Spring’s first bees on crocus flowers

This 15 February 2019 video shows the first bees of this year on crocus flowers.

Martien van Beekveld in the Netherlands made this video.


Two-billion-year old moving organisms discovery

This 2016 video says about itself:

The 10 Oldest Fossils, and What They Say About Evolution

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to point at a fossil and know that it’s the first, say, plant? Well… yeah! But it’s not that easy! Scientists are always making new discoveries that throw all our old assumptions into question, but we’ve put together a list of the oldest fossils of their kind that we know of so far!

From the CNRS in France:

Discovery of the oldest evidence of mobility on Earth

February 11, 2019

An international and multi-disciplinary team coordinated by Abderrazak El Albani at the Institut de chimie des milieux et matériaux de Poitiers (CNRS/Université de Poitiers) has uncovered the oldest fossilised traces of motility. Whereas previous remnants were dated to 570 million years ago, this new evidence is 2.1 billion years old. They were discovered in a fossil deposit in Gabon, where the oldest multicellular organisms have already been found (1). These results appear in the 11 February 2019 edition of PNAS.

A few years ago, geologist Abderrazak El Albani and his team at the Institut de chimie des milieux et matériaux de Poitiers (CNRS/Université de Poitiers) discovered the oldest existing fossils of multicellular organisms in a deposit in Gabon. Located in the Franceville Basin, the deposit allowed scientists to re-date the appearance of multicellular life on Earth to 2.1 billion years — approximately 1.5 billion years earlier than previously thought (600 million). At the time, researchers showed that this rich biodiversity co-occurred with a peak in dioxygenation of the atmosphere (2), and developed in a calm and shallow marine environment.

In this same geological deposit, the team has now uncovered the existence of fossilised traces of motility. This shows that certain multicellular organisms in this primitive marine ecosystem were sophisticated enough to move through its mud, rich in organic matter.

The traces were analysed and reconstructed in 3D using X-ray computed micro-tomography, a non-destructive imaging technique. The more or less sinuous structures are tubular, of a generally consistent diameter of a few millimetres, and run through fine layers of sedimentary rock. Geometrical and chemical analysis reveals that they are biological in origin and appeared at the same time the sediment was deposited.

The traces are located next to fossilised microbial biofilms (3), which formed carpets between the superficial sedimentary layers. It is plausible that the organisms behind this phenomenon moved in search of nutritive elements and the dioxygen, both produced by cyanobacteria.

What did these living elements look like? Though difficult to know for certain, they may have been similar to colonial amoebae, which cluster together when resources become scarce, forming a type of slug, which moves in search of a more favourable environment.

Until now, the oldest traces of recognised movement were dated to 570 million years ago; an estimate that appeared to be confirmed by the molecular clock (4). Evidence of motility found in rock that is 2.1 billion years old raises new questions regarding the history of life: was this biological innovation the prelude to more perfected forms of movement, or an experiment cut short by the drastic drop in atmospheric oxygen rates which occurred approximately 2.083 billion years ago?


(1) Nature, 2010 and PLOS ONE, 2014.

(2) PNAS, 2013.

(3) Geobiology, 2018.

(4) The principle is to explore variations between two species observed in similar regions of their DNA in order to estimate the time lapse since the era in which their nearest common ancestor lived.

New tarantula species discovery in Angola

This 9 February 2019 video says about itself:

Let’s call it “The Mega Horned Baboon Tarantula” – what do you think?
Ceratogyrus attonitifer is a new species described by the arachnologist Ian Engelbrecht. This baboon tarantula is native to the country of Angola and has an astonishing horn – something we’ve never seen before, covering almost the entire opisthosoma of the baboon tarantula spider.

It’s remarkable – watch the video, enjoy its beauty and let’s hope for more pictures and videos of this new baboon tarantula species soon!

From ScienceDaily:

New tarantula species from Angola distinct with a one-of-a-kind ‘horn’ on its back

February 12, 2019

A new to science species of tarantula with a peculiar horn-like protuberance sticking out of its back was recently identified from Angola, a largely underexplored country located at the intersection of several Afrotropical ecoregions.

Collected as part of the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, which aims to uncover the undersampled biodiversity in the entire Okavango catchment of Angola, Namibia and Botswana, thereby paving the way for sustainable conservation in the area, the new arachnid is described in a paper published in the open-access journal African Invertebrates by the team of Drs John Midgley and Ian Engelbrecht.

Although the new spider (Ceratogyrus attonitifer sp.n.) belongs to a group known as horned baboon spiders, the peculiar protuberance is not present in all of these species. Moreover, in the other species — where it is — the structure is completely sclerotised, whereas the Angolan specimens demonstrate a soft and characteristically longer ‘horn’. The function of the curious structure remains unknown.

The new tarantula’s extraordinary morphology has also prompted its species name: C. attonitifer, which is derived from the Latin root attonit- (“astonishment” or “fascination”), and the suffix -fer (“bearer of” or “carrier”). It refers to the astonishment of the authors upon the discovery of the remarkable species.

