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Kategorie: Evolution

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

Complex and modified mouthparts in Histiostomatidae mites

Mites represent arachnids, which means that they share characters with much bigger organisms, such as spiders, skorpions or harvestmen. Their bodies consist of specialized bundles of segments, named tagmata.  Two major tagmata are differed from each other in arachnids: prosoma, including legs and mouthparts, and opisthosoma, including for example the digestive and the reproductive systems.

 

Diphyletic origin of mites

 

Mites are not longer just mites. The former two clades of mites, Parasitiformes and Acariformes, originally considered as sister taxa, were in the modern systematics reconstructed to be diphyletic. That means, there was no commor ancestor, from which only those two clades derived.  There is no close relationship between them,each clade is most closely related to different groups of arachnids.  Thus, when I talk about mites, I am talking about the clade Acariformes.

 

Mites of the Acariformes and body plan

 

In these Acariformes mites, the arachnid body construction plan was modified into three visible tagmata: gnathosoma (bearing chelicerae and pedipalps as mouthparts), proterosoma (bearing first two leg pairs) and hysterosoma (bearing last two leg pairs and opisthosoma organs).

 

big male 2 Saarland compost

Male (large morph) of mite Histiostoma feroniarum in dorsal view. Body division in gnathosoma, proterosoma and hysterostoma. Fixation : critical-point-dried, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

Mouthparts

 

Let’s talk about mouthparts, as they are an important aspect of my systematic and my function.morphological studies. Originally the gnathosoma consists of a pair of scissor-shaped chelicerae to grasp the food particles and of a pair of leg-shaped pedipalps, which mostly have mechano-sensitive and chemo-sensitive functions. But because mites colonized almost all kinds of existing habitats on earth, they extensively were exposed to the mechanisms of evolution. Acariform mites show a high range of variability regarding their morphology and their life strategies.

 

Mouthparts of Sarcoptiformes

 

Within the clade Sarcoptiformes, consisting of oribatid and astigmatid mites, there evolved a tendency towards miniaturization. Mites of the Astigmata are usually much smaller than one mm. Correspondingly the cuticle becam thinner and softer, perfect adaptations to a life inside very tiny micro habitats, but at the same time also a limitation, namely towards more or less moist habitats due to the lack of a well developed desiccation protection. They appear inside compost, rotting wood or mammal dung, being even there very specifically adapted into very defined micro climatic conditions. They live in a world of complete darkness, which is why light sensory organs are completely lost or reduced to vestigial structures.

Inside their habitats, astigmatid mites need to reproduce, to develop through different nymphal stages until adulthood and of course to feed. Astigmata are no fluid suckers, but feed on particles, such as bacteria, algae, fungi, thus many Astigmata taxa can be named microorganism feeders.

 

Life-strategy of mites of the (family) Histiostomatidae

 

Rollei Digital Camera

Extinct bark beetle fpssil in amber (collection Hoffeins) with phoretic mite deutonymphs. Fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, stereomicroscopic photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

One of the largest family within the Astigmata clade is the Histiostomatidae, which I use since many years as model for my scientific studies. These mites are scientifically interesting from different points of view. Their ecology is characterized by life styles, which correspond to the life cycle of insects and other arthropods, to which most species have a close association. Most important aspect of these interactions between mites and other arthropods, commonly insects, is a dispersal strategy named „phoresy“. Mites use their „partners“ as carriers from one habitat to another. These habitats can often be the nests of the corresponding arthropods/ insects.

Habitats, in which mites of the Histiostomatidae develop successfully need to be moist and need to contain a sufficiant amount of microorganisms as food source. It is the most conspicuous feature of these mites to possess  remarkably modified mouthparts compared to the above described standard equipment of an acariform gnathosoma.

 

Mouthparts of the Histiostomatidae

 

 

Mite Histiostoma sp. (sapropel around ponds, female, Berlin) feeding from a substrate surface inside its original habitat. Videography in 4K, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The character conditions of the gnathosoma were one of the reasons, why I at the beginning of my phd thesis in 2000 decided to put my research focus on this mite family, being worldwide in major still unexplored.

The chelicera modified into a dagger-like structure being formed by the fixed part of the former scissor-like organ, named the digitus fixus. There is a variability of shapes of this digitus fius-chelicera-ending within the Histiostomatidae . It can appear „simple-dagger-like, simple formed with a hook-like ending or having cuticular dentations of specific numbers and sizes along the lower edge of the digitus fixus.

As typical for mites of the big clade Astigmata, the pedipalps are reduced in size and almost immovably ventrally and dorsally connected with each other. In Histiostomatidae, the third pedipalp article is additionally distinctly bent sidewards. Their front sides bear more or less complex arrangements of flexible membraneous structures, which can morphologically differ between taxa or even species, thus giving them a systematic relevance. I named these membrane-organs „palparmembrane“ following the nomenclature, introduced by R. Scheucher in 1957. These membranes can be devided into fringes or being lobe-sphaped and can cover the last pedipalp article dorsally and/or ventrally. My histological analysis from 2006 indicated that these membranes are shaped by the enditesof the pedipalpal coxae.

