New butterfly species discovered on Jamaica

The newly discovered Jamaican butterfly, Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

After earlier posts here and here on this blog about the natural beauty and the threats to it of Cockpit Country in Jamaica, now from ScienceDaily:

New Jamaica Butterfly Species Emphasizes Need for Biodiversity Research

(Dec. 3, 2012) — University of Florida scientists have co-authored a study describing a new Lepidoptera species found in Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness.

Belonging to the family of skipper butterflies, the new genus and species is the first butterfly discovered in Jamaica since 1995. Scientists hope the native butterfly will encourage conservation of the country’s last wilderness where it was discovered: the Cockpit Country. The study appearing in today’s Tropical Lepidoptera Research, a bi-annual print journal, underscores the need for further biodiversity research and establishing a baseline of organisms as more tropical areas suffer habitat destruction.

“My co-authors on this paper, Vaughn Turland and Delano Lewis, are really excited because they think this butterfly has the potential to be a new sort of flagship species for Jamaican habitat conservation, because it’s a black and gold butterfly living in a green habitat, which together comprise the Jamaican national colors,” said study co-author Andy Warren, senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Whether or not a tiny little butterfly is going to attract the type of conservation interest that the giant Homerus Swallowtail in Jamaica has remains to be seen.”

With a wingspan of little more than 1 centimeter, Troyus turneri is about the size of a thumbnail with its wings spread, Warren said. The genus was named Troyus for the town of Troy, which is nearest to the region of the Cockpit Country where it was collected, and the species was named for Thomas Turner, an expert on Jamaica butterflies who contributed to its discovery.

Jamaica is considered one of the most thoroughly researched areas for butterflies in the Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Until the discovery of T. turneri, researchers believed they knew all the butterflies in Jamaica, Warren said. The butterfly likely remained undiscovered for so long due to the inaccessible nature of the Cockpit Country, a 247-mile mostly undeveloped tangle of tropical vegetation. The species was described based on one male and one female specimen, collected in 2011 and 2012 within a quarter mile of each another.

“During 2011, after the discovery of the initial female specimen, we had actually written the description, but any time you have just a single specimen, the chance exists that it’s just a real freak of something else,” Warren said. “I was really keeping my fingers crossed that more specimens would be found this year. Well, we didn’t get many more, but we got exactly one more and it was the male, so that was a huge relief.”

The fact this new genus was discovered on an island thought to be well-known, 17 years after a new species had last been described, really shows the need for biodiversity studies, said Torben Larsen, a lepidopterist who specializes in skippers.

“There aren’t so many butterflies in the country [Jamaica] and for a new one to turn up, I think it was an absolutely remarkable catch,” said Larsen, who is affiliated with the African Butterfly Research Institute. “It really points to the need for continued and in-depth study of the fauna of butterflies, and in general, to get all of these things caught and put in a museum at least, because they do tend to be in rather special habitats.”

Unlike other Jamaica skipper butterflies that have wings marked with spots of white or orange, T. turneri is dark brown and unmarked, except for a pale yellow band on its hind wing. Researchers used morphological analysis, including comparisons of the insect’s genitalia, and DNA bar coding to determine it represented a new genus.

“We knew right away it was a new species because there’s just nothing else that looks like it, but it took several months to determine that it actually should go in its own new genus,” Warren said. “Of all the butterflies that are unique to Jamaica, this one is arguably the most unique — every other butterfly on the island has other congeneric species either on another island or on the mainland, but this one doesn’t have any close relatives anywhere.”

There are about 20,000 known butterfly species worldwide. Jamaica has 135, with 35 species endemic to the country, including T. turneri.

“One of the goals of biologists is to describe the Earth’s species richness before it’s all gone, and of course we never know what we’re going to find in any of these organisms, be it some unique chemical compound that could provide the cure for cancer or any other number of diseases,” Warren said. “We don’t want to lose anything that could be potentially beneficial for ourselves and for the planet.”

Hurricane Sandy in America, a ‘Frankenstorm’?

This video from the USA is called Hurricane Sandy Hits Jamaica on Path Toward Cuba, Florida.

The eastern US is bracing for Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to make landfall next week. The storm looks set to be a record-breaker, and could cause severe damage. New Scientist breaks down what we know about the storm, and what it is likely to do.

Hurricane Sandy’s Five-Fold Flood Threat, with Local Maps: here.

Hurricane Sandy and birds: here.

