Cambrian animal discovery in Utah, USA


This video says about itself:

20 June 2014

In this episode of Palaeo After Dark, the group talks about an interesting and enigmatic fossil species from the Burgess Shale called Siphusauctum gregarium, which looks somewhat like a crinoid but is possibly completely unrelated. The group also gets sidetracked into conversations about echinoderms, the importance of the Burgess Shale, and shipping grandfather clocks on the Oregon Trail.

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

Obscure’ stalked filter feeder lived in Utah some 500 million years ago

October 11, 2017

Summary: The only fossilized specimen of a species previously unknown to science — an ‘obscure’ stalked filter feeder — has just been detailed for the first time.

To the untrained eye, it looks like a flower crudely etched into rock — as if a child had scratched a picture of a bloom. But to the late fossil hunter Lloyd Gunther, the tulip shape he unearthed at Antimony Canyon in northern Utah looked like the remnant of an ancient marine animal.

Years ago, Gunther collected the rock and later gave it to researchers at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute — just one among thousands of such fossils he donated to the institute over the years.

But this find was the only fossilized specimen of a species previously unknown to science — an “obscure” stalked filter feeder. It has just been detailed for the first time in a paper appearing in the Journal of Paleontology.

“This was the earliest specimen of a stalked filter feeder that has been found in North America,” said lead author Julien Kimmig, collections manager for Invertebrate Paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute. “This animal lived in soft sediment and anchored into the sediment. The upper part of the tulip was the organism itself. It had a stem attached to the ground and an upper part, called the calyx, that had everything from the digestive tract to the feeding mechanism. It was fairly primitive and weird.”

Kimmig researches the taxonomy, stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Cambrian Spence Shale found in Utah and Idaho, where Gunther found the obscure filter feeder.

“The Spence Shale gives us soft-tissue preservation, so we get a much more complete biota in these environments,” he said. “This gives us a better idea of what the early world was like in the Cambrian. It’s amazing to see what groups of animals had already appeared over 500 million years ago, like arthropods, worms, the first vertebrate animals — nearly every animal that we have around today has a relative that already lived during those times in the Cambrian.”

In honor of fossil hunter Gunther, a preeminent collector who performed fieldwork from the 1930s to the 2000s, Kimmig and Biodiversity Institute colleagues Luke Strotz and Bruce Lieberman named the newly described species Siphusauctum lloydguntheri.

The stalked filter feeder is just the second animal placed within its genus, and the first Siphusauctum to be discovered outside the Burgess Shale, a fossil-rich deposit in the Canadian Rockies.

“What these animals were doing was filtering water to get food, like micro-plankton,” Kimmig said. “The thing is, where this one was located we only found a single specimen over a period of 60 years of collecting in the area.”

Kimmig said it isn’t yet known if the newly discovered stalked filter feeder lived a highly solitary life or if it drifted off from a community of similar animals.

“It’s hard to tell from a single specimen,” he said. “There were algae found right next to it, so it likely was transported there. The algae found with it were planktonic algae that were floating themselves. It could have fallen just next to it — but that would be a big coincidence — so that’s why we’re thinking it came loose from somewhere else and got mixed in with the algae.”

Kimmig and his KU colleagues say the newly described specimen varies in key areas from similar known species of stalked filter feeders from the Cambrian.

“There are several differences in how the animal looked,” Kimmig said. “If you look at the digestive tract preserved in this specimen, the lower digestive tract is closer to the base of the animal compared to other animals. The calyx is very slim — it looks like a white wine glass, whereas in other species it looks like a big goblet. What we don’t have in this specimen that the others have are big branches for filter feeding. We don’t know if those weren’t preserved or if this one didn’t have them.”

According to the researchers, there are no species alive today that claim lineage to Siphusauctum lloydguntheri. But Kimmig said there were a few contemporary examples that share similarities.

“The closest thing to the lifestyle — but not a relative — would be crinoids, commonly called sea lilies,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s likely not a relative of Siphusauctum in the world anymore. We have thousands of similar fossil specimens in the Burgess Shale, but it’s hard to identify what these animals actually were. It might be possibly related to contemporary entoprocts, which are a lot smaller than this one — but it’s hard to tell if they’re related at all.”

Ultimately, the mysterious stalked filter feeder is a reminder of the strange and vast arc of evolution where species continuously come and go, according to Kimmig.

“It is enigmatic because we don’t have anything living that is exactly like it,” he said. “What is fascinating about this animal is we can clearly relate it to animals existing in the Cambrian and then we just don’t find it anymore. It’s just fascinating to see how evolution works. Sometimes it creates something — and it just doesn’t work out. We have some lineages like worms that lived long before the Cambrian and haven’t changed in appearance or behavior, then we have things that were around for a couple of million years and just disappeared because they were chance victims of mass extinctions.”

Advertisements

Hornets, red admiral butterflies drink birch tree juice


This 5 October 2017 video shows hornets and red admiral butterflies drinking juice from an injured birch tree.

