‘Extinct’ insect rediscovered in Edinburgh, Scotland


An illustration from British Entomology by John Curtis, the Bordered Brown Lacewing, Megalomus hirtus (Linn.)

From Wildlife Extra:

Insect thought extinct found in Edinburgh

The Bordered Brown Lacewing (Megalomus hirtus) has been rediscovered on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh after having not been seen for over 30 years, and feared to be extinct in the UK.

The last record was from Edinburgh in 1982. The new specimen was found by Mike Smith, an intern with Buglife as part of a project supported by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

Mike Smith, Buglife intern says: “Finding the lacewing has been a really exciting start to my project and now we know that it’s not extinct, we can start learning more about it.

“We think it might live on Wood Sage but we’re not sure and so we need to investigate further to make sure that this rare Scottish insect has everything it needs to survive.”

Colin Plant, the national recorder for lacewings, who confirmed the identification, says: “The rediscovery of the Bordered Brown Lacewing in Edinburgh is really good news for biodiversity.

“The discovery gives hope that other rare invertebrates might still be hanging on in areas where their micro-habitats still remain.

“The ongoing campaign by Buglife to preserve habitats remains key to the long term survival of a huge range of invertebrates.”

Further work will now be done to work out how healthy the population at Arthur’s Seat is, as well as searching other old sites where the lacewing had been found previously.

Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES, which has been supporting the internship, says: “It’s really important to support and nurture the next generation of conservation scientists and biologists here in the UK.

“Mike Smith, who discovered the specimen as part of his intern project, has shown what can be achieved by an enthusiastic and dedicated young researcher when given the backing and guidance they need.”

American eastern bluebirds adapting to traffic noise


This video is about an eastern bluebird singing in South Carolina, USA.

From Wildlife Extra:

Male Eastern Bluebirds learn to shout above the traffic

A new study, led by scientists from the University of Exeter, has been looking at how Eastern Bluebirds in the US change their songs in response to increases in nearby background noise such as traffic.

They found that the birds altered their songs immediately after noise levels intensified, making ‘real-time’ adjustments in order to produce songs that are both louder and lower-pitched.

This enabled them to produce songs that were more likely to be heard by potential mates or rivals.

The results suggest that birds are able to perceive increases in noise and respond accordingly – not unlike the way humans do when they are in a noisy environment.

Dr Caitlin Kight, a behavioural ecologist based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, led the study entitled Eastern Bluebirds Alter their Song in Response to Anthropogenic Changes in the Acoustic Environment, and published in the scientific journal Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Dr Kight says that the research could help improve our understanding of environmental constraints on animal communication, as well as enhance our awareness of what sorts of human modifications can impact animals, and how we might be able to reduce any negative effects of these disturbances.

“Although many manmade noise regimes are often very different from those found in nature,” sahe says. “There can be surprising similarities in certain features, including volume, pitch, or timing.

“Sounds caused by traffic, for example, may not be hugely different from those produced by waterfalls or heavy winds.

“Animals that evolved in habitats with those natural features may therefore already have, within their existing repertoires of behaviours, the flexibility to respond to noise pollution. This certainly seems to be the case with bluebirds.”

Although it has previously been shown that birds in noisier areas tend to sing differently to those in quieter surrounds, it was not immediately clear whether birds were able to make vocal adjustments in real time.

However, real-time modifications have now been observed in five different avian species, although the current study is the first to describe this behaviour in a member of the thrush family.

Dr Kight recorded songs produced by 32 male Eastern Bluebirds, and analysed two from each male – those produced during the quietest and loudest period of ambient noise – to investigate whether males changes their songs between these two conditions.

Co-author Dr John Swaddle, from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, cautions against interpreting these findings as evidence that noise pollution has no adverse impacts on wild animals.

Dr Swaddle says: “Unfortunately, the world is getting so noisy that even the most flexible of species will eventually reach a threshold beyond which they will have difficulty communicating – which will impact their ability to breed successfully.

“When we build roads and airports near human neighbourhoods, we employ noise abatement protocols in an effort to mitigate against the negative impacts of noise pollution.

“It is time to apply similar caution to conservation, management, and landscaping plans that impact wildlife and their habitats.”

Svalbard expedition, another wildlife update


This video is about birds in Svalbard in July 2014, including eider ducklings, Arctic tern, black guillemot and long-tailed duck.

Peter Kuipers Munneke, participant in the big Dutch Svalbard expedition, reports today about researchers going by boat from Edgeøya island to Barentsøya island. There, they investigated a lakelet which had not been in contact with sea water for thousands of years.

More on the lakelet research, about botanical changes, by Lineke Woelders: here.

Marieke Borst, another participant, blogged on 23 August 2015 (translated):

Here I see them, the birdwatchers. This expedition has brought many of them here. Amid the most spectacular scenery they focus their binoculars on northern fulmars, kittiwakes, pink-footed geese, glaucous gulls, Brünnich’s guillemots and ivory gulls.

On 22 August 2015, Ms Borst reported about seeing a ringed seal, an Arctic fox and reindeer on Edgeøya.

Svalbard polar bears: here.

Pterosaur fossil with poop discovery


The full Rhamphorhynchus specimen (Hone et al., PeerJ DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1191/fig-1 (CC-BY 4.0))

From Smithsonian.com in the USA:

Fossilized Poop is Rare, Fossilized Poop Inside a Fossilized Dinosaur is Even Rarer

This title is a bit misleading; as the article is about a pterosaur, a flying reptile which is not a dinosaur.

Fossilized feces are always interesting, and researchers may have just found an extra special example

By Marissa Fessenden

24 August 2015

Paleontologists get really excited when they find poop — or at least, fossilized feces, called coprolites. They are not alone in the research world in this regard. Finding coprolites still within the animal that created it is rare indeed, but that may be exactly what a newly discovered specimen of Rhamphorhynchus, a winged reptile, contains.

Soft things like tissue and stomach contents don’t preserve in the fossil record well, explains Shaena Montanari for Forbes. As a result, it is “often difficult for paleontologists to fully understand the diet and ecology of extinct creatures. While there are ways of analyzing tooth shape and also chemical signatures in fossils to determine diet, an easier way to see direct feeding behavior is fossilized gut contents,” she writes.

The pterosaur specimen dates back to the Late Jurassic, about 161 to 146 million years ago. Paleontologists originally found this Rhamphorhynchus  the Schernfeld quarry from Bavaria, Southern Germany in 1965. Now, the fossil is held by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palenotology in Alberta, Canada. There, a research team recently got the chance to analyze the fossil in depth. 

The team notes in their paper, published in PeerJ, that the specimen is in good condition — some soft tissues such as wing membranes and the skin that stretch from the hindlimbs to the tail are visible. In addition, lying amongst the specimen’s guts are the bones of what may be fish. There’s also a mass of something below the creature’s sacrum, a triangular bone at the base of the spine, close to where the cloaca would be.

The possible coprolite has structures in it that look like hooks. These structures, the team hypothesizes, may be the remains of spines from some kind of marine invertebrate (perhaps a sponge or relative of a starfish). If the suspiciously-located mass really is a coprolite then it will be the first found for any kind of pterosaur.

Ants’ self-medication, new research


This video says about itself:

Leaf-Cutter Ants Biology 1210 – 2014

2 April 2014

Why do Leaf-Cutter Ants Make Good Farmers?

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Ants are able to ‘self-medicate‘ by changing diet when they are unwell in first for insect-kind

Findings of study raise questions over how ants ‘know’ they are sick

Jessica Staufenberg

Saturday 22 August 2015

It appears that ants, usually seen as the ultimate self-sacrificing workers, are also not bad at saving their own skins.

Scientists have shown that ants with a life-threatening fungus are able to “self-medicate”, eating a normally harmful substance that treats the condition.

This form of “self-medication” in insects has been suspected in research circles but has never been proven until now, raising questions about how the ant “knows” it is sick.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland showed that ants infected with the fungus Beauveria bassiana would choose to eat small doses of hydrogen peroxide, which had been proven to reduce their deaths by at least 15 per cent.

The fact that most healthy ants gave the poison a wide berth – since it usually caused a 20 per cent mortality rate – appeared to show that sick ants knew the poison would help them recover.

Depending on how strong the toxic solution was, the infected ants would also either choose to eat the poison as often as normal food, or only a quarter of the time, showing they were “careful” about their selecting their doses.

Nick Bos, one of the researchers, said ants close to death in the wild also seem to know because they often leave the nest to die in isolation.

“It is not known yet how ants know they are infected, but it’s very clear that they do somehow change their behaviour once they are,” he told the New Scientist.

Jessica Abbott of Lund University in Sweden, said the study stood up to scientific scrutiny.

“I think this is good evidence of self-medication,” she told the New Scientist. “They showed that the ants deliberately ingest hydrogen peroxide when infected – and that doing so increases the survival of the ant and decreases the fitness of the parasite.”

The chemicals found in hydrogen peroxide are also present in aphids and decaying dead ants, leading the Finnish team to say ants in the wild may eat these to fight off infection.

David Baracchi of Queen University of London said that social insects in large colonies like ants and bees are vulnerable to disease, and a small percentage increase in survival rates against infection could make a huge difference to a colony.

“It is natural that they have evolved amazing mechanisms to counteract microorganisms, and self-medication is one of those,” said Baracchi. He added it may be a widespread ability in the animal kingdom (a similar phenomenon has already been found in sheep).

This new study was published here.

Svalbard expedition sees walruses


This video from Svalbard in the Arctic says about itself:

Walrus at Kapp Lee, Edgeøya 22 August 2008.

Translated from the blog of Dutch NOS TV about the big Dutch Arctic expedition. The expedition, after arrival in Svalbard and departure of the expedition ship from the Svalbard capital Longyearbyen, has meanwhile arrived on Edgeøya island in the Svalbard archipelago. Interview on 22 August 2015 with Ko de Korte and other participants who had been on that island forty years ago as well:

But has this place changed much in forty years? “No,” said De Korte. “Only those walruses were not there. We saw nothing but reindeer and polar bears, and sometimes an Arctic fox.” Fifty meters away thirty massive walruses lie in the sunshine, deliciously lazy. With the same view which the explorers of then still know so well.

This 8 February 2015 Dutch video shows an interview with Ko de Korte. He says he did Arctic tern research in 1968 on Edgeøya island, and wants to do that again now.

This 2008 video is about Kap Lee, Edgeøya, Svalbard, where the expedition is now.

This Dutch video is about expedition participant Tom van Hoof, doing already some research on Svalbard on 18 August 2015, one day before the official start of the expedition. Tom’s research is about the consequences of attempts to find oil off Edgeøya in the 1970s.

This 16 August 2015 video is about participant Tom van Hoof in the Netherlands, checking his luggage before going to Svalbard.

In this video, Tom van Hoof introduces himself.

This 14 August 2015 video about the expedition is from before the start.

New plant discoveries in the Netherlands


Urtica membranacea, photo by Ixitixel

Translated from the Dutch FLORON botanists today:

Large-leaved nettle (Urtica membranacea) is a plant with a Mediterranean-Atlantic distribution. Originally it lived across the Mediterranean and in the coastal areas of the Atlantic Ocean from Portugal to Brittany. In 2011 the first case of it growing in the wild was discovered in Belgium. In 2014 this was followed by the Netherlands, with discoveries in Venray and Amsterdam. And this year there are observations at new locations in Amsterdam and Texel.