Dung beetle with much dung, video


This dung beetle tries to transport much more dung than this species usually does.

Henk van Wijk in the Netherlands made this video.

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Great green bush-cricket lays eggs


In this 27 September 2019 video, a female great green bush-cricket prepares to lay her eggs under a sidewalk.

After two to five winters underground, these eggs will hatch.

Ralph Beunen in the Netherlands made this video.

Big new wasp species discovery in Africa


This August 2018 video is about hornets and wasps.

From the University of Turku:

New large-sized insect species discovered in tropical forest

October 9, 2019

Scientists at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku in Finland have studied the diversity of tropical parasitoid wasps for years. Parasitoid wasps are among the most species rich animal taxa on Earth, but their tropical diversity is still poorly known. Recently, the research group sampled Afrotropical rhyssine wasps, which are among the largest wasps. Scientists from three countries and research institutes participated in the research led by the University of Turku research group.

Rhyssines are sizeable wasps that parasitise the beetle or wasp larvae of decaying wood. The largest species can grow over ten centimetres in length. Females carry an extremely long ovipositor, which is used to drill through wood, stab and paralyse the host, and lay eggs.

Large-sized insect species are usually known better than small species, but tropical rhyssines are an exception.

“A good example of how poorly tropical rhyssines are known is the species Epirhyssa overlaeti, which is the largest African rhyssine. Only two females were known before, one collected in the 1930s in the Congo and the other one in Cameroon in the 1980s. Now, at one single Ugandan site, we found large numbers of both females and males. This completely changed what is known of the distribution of the species,” says Doctoral Candidate Tapani Hopkins from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku, who led the project.

Scientists at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku have previously studied the diversity of rhyssine wasps especially in the Amazonian lowland rainforest.

“In our Amazonian research, we have described ten large-sized South-American species new to science and our understanding of the diversity of South American tropical rainforest parasitoid wasps has changed. Extending the research to the African continent is important, because our goal is to understand the global diversity of the parasitoid insects which are extremely species rich,” says Professor in Biodiversity Research Ilari Sääksjärvi from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

In the newest study, two new African tropical parasitoid wasp species were described.

“We named one of the new species Epirhyssa quagga, because its colouration resembles that of a zebra. The other species became Epirhyssa johanna. The name Johanna refers to my wife,” Hopkins says delightedly.

Deep-sea pink octopuses, new research


This 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have observed a deep-sea octopus brooding its eggs for four and one-half years—much longer than any other known animal. Throughout this time, the female kept the eggs clean and guarded them from predators. This amazing feat represents an evolutionary balancing act between the benefits to the young octopuses of having plenty of time to develop within their eggs, and their mother’s ability to survive for years with little or no food. Although long-term observations of deep-sea animals are rare, the researchers propose that extended brooding periods may be common in the deep sea. Such extended life stages would need to be taken into account in assessing the effects of human activities on deep-sea animals. In any case, this strategy has apparently worked for Graneledone (boreo)pacifica—it is one of the most common deep-sea octopuses in the Northeastern Pacific.

Video producer: Susan von Thun
Script and narration: Bruce Robison
Production support: Nancy Jacobsen Stout, Kyra Schlining, Lonny Lundsten, Linda Kuhnz

Scientific paper on this: here.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

The deeper these octopuses live, the wartier their skin

October 8, 2019

Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, surprisingly cute warty pink octopuses creep along the seafloor. But not all these octopuses look alike. While we humans love a good “Is your skin oily, dry, or combination?” quiz, members of one octopus species take variations in skin texture to a whole new level. Some have outrageous warts, while others appear nearly smooth-skinned. Scientists weren’t sure if these octopuses were even members of the same species, and they didn’t know how to explain the differences in the animals’ looks. But in a new study, scientists cracked the case: the deeper in the ocean the octopuses live, the bumpier their skin and the smaller their bodies. DNA revealed even though the octopuses looked different, they were the same species.

