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Monat: Juni, 2020

Fox and Witch – a fable – Part I

A fable about competition, hate and bullying

Once a fox and a witch had a competition about who of them would be the fastest runner over a distance of thousand meters through the wild forest. The fox won the competition with a big head start, but the witch was fully unwilling to accept this result, complaining she was in a disadvantage, because he was a fox and she a witch, who could fly like a bird, but had only two legs to run. The fox agreed without any opposition. But the witch could never forget her great failure nor could she ever forgive the fox his success.

Only two weeks later, the fox woke up in his earth-hole in a late afternoon. With narrowed eyes he lifted his snout in the air and smelled a hot summer day, knowing that it very soon would find its end, when a black cover of veil would swallow the red-glowing sun. The fragrance of wild roses and even lavender from the garden beyond the rotten big wall twirled with a slight gust around his head. Then the hissing beat of two heron wings, very close to his hole, which slowly disappeared flap by flap in the depth of the big forest with the huge swamplands at its opposite end.

The fox left his day’s lodging, and when he reached the top of the adjacent green hill, the cumbersome whirring of slowly tiring carder bees accentuated the magnificent final act of the passing day like a fainted opera orchestra . The sky pulsed in a deep bloody red, while streaks in purple and orange, billowing around the glowing horizon, were mercilessly drowning the setting sun. The entrance to the forest was close, and the fox already saw the two oaks, which since more than five hundred years guarded the bumpy path into the woods , and heard their continuous quiet creaking in that mild summer breeze.

When the fox was in order to enter the forest, the witch suddenly appeared. „Where are you going to?“ she asked. He answered: “ to the forest, my world, my habitat, the place, where I live.“

The witch laughed and informed him with a nasty laughter that the council of the forest had excluded him from the forest community of the old beech grove behind the green hills. „Excluded? Council?“ the fox responded surprised. „There is no council, the forest is a natural system, all regulation happens by itself.“ The witch, standing in the air and flying with her mysterious black robe, consisting of thousands of tiny black whirlwinds, laughed again, trying to make it sound compassionately: „I founded that council, because new times require new and much more efficient ways of organisation. All forest animals agreed, some of them representing the executive board members. The wise owl is the president, the tiny mushroom man its deputy. Our decision was democratic, not against you personally, it’s all about the safety of our woods. If you wouldn’t be a loner, if you only had a vixen, she would groom you at positions, which you cannot reach by your own, believe me, you miss something. The new pest of ticks in the woods can only be explained with you as their major vector. We reconstructed that very carefully. Different species of ticks, one even imported from Africa, by migrating birds. These bastards are so big. Once one of them followed me in my cottage and attached itself to my left butt cheek. …“. „I never had ticks in my life, never leave the human trails, didn’t you know that the ticks lie in wait in the grasslands and are dispersed by all their different hosts?“

 

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Witch and fox, oilpainting on canvas, Berlin 11 June 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

„My dear friend, oh poor fox, loners never control their parasites, wait…“, and the witch swished down towards the fox’s head, intending to embrace him consolingly, but she flew so fast that her body accidentally overturned. She scraped with her enormous dentition over the fox’s forehead, her incisors densely covered with trumpet lichens, what she thought was the latest craze in fashion, and faster than the blink of an eye her left canine tooth, angular like a lump of rock, reached the Fox’s right ear and cut it off. The fox howled stridently. Instead of his hairy upright earlobe,only a black amorphic hole remained, filled up with viscous whirling blood. His whole body trembled, the control of his legs failed, and he fell to the ground. His voice didn’t want to obey him any more. His eyes stared into an impermeable black haze. „For all the heaven’s ghosts sake, what a mishap, what an incredible misfortune, a tragedy. If only we witches were able to conjure, I would heal you immediately, but we witches can only fly. Oh fox, the next time, when someone approaches you, don’t move unexpectedly, the consequences may harm you forever…“ . And with a short hiss only the witch disappeared without any other word.

Laboriously the fox rose his painful body up again. His brain pulsing excruciatingly with each heart beat. He cumbersomely trotted along the forest path, passing the two old oaks, representing since hundreds of years the entrance to a former oak forest, today consisting of beeches in most parts. The night was dark, only diffuse beams of light went astray in the dense crowns of trees, emitted by the almost full moon , still swallowed by the shades of the forest.

A narrow runlet of blood divided his forehead into two asymmetric parts, dropping rhythmically onto his nasal root, while he noted remarkable changes in the woods, unusual noises, the odor of autumn in the midst of summer, an air humidity like in rotten moors, an oppressive misty wall around him, which he never saw before.

The fox passed the clearing with its fern growth, their leaves drooping as if there was a longer drought, silence. Did all birds oversleep the night? He finally reached the red narrow stream, which he always used to cross by passing the huge fallen birch trunk. But the old deadwood was now decayed into many bulky fragments of wood, scattered around an area of several square meters.