Sandy and Haiti: here.

Homophobic archbishop’s drunken driving

This video from the USA is called San Francisco Archbishop-elect in DUI Arrest.

From Reuters news agency today:

San Francisco archbishop-elect apologizes for drunken driving

By Ronnie Cohen

4 hrs ago

SAN FRANCISCO – The Roman Catholic bishop newly chosen by the Vatican to lead the archdiocese of San Francisco and two other Bay Area counties publicly apologized on Monday after he was arrested and held behind bars over the weekend on suspicion of drunken driving.

Salvatore Cordileone,

Cordileone? Sounds similar to Don Vito Corleone, the mafia boss in the Godfather film. Drunken driving may kill people; like the mafia kills people.

56, appointed in July by Pope Benedict XVI to preside over more than 500,000 Catholics as metropolitan archbishop of San Francisco, was taken into custody on Saturday near San Diego State University, according to the San Diego Police Department.

He was jailed on suspicion of driving under the influence after he was stopped at a police checkpoint and failed a field sobriety test, police spokesman Detective Gary Hassen said. The bishop was released on $2,500 bail, about 11 hours after his arrest, he said.

An arraignment in the case has been scheduled for October 9.

Cordileone is due to be installed at a special mass on October 4 as head of an archdiocese encompassing 91 parishes in San Francisco and the neighboring counties of San Mateo and Marin.

He is replacing Archbishop George Niederauer, who is retiring.

Cordileone has been particularly outspoken in church opposition to same-sex matrimony as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, a role that has put him at odds with many Catholics in the largely gay-friendly Bay area.

He also led church support for the 2008 voter-approved California state constitutional amendment, Proposition 8, that banned gay marriage.

LGBTQ people having equal rights to marry does not kill people, contrary to drunken driving.

If Archbishop-elect Cordileone really wants to occupy himself with sexuality, then let him do something against the child abuse by his fellow clergymen.

Gay rights campaign group Stonewall crowned the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland Cardinal Keith O’Brien today as “bigot of the year”: here.

Two Jamaican university security guards have been relieved from duty after YouTube footage emerged of a student being badly beaten in front of a baying mob, reportedly because he was gay: here.

Caribbean crustacean named after Bob Marley

This video is about the crustacean, recently called after Bob Marley.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Better than nothing? Bloodsucking parasite named after Bob Marley.

Gnathia marleyi, a tiny crustacean that feeds off the blood of reef-dwelling Caribbean fish, has been named in honor – for lack of a better term – of the Jamaican musician Bob Marley.

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor / July 10, 2012

The late Jamaican musician Bob Marley has joined the “I have a species named after me” club, as a parasitic crustacean has been donned Gnathia marleyi, researchers announced today (July 10).

This blood feeder infests certain fish that live among the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean Sea.

“I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley’s music,” Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology at Arkansas State University, said in a statement. “Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley.”

Marley now belongs to a club that includes President Barack Obama, whose name inspired Caloplaca obamae, the moniker for a lichen growing on Santa Rosa island in California. Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert has two insects named for him, while Mick Jagger‘s name was given to an extinct trilobite, Aegrotocatellus jaggeri. Even singer Beyoncé is a card-carrying member, with a species of horse fly with a golden rear now named Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae. [StarStruck: Species Named After Celebrities]

Juvenile gnathid isopods hide within coral rubble or algae so they can launch surprise attacks on fish, and then infest them. As adults, the parasites don’t eat. “We believe that adults subsist for two to three weeks on the last feedings they had as juveniles and then die, hopefully after they have reproduced,” Sikkel said in a statement.

With reports suggesting coral reef communities in the Caribbean are declining due to diseases, Sikkel’s team is examining whether there’s a link between reef health and gnathid populations. G. marleyi, like other gnathids, is similar to blood-sucking ticks or mosquitoes.

And like the land-lubbing ticks, gnathids are responsible for many diseases, in thise case those afflicting coral-reef fish, the researchers said. “We suspect that coral degradation leads to more available habitat for external parasites to ‘launch attacks’ on host fishes,” he said. “And as the number of potential host fish decreases, each remaining host will become more heavily parasitized.”

Sikkel first discovered the newly identified gnathid about 10 years ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it was so common he assumed it had been described. Not so, according to Nico J. Smit of North-West University in South Africa, who later examined a specimen of the species. Next, the research team raised the organism from its juvenile stage through adulthood.