“No other spider in the world possesses a similar foveal protuberance,” comment the authors of the paper.

During a series of surveys between 2015 and 2016, the researchers collected several female specimens from the miombo forests of central Angola. To find them, the team would normally spend the day locating burrows, often hidden among grass tufts, but sometimes found in open sand, and excavate specimens during the night. Interestingly, whenever the researchers placed an object in the burrow, the spiders were quick and eager to attack it.

The indigenous people in the region provided additional information about the biology and lifestyle of the baboon spider. While undescribed and unknown to the experts until very recently, the arachnid has long been going by the name “chandachuly” among the local tribes. Thanks to their reports, information about the animal’s behaviour could also be noted. The tarantula tends to prey on insects and the females can be seen enlarging already existing burrows rather than digging their own. Also, the venom of the newly described species is said to not be dangerous to humans, even though there have been some fatalities caused by infected bites gone untreated due to poor medical access.

In conclusion, the researchers note that the discovery of the novel baboon spider from Angola does not only extend substantially the known distributional range of the genus, but can also serve as further evidence of the hugely unreported endemic fauna of the country:

“The general paucity of biodiversity data for Angola is clearly illustrated by this example with theraphosid spiders, highlighting the importance of collecting specimens in biodiversity frontiers.”

Apart from the described species, the survey produced specimens of two other potentially new to science species and range expansions for other genera. However, the available material is so far insufficient to formally diagnose and describe them.

New deep sea animal discoveries off Cocos Island

This 2015 German language video is called Cocos Island (Isla del Coco) “Mountain of sharks“.

From the Schmidt Ocean Institute:

New deep sea animal discoveries warrant expanded protections in Costa Rican waters

February 11, 2019

Summary: Scientists surveyed deep-sea seamounts outside Isla del Coco UNESCO World Heritage site revealing coral communities with surprising diversity.

A three week expedition off the coast of Costa Rica has just expanded our knowledge of deep sea ecosystems in the region. Led by Dr. Erik Cordes, Temple University, the scientists aboard research vessel Falkor surveyed the continental margin for seamounts and natural gas seeps, where specialized biological communities are found. The seamounts extending from the mainland to the Cocos Island National Park provide an important corridor for the animals occupying the area.

Investigating these systems on all biological size scales, the team focused on relationships between species, from microbes to fauna like fish and corals. At least four new species of deep-sea corals and six other animals that are new to science were found. This expedition represents the first time that seven of the seamounts in the area have been surveyed. The survey results, including description of the coral communities that they host, will support the effort to create a new marine protected area around these seamounts ensuring that they are not impacted by fishing or potential mining activities.

“This research will support Costa Rica’s efforts to conserve these important habitats by providing a baseline of the incredible species and ecosystems found in the deeper areas that don’t always attract the attention that they deserve,” said Schmidt Ocean Institute Cofounder Wendy Schmidt. “One of the most important things we can do now is understand how these communities work, so if there are changes in the future we can measure human impact.”

Even in deep waters, humans pose a threat to these fragile ecosystems. During one of the 19 remotely operated vehicle dives the accumulation of trash at 3,600 meters depth (more than 2 miles) was discovered. Threats to the deep sea already exist, including fishing and energy industries that are moving into deeper water, and the persistent risk of climate change. There are rare organisms and spectacular habitats on the seamounts; it is important to preserve them before they are impacted by these and other threats.

One unique discovery during the expedition was the consistent zonation of seamounts related to the amount of oxygen present. Decreasing oxygen in the ocean due to a warming planet may eventually affect these zones dominated by corals, sea fans, sponges, brittle stars and small oysters. “Every dive continues to amaze us,” said Cordes. “We discovered species of reef-building stony corals at over 800 meters depth on two different seamounts. The closest records of this species are from the deep waters around the Galapagos Islands. The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth. Understanding how that habitat functions will help us to understand how the planet as a whole works.”

Dinosaur age malaria mosquitoes discovered

Priscoculex burmanicus, a newly identified genus and species of anopheline mosquito, preserved in amber. Credit: George Poinar Jr.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Mosquitoes that carry malaria may have been doing so 100 million years ago

February 11, 2019

The anopheline mosquitoes that carry malaria were present 100 million years ago, new research shows, potentially shedding fresh light on the history of a disease that continues to kill more than 400,000 people annually.

“Mosquitoes could have been vectoring malaria at that time, but it’s still an open question,” said the study’s corresponding author, George Poinar Jr. of Oregon State University’s College of Science. “Back then anopheline mosquitoes were probably biting birds, small mammals and reptiles since they still feed on those groups today.”

In amber from Myanmar that dates to the mid-Cretaceous Period, Poinar and co-authors described a new genus and species of mosquito, which was named Priscoculex burmanicus. Various characteristics, including those related to wing veins, proboscis, antennae and abdomen indicate that Priscoculex is an early lineage of the anopheline mosquitoes.