There hadn’t been any unusual weather conditions, no drought, no thunderstorm and no temperature drop in the hours and days before, a steady summer time, only rarely some rain droplets. The birch trunk was still stable and elastic, when he saw it the last night. A miracle that it broke into pieces all of a sudden. Silence, only his fast heartbeat that echoed in his seemingly permanently weight gaining skull cavity. He inhaled a glutinous mass through his nostrils, warm with the smell of iron and perspiration.

The tiny stream purporting to be a rushing torrent, a disturbing costuming, as it had obviously happened with the entire forest, which was absolutely familiar to him until only one day ago, but now had become a strange world, with himself as a stranger in the midst of a trascendent otherworldliness.

The weird impetuous water movements whirled well audibly, at least with his uninjured left ear. A misty twilight hid much more than it revealed. But that ebullient barrier still needed to be crossed. The fox carefully tried to adjust his eyes to the darkness, but with only a very moderate success. In the midst of cumbersome dark shades of an unsettling night, he could recognize the arrangement of all single remains of the trunk.

At first, there were two almost similar shaped and sized pieces of dead wood, aligned offset to one another. Thus the foxes balancing act would begin with the left block of wood, whereby he would need to switch to the right, after having left three-quarters of the first piece behind him. The second birch log staggered in the water flow, but the fox was sure to master this task even despite of his meanwhile very restricted sense of balance. After passing both logs, he would even have the choice between a branch on the right with a medium diameter, not much wider than the fox’s snout, running parallel to a much bigger rounded trunk piece on the right. A clear obstacle course to cross a tiny stream, suddenly disguising itself as kooky torrential river.

Blood slowly dropped into his left eye, deafness of his right ear, and he felt anxious about his general ability to hear even with his left side. No croaking of frogs or toads, no chirping of crickets or cicadas. The water noises in front of him sounded far away. It was still dark, and the fox saw the wobbly single components of his bridge mostly as silhouettes.

But he decided not to lose any more time, the rebellious stream needed to be crossed as it was a firm component of a natural daily routine, an essential component for a successful coping of a fox’s future. A careful first step with his left paw, and he crossed the left log until the end of its third quarter, where he with a fluid movement switched to the right.

In the moment the fox had decided for inexplicable reasons to balance along the standing upright edge of the small branch instead of crossing the much bigger rounded trunk, the moon lost its last cover behind the skeleton of a dead pine and all of a sudden illuminating the entire night sky in its full splendor.

The fox, almost blind with viscous droplets of blood in his eyes, tipped slightly sideways to the left, an almost invisible and very subtle movement, when a thin somehow diffuse, but bright light beam was reflected from the seething water on his right side and disabled the fox’s sight completely for about two seconds. Two seconds with remarkable consequences, because his slight weight shift in combination with unpredictable water movements, his short sightlessness and the wounded ear resulted in a total disruption of his entire equilibrium sense.

As if the branch under his feet had perceived the loss of control of the fox’s body and as if this seemingly dead piece of wood suddenly acquired a spiteful liking for even more instability, it followed the left-side motion of the fox and rolled against the big log, which due to this friction in turn got on motion and turned in a clockwise direction against the adjacent branch.

When the two unequally sized remnants of the dead birch had decided to release a brisk impulse of new signs of life, centrifugal forces threw the fox’s body in the air, from where he roughly landed in a 90 degrees angle to the subjacent branch with his head directed towards the waterside. And his head, unfortunately not lighter than the moving crazy water surface, was submersed, while water immediately invaded all his facial cavities, even washing around his right drumhead, which lacked its external auditory canal almost entirely, a cold pain, which the fox tried to ignore. He only cumbersomely could lift up his head, gasping for breath, when his hind legs, pointing towards the big log, all of a sudden were pulled between the two unequally sized, still incessantly grinding against each other. A clearly audible crackling on both sides, followed by several further grating sounds, made the fox remark the smashing of all his leg bones. At the end, courageous natatory movements with his forelegs released him from this awkward situation. He slowly crawled with all his remaining powers to the opposite stream bank. And there, he rested for a felt eternity, being completely exhausted.

The fox felt no pain any more, but only indescribable weakness. Surrounded by an unreal silence, he licked his wounds.

END OF PART I

Berlin, 10June 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Mite Histiostoma piceae

The mite Histiostoma piceae Scheucher, 1957 is a member of the mite family Histiostomatidae (Astigmata, Acariformes). Scheucher discovered the mite based on all instars from spruce, infected by the bark beetle Ips typographus. She collected her samples in Regensburg, Höbing (bei Roth) and Harz. Scheucher reared her specimens on potatoes and bran, but describes that her cultures did grow well only to some degree.