 

Complex mouthpart apparatus

 

Thus Histiostomatidae possess a bizarre mouthpart apparatus being unique within the Acariformes and representing an amount of characters, which from the phylogenetc point of view  can be reconstructed to have evolved in the stem species of that family (so called apomorphies).

 

Mouthpart apparatus as multifunctional organ

 

 

Mite Histiostoma sp. (male left, female right) feeding from a substrate surface inside its original habitat. Fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

This gnathosoma is a multifunctional organ with the main function to select specific microorganism particles out of their liquid environments. When observing a histiostomatid mite with a sufficient high magnification walking along on a smooth water agar surface, on which bacteria and fungi growth was stimulated before, then occasionally trails can be seen around the walking mite, indicating that the gnathosoma was hold mostly leaned downwards towards the ground, pushing the microorganism cover along in front of the mite’s body. I interpreted this as an accumulation of food in order to gain more nutrients all at once. In my early papers, I described this as the typical feeding behavior of histiostomatid mites with the membraneous appendages acting like rubber sliders in the meantime. But as newer analyses showed is that such observations do not describe the full equipment of possible applications of the mite’s complex filter-feeding apparatus.

 

Membraneous structures create an underpressure to incorporate food

 

 

Mite Histiostoma ruehmi mouthpart endings with palparmembrane in ventral view. Fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

More recent experiments with a higher videographic resolution and more suitable light conditions than 10 years ago (through-light and up light or one of them depending on the setting) showed that the palpar membrane structures , which more or less surround the entire fore-part (anterior part) of the gnathosoma can act like suckers: When the mite presses its front end of the mouthparts  to the underground, an underpressure can be formed based on these membraneous structures. This seemingly facilitates the incorporation of nutrients in that area. I presented such video footage in one of my former mite videos. To get off from the underground requires a jerky upward movement of the whole mouthpart apparatus (also visible in that older video). As I observed different developmental stages of different species, I could conclude that on a smooth surface with randomly dispersed food supply, regular stops and mouthpart-sucking-activities are seemingly a most common behavior of histiostomatids, while a straight forward walking behavior with the gnathosoma permanently touching the ground in order to push microorganism covers to the body`s front side only than occured, when food supply was uniformly dispersed (under artificial experimental conditions) under uniform moisture conditions.

 

Mite Histiostoma ruehmi and an undetermined species feeding from a smooth artificial substrate surface and performing an underpressure to incorporate food. Videography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

Scanning-electron-microscopic experiments

 

Mite Histiostoma feroniarum feeding from a substrate mount inside its original habitat. Fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Mite Bonomoia opuntiae feeding from the surface of a substrate mount inside its original habitat. Rounded particles might represent yeast bodies. Fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

In my early postdoc-years, still at the FU Berlin, I performed experiments in order to fix mite activities inside their original substrates by filling such a mite-substrate-setting up with 1,1,1,3,3,3-hexamethyldisilazane and warming the corresponding small experimental dish, until the chemical was vaporized. I then sputtered the conserved setting with gold and studied the details on it via scanning-electron-microscopy. Occasionally, mites were shrinkled or deformed after this procedure, but sometimes they stayed in shape and did seemingly still remain in their last activity positions. I several times could take SEM photos, showing that (well visible only in adult mites due to their size) mite specimens can insert their (distal) chelicerae-endings into bigger heaps of substrate (obviously full of nutrients) and use the entire laterally bent pedipalpal articles, including the connected palparmembranes, to lean it against the substrate surface, either to stabilize the chelicerae movents or even to support the incorporation of nutrients again by forming a slight underpressure, or both.

 

Mite species Bonomoia opuntiae

 

Early observations during times of my phd-thesis on the mite Bonomoia opuntiae could show that the mouthpart apparatus of this terrestrial/semiaquatic mite works well also under water or inside a watery juce of decomposing cactus pieces. There even a filter function comparable with a fishing net was hypothesised, but so far was never studied in detail. The very distinct fringes along the palparmembrane lobes in this mite species might support this theory. I also studied the semiaquatic mite Sarraceniopus nipponensis feeding inside watery environments (normally the digestive fluids of Sarracenia pitchers), again never focussing in detail in how excactly the feeding mechanism works.

 

A putatively new species

 

The herewith presented video shows behaviors of  a female of the putative new species Histiostoma sp. , which I discovered in beginning of 2019 in sapropel around ponds inside an old gravel pit area in the Berlin forest Grunewald. The footage is presented in slow motion. The question was about how motile the whole gnathosoma apparatus in a histiostomatid species can be and what kinds of movements occured. As the settings, which I in early years of my mite studies used for videographic studies, were simplyfied and thus unnatural (smooth agar surfaces), I thought it being necessary and important to capture behaviors in a complexly sculptured habitat, namely surfaces of decomposing potato pieces (on which most histiostomatid species use to develop well).

