering trees to the dark reaches of damp caves.

Over the course of two weeks the international team discovered several species previously unknown to science — including a new species of scorpion and likely new species of fly, water bear, and bacterium — living just miles from a major metropolis. The expedition also tallied new regional sightings: birds, bats, orchids, mammals, flies, ants, mosquitoes, spiders, and frogs never known to occur in Penang were documented for the first time. Survey results (which included the canopy and not just the forest floor) will advance the understanding of this little-explored rainforest and contribute to its future nomination as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserve.

“This forest is special because it stands protected in a region of the world facing rapid deforestation,” says Dr. Meg Lowman, the Academy’s Lindsay Chair of Botany and expedition leader. “It’s also important as a pristine rainforest located so close to a major metropolis. Yet prior to this survey, which included the often forgotten canopy, we knew very little about what lived there.”

Experts from the Academy, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), and other partner institutions participated in the effort to create a comprehensive catalogue of the forest’s inhabitants. From-the-field updates were broadcast digitally by JASON Learning to classrooms around the world and over 1,400 species observations were logged on the nature-tracking mobile app iNaturalist. Formal findings are now being compiled to support a UNESCO nomination in 2018.

A gallery of expedition photos appeared today in the online magazine bioGraphic (

Many firsts

During the two-week survey of Penang Hill — a rolling, mountainous landscape thick with tropical hardwood trees — the international team created species lists that will contribute valuable data for mapping the region’s distribution of wildlife. In their tireless scan of the forest, the scientists encountered many species likely new to science.

In an exciting nighttime collection, Academy arachnologist Dr. Lauren Esposito and post-doc Dr. Stephanie Loria discovered a new species of scorpion belonging to one of the oldest lineages on Earth, known as the ghost scorpions. This group is native to Southeast Asia and fluoresces when under ultraviolet light (like all scorpions), but they do so faintly enough that spotting them is incredibly difficult.

“We had a hunch this new species was out there,” says Esposito, “but it was really a matter of odds. For every hundred logs or so we turn over, we find a scorpion. We got lucky.”

Other notable finds likely new to science include a species of iridescent fly that lives among coastal palm-like plants and a species of tardigrade (or “water bear“). These microscopic, aquatic animals inhabit moss and lichen in trees and are found on all seven continents. Zoologists from USM also managed to capture a sought-after recording of the elusive, cryptic colugo (or flying lemur), which will add valuable new insights into how these nocturnal gliding mammals communicate. Detailed findings will be published in the coming months.

The expedition also logged several species known to science but never recorded in Penang: the spectacular Red-rumped Swallow and Stripe-throated Bulbul; the spotted-wing fruit bat; one species of vibrant orchid; three groups of algae found in flowing water; eight species of mammals (including the peculiar lesser mouse deer); two species of frogs; several species of flies (including one that mimics ants); five groups of ants (one group being the Dracula ants named for devouring their own young); one species of mosquito; and the segmented funnel-web spider Macrothele segmentata not seen since its original discovery and description in Penang in the late 1800s.

“Over the next few months and years, the team will analyze the specimens collected during the expedition and undoubtedly discover more new species along the way,” says Lowman. “Penang’s forest is bursting with undocumented diversity — especially in the treetops, where no one had surveyed before.”

Unlike the traditional expedition model, in which findings are often not published until months or years after the fieldwork has concluded, scientists began sharing their highlights while still in the field. Using the mobile app iNaturalist, scientists rapidly shared their observations with the wider community and engaged regional experts not necessarily in the field to help with species identifications. At the end of the expedition, a full-day symposium in George Town was held to share results and begin compiling data in support of UNESCO nomination.

Toward UNESCO nomination

The island state of Penang sits at the crossroads of culture, history, and cuisine. Its capital city, George Town, is already a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Every year, over one million visitors to the bustling city travel fifteen minutes by train to the tranquil summit of Penang Hill where they take in panoramic views of the landscape’s timeless beauty. The forest has become a beloved icon for many island residents and visitors, emerging as a beacon of sustainability for the country and world at large.

“All of us have a common future in our forests,” said Penang’s Chief Minister, the honorable Lim Guan Eng, during the survey’s closing events. “Forests are critical for our health. If you keep and protect and preserve your rainforests, people will come to enjoy and celebrate them.”

With critical support from The Habitat, efforts are now underway to list Penang Hill as part of a proposed UNESCO biosphere reserve under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme in 2018.

“The comprehensive biodiversity assessment is a vital step towards obtaining the UNESCO biosphere reserve listing which would be fitting recognition for these forested hills that have endured for generations,” says Reza Cockrell, co-founder and director of The Habitat and The Habitat Foundation.

If successful, a UNESCO listing will allow the landscape to continually inspire, awaken curiosity, and cultivate support for rainforest conservation among the thousands of Malaysians and international visitors that make their way to Penang Hill each year.

Highlights by the numbers


The rainforest on the island of Penang encompasses a series of hills overlooking the modern metropolis of George Town and is thought to be 130 million years old. It is considered primary forest since it has never been cut down before.


The biodiversity survey occurred within The Habitat and the adjacent Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve, which was originally established as a Virgin Jungle Reserve in 1911. Contiguous forest reserves, water catchment reserves, and Penang National Park together comprise approximately 19,768 acres (or 8,000 hectares). Regional partners continue to advocate for rainforest conservation in Penang, Malaysia at large, and the world.


Tree-climbing scientists from the Academy, UC Berkeley, The Tree Projects, and other partner organizations climbed 5236 vertical feet during this first-ever canopy survey in Malaysia. Over half of any forest’s biodiversity lives in the canopy, making the treetops a critical and often overlooked area of study. Scientists climbed several rare and endangered tree species on Penang Hill to document the orchids, ferns, and epiphytes (or air plants) thriving at such heights and to press leaf samples for further study. Fifty-nine mammals were also documented through motion sensitive cameras, including lively macaques, dusky-leaf monkeys, tree rats, and flying squirrels (images available upon request).


Over 1400 species were recorded via iNaturalist, the nature-tracking mobile app that uses a community of online experts to confirm observations. This number will continue to climb as participants process observations in the coming months.


A combined forty-seven students from local schools, World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, and JASON Learning met scientists in the field to experience fieldwork firsthand. Daily video dispatches (courtesy of JASON Learning) earned over 3,000 unique viewers from around the globe on YouTube and 69,000 unique viewers on Facebook.


At least twenty-five plants and animals observed during the survey are new records for Penang or peninsular Malaysia, including the Sunda colugo or flying lemur, the red giant flying squirrel, the long-tailed giant rat, the Indomalayan niviventer, the lesser mouse deer, and species of ground squirrels, birds, bacteria, bats, ants, orchids, flies, frogs, mosquitoes, and microscopic water bears.


Four species found during the survey are likely new to science (a scorpion, fly, bacterium, and water bear). However, confirming species discoveries takes months and oftentimes years as scientists carefully sort, study, compare, describe, and potentially revise their contributions to the tree of life.


One thriving rainforest up for UNESCO nomination.

This expedition was generously sponsored by The Habitat Foundation.