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Monat: Dezember, 2019

Locomotion behavior of Schizomida (Arachnida)

They look without magnification more like very motile and fast running ants or very tiny grasshoppers than like arachnids. But they indeed represent relatives of the web spiders and scorpions: Schizomida, a clade of whip scorpions. They are the sister taxon of Thelyphonida, the rather well known „big whip scorpions“, which are often kept as pets in terraria around the world. Schizomida are only rarely filmed in a higher resolution quality, which is due to their small size and their almost invisibility due to their semi-transparent cuticle and their very fast way of walking or even jumping. They are additionally difficult to be filmed as they strictly avoid all lights and tend to dry out quickly, when they cannot hide themselves by time in a slightly moist substrate.

 

Closeups of behaviors of a Schizomid species from a greenhouse in Germany. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Schizomida in Greenhouses

 

Schizomids represent mostly tropical or subtropical organisms. But some species are regularly dispersed into greenhouses around the world. The filmed species might be Stenochrus portoricensis, but was not systematically studied in detail so far. As all known species, which appear in greenhouses, also S. portoricensis reproduces (apart from their original habitats) parthenogenetically with females producing females without mating procedures (thelytoky). I never found males so far.

 

 S. portoricensis: native to subtropical Zones

 

The specimens, which I kept since months in a small terrarium, were collected in autumn 2016 at the famous fun and wellness bath „Tropical Islands“ South of Berlin. There they are a natural part of the world’s biggest indoor rainforest. The species S. portoricensis is originally native to Florida, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Porto Rico and other localities in similar tropical zones. These microscopical tiny organisms are predators and do not harm human beings at all. According to the available organisms in a suitable size in my terrarium, they might feed on the numerous collembolans and/or mites. Especially mites of the Gamasina appear in greater numbers in my substrate, which represents the original substrate from the greenhouse. I enriched this substrate regularly by smaller pieces of fruits or vegetables to stimulate the growth of microorganisms. I keep them at room temperature (about 20°C) and with not too much moisture. I do not know, whether they reproduced within these months, but the specimens of my recent video footage represent all sub-adults.

 

Film set and topic locomotion

 

Focus of my film is to present the different ways of locomotion, cleaning behaviors and burrowing activities of these fascinating animals. During the filming procedure, I used two cold-light-lamps for a suitable illumination and an ILCE-6300 (internal 4K mode), connected to a stereomicroscope and a lightmicroscope (with uplight).

 

Berlin December 2019/ March 2017, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Impeachment, low-carb diet and sexy cities, buzzwords in a modern hipster world: a grotesque and purely fictional short story

This short story is entirely fictional. But it is inspired by many different conversations I had, both: with male and female conversation partners.

Restaurant

I am sitting in a small Asian restaurant in Berlin together with a woman around my age. I know her from many years ago, when we stayed in a closer normal-friendship-contact with each other for a while. I remembered her as small, slender and with a conspicuous nose. Those times were good times, I memorized her as original, spontaneous and with an own mind. I was curious, how such a character would have grown within a period of almost twenty years. Hence I arranged that meeting.

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Restaurant conversation scene, oil on canvas, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2019

She is still small and lean, but her aquiline nose even grew and now throws a permanent shadow over her narrow lips. At the second third of its entire length her nasal bridge forms a pointed hunch, bringing her nasal tip in a position, where it can almost touch her upper lip. Against the light, a small and thin almost invisible moustache takes over the function of a spacer between the headed downwards nasal tip and the upper rim of her upper jaw lip.

Career and USA stay

She optically didn’t change so much, except of that much bigger nose. But her character changed. She talks a lot for the talking’s sake and seems unable to bring any of her spoken thoughts to an end, as if she permanently needs to prove the multitasking capacity of her brain, which externally is covered by a loose ponytail of black and dense curled hair. Her eager multitasking demonstrations fail from start to finish, but I can capture some information out of the muddle of her synaptic interconnections. What did she do in her past? She studied one of these university programs, which are considered by natural scientists at least as being in a general tendency still a kind of academic. She then intended to begin a phd thesis, but alleged corruption made her depart from that notion. She instead became a business woman and while twaddling about her career, she creates a reliable picture of her well developed business acumen.