 

It was visible, based on the specimens of my video of this species, that histiostomatid mites can be able to lift up their entire gnathosomas on a sometimes even higher position than the levels of the rest of their bodies. Additionally the gnathosoma can be turned to the right and to the left. Up and down as well as sideward movements of the whole feeding apparatus were often performed and represented obviously flexible reactions of the mite to the surface structure of the substrate and to the availability of suitable nutrients. In this context I was also interested in details of the movements of the chelicera tips themselves.

 

Chelicera endings (digitus fixus)

 

Although they can be used dagger-like and be accurately inserted into muddy substrate mounts, chelicera tips will also appear in a very fragile and seemingly careful way, when palpating the surface of the substrate underneath. Such chelicera movements are visible in the footage of this video, presented in slow motion (about 25 percent of original speed) and in a digital magnification. I interpret this visible fragility caution of the chelicerae as one option to discover suitable food sources. Other important organs perceive the mite’s environment chemically, modified setae, namely the so called solenidia, which might additionally recognize profitable microorganism sources.

 

Fig. 2

Mite Histiostoma feroniarum feeding from substrate mounts inside its original habitat (A-F). Rounded particles might represent yeast bodies. D = distal chelicera endings (digitus fixus), holding food particles, fixation with hexamethyldisilazane, SEM photography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Berlin, September 2019

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Ancient villa of Pollius Felix in Sorrento/ Italy: a nature refuge

Ancient ruins around the Gulf of Naples

 

The area of the Gulf of Naples (Italy) is full of ancient Roman ruins. Besides famous excavation sites such as Pompeii or Herculaneum, also not so famous, but nevertheless very fascinating buildings from around the first century are preserved. An example is the (originally) huge villa of Pollius Felix nearby Sorrento.

 

Pollius Felix and his eccentric extended villa in Sorrento

 

Pollius Felix was a rich man and build several villas around the Gulf of Naples. But the one nearby Sorrento surely was his biggest and most eccentric domicil. He intended to unite the four elements water (sea), air, earth (rocks) and fire (artificial heating system? lava rocks?) in his architecture. Unfortunately only a part of the very extended villa is preserved. But impressively shows, how the Mediterranean Sea was made to a part of a private building. What the natives call „I Bagni della Regina Giovanna“ is a sea water bassin (may be of natural origin) that was connected via stairs and bridges with the ancient super house. A reconstruction of the whole villa by the way can be seen in the second floor of the Georges Vallet Archeological museum.

 

 

 

How to visit the ruins?

 

The ruins are accessible for free, but visitors need to have good walking and climbing conditions. First an about 20 minuts walk downwards to the sea through an old tight walkway is required. To access the major parts of the ruins themselves small pathways through mediterranean seaside vegetation is necessary. The sea water bassin can be reached via stairs. In summer, it is a popular place for (mostly native) swimmers.

 

Landscape and biodiversity

 

The whole area is covered with natural wild vegetation, private and non private gardens and olive groves. A remarkable biodiversity is present, and – depending from the season – alwas shows different faces. In spring, early summer and autumn, everything is greening and blooming, while in the hot summer season drought predominates. The area is a home for interesting Opiliones (harvestmen), Diplopodes, rose chafers, snails or lizards (Podarcis) and snakes (rarely). I visited „Villa Pollio Felice“ (also named Villa Limona) this time in spring/ early summer: April 2019. Unlike in autumn, when I mostl visited the Gulf of Naples in the past, different flowers covered the region. The most abundant species was Allium triquetrum, decorating lush meadows with their almost bell-shaped white blossoms.

 

Villa Pollio Felice/ Berlin April/June 2019 Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Oribatida mites: Fast runners and slow crawlers

Microhabitats often consist of a complexity of organism species. Under suitable conditions, samples can be kept „alive“ for months and even for years by regularly adding moisture and organic tissue, in case of my sample of this footage: patato pieces.

 

 

Mites of the Oribatida and their different ways of locomotion. Copyrights: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin April 2019. Please give the video a like on youtube too.

 

Soil samples from island Norderney

 

This soil sample was collected in summer 2018 on the North Sea island Usedom during my participation at the „Geo Tag der Natur“. It contained several specimens of the predatory chilopode Lithobius sp. and pieces of rotting wood, moss and forestground, everything collected under rotting treetrunks and tree branches. The samples additionally contained the carabid beetle Pterosticus cf. niger and ants of genus Lasius. Samples were collected in a small forest area with wetland aspects. The soil quality was rather moist.

 

Astigmatid mites

 

I later added potato pieces and regularly some water droplets to the sample with still living big arthropods/ insects. After some weeks, specimens of the astigmatid mite Acodyledon cf. schmitzi developed on dryer areas of the potato pieces. These mites were presumably phoretic associates of the carabid beetles. They died out after several months, after the sample had dried out a little bit and may be due to changes of the room temperature during winter time.

 

Oribatida

 

Now, almost a year later, the micro habitat is inhabited by mites of the Oribatida in greater numbers of specimens of at least three species: Nothrus sp. (genus not yet clarified), Nothrus palustris (already found for the first time shortly after the sample collection) and a species of Phthiracarida.

 

Locomotion and biodiversity

 

Purpose of the short film is to show different organisms, cultured after about a year in this sample: mites, nematodes, collembolans and microorganisms, fungae and bacteria. Of the bigger arthropods/insects, only one Lithobius species survived until now.  Also the diversity of ways of locomotion in different oribatid species is emphasized: There are slow crawlers (Nothrus) and fast runners (Phthiracarida).

 

Berlin, April 2019, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Mite Histiostoma sachsi (Astigmata): Juvenile dispersal instar deutonymph and its orientation behavior

Some animals live in environments, where there is (almost) no light available. It makes no sense to see in the dark, but it is important for a specimen to know, where it actually is, where it is going to, whether there is enough food and what the conspecifics are doing. Predators need to be recognized in time, and a sexual partner must be found. There is also need for an efficient communication between specimens of a species. How can all this be performed by mites of the Astigmata, which usually live inside decomposing soil habitats in a more or less permanent darkness?

 

Olfactory sense organs in mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

Histiostoma sachsi (Histiostomatidae, Astigmata) is such a mite, living inside cow dung or compost. It might have a rudimentary ability for a light perception, but has not visible or functional eyes. It cannot produce any sounds. It can only feel and smell. Seemingly very limited abilities, but the contrary is fact: Due to evolution this mite is perfectly adapted to its life-style. It can feel objects by touching on them using its body setation (= body hairs). And it smells by means of very specialized body hairs, which are called solenidia and appear in different types, shapes and functions. These mites don’t smell on the level of us humans, which would be very insufficient. If at all, it should be compared with a dog. I am always fascinated when seeing blind dogs and how perfectly they can interact with their environment, despite their handicap. That’s may be how the efficiency of olfactory perception abilities of such a mite must be imagined. They do not only perceive scent particles from other animals, plants and soil components. Even olfactory signals from their conspecifics will be correctly and differentiatedly interpreted. And that not only marginally.  Olfactory signals represent indeed the major mode of their intraspecific communication.

 

Chemical communication of mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

Communication always requires contributions from both sides, a signal and an answer. These mites smell the signal of a conspecific using their solenidia, and they answer by the secretion of biochemical components. For these purposes, they possess a huge and complex gland system located on the upperside of their backs. Volatile excretions aggregate inside a big and rounded reservoir and finally leak to the outside via a pore, called oilgland opening. These gland systems are located symmetrically on both sides, each with one reservoir and one pore.

The meaning of the sent volatile message simply depends on the composition of the correspondingbiochemical components. Even diffferent stereochemical configurations of the same molecule can have different meanings. Citral for instance is a major component and has in different stereoisomers different functions. Such cummunicative volatile signals are usually named pheromones. And mites of the Histiostomatidae can indeed produce different kinds of pheromnes via the same gland system. Aggregation pheromones inform specimens about a suitable place to stay together with their conspecifics, for example due to a sufficient amount of food resources. Alarm pheromones solicit mites nearby to flee from an unpleasant situation. Sexual pheromones attract adult partners to each other in order to perform the mating procedure. But the gland secretions can even more. As allomones, they communicate with specimens of other species. They function as defenses against predators or other dangerous cohabitants.

 

Deutonymphs need to find a carrier for dispersal

 

Another form of communicative interspecific interactions is performed by a specific juvenile instar, the deutonymph. It looks morphologically quite different from all other instars (heteromorphic situation), does not need or possess a functional mouth, has a thicker cuticle as protection against drying out and a complex sucker organ on its underside in order to attach itself to an insect or another bigger arthropod. Deutonymphs of the astigmatid mites search for bigger carrier-arthropods to get carried from one habitat to another (dispersal strategy  is calledphoresy). While doing so, they again use their specifically modified leg setation (hairs) on the first pairs of legs to perceive scents for the detection of a suitable and passing by carrier. Basically it is still unknown, whether the term „communication“ is indeed appropriate in this context as we don’t know yet about a mutual interaction between deutonymphs and their carriers, before the phoretic ride begins.

 

 

Olfactory orientation of the deutonymph of Histiostoma sachsi, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, February 2019.