“If I had only two of these animals that looked very different, I would say, ‘Well, they’re different species, for sure.’ But variation inside animal species can sometimes fool you,” says Janet Voight, associate curator of zoology at the Field Museum and the lead author of the paper in the Bulletin of Marine Science. “That’s why we need to look at multiple specimens of species to see, does that first reaction based on two specimens make sense?”

To figure out if the smooth and warty octopuses were the same species, the scientists examined 50 specimens that were classified as Graneledone pacifica — the Pacific warty octopus. Plunging deep into the ocean in ALVIN, a human-occupied submersible vehicle, Voight collected some of the octopuses from the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The team also studied specimens loaned from the University of Miami Marine Laboratory and the California Academy of Sciences. They looked at specimens from up and down the Pacific, from as far north as Washington State to as far south as Monterey, California, and from depths ranging from 3,660 feet to more than 9,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

The researchers counted the number of warts in a line across each octopus’s back and its head and the number of suckers on their arms. They found that the octopuses from deeper in the ocean looked different from their shallower counterparts. The deep-sea specimens were smaller, with fewer arm suckers, and, most noticeably, bumpier skin than those from shallower depths. The thing is, there weren’t two distinct groups; the animals’ appearances changed according to how deep they live. Comparing the octopuses’ DNA sequences revealed only minor differences, supporting the idea that they were all the same species, despite looking so different.

Sometimes when animals look different from each other, scientists can be tempted to jump the gun and declare them separate species — especially in the deep sea, where very little is known about animal life and scientists often don’t have many specimens to compare. But looking different doesn’t necessarily mean that animals are members of different species; take chihuahuas’ and Great Danes’, which are both the same species of Canis lupus familiaris, dogs, different appearances are due to selective breeding by humans, but in the case of the warty octopuses in this study, their different appearances seem to result from environmental influences, because their appearance changes depending on where the octopuses are from.

Scientists aren’t sure why the variations in skin texture occur with depth. But they do have a hunch about the size difference.

Voight thinks that these octopuses usually eat creatures from the sediment on the ocean floor, passing food from sucker to sucker and then crushing their prey like popcorn. “There’s less food as you get deeper in the ocean. So these animals have to work harder to find food to eat. And that means at the end of their lives, they’ll be smaller than animals who have more food. If you’re a female who’s going to lay eggs at the end of your life, maybe your eggs will be smaller” says Voight. Smaller eggs mean smaller hatchlings.

Support for this hypothesis comes from the number of suckers on the males’ arm that transfers sperm packets to females. Earlier research by Voight found that male hatchlings have a full-formed arm with all its suckers in place. The researchers documented that the number of suckers on this arm was way smaller in males from greater depth, and Voight hypothesizes it relates to egg size.

“The octopus hatchlings in shallower water, only 3,660 feet, are bigger. Their eggs had more yolk. As the embryos grew, they developed farther inside the egg than the ones from 9,000 feet, who were developing in smaller eggs. They had less energy to fuel their growth before they left the egg, so they made fewer suckers,” says Voight. Seeing these physical manifestations of octopuses’ food limitation provides a hint of how they might fare as climate change progresses and the octopuses’ food supply fluctuates.

Voight notes that this study, which shows that different-looking octopuses can still be the same genetic species, could help researchers down the line trying to identify life forms in the deep sea. Remotely operated vehicles collect video footage of the ocean floor, and it can be used to estimate the number of species present — if we know what they look like. That’s why, Voight says, it’s so important to examine specimens in person and use characteristics you can’t see on video to identify species boundaries.

“There’s still just so much we don’t know about the deep sea. We need to be able to understand the information that’s becoming available from ROV footage. And we can only do it by knowing what the animals look like.”

Invertebrate fossils discovery in Dominican Republic amber


Sialomorpha dominicana

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Meet the ‘mold pigs,’ a new group of invertebrates from 30 million years ago

October 8, 2019

Fossils preserved in Dominican amber reveal a new family, genus and species of microinvertebrate from the mid-Tertiary period, a discovery that shows unique lineages of the tiny creatures were living 30 million years ago.

The findings by George Poinar Jr. of the Oregon State University College of Science give a rare look at a heretofore unknown clade of invertebrates, along with their fungal food source and other animals that lived in their habitat.

Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past, informally calls the new animals “mold pigs” for their resemblance to swine, and their diet. Scientifically, they are Sialomorpha dominicana, from the Greek words for fat hog (sialos) and shape (morphe).

Invertebrate means not having a backbone, and invertebrates account for roughly 95 percent of animal species.

“Every now and then we’ll find small, fragile, previously unknown fossil invertebrates in specialized habitats,” Poinar said. “And occasionally, as in the present case, a fragment of the original habitat from millions of years ago is preserved too. The mold pigs can’t be placed in any group of currently existing invertebrates — they share characteristics with both tardigrades, sometimes referred to as water bears or moss pigs, and mites but clearly belong to neither group.”

The several hundred individual fossils preserved in the amber shared warm, moist surroundings with pseudoscorpions, nematodes, fungi and protozoa, Poinar said.

“The large number of fossils provided additional evidence of their biology, including reproductive behavior, developmental stages and food,” he said. “There is no extant group that these fossils fit into, and we have no knowledge of any of their descendants living today. This discovery shows that unique lineages were surviving in the mid-Tertiary.”

The Tertiary period began 65 million years ago and lasted for more than 63 million years.

About 100 micrometers long, the mold pigs had flexible heads and four pairs of legs. They grew by molting their exoskeleton and fed mainly on fungi, supplementing that food source with small invertebrates.

“No claws are present at the end of their legs as they are with tardigrades and mites,” Poinar said. “Based on what we know about extant and extinct microinvertebrates, S. dominicana appears to represent a new phylum. The structure and developmental patterns of these fossils illustrate a time period when certain traits appeared among these types of animals. But we don’t know when the Sialomorpha lineage originated, how long it lasted, or whether there are descendants living today.”

Stick insect evolution, birds and mammals


This 8 October 2019 video says about itself:

These Giant Leaf Insects Will Sway Your Heart | Deep Look

Giant Malaysian leaf insects stay still – very still – on their host plants to avoid hungry predators. But as they grow up, they can’t get lazy with their camouflage. They change – and even dance – to blend in with the ever-shifting foliage.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

Was early stick insect evolution triggered by birds and mammals?

October 7, 2019

Stick and leaf insects are a diverse and strikingly bizarre group of insects with a worldwide distribution, which are more common in tropical and subtropical areas. They are famous for their impressively large body size, compared to other insects, and their remarkable ability to camouflage themselves as twigs, leaves or bark in order to hide from potential predators. A team of international researchers led by the University of Göttingen has now generated the first phylogenomic tree of these insects. The results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“Previously the relationships between stick insects were inferred based on just a handful of genes. This is the first study in which more than 2,000 genes were analysed for each species,” explains Dr Sven Bradler from the University of Göttingen and senior author of the study. 38 species of stick and leaf insects from all over the world were investigated by the researchers of the 1KITE project (1,000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution). “Previous studies were unable to explain the early evolution of these insects. This has now changed with the new and much more extensive dataset that can even reconstruct the origin of the oldest lineages,” adds Dr Sabrina Simon, first author of this study from the University Wageningen.

The most surprising finding is that the relationships between the early emerging groups of stick and leaf insects largely disprove the earlier assumptions. In fact, the genealogy reflects more the geographic distribution than the anatomical similarity of the animals. The authors revealed a New World lineage of purely North and South American species and a group of Old World origin that comprises species from Africa to New Zealand.

The biogeographic history was reconstructed by Sarah Bank, PhD student at the University of Göttingen and coauthor of the study, which resulted in further unexpected results: “The flamboyant stick insects of Madagascar, for instance, descended from a single ancestral species who colonised the island approximately 45 million years ago.”

The age estimation of the phylogenetic tree suggests that most of the old lineages emerged after the dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago. Thus, the remarkable camouflage of stick and leaf insects most probably evolved afterwards as adaptation against predatory mammals and birds.

“Stick insects become more and more important as model organisms for evolutionary research. The new comprehensive molecular dataset won’t be exhaustively analysed for quite some time and will provide exciting insights into the function of the numerous detected genes,” explains Bradler with regard to future studies.