According to her findings,  phoretic carrier (hosts) is the bark beetle species Ips typographus, she also found deutonymphs rarely on some staphylinids. She discovered that free living non-deutonymphal stages develop on fresh detritus, while deutonymphs appear only on old detritus („after it was for a longer time removed from the trees“, „wenn der Mulm einige Zeit aus den Bäumen entfernt ist“). I could like Scheucher culture the mites on potato, but a bit better in their original gallery substrate. Under laboratory conditions, they indeed did not rear very well in both kinds of cultures.

I collected H. piceae between 2000 and 2004 once from a wooden log infested by I. typographus in Berlin, then got access to microscopic slides from Europe in the collection of John C. Moser (Louisiana, USA) in 2007 and 2009, then I collected samples from Ips typographus and I. cembrae in Central Croatia (publication Wirth, Weis and Pernek, 2016) and found out that H. piceae is not restricted to I. typographus, but also to its sibling species I. cembrae. I finally collected the mite from I. typographus galleries between 2015 and 2016 in Western-Siberia near the city Tyumen.

I repeatedly observed deutonymphs of H. piceae under natural conditions (bark samples directly after the excursions) to develop in very high numbers, then attaching to all available arthropods nearby, smaller bark beetle species and numerous bigger mites of different groups, such as for example oribatids.

Published recordings of H. piceae from other bark beetles than I. typographus and I. cembrae are doubtful and need to be named Histiostoma cf. piceae. In some cases with I. typographus additionally present, I interpret the mites to have switched from their regular carrier (host) to an adjacent gallery of e.g. another smaller bark beetle species. In other cases, the existence of similar looking species new to science needs to be tested. In cases of determinations by non specialists from bark beetles other than the above mentioned two beetle species, it needs to be assumed that these people could not differ between similar mite species, such as Histiostoma trichophorum Oudemans, 1912, Histiostoma ulmi Scheucher, 1957 or Histiostoma crypturgi Scheucher, 1957.

 

I never before published the full set of SEM and light microscopic photos from these  times (except of my article about host specificity). In this explicite photo publication here on my homepage, I herewith publish SEM-photographs, objects sputtered with gold, which might be not unique to science, but very rare.

Any subsequent research on this mite in Europe is not happening (a few not too relevant findings are published by a former Russian colleague). Reason is that modern science does not understand, especially not in Germany, that fundamental research in applied fields is worth to be funded. It is for example known that deutonymphs of different mite species on bark beetles regularly carry fungus spores (different fungus species, just sticking on the mite’s cuticle), discovered by John C. Moser and confirmed by several of my own publications. This phenomenon is still not closer studied. Fungus transport into bark beetle galleries can influence the micro climate there.

 

 

Male and female of Histiostoma piceae, A venter of male, B dorsum of male, C mouthparts with Digitus fixus, D dorsum of female, E side-frontal view to female; Berlin 2002-2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

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Deutonymph of Histiostoma piceae in ventral view, collected in Western Siberia, 2015 – 2016, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Systematics: Histiostoma piceae is according to my phd thesis from 2004 and according to my more recent research findings a member of a clade (monophylum) within Histiostomatidae with most species associated with bark beetles (Scolytinae) or other bark inhabiting coleopterans; these phylogenetic findings are based on morphological characters.

Mite Histiostoma maritimum

The mite Histiostoma maritimum Oudemans 1914 is a member of the mite family Histiostomatidae (Astigmata, Acariformes). Oudemans discovered the mite based on its deutonymph only from a Dutch island. The German acarologist R. Scheucher found the species in 1957 in mud at the riverside of Regnitz and for the first time could rear H. maritimum and was able to redescribe it by its adult stages, especially females look morphologically conspicuous due to a sclerotized cuticula shield around its copulation opening. She reared her specimens on potatoes, mud and bran, but describes that her cultures did not grow well.

Phoretic carrieres (hosts) are beetles of genus Heterocerus, some carabids and according her findings also rarely some staphylinids.

I discovered H. maritimum between 2000 and 2004 repeatedly in sapropel around ponds in an old gravel pit area in Berlin, forest Grunewald, named „im Jagen 86“. They were mainly attached to the beetles Heterocerus fenestratus and Heterocerus fusculus, but could regularly also be found on the carabids Elaphrus cupreus and Bembidion sp.. I could several times rear the mites, like Scheucher almost unsuccessfully on potatoes, but well on cadavers of their carriers. I thus reconstructed a so called necromenic life-strategy for H. maritium. This means that a phoretic stage ascends a carrier, but never leaves, instead it awaits the carrier’s natural dead to develop on its cadaver (published in my phd thesis, online, 2004).