 

Specific way of walking in deutonymphs

 

In detail, different kinds of behaviors can be observed in deutonymphs, when searching a carrier. The detailed behavioral patterns in this context can slightly differ between even closer related species. Deutonymphs of Histiostoma sachsi as all deutonymphs show a characteristic mode of walking, in which especially the first pair of legs plays an important role. During each step, performed by four pairs of legs, the first legs are lifted up much higher than all other hind legs. While doing so, they slightly tremble up and down. A behavior that mostly supports a better basic orientation inside a „jungle-„micro-landscape, being filled up with soil particles and decomposing plant tissues. But what H. sachsi deutonymphs additionally need in order to find their carriers is repeatedly to rest between the walking activities. Thus the first legs, which normally are still walking legs, are made free and that way available for the perception of carrier-scent-components only. These  namely are the legs that bear the highest densiy of solenidia.

 

Two different behavioral modes for an efficient orientation towards a carrier

 

Two different modes of resting with olfactory searching activities could be observed: In periodic intervals the deutonymph attached to the ground by using its sucking structures. They were then more or less laying on their entire undersides with only their forebodies slightly lifted up. By alternating moving the first legs up and down, olfactory information could be perceived from all directions without having the own body as a barrier to backwards. To improve its orientation situation, the deutonymph additionally turned on its own axis around, being stabilized by its sucking structures, which are flexible enough to follow these movements. When the deutonymph intended to continue its walk, it first needed to detach from the ground, which happened via muscle contractions that caused an abrupt detachment of the corresponding suckers. But main aim of the deutonymph is to find an elevated place, where the probability of a passing by carrier is especially high and from where a bigger insect (or other arthropod) can easier be ascended. There the second behavioral mode was performed. The deutonymph only fixed the edge of its hind body to the ground, again using the suckers on its underside, which are located close to this edge. This time the entire mite body stood in an upright position. The first legs again „waved“ alternating up and down and could under these especially elevated conditions even perceive scents from bigger distances. By occasionally slightly and alternating turning their upright bodies to both sides, olfactory information could be easier detected from all directions.

 

Carrier of H. sachsi still unknown

 

The frequency of such movements in mites increases typically as closer a suitable carrier approaches. But this was not yet observed or documented for Histiostoma sachsi. Its carrier inside the compost substrate is still unknown, which is why I so far could’t perform corresponding experiments. The species‘ describer, Scheucher (1957), found her mite specimens in cow dung and also didn’t identify the corresponding carriers there.

The observations presented in my video are part of my research project about morphologies and behaviors of deutonymphs in the Histiostomatidae.

 

Berlin, February 2019. All copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Arapaima gigas, einer der größten Süßwasserfische – doch was sind Fische eigentlich?

Sie sind beeindruckende Fische, nicht nur aufgrund ihrer Größe. Und doch kennen die meisten Menschen sie nur aus den Aquarienhäusern zoologischer Gärten. Arapaima gigas wird mindestens zwei Meter lang und erreicht in Ausnahmefällen sogar Längen von über drei Metern. Beheimatet ist die Art im Bereich des Amazonas-Beckens und ist in Peru, Brasilien und Guyana verbreitet.

 

Arapaima gigas, einer der größten bekannten Süßwasserfische aus dem Amazonas-Gebiet

 

Arapaima ist ein Räuber. Erwachsene Fische ernähren sich von anderen Fischen sowie Tieren in vergleichbarer Größe, wie zum Beispiel auch kleineren Säugern. Besonders auffällig sind die kräftig gestalteten großen Schuppen, die den Körper der Tiere umschließen. Sie dienen unter anderem als mechanischer Schutz gegen Angriffe durch Feinde. So können sie beispielsweise den Attacken der im selben Lebensraum beheimateten Piranhas, die zwar wesentlich kleiner sind, aber bekanntlich empfindliche Beißwerkzeuge besitzen, wirkungsvoll widerstehen. Das schützt Arapaima freilich nicht vor seinem größten Feind, dem Menschen. Er ist ein beliebter Speisefisch, der durch massenhafte Bejagung in seinem Bestand immer wieder gefährdet wird.

Arapaima gigas wird häufig als größter Süßwasserfisch der Welt bezeichnet. Dies basiert jedoch auf Übertreibungen. In Wahrheit befindet er sich in der Größenordnung des Europäischen Welses, dem größten europäischen Süßwasserfisch.

 

„Fische“ ist keine spezielle systematische Gruppierung

 

Ich verwendete bislang stets unkommentiert den Begriff „Fisch“. Was sind Fische eigentlich?Welche sogenannte Fische kennt man noch? Wie verhält es sich beispielsweise mit dem Bullenhai, der über drei Meter lang werden kann und neben marinen Habitaten auch im Süßwasser auftreten kann. Kann er als Gigant des Süßwassers mit dem Arapaima, dem Gigant aus dem Amazonas verglichen werden? Nach evolutionsbiologisch-systematischen (=phylogenetisch) Gesichtspunkten kann er das nicht. Der Begriff „Fisch“ bezeichnet nämlich keine spezielle, systematisch in sich geschlossene Gruppe. Stattdessen haben wir es mit einem deskriptiven Begriff zu tun, der alle Tiere umfasst, die in ihrer Gestalt ganz grundsätzlich eine gewisse Ähnlichkeit mit dem Goldfisch aufweisen.

