Nectar helps hawk moths’ health


This video from the USA says about itself:

17 April 2014

Gain an understanding of the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) life cycle by observing the growth and development of hornworm larvae in a vial. Learn about the integral steps of care and handling throughout this life cycle to witness the emergence of an adult moth.

From Science News:

Hawk moths convert nectar into antioxidants

Energetic fliers found a way to reduce muscle damage

By Elizabeth Eaton

7:00am, April 17, 2017

Hawk moths have a sweet solution to muscle damage.

Manduca sexta moths dine solely on nectar, but the sugary liquid does more than fuel their bodies. The insects convert some of the sugars into antioxidants that protect the moths’ hardworking muscles, researchers report in the Feb. 17 Science.

When animals expend a lot of energy, like hawk moths do as they rapidly beat their wings to hover at a flower, their bodies produce reactive molecules, which attack muscle and other cells. Humans and other animals eat foods that contain antioxidants that neutralize the harmful molecules. But the moths’ singular food source — nectar — has little to no antioxidants.

So the insects make their own. They send some of the nectar sugars through an alternative metabolic pathway to make antioxidants instead of energy, says study coauthor Eran Levin, an entomologist now at Tel Aviv University. Levin and colleagues say this mechanism may have allowed nectar-loving animals to evolve into powerful, energy-intensive fliers.

Grove snails video


This 11 April 2017 video is about two grove snails.

Around this time of the year they get active again. Maybe these two snails are engaged in foreplay before mating. But we cannot be sure, as their foreplay may last for hours.

Simone van Ham in the Netherlands made this video.

Injured African ants brought back to nest to recover


This video says about itself:

No Ant Left Behind: Warrior Ants Carry Injured Comrades Home

12 April 2017

Leave no man behind. That’s an old idea in warfare — it’s even part of the Soldier’s Creed that Army recruits learn in basic training.

And never leaving a fallen comrade is also the rule for some warriors who are ants, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

These ants, Megaponera analis, hunt and eat termites. Scouts will go out, find a group of termites, and then return to the ant nest to muster the troops.

Biologist Erik Frank explains that 200 to 500 ants will march out in formation. “Like three ants next to each other, in a 2-meter-long column,” he says. “It’s very peculiar and it looks like a long snake walking on the ground.”

When the termites spot this invading army, they try to escape, but the fighting is fierce.

“And after roughly 20 minutes the battle is over,” says Frank, a doctoral student with the University of Würzburg in Germany who is researching animal behavior and evolution. “You have a lot of termites lying dead on the ground,” he says, “and the ants start collecting the termites to return.”

A few years ago, Frank was working at a field station in the Ivory Coast when he noticed that some of the ants marching home after battle weren’t carrying termites. Instead, they were carrying other ants.

“And I was wondering, ‘What exactly was going on there? Why were they carrying some of the ants?'” he recalls.

It turns out, those transported ants weren’t dead — they were injured.

Ants sometimes lose a leg or two, which makes it hard for them to walk. Or, they can be weighed down by a dead termite whose jaws had clamped onto them. Either way, they’re slower than uninjured, unburdened ants.

By marking these injured ants with paint, Frank learned that in nearly all cases, they made a full recovery after being carried home to recuperate. They learn to walk with fewer legs, and their ant buddies apparently will pull off stuck termites. It doesn’t take long for an ant that’s been hurt to once again be ready for action.

Credit: Frank et al./Science Advances

“We saw them again, participating in hunts the next day,” says Frank.

He and his colleagues did some experiments to see what would happen to injured ants that weren’t carried home. It turns out that these poor ants couldn’t march fast enough. So they fell behind — and frequently got eaten by spiders and other predators, the researchers report.

From Science Advances:

Saving the injured: Rescue behavior in the termite-hunting ant Megaponera analis

Erik Thomas Frank, Thomas Schmitt, Thomas Hovestadt, Oliver Mitesser, Jonas Stiegler and Karl Eduard Linsenmair

12 April 2017

Abstract

Predators of highly defensive prey likely develop cost-reducing adaptations. The ant Megaponera analis is a specialized termite predator, solely raiding termites of the subfamily Macrotermitinae (in this study, mostly colonies of Pseudocanthotermes sp.) at their foraging sites.

The evolutionary arms race between termites and ants led to various defensive mechanisms in termites (for example, a caste specialized in fighting predators). Because M. analis incurs high injury/mortality risks when preying on termites, some risk-mitigating adaptations seem likely to have evolved.

We show that a unique rescue behavior in M. analis, consisting of injured nestmates being carried back to the nest, reduces combat mortality. After a fight, injured ants are carried back by their nestmates; these ants have usually lost an extremity or have termites clinging to them and are able to recover within the nest.

Injured ants that are forced experimentally to return without help, die in 32% of the cases. Behavioral experiments show that two compounds, dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide, present in the mandibular gland reservoirs, trigger the rescue behavior.

A model accounting for this rescue behavior identifies the drivers favoring its evolution and estimates that rescuing enables maintenance of a 28.7% larger colony size. Our results are the first to explore experimentally the adaptive value of this form of rescue behavior focused on injured nestmates in social insects and help us to identify evolutionary drivers responsible for this type of behavior to evolve in animals.

Megaponera analis lives in Africa.

Pistol shrimp named after Pink Floyd band


This video says about itself:

12 April 2017

A new species of shrimp has been named after Pink Floyd thanks to a pact between prog rock-loving scientists.

The Synalpheus pinkfloydi uses its large pink claw to create a noise so loud it can kill small fish.

The team behind the discovery vowed years ago if it ever found a new pink shrimp it would “honour” the rockers.

Sammy De Grave, head of research at Oxford University Museum of National History, said he has been a fan of the band since he was a teenager.

He said: “I have been listening to Floyd since The Wall was released in 1979, when I was 14 years old.

“The description of this new species of pistol shrimp was the perfect opportunity to finally give a nod to my favourite band.

“We are all Pink Floyd fans, and we always said if we would find a pink one, a new species of pink shrimp, we would name it after Pink Floyd.”

The pistol, or snapping shrimp, has an ability to generate sonic energy by closing their enlarged claw at rapid speed.

It can reach 210 decibels – louder than your average rock concert – and results in one of the loudest sounds in the ocean.

The description of the species, found off the Pacific coast of Panama, has been published in the Zootaxa journal and was co-authored with the Universidade Federal de Goiás in Brazil, and Seattle University in the US.

Source: here.

From the University of Oxford in England:

Rock giants Pink Floyd honoured in naming of newly discovered, bright pink pistol shrimp

April 12, 2017

Summary: A fuchsia pink-clawed species of pistol shrimp, discovered on the Pacific coast of Panama, has been given the ultimate rock and roll name in recognition of the discoverers’ favorite rock band Pink Floyd.

A strikingly bright pink-clawed species of pistol shrimp, discovered on the Pacific coast of Panama, has been given the ultimate rock and roll name in recognition of the discoverers’ favourite rock band — Pink Floyd.

The conspicuously coloured pistol shrimp has been named as Synalpheus pinkfloydi in the scientific description of the species, published in Zootaxa journal.

Just like all good rock bands, pistol shrimps, or snapping shrimps, have an ability to generate substantial amounts of sonic energy. By closing its enlarged claw at rapid speed the shrimp creates a high-pressure cavitation bubble, the implosion of which results in one of the loudest sounds in the ocean — strong enough to stun or even kill a small fish.

Combined with its distinct, almost glowing-pink snapping claw, Synalpheus pinkfloydi is aptly named by the report’s authors, Arthur Anker of the Universidade Federal de Goiás in Brazil, Kristin Hultgren of Seattle University in the USA, and Sammy De Grave, of Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

De Grave has been a life-long Pink Floyd fan and has been waiting for the opportunity to name the right new species after the band.

“I have been listening to Floyd since The Wall was released in 1979, when I was 14 years old. I’ve seen them play live several times since, including the Hyde Park reunion gig for Live8 in 2005. The description of this new species of pistol shrimp was the perfect opportunity to finally give a nod to my favourite band,” he says.

Arthur Anker, the report’s lead author, says: “I often play Pink Floyd as background music while I’m working, but now the band and my work have been happily combined in the scientific literature.”

Synalpheus pinkfloydi is not the only pistol shrimp with such a lurid claw. It’s closely-related and similar-looking sister species, Synalpheus antillensis, scientifically described in 1909, is found in the western Atlantic, including the Caribbean side of Panama. But the authors of the new paper found that the two species show considerable genetic divergence, granting S. pinkfloydi a new species status and its very own rock and roll name.

Animals feature frequently in the Floyd back-catalogue. Indeed, the 1977 album Animals includes tracks titled Dogs, Sheep, and a suite of music dedicated to pigs. Then there’s Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict from 1969’s Ummagumma. In fact, other biologists have already named a damselfly after that album: Umma gumma, in the family Calopterygidae. However, until today there have been no crustacean names known to honour the band.

‘Jellyfish, not sponges, oldest animals’


This video says about itself:

23 October 2015

Put the comb jelly in the spotlight and watch it groove. The sea creatures turn into pulsating rainbows of movement under the right lighting, no disco ball needed.

From Vanderbilt University in the USA:

Forget sponges: The earliest animals were marine jellies

April 10, 2017

Summary: One of the longest-running controversies in evolutionary biology has been, ‘What was the oldest branch of the animal family tree?’ Was it the sponges, as had long been thought, or was it the delicate marine predators called comb jellies? A powerful new method has been devised to settle contentious phylogenetic tree-of-life issues like this and it comes down squarely on the side of comb jellies

When cartoonist and marine-biology teacher Steve Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants in 1999, he may have backed the wrong side of one of the longest-running controversies in the field of evolutionary biology.

For the last decade, zoologists have been battling over the question, “What was the oldest branch of the animal family tree?” Was it the sponges, as they had long thought, or was it a distinctly different set of creatures, the delicate marine predators called comb jellies? The answer to this question could have a major impact on scientists’ thinking about how the nervous system, digestive tract and other basic organs in modern animals evolved.

Now, a team of evolutionary biologists from Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have devised a new approach designed specifically to settle contentious phylogenetic tree-of-life issues like this. The new approach comes down squarely on the side of comb jellies.

The method and its application to this and 17 other controversial phylogenetic relationships was published online on Apr. 10 by the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in an article titled “Resolution of contentious relationships in phylogenomic studies can be driven by one or a handful of genes.”

For nearly a century, scientists organized the animal family tree based in large part on their judgement of the relative complexity of various organisms. Because of their comparative simplicity, sponges were considered to be the earliest members of the animal lineage. This paradigm began to shift when the revolution in genomics began providing vast quantities of information about the DNA of an increasing number of species. Evolutionary biologists started to apply this wealth of information to refine and redefine evolutionary relationships, creating a new field called phylogenomics. In most cases, the DNA data helped clarify these relationships. In a number of instances, however, it gave rise to controversies that intensified as more and more data accumulated.

In 2008, one of the early phylogenomic studies fingered the comb jellies (aka ctenophores) as the earliest members of the animal kingdom, rather than sponges. This triggered an ongoing controversy with the latest round being a massive study published last month that marshalled an unprecedented array of genetic data to support the sponges’ position as the first animal offshoot.

“The current method that scientists use in phylogenomic studies is to collect large amounts of genetic data, analyze the data, build a set of relationships and then argue that their conclusions are correct because of various improvements they have made in their analysis,” said Antonis Rokas, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences, who devised the new approach with Vanderbilt postdoctoral scholar Xing-Xing Shen and Assistant Professor Chris Todd Hittinger from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This has worked extremely well in 95 percent of the cases, but it has led to apparently irreconcilable differences in the remaining 5 percent.”

Rokas and his collaborators decided to focus on 18 of these controversial relationships (seven from animals, five from plants and six from fungi) in an attempt to figure out why the studies have produced such strongly contradictory results. To do so, they got down into the weeds, genetically speaking, and began comparing the individual genes of the leading contenders in each relationship.

“In these analyses, we only use genes that are shared across all organisms,” Rokas said. “The trick is to examine the gene sequences from different organisms to figure out who they identify as their closest relatives. When you look at a particular gene in an organism, let’s call it A, we ask if it is most closely related to its counterpart in organism B? Or to its counterpart in organism C? And by how much?”

These analyses typically involve hundreds to thousands of genes. The researchers determined how much support each gene provides to one hypothesis (comb-jellies first) over another (sponges first). They labeled the resulting difference a “phylogenetic signal.” The correct hypothesis is the one that the phylogenetic signals from the most genes consistently favor.

In this fashion, they determined that comb jellies have considerably more genes which support their “first to diverge” status in the animal lineage than do sponges.

Another contentious relationship the researchers addressed was whether crocodiles are more closely related to birds or turtles. They found that 74 percent of the shared genes favor the hypothesis that crocodiles and turtles are sister lineages while birds are close cousins.

In the course of their study, they also discovered that in a number of contentious cases one or two “strongly opinionated genes” among all the genes being analyzed appear to be causing the problem because the statistical methods that evolutionary biologists have been using are highly susceptible to their influence.

In some cases, such as the controversies over the origins of flowering plants and modern birds, they determined that the removal of even a single opinionated gene can flip the results of an analysis from one candidate to another. In cases like this, the researchers were forced to conclude that the available data is either inadequate to support a definitive conclusion or it indicates that the diversification occurred too rapidly to resolve.

“We believe that our approach can help resolve many of these long-standing controversies and raise the game of phylogenetic reconstruction to a new level,” Rokas said.

New worm-snail species discovered on Florida shipwreck


This 2015 video from the USA is called Florida Keys Snorkeling (Key West vs Key Largo).

From the Field Museum in Chicago, USA:

‘Spiderman’ worm-snails discovered on Florida shipwreck

New species could have major implications for coral reef restoration

April 5, 2017

Summary: Scientists have discovered a new species of worm-snail on a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. The new species, which is colorful and shoots mucus webs to trap food, is likely an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific and could have important coral reef conservation implications.

What’s brightly colored, lives on shipwrecks, filter-feeds like a whale, and shoots webs like Spiderman? If you can’t readily come up with an answer, that’s okay: until now, such animals weren’t known to science. But as of today, scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of snail that ticks all those boxes. According to its discoverer, the snail shows “amazing adaptations and are kind of cute,” and it could play an important role in coral reef restoration work.

“These worm-snails are particularly weird animals,” says Dr. Rüdiger Bieler, Curator of Invertebrates at Chicago’s Field Museum and the lead author of a paper in the journal PeerJ describing the new snails. “And while we find lots of unusual snails, this one could have a substantial impact on coral reef restoration efforts.”

Instead of having coiled shells like most snails, worm-snails have irregularly-shaped tubular shells that they cement onto a hard surface. And while most snails are slow movers, adult worm-snails don’t move at all — instead, they stick to one spot for the rest of their lives. That makes them good candidates to live on hard surfaces like ships and coral reefs. The new species, Thylacodes vandyensis, is named for the “Vandy,” the nickname the SCUBA diving community has given to the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a retired naval vessel intentionally sunk to serve as an artificial reef in the lower Florida Keys. This ship is the only place the new worm-snails have ever been found, glued to the vessel’s hull.

“I first got interested in these guys when I saw their giant slime glands,” says Bieler. “Normally, snails produce a trail of slime so that they can glide on it in order to move. But worm-snails are stationary — what did they need slime glands for?”

It turns out, these snails don’t use their slime to move — they use it to hunt.

“The snails have an extra pair of tentacles down near the base of their body, almost like little arms. These tentacles are what they use to shoot slime,” explains Bieler. “They shoot out a mucous web, just like Spiderman — although in slow motion. Then, microorganisms get stuck in the web, and the snails use their mouths to pull the web back in and strain the food through barbs on their tongues called radulae in order to eat. They filter-feed, much like baleen whales.”

While the worm-snails are immobile, Bieler and his co-authors from The Field Museum, Florida International University, and Cape Breton University have reason to believe that the specimens they found in Florida are a long way from home — all signs point to these snails being an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific where they had not yet been recognized.

“We know the Atlantic worm-snail fauna very well, so the likelihood of finding a new species native to the Florida Keys is pretty small,” says Bieler. “These snails might have stowed away in bilge water or the hulls on cargo ships, and once they arrived here, they were the perfect colonizers.”

The shipwrecks making up an artificial reef in the Keys seem to have been an ideal new habitat for the worm-snails. The new snails join other animals that have already been confirmed as Pacific invasives on these artificial reefs in the Florida Keys: the Orange Tube Coral and a Giant Foam Oyster, the latter discovered by Bieler’s team on another regional wreck, the Thunderbolt, in 2003.

“The living coral reefs in the Florida Keys are already full of animals,” explains Bieler, “but the deliberately scuttled shipwrecks are empty, brand-new real estate. There were fewer organisms to compete with for space on the artificial reef, and fewer resident predators that could harm them.”

But it’s not necessarily a good thing that the worm-snails have taken so well to the shipwreck. “Worm-snails can be harmful to corals and other reef organisms,” says Bieler. “They can reduce coral growth and have been shown to serve as hosts for certain blood flukes, which are parasites of loggerhead turtles.”

On top of the risks that worm-snails carry, coral reefs are in trouble all over the world. “Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and other problems are putting our reefs in danger,” says Bieler. “And while artificial reefs, such as deliberately sunk ships, might help provide additional structures for corals and other marine animals to live on, we need to carefully monitor the species present. If we don’t, non-native and potentially invasive species like Thylacodes vandyensis might eventually make its way from the artificial reef to the natural reef and cause trouble for the animals living there.”

Discovering the newly arrived snail and clam species, says Bieler, is an important step to monitoring coral reef health. “The artificial reefs could serve as the canary in the coal mine,” says Bieler. “If we monitor their presence on the shipwrecks, we can keep tabs on them and potentially stop them from spreading to the living reefs.”

Despite the havoc that the worm-snails could potentially wreak, Bieler is glad to have found them. “The discovery of Thylacodes vandyensis helps highlight why museum collections are important. Without comparing countless snail specimens at The Field Museum and around the world, we wouldn’t have been able to identify these snails as a new species, and we wouldn’t be able to make the kinds of progress in monitoring and reef restoration that we’re now equipped to,” says Bieler. “Plus, they’re awfully interesting.”

See also here.