And she knows the United States, because she was there. Almost an entire year, and when she uses the term „USA“ again and again, she each time leans her body pleasantly relaxed to her chair back. She then lifts her face up and closes her eyes to narrow slots, the lips pressed against each other, while her elongated nostrils open slowly to inhale as much air as possible in one delightful breath.

She slowly gets in her pink of condition, her nippy hands flail through the air, and for a short moment she changes the topic and describes an unusually shaped penis, which she once saw, as a humorous non-recurring slip of the wittiness in her younger days.

Buzzwords

And suddenly she says THE word for her first time during our encounter: Impeachment. Impeeeeeaaachmeeent! Her glabellar frown lines emerge between her cropped eyebrows, quivering lips, her nasolabial wrinkles bend outwards and her hands draw a thick circle in the air. Impeachment, since some time a common buzzword in the world of hipsters. The general political context is clear, a procedure, which in the recent case might indeed be deserved. But what is her context? She repeats it several times, only the same one word, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment. I intently try to follow her thread, but only find a frayed ball of wool. Impeachment, an isolated statement through itself, no explanation needed.

She caws the word again, ‚impeeeeeaaachment‘, and while her lips open in order to allow her incisors on both jaws to remove from each other to form a gap for the tip of her tongue, when pronouncing the last letter ‚ttttttttt‘, her shoulders tremble, and her nasal wings on both sides begin to inflate slightly.

Normally the via nose inhaled air would be pressed into the lungs for the gas exchange, but the I-word obviously created such a frenetic mood in her brain that she accidentally interrupts the normal way of air flow and presses it immediately out through her nasal orifices again, still in fresh, non oxidised conditions, where it appears, well audibly and visibly, contaminated with mucous membrane secretions, creating a foamy and slimy mass, which squirts from there directly to the clean polished white edge of her plate.

Silence, I don’t know what to say and watch her tiny slime lumps, forming microscopic small threads, slowly and one after another melting down to the white table cloth. I think I should take the chance of this unique little moment to comment her impeachment topic. There is a US president, who is accused of corruption and electoral manipulation by even influencing the internal political competition in other countries. But isn’t he additionally and non officially also accused for his character, his private life style and also for his unfiltered direct way of public communication, in which he not rarely mixes up his personal opinions with his political objectives? Also his conservative and nationalistic policy line periodically is focus of criticism. Thus impeachment kills two birds with one stone, it defends the rule of law and eliminates political opponents.

What did his predecessor Barack Obama know about cruel injustice during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2009? Another interesting point is the Ferguson unrest in 2014 as consequence of the shooting of Michael Brown as the biggest racial riots since the Martin Luther King era in the USA, did the black president do enough to guarantee more equality to all people? But there was no impeachment procedure against him. Why? Because he was holding his public office with less infringements? Or does an impeachment procedure depend on how pleasant the way of smiling of a president is? Too popular questions? I agree, it cannot be ruled out at this point. On the other hand I need to signalize her somehow my interest in her topic. I decide to ask her a question, but then pause, when I notice that even she herself is not interested in talking about her topic. Buzzwords are to be used not to be discussed.

My plan was to ask her, whether Donald Trump did at least a good job in the de-escalation of the North Korea conflict. But she already changed her topics to create bridges for the use of her further buzzwords. She first is chatting about food and her low carb diet, and actually discusses German traditions, such as the Munich beer festival or the carnival in Cologne, with herself. She uses this context to introduce her latest buzzword: „sexy“. A biologist needs in such a case to play a very close attention. Sexy? No, no, she doesn’t talk about human mating behaviors and reproduction, she is indeed talking about her feelings for a specific German city. Just another buzzword that modern hipsters have to have used at least once in their conversations. Sexy means then nothing else than very nice or very useful.

I am nevertheless trying to follow her threads, but cannot contribute much to them, when she suddenly lifts her head up, her eyes open widely and glow, and her glance fixes me, provoking and demanding for attention. Her plait flies in the air, while the corners of her mouth tremor with excitement, the index finger of her right hand running tetchily over her pointed chin. She takes a deep breath, obviously being strained based on a mix of anticipation and eagerness. No doubt, she intends to say something meaningful.