Karl Hammer made this video near Zundert town in North Brabant province in the Netherlands.

Luminiscent jellyfish video


This video says about itself:

Strange Jellyfish Glowing in the Ocean Deep – The Trials of Life – BBC Earth

6 October 2017

In the blackness of the ocean depths is an extraordinary light show.

Lord Howe Island stick insects survive near-extinction


This July 2015 video says about itself:

Rarest bug in the world! Until recently the Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct. Ben will take you on a journey to see the renewal of the rarest bug in the world and how they saved this insect. These bugs are very special!

From ScienceDaily:

Once declared extinct, Lord Howe Island stick insects really do live

October 5, 2017

Summary: Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. Now, biologists who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects.

Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. The insects, which can measure up to 6 inches in length, don’t resemble sticks so much as tree lobsters, as they are also known. After ships accidentally introduced rats to the island about a century ago, the Lord Howe Island stick insects quickly disappeared. They were later declared extinct, only to be found again decades later living on Ball’s Pyramid, a sheer volcanic stack about 12 miles away. But those newfound insects didn’t look quite the same as older museum specimens, raising doubts about the nature of their true identity.

Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 5 who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects. The findings greatly increase the likelihood that the insect’s re-introduction on Lord Howe Island could be done successfully, the researchers say.

“We found what everyone hoped to find — that despite some significant morphological differences, these are indeed the same species”, says Alexander Mikheyev at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

Using DNA sequence data from the Ball’s Pyramid population, the researchers assembled a draft genome of the captive bred insects along with their complete mitochondrial genome. The effort revealed a massive genome, which appears to have been duplicated more than once to contain six copies of each chromosome.

The researchers also re-sequenced mitochondrial genomes from historic museum specimens collected on Lord Howe Island before the extinction event. Comparisons between living and dead insects found a divergence of less than one percent — well within the range of differences expected within a species. The findings suggest that the rediscovered populations are indeed Lord Howe Island stick insects. Dryococelus australis really has evaded extinction so far.

The work highlights the importance of museum collections for taxonomic validation in the context of ongoing conservation efforts, the researchers say. The findings come just as the Lord Howe Island community has backed a plan to drop poisoned grain on the island in hopes of eradicating the rats. If successful, the next chapter of the Lord Howe Island stick insect’s story will take place on its ancestral island.

“The Lord Howe Island stick insect has become emblematic of the fragility of island ecosystems,” Mikheyev says. “Unlike most stories involving extinction, this one gives us a unique second chance.”

Madagascar whirligig beetles, from the Triassic till now


This video says about itself:

This video shows the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle (Heterogyrus milloti) in its habitat in Ranomafana National Park, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, during the 2014 expedition.

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

Meet Madagascar‘s oldest animal lineage, a whirligig beetle with 206-million-year-old origins

October 4, 2017

Summary: A new study suggests the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle Heterogyrus milloti boasts a genetic pedigree stretching back to the late Triassic period.

There are precious few species today in the biodiversity hotspot of Madagascar that scientists can trace directly back to when all of Earth’s continents were joined together as part of the primeval supercontinent Pangea.

But a new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle Heterogyrus milloti is an ultra-rare survivor among contemporary species on Madagascar, boasting a genetic pedigree stretching back at least 206 million years to the late Triassic period.

“This is unheard of for anything in Madagascar“, said lead author Grey Gustafson, a postdoctoral research fellow in ecology & evolutionary biology and affiliate of the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. “It’s the oldest lineage of any animal or plant known from Madagascar.”

Gustafson and his co-authors’ research compared the living striped whirligig found in Madagascar with extinct whirligig beetles from the fossil record. They then used a method called “tip dating” to reconstruct and date the family tree of whirligig beetles.

“You examine and code the morphology of extinct species the same as you would living species, and where that fossil occurs in time is where that tip of the tree ends,” he said. “That’s how you time their evolutionary relationships. We really wanted the fossils’ placement in the tree to be backed by analysis, so we could say these are the relatives of the striped whirligig as supported by analysis, not just that they looked similar.”

Gustafson noted one major hurdle for the team was the “painful” incompleteness of the fossil record for establishing all the places where relatives of the striped whirligig beetle once lived.

“All of the fossils come from what is today Europe and Asia — we don’t have any deposits from Madagascar or Africa for this group of insects,” he said. “But they likely were very widespread.”

Today, whirligig beetles are a family of carnivorous aquatic beetles with about 1,000 known species dominated by members of a subfamily called the Gyrininae. But the Gyrininae are young upstarts compared with the striped whirligig beetle, the last remaining species of a group dominant during the time of the dinosaurs. This group according to Gustafson was decimated by the same asteroid impact that cut down the dinosaurs and caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.

“The remoteness of Madagascar is what may have saved this beetle,” Gustafson said. “It’s the only place that still has the striped whirligig beetle because it was already isolated at the time of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event — so the lineage was able to persist, and now it’s surviving in a marginal environment.”

Even today, the ageless striped whirligig beetle keeps its own company, preferring to skitter atop the surface of out-of-the-way forest streams in southeastern Madagascar — not mixing with latecomers of the subfamily Gyrininae who have become the dominant whirligig beetles on Madagascar and abroad.

Indeed, Gustafson is one of the few researchers to locate them during a 2014 fieldwork excursion in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park.

“This one is pretty hard to find,” he said. “They like these really strange habitats that other whirligigs aren’t found in. We have video of them in a gulch in a mountain range clogged with branches and debris — there are striped whirligigs all over it.”

Unfortunately, the KU researcher said the remote habitats of the striped whirligig beetle in Malagasy national parks were threatened today by human activity on Madagascar.

“It’s a socioeconomic issue,” Gustafson said. “In the national park where first specimens of the striped whirligig beetle were discovered, there are local people who use the forest as a refuge for zebu cattle because they’re concerned about zebu being robbed. Their defecation can disturb the nutrient lode in aquatic ecosystems. Part of the problem is finding a way for local people to be able to make their livelihood while preserving natural ecosystems. But it’s a hard balance to strike. A lot of original forest cover also has been slashed and burned for rice-field patties to feed people.”

Gustafson hopes the primal origins of the striped whirligig beetle can draw attention to the need for protecting aquatic habitats while conceding that conservation efforts usually are aimed at bigger and more cuddly species, like Madagascar’s famous lemurs, tenrecs and other unique carnivorans.

“One of the things that invertebrate species suffer from is a lack of specific conservation efforts,” he said. “It’s usually trickle-down conservation where you find a charismatic vertebrate species to get protected areas started. But certain invertebrates will have different requirements, and right now invertebrate-specific conservation efforts are lacking. We propose the striped whirligig beetle would make for an excellent flagship species for conservation.”

What dragonflies eat, new study


This video says about itself:

The Secret World of Dragonflies | Short Film Showcase

17 December 2014

The colorful, acrobatic dragonfly may seem familiar, but this stunning macro film reveals the mysteries behind its metamorphic life cycle—and some surprising adaptations.

See more from filmmaker Andy Holt here.

Learn about the making of this film here.

From the University of Turku in Finland:

What is on the menu for dragonflies

October 3, 2017

Researchers from the Universities of Turku and Helsinki, Finland, are the first in the world to discover which species adult dragonflies and damselflies prey upon, as modern laboratory techniques enabled the study of the insects’ diet. In the study, prey DNA was extracted from the tiny dragonfly droppings and the researchers managed to identify dozens of prey species from the samples. The results shed light on dragonflies’ position in natural food webs with an unprecedented specificity.

Dragonflies and damselflies, i.e. the odonates, are numerous and quite large insects. As adults, they control the air space as the apex predators of invertebrates. However, the diet of dragonflies has never been resolved comprehensively as it is difficult to observe them catching or eating their prey. Now for the first time, a research group led by Finnish scientists has established which insects the adult dragonflies prey on.

The dragonflies’ menu was studied by extracting and identifying the DNA of prey species from faecal samples. With this method, the researchers were able to identify in detail which insects the three studied dragonfly species had eaten and a large group of different prey species was identified as their prey. At the same time, the researchers discovered that the three dragonfly species prey upon practically the same species — and that they share their diet with birds and bats which are the dominant vertebrate predators.

The research group included researchers from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku, the Department of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Helsinki, and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

This study is very significant as dragonflies are at the top of the insect food webs all over the world and regulate the number of many other insect species. Therefore, it is important to know exactly which species they eat. From there, we can, for example, assess the dragonflies’ impact on the populations of those insects that are harmful to humans. Yet so far, the information on the diet of adult dragonflies has practically been based on individual visual observations of their prey, says Researcher and leader of the research group Kari Kaunisto from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

In the study, the researchers also tested the applicability of different methods for extracting DNA, and their results can be utilised in future research.

When Kari told me of his idea, I was immediately interested. It was surprising that no one had done this before and I accepted the challenge at once. Often in research, earlier studies provide a starting point for laboratory work, but in this case we had to start from the beginning. In a new project, it’s a good idea to test different methods and we wanted to lay a good foundation for future studies, says researcher Eero Vesterinen from the University of Helsinki, who in his earlier research has specialised in the research of feeding biology, especially by applying molecular research methods based on DNA.

As dragonflies are large insects, they have long interested researchers as well as nature lovers. The number of the odonate species is relatively small and identifying different species is easier than with other insect groups. Dragonflies are excellent model species for biological research also because they give indications of the state of both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Dragonflies spend their larval phase in water, after which they control the air space as the flying apex predators of invertebrates. The new study sheds additional light on dragonflies‘ role in the aerial food web, notes Professor of Insect Ecology Tomas Roslin from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who also participated in the study.

The study was recently published in the international Ecology and Evolution journal.

Slug eats sulphur tuft mushroom


This 3 October 2017 video shows a red slug eating a sulphur tuft mushroom.

The hole in its body is normal, for breathing.

Jan Tuin in the Netherlands made this video.