Wenn wir außer Acht lassen, dass auch „Tintenfische“ und „Walfische“ nach demselben Muster benannt wurden, die bekanntlich zu den Mollusken und Säugetieren gehören, weist die Fischgestalt zumindest in den meisten Fällen auf eine irgendwie gestaltete Verwandtschaft hin. Jedoch sind Haie und Arapaima dennoch nicht sonderlich nahe miteinander verwandt.

 

Arapaima gigas im Aquarium des Zoos Berlin, ein gigantischer Süßwasserfisch, der regelmäßig atmosphärische Luft an der Wasseroberfläche aufnehmen muss. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Bei den „Fischen“ handelt es sich nämlich um eine sogenannte paraphyletische Gruppe. Das heißt, sie umschließt zwar eine ihnen allen gemeinsame Stammart, jedoch keineswegs alle dazu gehörigen Tochtergruppen. Dazu würden nämlich auch alle Landwirbeltiere gehören. Eine vergleichbare paraphyletische Gruppe stellen beispielsweise die „Reptilien“ dar, zu denen Eidechsen/Schlangen, Schildkröten, Krokodile und alle Dinosaurier gehören. Da die Vögel aus den Dinosauriern hervorgingen, jedoch nicht zu den „Reptilien“ gezählt werden, haben wir es unter dieser Bezeichnung wieder mit einer Stammart und nur einem Teil aller Tochtergruppen zu tun, die allerdings im Stammbaum der Tiere nebeneinander stehen und daher näher miteinander verwandt sind, so wie auch bei den „Fischen“.

Im Falle der „Fische“ (paraphyletische Gruppen werden häufig in Anführungszeichen gesetzt) verhält es sich so, dass die verschiedenen als Fische bezeichneten Gruppen neben nur ihnen eigenen Merkmalen auch unterschiedliche Merkmale aufweisen, die auf eine Ahnenlinie hin zu den Wirbeltieren zurückgeführt werden müssen. Was unterscheidet also Knorpelfische (zum Beispiel Haie) und Strahlenflosser (Actinopterygii = echte Fische) voneinander? Eine Frage, die so in der modernen Systematik, die stets nach Gemeinsamkeiten sucht, eigentlich nicht gestellt wird. Richtiger ist es, zu fragen: Welche Merkmale teilen die Knorpelfische mit den Landwirbeltieren (z. B. knöcherner Schädel, Kiefer) und welche die Strahlenflosser (z.B. Lunge). Wenn man dennoch über Unterschiede sprechen möchte, ist festzustellen, dass Knorpelfische noch keine Lunge, die mit jener der Landwirbeltiere homolog ist, besitzen, Strahlenflosser aber schon. Die Lunge ist also auf der Ahnenlinie der Knorpelfische hin zu den Strahlenflossern evolviert. Anders als die „Fische“ sind die Strahlenflosser, die ich hier auch als echte Fische bezeichne, sehr wohl eine geschlossene systematische Einheit (=Monophylum), die auf Merkmale einer gemeinsamen Stammart zurückgeführt werden kann, die nur dieser Gruppe eigen sind. Ein Beispiel ist die namengebende Gestalt der Flossen, die durch Flossenstrahlen durchsetzt sind.

 

Zuerst gab es Lungen, aus denen Schwimmblasen evolvierten

 

Die Strahlenflosser (Actinopterygii), zu denen neben unzähligen Arten auch Arapaima gehört, besitzen also in der Tat ursprünglich paarige Lungen als Respirationsorgane. Diese sind demzufolge nicht erst vor dem Abzweig der Lungenfische entstanden, die als nächste Verwandte der Landwirbeltiere gelten. Die dortige Neuerung betrifft, anders als der Name Lungenfisch vermuten lässt, die Evolution eines Lungenkreislaufs, den es bei urtümlichen „Fischen“ mit Lunge noch nicht gegeben hat.

Aber besitzen echte Fische (Actinopteryii) nicht Schwimmblasen und atmen ausschließlich durch Kiemen? Mitnichten. Ursprüngliche Vertreter der echten Fische werden beispielsweise durch die Flösselhechte (Polypteriformes) representiert, die paarige sackförmige Lungen besitzen und neben der Kiemenatmung daher auch atmosphärische Luft veratmen können. Diese beeindruckenden Tiere können sich mithilfe ihrer Flossen nicht nur an Land fortbewegen, sondern lassen sich (es gibt Experimente an Senegal-Flösselhechten) auch unter vorwiegend terrestrischen Bedingungen in Terrarien halten.

Erst innerhalb der echten Fische ist die Schwimmblase entstanden, die sich durch Evolution aus den Lungen heraus bildete. Die fachgerechte Beschreibung lautet daher: Lunge und Schwimmblase sind einander homologe Organe. Innerhalb der Actinopterygii gibt es einen evolutiven Trend, demzufolge die Schwimmblase bei urtümlicheren Vertretern (noch) der Atmung dient, bei evolutiv weiter abgeleiteten Vertretern hingegen nur noch die Funktion der Austarierung im Wasser übernimmt.

Allerdings ist es innerhalb der echten Fische oftmals schwierig zu entschlüsseln und noch immer Gegenstand phylogenetischer Studien, ob die Lungenfunktion einer Schwimmblase einen Hinweis auf Urtümlichkeit darstellt, oder ob sekundär aus einer Schwimmblase mit Tarierfunktion erneut ein Atmungsorgan entstanden ist. In der Evolutionsbiologie werden im Übrigen unabhängige Entwicklungsschritte stets als Konvergenzen bezeichnet.

 

Arapaima gigas veratmet mithilfe seiner Schwimmblase atmosphärische Luft

 

Auch Arapaima gigas ist ein Luftatmer, der auf den Einsatz seines zusätzlichen Atmungsorgans in Form einer Schwimmblase sogar angewiesen ist. Er ist ein obligater Schwimmblasenatmer, der atmosphärische Luft an der Wasseroberfläche mithilfe seiner Mundöffnung aufnehmen muss. Dies wird als Anpassung an den häufig sauerstoffarmen Lebensraum der Tiere interpretiert, die sich häufig in Überflutungszonen des Amazonasbeckens aufhalten, wo wenig im Wasser gelöster Sauerstoff zur Verfügung steht. Der Literatur zufolge muss Arapaima gigas alle fünf bis fünfzehn Minuten die Wasseroberfläche aufsuchen, um dort mit seinem oberständigen Maul Luft einzuschnappen.

 

Berlin, Februar 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Eudicella colmanti – Mating behavior of a colorful beetle

Rose chafers represent a group of colorful beetles, which taxonomically belong to the Scarabaeidae and thus are relatives of famous beetles such as Scarabaeus sacer, well known for rolling dung into balls and for being an important symbol for creation and the rising sun in the ancient Egyptian world. Even the stag beetles are more distant relatives of rose chafers.

 

Colorful and active during daytime

 

Unlike some related beetle clades, rose chafers are usually active during the day. This is also indicated by their very colorful bodies. Colors in insects can have different functions, but they usually all are optical signals, which require a visibility in the sun light. Greenish colors are common in rose chafer species and might have optical inner specific signal functions, but also might support an optical camouflage. This would also make sense in the preferred habitats of the adult beetles, which usually feed on softer parts of blossoms and on their pollen. But they also feed on fruits, whereby mostly liquids are incorporated as the chewing mouthparts are not very well developed.

 

Tropical rose chafer Eudicella colmanti during its copulation behavior, 4K videography, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Tropical rose chafers from African countries

 

About 3000 species of rose chafers are known, of which most inhabit the tropical zones. The about 20 species of the genus Eudicella are more or less restricted to the African continent.

Eudicella colmanti is native to Gabun, Kamerun and Kongo, thus a species with a main distribution in Central Africa. But E. colmanti is like other species of this genus worldwide often kept in terraria, although species like E. smithi are more common inhabitants of this kind of artificial habitats. They all can be more or less easily reared.

 

Specific flying mode and copulation behavior

 

This is why I was able to study behavioral characters in detail. And rose chafers indeed show interesting behaviors. They for example perform a unique way of flying. It is a specific character of rose chafers (a so called apomorphy) that they fly with closed fore wings, which cannot be opened as in other beetles.

I documented in my video the mating behavior of a beetle couple. Interestingly this was not too difficult, although both genders can, when separated from each other, react to disturbances with a high agility.

 

Almost permanent copulation activities

 

But in the copulatory position, they accepted to be removed from their terrarium to the filming set and even stayed in position, when they were enlighted from different positions with very bright light beams. Please note the the female, which I observed regularly actively searching for a position underneath the male (behavior not clearly visible in my footage). But it also conspicuously never stopped feeding (on an apple) during the copulatory process (very well visible in my footage), obviously to obtain enough nutrients for the production of eggs. A copulation in my couple is not a unique event, but is repeated regularly and can take hours.

 

Phoretic mites

 

Both genders carried bigger numbers of mites. These were phoretic deutonymphs of the taxon Astigmata (Acariformes, Acaridae). As never determined the mite species, as it was not clear, whether it represented a natural associate of these tropical beetles, or whether it was a species native to Germany, which for example was carried into the terrarium via Drosophila flies.

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

„Me-too“-debate and documentation-film „Leaving Neverland“ – is medieval sentencing without any trial the newest step into our modern future of social interacting?

When a person was illegally harmed, then I expect him or her as the victim of a crime in most imaginable cases being immediately aware of something having being undoubtfully wrong, independent of the victim’s age. There might be cases and reasons, such as for example shame that can prevent an official accusation made by the victim, for a while.

But remembering serious sexual crimes only decades later, exactly, when the career is unstable enough to need a major attention, then doubts should be advised.

 

Documentary „Leaving Neverland“, a witch-hunt?

 

The 2019 documentary film „Leaving Neverland“ by the British director and producer Dan Reed is actually capturing a major attention after it was presented at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25 in 2019. The co-production between the UK Channel 4 and the US Home Box Office (HBO), presents the alleged stories of two men: Jimmy Safechuck, who performed as child in a Pepsi commercial with Michael Jackson and Wade Robson, a today dancer and choreographer. They both claim to have been over years repeatedly sexually abused by the King of Pop.

 

michael_jackson_in_1988

Singer and performer Michael Jackson again accused of paedophilia, a modern witch-hunt? Photo-rights: German Wikipedia

 

Michael Jackson won all trials against accusations of paedophilia. No indications towards sexual crimes remained. Let’s say except of the unusual and for some people’s eyes bizarre life-style and look of the singer and performer, who very obviously simply liked children in legal and natural way. In his most famous music video, „Thriller“, he appeared as a monster. Obviously the monster that so many conservative, intolerant and uninspired people want to see, even today. The modern trends of an exuberant extreme-feminism contributes to these monster-desires. Some of these hardliners generally fight for an anti-male-agenda. All males are suddenly monsters with uncontrollable sexual pressures, which they permanently practise against everything and everybody. And if they want to imagine a superlative of all these monsters everywhere, then Michael Jackson fulfills enough clichés to act as a convincing monster, even years after his death.

 

aerial-neverlandranch2-28-08

Aerial photography of Jackson’s „Neverland-Ranch“, photo-rights: German Wikipedia

 

The reaction of the „US Weekly“-journalist Mara Reinstein is absolutely according of very modern ideas of justice, it’s all about, what you feel, not what you know. Best is, when it’s against males and somehow in context with sexual accusations. That’s why she informed the world via her Twitter-account, how sick she felt in her stomach after watching the premiere of part 1 of the documentary, and how very credible the victims were coming off. I wish Mrs. Reinstein a very speedy recovery, and I think she is a very great role model, when it’s all about credibility.

 

#MeeToo, a modern (male) witch-hunt?

 

Since mid October 2017 a special hashtag overwhelmed the world: #MeToo. Suddenly countless famous male film-makers and artists became victims of sexual-abuse-accusations, using the same patterns mentioned above. But is the term „victim“ always correct in that context? Yes it is. Does that mean that all accusations were false accusations? Unfortunately not. But all modern legal systems (at least in occidental countries) require a trial, which judges against the accused. Judgements in the run-up to a court hearing or even without any court hearing at all are illegal, and in the worst case make a perpetrator as culprit indeed to a victim.

 

Character assassination and bullying!

 

When normal people and not a court judge somebody’s alleged crimes with existential consequences for that person, which are irreversible even after a later non-guilty-sentencing by a court, then this needs to be named: character assassination! It is a moral offence, which is also often called bullying, an offence, which is mostly not considered liable to prosecution, incredibly!

 

Witch-hunt in the Middle-Ages

 

From the biological point of view, humans are not as social as they are supposed to be. Almost all human skills that differ us from other Great Ape species evolved in smaller populations. Homo sapiens is until today not perfectly adapted in living in extreme big and complexe communities. Specific behavioral characters, evolved in prehistoric times, appear under modern conditions even more distinctive. These are laziness, egoism and unscrupulousness.

 

lossy-page1-800px-sprenger_-_malleus_maleficarum,_1669_-_beic_9477645.tiff

Malleus Maleficarum, „Hammer of Witches“, treatise on witchcraft by Henricus Institoris, photo-rights: German Wikipedia

 

Dangerous and sinister characters from the medieval period even towards the early modern times, exactly knew, how to make use of these unfavourable human behavioral tendencies. When for example the German churchman Henricus Institoris, better known as inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, in the late 15th century began to sow hatred between German families, friendships, neighbors and cohabitants, then he just needed a quite simple strategy to successfully perform his hysteric witch-hunt: When he arrived in a city or a village, he asked for denunciations. And he got stacks of them, what easy way it was to get rid of a competitor, an unbeloved family member or an uncooperative rich elderly lady. To officially accuse them as witchcraft was all they needed to do in order to eliminate their own people. When the real switch is pressed, humans can unfortunately still easily forget all mercy,  solidarity and humanity.

We don’t need witch-hunts in our 21th century!

 

Berlin, January 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth