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Kategorie: Berlin

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 hardly on potatoes, but quite well on cadavers of their carriers. I thus assumed 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 never before published the full set of SEM photos from these former times at the beginning of my research carrier (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 seemingly are still unique to science.

I do not know about any subsequent research on this mite worldwide. Reason is that modern science cannot be justified by gaining knowledge. In the past decades a good reason to get research funded, today not applied enough for any support. This is why I was forced to focus on bark beetle and ant nest inhabiting mites only within the last 10 years.

 

 

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

 

 

Systematics and biology of termites and about their phoretic associations

They live in eusocial communities, but are not closer related to ants or bees. Termites belong to the cockroaches.

 

Queen, king and castes

 

Usually one queen and one king are reproductive and act as heads of the nest. The different work fields of a nest are executed by infertile specimens, which can show very different and specialized body shapes. The diversity of different castes is in phylogenetically „primitive“ taxa lower than in „higher developed“ termite groups.

 

As example specimens of a deadwood species from Italy

 

This species was found in deadwood of a small forest in Portici (Gulf of Naples, Italy) and might represent the taxon Kalotermitidae. This taxon branches off rather basically  in the systematic tree of termites. Nest work can be taken over by nymphs of later alates.

 

deadwood-termites from Italy, Youtube: copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, April 2020

 

 

How is wood-eating possible?

 

Wood eating termites bear bacteria and protozoans  in their digestive tracts, which perform the digestion of cellulose.

 

Evolution, sister taxon and endosymbionts

 

Termites (Isoptera) evolved within the cockroaches (Blattodea). According to modern systematics (e.g.  Beccaloni & Eccleton, 2011) the cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae is the sister-clade of the termites. But there are controversial theories existing.

According to such reconstructions, the last common ancestor of cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae and termites possessed bacterial and protozoan endosymbionts. Molecular data proved that endosymbionts in both groups are closely related to each other. The last common ancestor of both groups showed in case of their indeed sister-group-relation a tendency towards social communities. Cryptocercidae live temporarily in bigger groups together with their offspring.

 

Subsocial lifestyle in Cryptocercidae

 

Cockroaches of the Cryptocercidae as putative sister taxon of termites live inside galleries in deadwood and feed on wood fibres. At least one parent and its nymphs live subsocially inside their galleries. Cryptocercidae adults and nymphs groom each other, and parents feed juveniles with wood fragments afer these had passed their anus openings.

 

According to recent systematic/ phylogenetic reconstructions the Kalotermitidae belong to the basically branching termite groups. Such basic groups of termites still show a low diversity of castes only.

 

Associates, commensalism and phoresy

 

Like ants or bees, termites share their nests regularly with associates of other groups of animals,

often mites and nematodes. Some of these organisms use termites as carriers for a transport over bigger distances. details of such associations between insects and mites are not well studied yet. But carrier-passenger-situations with transfer („taxi“-) purposes are called phoresy. Phoresy ist mostly considered as a neutral association between different organisms and is thus interpreted as commensalism. Commensalism is differed from strategies like parasiticm or symbiosis and requires that two organisms in association do not harm or noticeably benefit each other. The term commensalism often includes associations, in which the true context for both organism partners is simply not understood yet.

 

Not yet mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes) were reared in greater numbers out of my Italian termite substrate. They might represent phoretic cohabitants of those termites. Other mite species of different mite groups (Parasitiformes and Acariformes) were only found in smaller numbers and died out too quickly for collections and determinations under my culture conditions, unfortunately already before the beginning of my shootings. seemingly microclimatic conditions had become too unfavorable.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019 – 2020, all rights reserved

Wild bee Andrena flavipes and nesting behaviors

The bee Andrena flavipes is also known as the common sand bee, as this species represents the most common of several regularly present sand bee species in Central Europe.

 

Aggregations at suitable nesting sites

 

Bee females create solitary nests, which is unlike to social hymenopterans such as the honey bee Apis mellifera. However huge and from a distance well visible aggregations of nesting A. flavipes specimens can appear. It is said that these aggregations are due to mated females being attracted to similar suitable nesting sites. In fact also a tolerance for conspecifics very close by is required to allow conditions, in which the whole ground seems to consist of bees, flying around and preparing their nests or importing pollen or nectar to feed their larvae. By the way: One nest contains contains about 2-3 brood cells only.

 

Specific conditions, in which specimens of my footage were found

 

The bees of my video were filmed between 4-6 April 2020 in the urban park around lake Plötzensee in Berlin. The site for my recordings was an area with forest edge character, interrupted by dry meadows, all at least in the afternoon exposed by the sun (temperatures between 15-20 °C).

 

 

Females of Andrena flavipes cleaning their nests, youtube: copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, April 2020

 

 

Orientation and nest cleaning behaviors of A. flavipes females, hindlegs as multifunctional organs

 

Contents of my behavioral documentation is the cleaning of nest hole entrance areas and behavior patterns, which seemingly support the orientation and finding their own nests again in midst of a sandy forest ground covered by fallen leaves.

To be enabled to recognize the entrance of the own nest again, bees perform regularly smaller walking tours around their nests to memorize soil structure and other details, being suitable to characterize this specific nesting site.

The bee’s hindlegs represent important multi-functional organs. They walk on them, collect pollen, which adhere to specific structures on legs III, and they are used to clean the areas in front of the nest openings from dirt, such as smaller stones or wooden particles. As nest entrance areas stay opened during the day, a proper cleaning of the soil around is regularly necessary. The bee performs that work mostly while backward-walking using its hindlegs like shovels to sweep dirt some centimeters away. This behavior is well visible in my footage.

 

General and short  information about mite associations

 

Andrena flavipes and other soil breeding wild bees are generally also of acarological interest. As presumably all hymenopterans, they have for example associations with phoretic mites, for example mites of the Scutacaridae (such as Imparipes apicola). I so far did not study mites on these bees, but phoresy means that mite instars use the insect as carrier to reach their final sites, in which they develop and reproduce. In case of Imparipes, adults feed on fungi and waste inside the bees brood cells.

 

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin april 2020, as always: all rights reserved

They are well paid: Medical doctors do their jobs and are not automatically heroes;and toilet paper does not belong to the essentials

A feeling of spring is in the air, the two-leaf squill forms bright blue carpets at the roadsides and on the meadows of urban parks, there are clouds, but it’s 14 degrees, even in the late evening. Normal traffic on the walkways of Berlin, and the adjacent supermarket is well equipped, only the toilet paper is sold out, which became a quite common curiosity in times of the corona-pandemic.

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Two-leaf squill Scilla bifolia on a meadow in Berlin urban park Plötzensee, 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Racism

People are friendly, some couples and numerous single customers. Most of them discretely stay in an appropriate distance to each other, unfortunately only one cash desk was opened, making the forming of a waiting line inescapable. But the atmosphere was quiet, no scramble, enough space between the customers to keep their potential viruses with themselves. In front of me (at the end of this line) an old, slightly weighted woman, of a rather small height was waiting to pay for her purchases. As a Muslim, she wore a blackish grey headscarf, inconspicuously, modesty, visibly less mobile by foot, her hands like paws, undeniably a woman, who for her entire life was used to persistent and hard physical work, may be as her own housekeeper and educator of children. Her facial expression a bit grimly, she had a little bit to struggle to push her shopping cart forwards.

Suddenly a shrill scream, a nervous, but well articulated voice: “ For your own safety, stay in a distance!“. All people were startled by that noise, except of the older lady in front of me, who apparently was tired and since minutes sunk in thoughts. „Yes, I say it only, because I am concerned about your safety!“, the slim and tall woman in her mid-fifties, youthful short haircut, colored in violet and light blonde, flailed with her hands through the air, until she all of a sudden pointed her forefinger at the old lady, who finally, but still slowly, became aware that she was the stumbling block. Her lips quivered slightly, and it looked, as if she would need some power to mobilize her voice to express ber very reasonable defense.

The woman meanwhile had reached the cashier, and repeated an emotional: „I said it just for her own safety…“, while the cashier answered with a conversant voice, not avoiding a slightly disgusted sideways glance towards the old lady: „We will place a tag there to respect the distance rules tomorrow.“ She did not say: I didn’t see the old lady breaking any rules. She also did not mention: I will conduct everything that the other two cash desks will be opened immediately too in order to avoid such waiting lines. The cashier didn’t even think about performing any of such reasonable actions, she did not, because she was persuaded that accusations against old Muslim women are generally appropriate and true. The cashier was sure to know her candidates, while the permanently complaining woman with her upright standing violet tufts of hair was a hysteric racist, concerned only about her own safety and not for the one of others, considering people from a divergent cultural background generally not practising any nessesary hygienic routines and thus representing nothing else than a pure infectious potential on two legs.

Then the old lady found her voice, unexpected for everybody, and what a voice this was! Her „I did not….“ roared like a thunderclap through the store, and nobody figured out, how she would continue to express her innocence, because I interrupted her with an angry: „You didn’t do anything wrong.“, and again: „You really did not do anything wrong“.

I paid and found an empty storage area to bag my purchases into my knapsack. The old lady meanwhile had left the market, while the tall woman observed me, until she finally plucked up her courage to talk to me, saying something unexpected and never heard before: „It was just for her own safety!“.

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Lonely in a weird forest, isolation and waiting, oil on canvas, Berlin 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Chancellor Angela Merkel and our health care system

Yesterday, chancellor Angela Merkel talked to the nation via a television broadcast. She said things like: „Its serious, take it seriously…“ or „we all lack the encounters that are normally taken for granted (Uns allen fehlen die Begegngngn (sic!), die sonst selbstverständlich sind)“. And she expained: „I believe deeply that we are up to the task, when really all citizens understand it as their task (Ich glaube fest daran, dass wir diese Aufgabe bestehen, wenn wirklich alle Bürgerinnen und Bürger sie als ihre Aufgabe begreifen)“. It was meant as comfort, but also as a constant reminder, as there seem still too many people acting too thoughtless. She continued: „Since the German unity, no, since the Second World War there had been no challenge for our country any more that depended so much on our common solidary acting… (Seit der Deutschen Einheit, nein, seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, gab es keine Herausforderung an unser Land mehr, bei der es so sehr auf unser gemeinsames solidarisches Handeln ankommt… )“. She exaggerates, and my dead grandma, who was a Trümmerfrau (rubble woman, who physically helped to rebuilt her destroyed city), would not agree. But the purpose of chancellor Merkel’s speech is clear: Please respect the rules in order to avoid a total lockdown like in other European countries! Journalists discussed the speech later controversially, some criticized that she avoided the use of the term „Ausgangssperre (exit lock)“, others lauded her reliable belief in sanity, presumably based on her natural-scientific education. And I agree that her speech very obviously considered an imminent exit lock as an Ultima Ratio only.

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Growing hope, oil on canvas, Berlin 2009, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

But I became skeptical, when Merkel stated: „Germany has an excellent health care system, may be one of the best in the world. That can give us confidence … (Deutschland hat ein exzellentes Gesundheitssystem, vielleicht eines der besten der Welt. Das kann uns Zuversicht geben…)“. She then continued by explaining that even our hospitals would be overstrained with too many acute patients the same time. And that she is grateful to all medical staff dealing with this crisis situation. Many journalists even go as far as praising our physicians as if all of them only worked unsalaried.

When our chancellor visits her physician, she will experience the highest standards in both, technical equipment with corresponding competence of the staff and the health care service itself. But this does not apply to everyone. Because not everyone automatically has access to these highest standards. Our health care system is an inequitable system. Patients with a private insurance get a better support than statutory health insurance patients. Means: patients are asked to present their insurance cards at the registration desks. Private patients are forwarded to the highest medical competence in the hospital or a doctor’s practice, the others need to wait longer and are forwarded to the assistant physicians. Homeless people have generally very limited or even up to no rights. And as we here in Germany have a compulsory health insurance system, many freelancers with a low income need to be insured with a high deductible. That means for healthy people under fifty years a monthly payment of about 200 to 350 Euro to their private insurances for a deductible of about 1500 Euro. It is more or less the cheapest option, one can find over here. Poor and diligent freelancers pay about 300 Euro per month from their low salaries and nevertheless need to pay almost every visit to their medical doctor by themselves. Thus, some of them are forced to rarer visit their physicians than other people.

I expect (and did not closer research about the current health management rules) that in times of a pandemic, all these differences are eliminated and that everybody is treated equally. Because: „…since the Second World War there had been no challenge for our country any more that depended so much on our common solidary acting.“ By the way I do not see any reason for any adulation of the performance of German physicians at this point in the midst of a pandemic situation. They are not automatically heroes, but instead simply well paid to do their jobs as good as possible. And whether they managed a good or bad performance, whether they respected an equality of corona patients and whether there were indeed some heroes, who performed even much more than they were originally paid for, will only come out, when the acute situation is over. I unfortunately met since I live in Berlin too many physicians, who seemed to think that main purpose of their career is to become able regularly buying new and expensive prestigious cars. Are such people now able to perform their jobs focussed to an aim to heal and without other ulterior motives? Generally, our health care system is a highly capitalistic system. But what we need now is a „solidary acting“, and not an opposing situation to the disadvantage of the poorer people. I hope for equality at least in times of such a disaster, actually represented by the global corona pandemic.

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A pandemic covering the world, digital photo artwork, Berlin 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Toilet paper

Although supermarkets are unlike other facilities announced to stay opened and although there are generally no bottlenecks for goods, one specific good is more and more difficult available: toilet paper. Panic buying people obviously think that the most important thing for a survival is toilet paper. What a ridiculous misconception!

I understand that people in the emergency of no toilet paper at all would not want to go into the forests and use the fallen leaves – as our prehistoric ancestors presumably did -, because they know, based on our successful modern educational system, that they might become infested by the fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) that way, or even worse: that their human excrements, left somewhere on the forest ground, might infest the innocent foxes with our unpleasant pathogens or intestine parasites. In times of vegan and gluten-free lifestyles unthinkable! I was once told that they often used newsprint paper to replace toilet paper in times of the Second World War. But there would be problems with a hygienic disposal under nowadays conditions. So what to do in the emergency case of a toilet paper impoverishment? Let’s say generally in case of survival conditions, for example as extreme hiker somewhere outdoors in the Canadian wilderness. First we would need a self-burrowed deeper hole in the ground, additionally soap and water.

One specific character of the great apes, to which we humans systematically belong, is represented by very complex hand motor skills. They enable us to perform all kinds of things with these hands, as our finger tips are excellently innervated and the corresponding somatosensory cortex in our brain is incredibly well developed, thus well developed that we often do not need any additional tools at all in our daily routine, because our bare hands represent very flexible tools themselves.

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek“ (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

For aesthetic and hygienic reasons we should not go such far, wishing to be a glove in between, but we theoretically could easily lean our cheeks upon our bare hands, and even more we are enabled to actively use our hand motor skills. Important would be only that they are afterwards very properly cleaned, at least with soap. Especially the tiny spaces between finger tips and finger nails would then deserve our very careful hygienic attention.

There are emergency cases imaginable, where our blank hands wouldn’t support us as they easily can in case of a toilet paper impoverishment. Take care that you are equipped with enough to drink and to eat and forget the toilet paper.

Berlin, 20 March 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Aerial photography

It’s a new approach to photography for a photohrapher, when using a drone. Before starting for the flight, the photographer should at least have an idea about the possible perspectives, from which his copter shall capture the photos. This requires the ability of a three dimensional imagination. Unlike in the regular photography, the drone pilot does not see the scenery with his own eyes. Only a stepwise experience allows him to guess, how a forest and meadow landscape might look in a bird perspective at a level of 50 or even 100 m.

But despite of all three dimensional imagination abilities and experiences, much photography or videography is based on spontaneous shooting reactions, based on the transmitted live picture.

Edited landscape Drone photography, Berlin 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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If full automatic camera modi shall be avoided, manual presettings can already be made before starting the flight according to the general light conditions, finer adjustments can then follow in each specific case, when the drone is in the air.

An aerial photographer needs to resist to the danger of perceiving the environment in top-down view after some time with the drone camera only. The German laws define that a drone is only allowed to be flown in a distance of a direct visual contact. One reason is that one otherwise losses the feeling for a safe controllable space limit.

Before drones as flying cameras became commercially available for everybody, aerial photos or videos needed to be captured under more risky and also more costly conditions. Smaller planes, manned helicopters or cameras on balloons needed to take over the same function.

Being able to fly like a bird under remote control conditions is freedom for the spirit and at the same time freedom for an incredible creative flexibility.

Landscape

All aspects of our world deserve being considered as drone photography motifs (respecting laws of course) . Whether a settling, a city, a street construction, people, architecture or nature sceneries, the drone technology enables new options and aesthetic experiences. I made experiences in different photo object types (the respectation of laws has always a priority). But for my own projects I prefer landscape, weather, season and art photography.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Flying in more or less remote areas with natural landscapes reduces the probability that a drone accident might harm people or architecture. But it is of course additionally important to bring no animals or plants in danger.

Landscape photos are the more interesting the more complex their composition is. But a forest with adjacent meadows is per se no guarantor for an impressive photographic piece of art.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Only the contrasts of colors, shapes and different landscape elements can under optimal conditions create complexity and a fulfilling picture composition. More or less sharp edges between for example forest areas and adjacent meadows might built up an impressive and even seemingly abstract pattern, making the shot to a fascinating piece of art.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Season

City structures, such as architecture, streets or walkways, seem not to underlay bigger seasonal changes (in times withoug snow or rain) . Is that true? It of course is not, the seasonal different light conditions always cause different photographic or videovraphic looks of the same location. The lack of intense green or colorful vegetation spots in between creates additionally sceneries with very different moods.

Of course the effect of different seasons is especially distinct in the nature photography. Even in case that black and white photos would be preferred, leafless trees of a winter forest usually look remarkably more interesting than an amorphic mass of grey leaves. In the colored drone photography, nobody would doubt that the diversity of autumn colors allows a much more impressive composition of structures, shapes and lights.

But also in summer or spring, when only slightly differing green nuances dominate the sceneries, eye catching drone photography can be performed.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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In case the greenish landscape sculpture itself does not allow a photographic highlight, then a dynamic sky can prevent the whole photo from getting lost in a boring piece of sadness.

One needs to keep in mind that a positioning of the drone camera with being for a longer time straightly directed into the sun might harm the camera sensor. Against the light photography can look stirring, but it’s often of advantage to avoid the sun body itself completely. Against the light photos usually lead to dark landscape elements in the foreground, almost consisting of silhouettes only. To receive more details on the photo it is recommended to record a higher amount of information. Raw files can be the best choice in this context, as they allow to develop details during editing, which were not visible before.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Editing

To become able for an improving editing of a photo, a minimum resolution of details should be available. A resolution of 20 megapixles or more offers enough buffer for art filters or manual changes of light, color, contrast etc. The Mavic 2 Zoom for example unlike its sibling brother Mavic 2 pro with a high quality 20 megapixles camera, offers different panorama modes. One of them is created as composition of several 12 megapixle photos, which the camera automatically puts together to a 45 megapixle piece. In case drone cameras allow a raw mode and additionally a high resolution, both of these options should be chosen.

Drone photography mostly in Northern Berlin and adjacent regions in Brandenburg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Editing can have different functions combined with different intentions of the photographer. An almost perfect photo sometimes needs being only slightly digitally improved. Alternatively the entire photo might need to be stronger modified for aestethic and creative reasons to create the planned piece of art. The creativity of the photographer and editor at this has no limits, but it should be tried to avoid the ‚killing‘ of too much picture information.

Not every editing tool has a modern high quality level. Lightroom, Photoshop, pixlr and similar software of other developers must be recommended.

Drone pilot and service offering

I have more than three years of experience in the fields of drone photography and drone videography. I herewith offer my videographic dronepilot service for documentary projects, smaller movie projects, such as film – students- projects, image movie purposes or the videographic documentation of important private events, such as marriages.

I additionally offer my drone photography abilities for all kinds of fields and purposes. Preferably in and around Berlin. Please contact me via Instagram or Facebook ‚Stefan F. Wirth‘. I fly a Mavic 2 Zoom. Flying license (Kenntnisnachweis) and insurance for commercial Drone flights existant.

Ich biete mich als freiberuflicher Dienstleister der Drohnen- Videographie und Drohnen-Fotografie in allen Bereichen wie Dokumentarfilmproduktionen, kleineren Spielfilmproduktionen, zum Beispiel Studenten-Filmprjekten, Image-Filmen und Ähnlichem an. Kontaktaufnahme bitte via Facebook oder Instagram unter ‚Stefan F. Wirth‘. Ich fliege eine Mavic 2 Zoom. Kenntnisnachweis und Haftpflichtversicherung zur kommerziellen Nutzung vorhanden.

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Some photo examples in higher resolution. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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Berlin January 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Drone flights: Worth seeing nature around the fields of Berlin

The metropolis Berlin is the capital of Germany and much more than that. It represents an unusual green city. When using elevated viewpoints to watch the cityshape, then at least in summer visitors of Berlin can receive the impression of being in the midst of a greening huge landscapes with several villages in between.

 

Green areas in Berlin

 

 

Indeed related to other metropolitan cities of the world, Berlin is still partly not very densely populated and covered by remarkable huge natural countryside instead. The area of landing and runway strips of the former airport Tempelhof for example up to date represents the largest coherent green area inside a city worldwide. The so called Tempelhofer Feld was after the termination of the air traffic exposed to renaturation and is currently a very popular recreational park. It’s located in the South of the city.

Also the West and South-West partly represent nature reserve areas and are covered by the big urban forest Grunewald.

 

Meadows and wetlands in the North of Berlin as nature refuges

 

I am since two years discovering the Northern parts of Berlin, which according to my random observations (in comparison with other Berlin areas, such as Tempehofer Feld, Teufelsberg (Grunewald) and some urban parks in the center of the city; examples of species will be visible on my corresponding blog article) bears the greatest biodiversity in bloom visiting insects.

 

 

 

Mosaic of different landscape types close to each other

 

 

 

 

 

This is seemingly due to the complexity of different meadow-, field-, wetland- and bog-habitats, being originally shaped by the Weichselian-glaciers. I regularly visited the stream valley of the so called Tegeler Fließ with the lake Köppchensee. It’s a hilly area with different gradients of sunny slopes with partly Mediterranean climatic conditions, surrounded by different kinds of wetlands. This area is well known for its great biodiversity.

 

Between the villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde

 

But my drone flights present vast tracts in the South of that stream valley, consisting of fields, green meadows and wetlands. It is the area between the Berlin villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde. Inner urban agriculture is rare in metropolian cities worldwide, in Berlin there is only a small agriculture area in the South (Dahlem Dorf) and the fields between the named villages in the North.

 

Drone flights and bloom visiting insects

 

 

Fields and meadows with adjacent forests and wetlands in the North of Berlin, September 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please give my video also your like on Youtube.

 

Most part of the footage in my film represents the fields adjacent to the village Rosenthal. I newly discovered the partly quite tiny meadows between and adjacent to agricultural fields around Rosenthal this summer and discovered an impressive and steadily visible diversity of bloom visiting insects there. Fields as monoculture habitats usually bear a smaller biodiversity related to wild-growing nature zones. But due to the connection of the edges of fields with complex nature refuge zones around, I could observe a quite great number of species on closely adjacent meadows and even the natural border zones of these agricultural areas.

 

Videographic details

 

The footage was captured in 4K and D-cinelike quality using a Mavic 2 Zoom drone between September and October 2019.

 

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Different wing colors in a harlequin ladybeetle specimen

The ladybeetle Harmonia axyridis is naturally distributed over eastern Asia, but was imported to the United States already at the beginning of the 20th century as pest control. At first, there was no population development in the open fields. These were at first reported from Louisiana in 1988. In 2001 the first free living specimens were for Europe discovered in Belgium. Since then the beetle distributed over several European countries, such as France, entire Germany or Switzerland.

 

Variations of Harmonia axyridis

 

The beetle is well known for its great form variations. Worldwide more than 200 different color pattern forms of thorax and elytrae are described. They are distinctly shaped and maintain in this shape and arrangement of pattern. But four forms dominate within natural populations. Speaking about the elytrae (not the thorax patterns), the reddish form with dark spots, as visible in my film, is one of them.

These distinct different forms must be named a polymorphism and are based on genetic information as well as on environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity and light intensitivity. According to that even the term polyphenism might be adequate.

 

 

 

 

Transcription factor pannier responsible for color pattern polymorphism

 

According to the work of M. Gautier et al. (the genomic basis of color pattern polymorphism  in the harlequin ladybird, Current biology, 28, 20), the transcription factor pannier is responsible for the genetically based control of this polymorphism. They discovered that different pannier alleles determine the color pattern in the different known forms. The authors furthermore report that pannier was never found before to play a keyfactor role in the pigmentation of insects.

 

Ladybeetle species on a meadow in Berlin

 

The specimen in my footage was discovered on an urban meadow in the park area „Nordhafen“ in Berlin. It’s a meadow in autumn predominantly consisting of lucerne and clover, sorrel and yellow field cress. Different ladybeetle species could be in greater numbers found there between September and October 2019. The sevenspot-ladybird, the adonis ladybird (Hippodamia variegata) and most abundant the harlquin ladybird in all its developmental stages.

 

Asymmetrical wing colors and possible explications

 

 

Harlequin beetle specimen from Berlin with asymmetrically colored wings, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, please like my video also on Youtube

 

The most conspicuous character of „my“ harlequin ladybird specimen was its distinct asymmetrically colored wings (elytrae). One side reddish with black spots, the other side brownish with black spots. During my research about such asymmetries in ladybirds, I didn’t find recent studies, which distinctly focussed on that topic. H. E. Roy et al. reported in their book „ladybirds“ (original version 1989, revised version 2013) about the existance of such differently colored wings in the same specimen. They emphasized that the phenominon was not studied in detail, but assumed different factors being eventually responsible for such a development of a beetle individual: 1) disruption of pigment production, 2) mitotic mutation in early development, 3) environmental conditions, eventually influencing the colors of an originally normal developed young adult (exposed for longer time to different light intensities etc.). The latter might in the case of „my“ specimen being an indeed possible factor, as it is clearly visible that also the brownish wing has at its edges some of the reddish pigments.

 

 

Filming/ photography conditions

 

The beetles was filmed and photographed under artificial conditions in a soil and grass-set in my video lab. There, mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes, evtl. mostly Laelapidae) were common. They interestingly showed a phoretic behavior by quickly climbing onto the wings of that ladybeetle. They obviously recognized it as a suitable carrier to new habitats. I assume ladybeetles in the field not being of much attraction for phoretic dispersal, based on their life-cycles and preferred habitats.

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Diving, feather cleaning and water bathing of the Inca tern Larosterna inca


Inca terns live along the South American Pacific coast and breed along rocky coastlines of Peru and North Chile. They can be easily identified by their grey plumages, their distinctly red beaks and feeds as well by their conspicious white feather curls on the bases of their beaks.

 

Geographic distribution and life-strategy aspects of Larosterna inca

 

Larosterna inca breeds inside rocky walls of coastlines either inside rocky cavities or in old nesting holes of other seabird species. Its hunting ground is the  Humboldt Current, which is famous for its cold temperature, but also its enormous fish wealth. To increase its chances for fishing success, the Inca tern might follow sea lions, cormorants and whales  and is then hunting fishes, which were flushed up by these bigger sea animals. They also follow fisher boats to catch some rests of their fishery.

 

Phylogenetic (systematic) relationships

 

According to phylogenetic reconstructions L. inca, which represents the only recent species of its genus, branches off in the Animalia tree within the monophyletic clade of terns. Based on DNA sequences E. S. Bridge, A. W. Jones and A. J. Baker reconstructed in their 2005 paper (Molecular phylogenetics and evolution) a sister-clade relationship between Larosterna and species of the taxa Sterna, Thalasseus and Chlidonias (mitochondrial DNA was used to reconstruct the tern phylogeny).

Terns themselves seem representing an own clade (Sternidae), being for example based on characters of behavioral pattern, and are considered as a sister taxon of gulls (Laridae).

 

Filming conditions and filming locality

 

My footage was recorded in the Zoo Berlin, where terns together with other sea birds inhabit a for tourists accessible free-flight enclosure. There I captured scenes about the diving and „fishing“ behavior (specimens fished repeatedly wooden sticks) as well as their plumage cleaning activities on shore and their conspicuous plumage cleaning behaviors via extended bathing trips inside areas of low water. Size of my entire video is 4K. But parts of the scenes were originally recorded in Full HD to enable a better slow motion effect based on 100 frames per second. Such footage was subsequently digitally magnified into the 4K size to fit in the entire video project.

All behavioral activities are at first presented in a slow motion (ca. three to four times slowlier than  original speed), then in the much faster original speed.

 

Plumage cleaning

 

Plumage cleaning is part of the hygienic behaviors of birds. Feathers can only stay in full function, thermoregulation and flying, when dirt and parasites are removed regularly. Typical plumage parasites are represented by feather mites (no phylogenetic clade), which consist of taxa of the Astigmata (Acariformes) and of taxa of the Dermanyssoidea (Parasitiformes). Feather lice represent  a subclade of the (Phthiraptera = lice), named Mallophaga. The monophyletic situation of Mallophaga is seemingly doubtful.

 

Plumage cleaning and hunting behavior of Larosterna inca, video (4K9, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please like my video on youtube too.

 

Putative reasons for plumage cleaning behaviors

 

I couldn’t research sufficient information about specific plumage parasites of Larosterna inca. There is indication that terns generally are relatively free of predators and parasites. Seemingly, plumage parasites of this particular species are still a more or less open research field. But the existence of a regular and visibly careful plumage cleaning might indicate a sensitiveness for corresponding parasites. L. inca can be according to literature (e.g. W. Pieters et al., Avian Diseases, 2014) fatally infested with the trematode Ichthyocotylurus erraticus.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Zoo Berlin July/ September 2019