„It totally exasperates me, when people entering or leaving a subway train do not follow any rules at all. They should understand that the compliance of a fixed order would reduce long waiting times and great uneasiness.“ She is seemingly indeed waiting for an answer, her eyes are asymmetrically moving up and down, while obviously expecting my comment of consent. And it could be of course an interesting topic for a constructive conversation, considering aspects of the chaos theory, according to which a spontaneous order can under certain conditions emerge out of a seeming chaotic situation, such as people moving towards each other in an generally uncontrolled traffic scenery.

But she obviously doesn’t want to discuss about scientific theories, but simply seeks confirmation. Confirmation for being a city hipster, very well experienced in urban transport systems, in contrast to a rural hipster, who doesn’t even know how to pronounce the term „subway“.

The Fly

I instead decide to go to the bathroom, while she is eating like a harvester to gain enough nutrients to survive her hipsterish low-carb diet. The bathroom is small and poorly lit, and the air inside is filled with the scent of cheap urinal-freshening blocks, distributing the odour of malodorous and rotten lemon fruits. I look into the mirror, consisting of cracked old glass, and discover a tiny fly, shimmering in a pleasant metallic green like a valuably polished sapphire would shine out of the dark at nightfall. It is diligently rubbing its forelegs against each other and says no word.

Suddenly the fly gracefully tilts its head forward and uses the stout and thorned tibial hitch ends of the same forelegs to purge the area behind its deep red compound eyes. While doing so, it still remains silent as if it were a rehearsed mime artist. Seemingly after a small eternity, the green bottle fly fills its wing venation with blood.

And while it flies up in the air with a short jerky movement, the dipteran mercilessly breaks the beneficial silence with its monotonous trembling and squeaky voice, saying out loud, what most flies use to say, when seeking attention and confirmation without any meaningful profundity: „bzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz“. The garrulous insect performs two or three elegant laps closely below the ceiling and then disappears inside the heavily incrusted ceramic basin of the next urinal. On the mirror surface remains nothing but a tiny ochre-colored flyspeck, which only for a short moment reflects the dim overhead light, before it completely dries out to an unspectacular powdery small spot. One among many older others, spoiling the mirror glass like a skin rash, reminders of the many generations of green bottle flies that lived inside this musty courtyard toilet room.

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Fly, oil on canvas, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2019

Berlin, December 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

When elbows are used in the world of science

I was part as acarologist and natural scientist in a 2011 scientific paper about a mite preserved as fossil in amber, which was analyzed using the X-ray computed tomography and determined systematically on a family level. In this time, this scientific publication had a remarkable impact in international scientific media, because it seemed, as if this mite was the smallest animal ever visualized via CT on a high quality level.

 

Strange behaviors of so called „colleagues“?

 

The technical work was performed by technical scientists in Manchester UK. The natural scientific analyses was performed by me as the only European specialist for the mite family Histiostomatidae. But I noticed already in the time period of  this publication that there were strict tendencies by the so called „colleagues“ to mention my name as less as possible, this concerned the drafting of international media releases and also a poster presentation (my name was added days later) and an online abstract on a conference in Berlin. The corresponding poster was even awarded, but I got my award certification only after demanding explicitly for it. I much later, when I decided to complain officially at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Berlin, needed to learn that I was not even considered as one of the first authors. I didn’t notice that before, because the former „colleague“, Dr. Jason Dunlop, curator at this museum, was mentioned in the original citation with 1) after his name, me too. Thus I interpreted this as a double-first-author-ship. It then came out that the „1)“ only indicated the same scientific address, because I was in that time officially a volunteer at the MFN in Berlin.

 

Mite in an amber fossil, made visible by using the x-ray computed tomography, acarological work: Stefan F. Wirth

 

The work of a scientific specialist: here an acarologist

 

The question must be: Who is needed to scientifically interpret three dimensional photos of an amber fossil, in this case the deutonymph of a mite of the Histiostomatidae? A specialist for this taxon is needed, who is able to perform scientific drawings, based on the photos. He first needs even to decide, which of the photos are showing details of scientific relevance. While drawing, the specialist must distinctly recognize single microscopic structures, so that all these structures can be clearly separated from each other including all borders or gaps between single components. The scientific term is „homologisation“. Homologisation means: comparing single structures with (phylogenetically) equivalent structures of other (related) species. As there were not more fossils available, the homologisations needed to be based on recent mites. Thus the specialist must have a very competent knowledge of a high number of species from this family. To reach that level requires hard work over many years. I had the necessary level and found character details in the fossil, which were fitting to recent members of mites of the Histiostomatidae. But it’s of course not enough to discover such homologous structures. They must be made visible for every reader of the scientific paper. Thus the drawings need to be correctly labelled, which requires careful morphological studies. Then a detailed description needs to be written. But that is far not enough. Readers of a scientific paper are usually no specialists. That’s why they need a written introduction, in which the summary of the general recent knowledge of a mite group needs to be presented. And after all that they even expect you to discuss your results. It’s an own chapter, subsequent to the result descriptions.

The discussion chapter also requires a maximum of specialized competence. Some researchers even say that this is the first part of a paper that they read as it puts the results into a general scientific context based on arguments, mostly according to the principle of the most economical explication. Conclusions in the discussion part have usually the character of theories based on the facts, which the paper could contribute. Topics of a discussion part in such a paper as ours are systematic conclusions, the discussing of homologisation problems and also the formulation of a possible relevance for the recent scientific knowledge and also the future scientific importance of these new findings.

This all is, what I as a specialist needed to do. I additionally contributed one of my photos of a recent mite for comparative reasons and captured a stereomicroscopic photo of the mite fossil to demonstrate, how much the CT could improve the visible details of the amber fossil. I guess I did quite a lot, the other part was overtaken by the technical colleagues in Manchester. They needed to explain their technical situation and also needed to discuss their ideas about the meaning of their CT-technology for the future of science, focussed also on work with amber fossils.

 

Contributions of different authors to a scientific paper

 

To be honest I don’t remember, where there was still space left for content issue contributions by Dr. Dunlop. But he did some organizational stuff, he collected the contributions from the UK colleagues and me, he arranged the photo table via a graphic software based on the photos, which I had determined as scientifically relevant, and he was the so called corresponding author (I allowed him, because he is an English native speaker). That means, he submitted the final paper to the journal and communicated with the editors. Of course reviewers always ask for revisions. That was then mine and the technicians job again.

It is common that corresponding authors represent automatically the first authors of a paper. But it is not mandatory. I for example once was the corresponding author of a paper, which was based on a bachelor thesis that I (in major parts) supervised. I despite of my in fact major authorship regarding the scientific paper itself and my additional corresponding activities let her (the student) the first authorship. That even means that this paper can be easier found, when searching for her instead of my name. I just wanted to support a younger scientist.

And of course also a double first-authorship might be possible, especially representing  an adequate solution, in case another author even contributed more concerning the scientific content itself. In case of objections by the editors, the one, who contributed more, should to be the first author.

 

„B-word“?

 

But to come back to the amber paper of this article, it is surely not fair to reduce the scientist, who had the major scientific work on a paper secretly to a second author. It is highly unfair to leave him out in the international press release information. And I don’t trust to say here, what it is, when deleting his name entirely from a poster and an online abstract presentation and even impeding him to get a certification of a poster award in time for his work. Should one use the „b-word“? Generally bullying would be an act against the good scientific practice, but there would be clear proofs for malevolence against specifically somebody needed to get corresponding behaviors sanctioned. But when „only“ the elbow mentality is obvious, which means that people leave somebody out for their own better recognition, then the distinct malevolence against the victim is not clearly proven. Thus the interesting question arises: when is elbow behavior equal to bullying and when not?

 

Warning to young scientists

 

What I can say for sure is, even when the original bullying assumption is still a kind of questionable: after you complained, you might need to expect a real merciless and long lasting bullying. That’s why I intend to warn all young scientists: be careful and double check, with whom you cooperate. The wrong choice can be a failure as long as you do not agree being a bullying victim. The consequences can last over years and can destroy your whole career. I even once was told by a bullying victim that the accused institution did not even deny its bullying activities, but stated that depending of the kind of position, somebody has in an institute, an equality right would not be automatically existent. I go further and say: don’t become a natural scientist at all, except you are in a love relationship with an internationally highly influential professor.

In these days there are alternatives for possible natural scientists. Earlier I was a harsh critic of the modern gender sciences (sometimes also named genderism). But they have much financial capacities. Nobody there needs to sharpen his elbows, a good basis for fair careers, and based on that after a while surely also the most important basis for a good quality work!

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019