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Kategorie: Germany

Biodiversity research in the US, is the so called American Way always a good basis?

A collegue from the field of entomology recently wrote me his impressions about the situation of scientific fundings in the western world, as he travels around and stays with each of his feet in another country. He said that everybody knows about the importance of the biodiversity on earth and that consequently everybody agrees that research on the biodiversity deserves to be funded. But he continued that this does not mean that the same people would agree that biodiversity research requires experts and that experts would even need to be paid. Thus many of his former students in the US or Germany need to survive with temporary jobs other than their expertises would require.

But also an international unbalance of financial resources, available for fundamental research in entomology or for example acarology (my discipline) can lead to experts being sorted out, although they would be urgently needed. The focus, based on the considered eligibility of research, changed withing the last 25 years. As before Germany was a hotspot for high-quality research in the fields of evolutionary biology, systematics and biodiversity research, that focus of interest is now located in the USA. They invest more money into these sciences than all European countries together.

This can additionally have consequences for the quality of such kinds of research. It is no secret that the general educational level in the US is at least in some areas comparably low, many people don’t speak foreign languages, they often don’t travel abroad, and they live in midst of a mentality, which says „America first“. Biodiversity research would in the old German world of science regularly be connected with many „but consider that…“ conditions. The American way, in some cases, might want to have it easier. They might say: what’s the problem? What do they want to have? Yes, right, they want the numbers of all discovered species. They ask for numbers, thus we do our best to give them numbers, as fast as possible.

Some privileged US-researchers might even misuse their financial power to decide, who in other countries is and who is not. But I say in a rhetoric „you“: Use your fundings to involve as many suffering experts from abroad as possible, instead of center too much work and responsibility on yourself, you won’t have enough time due to too many species, which still need to be discovered and described.  Don’t work too fast and don’t risk to become too superficial. Each species deserves time. Share the work with others and make science benefit from the different kinds of backgrounds in different areas of the world.

 

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A mite of the Histiostomatidae, found in Amsterdam in its original substrate as example for the topic „Acarology“

 

All copyrights (also of SEM photo): Dr. rer. nat. Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin July 2020

Fox and Witch – a fable – Part I

A fable about competition, hate and bullying

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF PART I

Berlin, 10June 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Mite Histiostoma piceae

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

Christian hate preachers in Germany? The dubious case of a hardliner

He is 53 years old, a hunter and a strength athlete, but Olaf Latzel is unfortunately also an evangelical pastor of the St.-Martini church municipality in the German city Bremen. Livestreams of his church services during times of the corona-crisis since February 2020 had up to 30000 clicks. He and his work are well liked not only in his own municipality. But fortunately, there is also much and harsh criticism against his preaching.

His style of sermonizing is, according to what I saw on his Youtube-Channel, very passionate. His sermons have a very dominant and commanding pitch, and when he talks against homosexuals and other religions, his emotions force his significant nasolabial wrinkles downwards to a grim face, and his eyes peer to the ceiling, when he emphasizes that we had one lord only, and he often shouts an almost hysteric „hallelujah“, when he subsequently continues with statements like „ein Knecht, ein Sklave, hat nur einen Herrn (a servant, a slave, has only one lord)“ and later „kein Knecht kann zwei Herren dienen…(no servant can serve two gods)“. He accordingly is strictly against mixed church services, wants Buddha statues or amulets in households to be destroyed and is such focused on details of ancient text details of the bible that female pastors in his church are not allowed to wear a talar (robe of an evangelical priest) or to preach from the pulpit. Homosexuals are welcome in his municipality only according to the principle „against sins, but for sinners“. Muslims can be treated with mercy, again only following the same principle. But I say: It is a sin to create sinners based o the natural diversity of life!

Apart from discriminating statements against Islam, Buddhism or homosexuals, the slave and servant idea is one of his main topics. According to his preaching, the believers represent nothing else than slaves or servants of god, who even paid for this slave service due to the blood of Jesus Christ. Olaf Latzel is a hardliner, and he does not try to hide this. But the distinct reduction of believers to slaves, to a herd of sheep in the full sense of this term, is also a very clever gambit against individualism, independent free thoughts and criticism. Stupid sheep are easy to control, they ask no critical questions, they even don’t express doubts about statements, written in a thousands of years old ancient book. But there is no god, who demands for thoughtless sheep, there are only very secular authorities in the disguise of religious leaders, who need sheep to fulfill their very secular motivations, namely to live a privileged life on the costs of their slavish subjects. If god preferred sheep instead of humans, he would have appeared as sheep among sheep.

Jesus Christ was the historical human being Jesus from Nazareth. He was an individualist with free thoughts and represented a critic of old and traditional religious attitudes. He considered the stupid human sheep in the Temple in Jerusalem his opponents, and his major aim was to teach and practice charity. His followers were women, who he met as equals, and unmarried men with unknown erotic preferences  (Who knows, may be some considered themselves even as non-binaries!). The disciples of Jesus from Nazareth had a subversive and creative power to modernize the communities, they did not look back to their ancient past, but instead invested their energy in a more human future (at least originally). They today would not find any of their ideals in municipalities with Christian hate preachers.

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Jesus meets two strangers in an evening twilight scenery, a man and a woman, on an equal level. Both strangers are proud of being free thinkers, the man might even be gay, we don’t know. Oil on canvas, Berlin May 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

 

Berlin, May 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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

When elbows are used in the world of science

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

 

Strange behaviors of so called „colleagues“?

 

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

 

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

 

The work of a scientific specialist: here an acarologist

 

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

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

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

 

Contributions of different authors to a scientific paper

 

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

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

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

 

„B-word“?

 

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

 

Warning to young scientists

 

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

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

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019

 

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

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