Sikkel and his team describe all of G. marleyi’s life stages in the June 6 issue of the journal Zootaxa.

See also here.

The Bob Marley parasite and 6 other species named after famous people: here.

The Life, Music and Legacy of Bob Marley: here.

Lady Gaga Inspires Names of New Fern Species: here.

With sea ice in the Arctic melting to record lows in summer months, marine animals living there face dramatic changes to their environment. Yet some crustaceans, previously thought to spend their entire lives on the underside of sea ice, were recently discovered to migrate deep underwater and follow ocean currents back to colder areas when ice disappears: here.

Jamaica extinct ibis discoveries

This is video of a white ibis flying.

By Jennifer Viegas:

Extinct Bird Swung Wings Like a Club

Before humans wiped them out, these fighting birds would clobber each other over territory.

Tue Dec 28, 2010 07:01 PM ET


* A flightless Jamaican ibis bird evolved wings that functioned like a club or flail.
* The birds swung their club-like “weapons” during fights over territory, researchers suggest.
* Humans probably caused the the bird, Xenicibis xympithecus, to go extinct around 10,000 years ago.

Some dinosaurs had club-like tails that they smacked into foes, and now researchers have discovered that the wings of an extinct Jamaican bird evolved into similar structures that the bird would use to clobber rivals during fights.

The bird, Xenicibis xympithecus, is the first known animal that had limbs modified to serve as a club/flail, according to the authors of the study. The paper is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Before the flightless bird went extinct around 10,000 years ago, it must have engaged in some fierce fighting at its island nation home. Unearthed fossilized remains retain signs of traumatic injuries sustained from delivering or receiving blows.

“I would guess that they would try to grab each other using the beak and then just proceed to pound each other using the wings,” lead author Nicholas Longrich told Discovery News.

Longrich, a post doctoral associate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, and colleague Storrs Olson made the determination after analyzing the remains of the bird, which was a relatively large long-billed, long-legged wading ibis. They immediately noticed the bird’s “bizarre” wings.

“The arm is long and spindly, and the hand bones are enlarged, curved and expanded so that the hand looks like a banana,” Longrich said, adding that both females and males had these unusually modified wings.

He and Olson believe the wings functioned like handled clubs and flails, with the arms being the “handles” of the weapons, increasing the angular velocity of the weighted “club” at the end. The bird could then swing its wings, delivering sharp blows whenever the enlarged hand bones struck an opponent.

Since ibises are monogamous and there probably weren’t a lot of animal predators going after the bird, the researchers suspect most fights had to do with staking out home turf.

“There were a lot of birds fighting over the same territories,” Longrich explained. “The best fighters — the ones with the best weapons — were able to secure a good territory and reproduce.”

A number of birds use their wings as weapons. The scientists note that some birds, including screamers, certain jacanas, the spur-winged goose, the torrent duck and nine species of lapwing, employ sharp spurs. Other birds, such as steamer ducks, sheathbills, stone curlews and swans, bear a bony knob on their wings. Two jacanas, Actophilornis and Irediparra, even have triangular blades on their wings.

But no bird — and no other vertebrate living or extinct — possessed limbs modified to serve as a jointed club or flail that could be swung, according to the scientists.

The unique method of defense was likely no match for humans, however, since the extinction of Xenicibis likely happened after people colonized Jamaica.

“Humans wiped out flightless birds like the dodo and the moa wherever they went, so my guess is that Xenicibis shared their fate,” Longrich said.

Richard Prum, chair of Yale’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, told Discovery News that Longrich and Olson make “a good argument for a novel combat function for the flightless forelimbs of this weaponized ibis. Clearly there is much more to learn about avian diversity.”

Helen James, curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, believes “the authors are correct that the wing had evolved to serve as a specialized weapon.”

“I can just imagine the rapid-fire blows that these ibises could deliver with their flail-like wings,” she added.

Flying High: Birds and Coffee in Jamaica: here.

What colors were the first birds? Our avian friends appeared about 150 million years ago, and some prehistoric bird fossils have been found with their feathers nearly intact. But the colors faded away long ago, leaving paleontologists in the dark about the original hues. Now a research team employing state-of-the-art chemical imaging has found traces of the plumes’ ancient pigments. The new techniques might eventually tell scientists not only what colors prehistoric birds sported but also why they evolved highly pigmented plumage in the first place: here.