“This discovery provides evidence that anophelines were radiating — diversifying from ancestral species — on the ancient megacontinent of Gondwana because it is now thought that Myanmar amber fossils originated on Gondwana,” said 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.

Findings were published in Historical Biology.

Most malaria, especially the species that infect humans and other primates, is caused primarily by one genus of protozoa, Plasmodium, and spread mainly by anopheline mosquitoes. Ancestral forms of the disease may literally have determined animal survival and evolution, according to Poinar.

In a previous work, he suggested that the origins of malaria, which today can infect animals ranging from humans and other mammals to birds and reptiles, may have first appeared in an insect such as a biting midge that was found to be vectoring a type of malaria some 100 million years ago. Now he can include mosquitoes as possible malaria vectors that existed at the same time.

In a 2007 book, “What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous,” Poinar and his wife, Roberta, showed insect vectors from the Cretaceous with pathogens that could have contributed to the widespread extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

“There were catastrophic events that happened around that time, such as asteroid impacts, climatic changes and lava flows,” the Poinars’ wrote. “But it’s still clear that dinosaurs declined and slowly became extinct over thousands of years, which suggests other issues must also have been at work. Insects, microbial pathogens such as malaria, and other vertebrate diseases were just emerging around that time.”

Scientists have long debated about how and when malaria evolved, said Poinar, who was the first to discover malaria in a 15- to 20-million-year-old fossil mosquito from the New World, in what is now the Dominican Republic.

It was the first fossil record of Plasmodium malaria, one type of which is now the strain that infects and kills humans.

Understanding the ancient history of malaria, Poinar said, might offer clues on how its modern-day life cycle evolved and how to interrupt its transmission. Since the sexual reproductive stage of malaria only occurs in the insect vectors, Poinar considers the vectors to be the primary hosts of the malarial pathogen, rather than the vertebrates they infect.

The first human recording of malaria was in China in 2,700 B.C., and some researchers say it may have resulted in the fall of the Roman Empire. In 2017 there were 219 million cases of malaria worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Immunity rarely occurs naturally and the search for a vaccine has not yet been successful.

Insects and plants, new research

This March 2015 video says about itself:

Eerie Time-Lapse of Bug-Eating Plants | Short Film Showcase

Filmmaker Chris Field captures the beautiful but deadly world of carnivorous plants in his “bio-lapse”, Carnivora Gardinum. The project took over a year to complete, with 107 days of continuous shooting on two cameras.

From Aarhus University in Denmark:

DNA traces on wild flowers reveal insect visitors

February 8, 2019

Researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, have discovered that insects leave tiny DNA traces on the flowers they visit. This newly developed eDNA method holds a vast potential for documenting unknown insect-plant interactions, keeping track of endangered pollinators, such as wild bees and butterflies, as well as in the management of unwanted pest species.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) can provide an overview of the DNA sequences in complex samples such as water and soil, and thereby a snapshot of the species inhabiting the particular ecosystem. In previous analyses of water samples from lakes and oceans, researchers have fx found DNA traces from insects, amphibians, fish and whales.

Flowers as DNA collectors

Flower-rich grassland habitats like meadows are typically visited by hundreds of species of insects such as bees, butterflies, flies and beetles, which collect food from the flowers. However, it can obviously be quite difficult to keep track of which insect species visit which flower.

But now, Associate professor Philip Francis Thomsen and Postdoc Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, have undertaken eDNA analyses of 50 flowers from seven different plant species.

“I have worked with DNA from water and soil samples for several years and have often thought that DNA is probably much more common in the environment than would initially imagine. With this study we wanted to test if eDNA from flowers can reveal which insects the flowers have interacted with,” says Philip Francis Thomsen, who heads a research group focusing on eDNA.

The researchers were quite surprised by the analyses, which revealed that the flowers have been visited by at least 135 different species of butterflies, moths, bees, flies, beetles, aphids, plant bugs, spiders, etc. The list goes on.

The flowers therefore function as passive DNA collectors that store data about each flower-visiting insect — a discovery that is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Efficient monitoring of our insect fauna

The method opens up completely new possibilities of studying the interactions between specific plants and insects. The knowledge gained can be used within many research areas, including applied research in pest control.

The new method also holds major perspectives in the management of endangered species like wild <a href="https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/save-all-bee-species-from-pesticide-death/”>pollinators, which is an urgent task since many groups of flower-visiting insects are threatened. Thus, the populations of several wild bees and butterflies have decreased significantly in recent decades and many species have now become locally extinct.

“The eDNA method might provide a comprehensive overview of the insects involved in the pollination of various plants. Earlier the focus has almost entirely been on bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but we have found DNA from a wide range of other insects such as moths and beetles that may in fact also be important pollinators” says Philip Francis Thomsen.

Spiders dating, dangerous or delicious?

This 11 February 2019 video from the Natural History Museum in London, England says about itself:

What are the secrets of spider dating? | Natural History Museum

For some spiders, choosing the wrong mate can be deadly. Jan Beccaloni, Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda, explains some of the tactics male spiders use to avoid becoming their mate’s next meal.