I will not publish my full set of SEM photos from earlier times here. Some photos will be saved for one of my upcoming paper submissions in scientific and peer-reviewed journals. In this photo publication here on my homepage, I at least publish some interesting SEM-photographs, based on objects sputtered with gold and a subsequent critical-point-drying procedure.

Adults of Histiostoma maritimum: A left male, right female, B, C, copulation opening, D dorsal view to female with mouthparts and copulation opening

Systematics: H. maritimum shares morphological characters of deutonymph (setation, apodemes) and adults (mouthpart details, shape of Digitus fixus) with species like Histiostoma feroniarum, H. insulare, H. litorale, H. palustre, H. polypori, H. myrmicarum. This might indicate a separate clade, but according to the old findings in my phd thesis, also a paraphyletic grouping including these species is thinkable.

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 10 June 2020

Male-Gender discrimination in the natural sciences – unacceptable?

When I was a little child, we used to play all kinds of common child’s plays, such as touch and go or even football, under the motto: boys against girls. But only a few years later in the primary school, such a motto did not exist any more at all. Our teachers wore weird beards, flared trousers or turtleneck pullovers, knitted by themselves, and were pipe smokers, women almost looked the same. They were children of the 1968s, a kind of late hippies in a catholic primary school. Regarding discipline, they were not too tolerant, but there was no separation between genders. We learned that in friendships, the personality of somebody counts, not the gender. I did not differ between male or female school friends. As a young child, you expect this modern and tolerant spirit even growing with the time, but it did seemingly not, times today instead sometimes show a harsh backwards orientation unfortunately.

 

 

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„The sad one“, ink on paper, Berlin 2016, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

Everybody talks about gender. They say the female gender is on purpose suppressed by power-hungry men. When I search in social networks for tags, such as #Berlin, #forest, #city or #flowers, I see mostly half naked women, promoting themselves in a tight bikini or by literally simply presenting their breasts. Simple minded neutral observers, may be aliens, would think: ah, interesting, different strategies! While men fight with diligence for their succeeding in life, females choose the more simple way by just showing off.

But I am not simple minded, and I do not know any simple minded people, that’s why I of course analyze such observations and conclude: no, no, no, these are all misconceptions, when it seems that women might use their sexual attraction on men, when they need attention or want to continue their career, then the reality is that they just prove self-determination and independence. When we read in the news that again an almost forgotten Hollywood-star showed off for the Playboy, then we exactly know that she wants to emphasize her feminist ethos by presenting herself like that for the male readers of the journal, simply to set a signal against sexual subjugation to men. Easy to understand! And when unsuccessful actresses accuse famous film directors of sexual harassment from 40 years ago, then this does not indicate a cheap effort to catch public attention at the expense of somebody else. No, no, no, they were just cruelly intimidated in these times decades ago, felt menaced and helpless in a world dominated by powerful and unscrupulous dominant males. It needed so much time to come out in public about what happened, as the today spirit of time finally allows public condemnation without any official trial. So, we learn that feminism did not reach its final peak in the 1970s and 80s, no its going on, and needs to go on and even must be more powerful than ever before, as males still instinctively feel a pressure to suppress women. I support and accept this fight for equality of genders. Viva ultra feminism!

BUT: I would like to draw a line, which should not be crossed. The world of sciences, especially natural sciences, needs to be rid of all kinds of absurd gender discrimination in both directions. My generation of males was obliged to complete either a military service or a civil service. My civil service took me 15 months of my life time. All in all, I lost two years until I could begin studying at a university. Females of my generation finished their studies about two years earlier, which offered them already enough advantage in proceeding with their academic careers and in finding positions. While males in the natural sciences need to prove their work-power permanently by publishing one paper after another, even when unemployed, females go in maternal leave, after they gave birth to their children, and years later of course get in the easiest way a position, without having learned to publish and perform research even without any salaries at all. This goes on costs of the quality of science itself, it thus is fully unacceptable.

But let’s continue: A male with thirty peer-review publications and a woman without any peer-review publications at all apply for the same scientific position. What happens today is in such a situation that based on the so called gender-equality rules, based on woman’s officers and women’s quota, the female applicant needs to be preferred regardless of her qualification and diligence. I had rejected applications, where they officially argued with a necessary preference for a female candidate, based on gender-equality rules. In other cases, they argued to have already decided for another candidate, which was in such cases always a woman. I know a former colleague, who I visited for a short research stay and who had introduced me to his girl friend, who was the same time his official diploma student. A desaster! I heard about a male biologist, who officially criticized the male-gender discrimination in the scientific world in Germany. He was bullied throughout Germany and even Europe so much that he needed to leave the continent, performing now his research in Mexico or Australia, I do not remember. A scandal!

Male gender discrimination in the word of sciences harms the future of science at all!

 

Berlin, 10 June 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth