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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

Mite Histiostoma sp., putatively new species, from mud around ponds (Berlin) and its morphology

Gravel pit area „Im Jagen 86“ in Berlin as biotope

 

„Im Jagen 86“ is a former gravel pit area in the Berlin urban forest Grunewald. It today represents a dynamic biotope, consisting of different types of habitats: mud around ponds, sand dunes, dry grassland and forest. Since the early 2000th, its habitat composition partly changed remarkably. Out of several (smaller) ponds, only one bigger pond remained. All ponds originally were surrounded by sapropel, a habitat for different interesting organisms, such as beetles of Heterocerus, Elaphrus and Bembidion. The mite Histiostoma maritimum was commonly found phoreticaly on Heterocerus and Elaphrus. I additionally in those early 2000th described the new mite Histiostoma palustre from Hydrophilidae of Cercyon and Coelostoma, living inside the saporopel as well. Today only a few small areas with open sapropel exist. I so far did not look for Histiostoma maritimum again and don’t know, how common it still is. At least Heterocerus beetles are harder to find than in earlier years. I so far did not found Histiostoma palustre again.

 

Rearing conditions of a putatively new mite species

 

I collected new mud samples in March 2019 at different areas, but found developing histiostomatid mites in a sample from the edge between mud (sapropel) and mosses. It is a species I never found before there and which might represent a new species. Only females could be morphologically studied. Nymyphal stages (not deutonymphs) are only available as video footage. No males were found. I had added bigger potato pieces to stimulate microorganism growth as mite food into the soil sample (room temperature). After about one month, a few mites (females and proto/tritonymphs) developed on only one of these potato pieces and quickly died out shortly after my filming activities and after I could prepare a few females. I actually try to get them reared again. Due to the low temperatures in March, it is considered that these mites hibernate independently from insects in the substrate. No bigger insects could be found in the substrate, which might be the corresponding carriers. But different dipterans (e.g. Ceratopogonidae) developed, they had no mite deutonymphs after hatching in my sample.

 

 

 

 

Morphological reconstruction of females and important characters as well as behavioral observations

 

The females of Histiostoma sp. differ from other females, which I know, by the mosaic of the following characters: body conspicuously elongated with a distinctly big distance between hind ringorgans and anus, digitus fixus almost simple shaped, fringes or ridges on palparmembrane, 6 dorsal humps, unusually big copulation opening. Leg setation not yet studied. One pair of ventral setae hardly visible (not in the drawing). Nymphs were observed during burrowing activities (footage), females are may be also able to. Deutonymphs or males would be useful to decide, whether the species is new. Some species are only described by deutonymphs.

 

Berlin, March/ June 2019 All copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Agriculture, natural countryside and stream pasture landscape north of Berlin

Berlin as a green city

 

 

Berlin, lake Köppchensee, March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Berlin is an unusually green metropolis. Besides numerous urban park landscapes and the huge forest area Grunewald, there is a unique countryside north of Berlin, including the area of the old village Lübars, being surrounded by numerous fields (Lübarser Felder) and a stream pasture landscape, named Tegeler Fließ, with bog meadows.

 

 

Nature sites Lübarser Felder, Arkenberge, Schönerlinder Teiche in 4K, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please also like my video on Youtube.

 

Mounts Arkenberge and pondlandscape Schönerlinder Teiche

 

In the northeast, around the urban village Blankenfelde, the currently highest elevation of Berlin can be found, the Arkenberge. Originally, they represented a chain of smaller mounts as natural remnants of the Weichselian glacier. One of these mounts is especially conspicuous and is acually prepared to become accessible for people and forms with a height of 122 m over NHN the highest mountain of Berlin. It represents despite of its natural origin a rubble landfill site, which was formed beginning in 1984.
Adjacent to the Arkenberge, several wetland areas attract nature enthusiasts for hiking tours: the pond landscape „Schönerlinder Teiche“ (Brandenburg) and the lake Kiessee Arkenberge.

 

Mount Arkenberge with Kiessee Arkenberge, Berlin March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Mount Arkenberge, Berlin February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Eurasian blue tit at Schönerlinder Teiche (Wandlitz), February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Ponds Schönerlinder Teiche (Wandlitz, Brandenburg), February/ March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Lowland area of the stream Tegeler Fließ as remnants of the Weichselian glacier and adjacent calcareous tufa area

 

The stream Tegeler Fließ is a wetland nature site with a high biodiversity of plants and animals. It is surrounded by different types of bog meadows. The Tegeler Fließ lowland is also a result of the last glacier period.

The stream lowland is additionally adjacent to a calcareous tufa area, which is well visible from top of the Arkenberge. Calcareous springs and calcareous tufas created here calcareous rush- marshes with an interesting biodiversity of for example species of mosses and snails.

 

Lake Köppchensee as part of the Tegeler Fließ lowland, March 2019. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Video footage and photos

 

The footage was captured from localities around the village Lübars in the area of Lübarser Felder and additionally around Arkenberge. Some above mentioned nature sites are only visible in a distance.

 

Berlin, March 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Late winter insect life: winter aconite blossoms and dipteran visitors

When do the first insect activities in the new year occur? Can insects be active in winter, even in the presence of snow? The answer is generally yes, different insect species even use to appear on warmer winter days on top of snow layers. Examples are the limoniid crane fly Chionea belgica, a wingless dipteran, which can be observed on milder winter days on snow surfaces along forest edges in Central Europe. Also the fly Trichocera hiemalis belongs to the winter crane flies (Trichoceridae) and can be characterized by a very well developed cold resistance. It appears on sunny winter days between branches of leafless trees in swarms around invading sunlight beams.

 

The winter aconite as an early blooming flower and its biology

 

But what about insects, visiting blooming flowers? This requires the existance of early blossoms, which can grow and bloom under winter conditions. A well known example is the winter aconite Eranthis hyemalis, which outlasts the summer period only by its underground tubers. Their conspicuous yellow blossoms belong to the first blooming flowers in the year. In Central Europe, they begin to grow under suitable conditions in mid February. They require milder temperatures, but even persist in case an unusual cold snap would happen. The blossoms open only at sunshine and thus close shortly after sunset. Opening and closing is a growth process, which depends on temperature conditions. Such a phenomenon is called thermonasty.

 

The winter aconite as a neophyte in Germany

 

In Central Europe, such as in Germany, E. hyemalis is a neophyte. It is originally native to Southern European areas, Turkey, South-East-France, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The species was introduced to Central Europe (and North America) as ornamental plant for gardens. It is proven that it was in Germany already cultivated since the 16th century. The German botanist, nature researcher and medical doctor Joachim Camerarius reared the winter agonite, which he brought from Italy, since 1588 in his backyards.

 

Common pollinating insects

 

Pollinating insects of E. hyemalis are flies, bumblebees and bees. To reach the nectar inside the blossoms requires a proboscis length of about two mm, which is mostly given in bumblebees and bees.

 

Flowerbed in Berlin urban park Schillerpark

 

I documented via my videography (4K) and photography a smaller area of winter aconites in front of a wall at urban park „Schillerpark“ (honoring the German poet Friedrich Schiller) in Berlin. The bright bricks of that wall reflected efficiently the solar warmth and thus created suitable conditions for a late winter flowerbed full of life.

 

Video with winter aconite blossoms and pollunating flies, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth.

 

Most abundant insects in that winter aconite bed

 

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Western honey bee, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The western honey bee Apis mellifera was often seen on blossoms, but unfortunately was not captured via video footage. Our honey bee hibernates in a so called winter clusters with lower temperatures and low activities in workers. Beginning in late winter/ early spring, workers increase the nest temperature due to body movements up to 35°C. This is exactly the body temperature, workers need to fly out and collect first nectar and pollen, for example from the winter agonite.

 

Drone fly on blossom of the winter aconite, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The drone fly Eristalis tenax belongs to the hoverflies (Syrphidae). Their larvae develop in watery environments, where they use their conspicuous snorkel tube to breath air at the water surface. Adults are typical blossom visitors, preferring Asteraceae and Apiaceae. Interesting highlight of their biology is the migratory behavior. These migratory insects form swarms, which cross the Alpes towards Southern European areas by using suitable wind conditions, where they finally hibernate and reproduce. The next generation returns the same way back. Not all individuals participate these migratory flights and would try to hibernate in Central Europe. Hibernating individuals are always females, which were fertilized prior to their winter diapause or their migration and which lay their eggs in the subsequent spring or in southern regions during winter. In Germany they only survive in greater numbers in milder winters, which they persist in temperature-stable hideways, such as gaps inside walls or wooden habitats. These specimen can be usually observed early in the year, beginning with March, when visiting blooming flowers. Their numerous very early appearance in mid February 2019 might be due to a very warm summer 2018 and a subsequent very mild winter in north-eastern Germany (Berlin). I have no comparative findings regarding the usual blooming time of the winter aconite and the abundance of drone flies there for Berlin or even this specific urban park. I also don’t know about indications that due to a global warming, as in some migratory birds, less specimens of the fly would migrate and more stay to hibernate here around.

The research station „Randecker Maar“ in the Swabian Jura records changes in migratory flights of birds and insects. They discovered a distinct decline of numbers of migrating drone flies and interpret it as a result of the increasing application of poisonous substances in the agricultural sector. Whether they additionally consider this being due to more individuals hibernating, where they are, based on generally warmer temperatures (global warming) is unknown to me.

 

Blow fly on blossom of the winter aconite, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

The blow fly Calliphora vicina is a common blossom visitor in early spring and autumn. This fly, typically appearing in human settlements in Europe and the New World, is well adapted for an activity at lower temperatures (more than 13°C). While larvae develop in decomposing organic tissue (such as cadavers of animals), adults feed on nectar and pollen. They additionally incorprate saps from organic material with a strong odor.

C. vicina produces about five generation per year and throughout the year. The flies can even be active in winter, when temperatures reach a suitable level.

 

Other fly species were existant, but I did not determine them.

 

Time of footage and photo recording

 

Video footage and photos were recorded between 16 and 18 February 2019 in the urban park Schillerpark in Berlin.

 

Copyrights: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019.

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.

 

Months passing, but where has all the life gone?

I am standing in Berlin. The sky is a grey monotony. And while tiny waves gently wash around the little sandy beaches, tree skeletons surround the hidden bays on the Havel river. A semi-lucid vapor is covering the branchage of leafless treetops, already early in the afternoon. It is December in Berlin. The entire spectrum of bright summer colors is overlaid by muddy shades. Only larger groups of pine trees gleam in a greenish-black out of a giant cemetery of seemingly inanimate bodies of beeches, oaks, birches and maples. The cry of a heron in a far distance, but where has all the colorful and manifold life gone?

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote („Journey of the Magi“):

„A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year  For a journey, and such a long journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter…“

Shakespeare (1564-1616) on Sonnet  97:

„…What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen! What old December’s bareness everywhere!…“

Seeming emptyness of a Forest-waterside landscape in winter, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018. Please like my video also on Youtube, in case you really like it.

 

Bareness, emptyness, death, attributes being combined with winter since mankind exists. From the evolutionary point of view a serious problem that early humans  had to master. The seemingly emptyness was for them a very real lack of sources. They needed to prepare the winter time, food needed to be stored and protecting clothes to be stiched. There was no well organized international trade of goods, no fresh apples and pears in winter, no cheap winter jackets made in China. Winter meant to fear for the basic survival.

Today we live a different life, being independent from the seasons. Life today means for us to fear for the basic survival of our environment. What are the effects of a global climatic change? What the effects of our environmental pollution? What changes are independent from all that and just represent natural processess as they happened again and again since about 470 millions of years, when the first plants appeared on shore?

 

Most life does not disappear in winter, it just hibernates – alive!

 

The Berlin nature refuges around the forest Grunewald-terrain are interesting due to their complex mosaics of different habitats close to each other. Forest Grunewald in Berlin and the sandy beaches and bays along the Havel river offer space for lizards, an interstitial insect fauna, dry grassland visitors such as butterflies, wetland animals like frogs and newts, aquatic inhabitants like river lampreys, numerous bird species and inhabitants of wood in all kinds of decomposition stages such as bark beetles, longhorn beetles or hermit beetles.

 

Migration

 

Some animal inhabitants of the Grunewald/ Havel-area in summer migrate during the winter season, but most species stay. They hibernate and are even now in December still there.

 

Birds

 

Many birds show a strict migration behavior to avoid northern winters, others migrate in greater numbers, while some specimens stay, and some migrate only over smaller distances. Which of those migration behaviors is exactly performed by which bird species might depend on climatic conditions and is object of scientific research. NABU for example regularly starts projects, to which the general public can contribute with own observations. One of them takes place in early January and is named „Stunde der Wintervögel“ („the moment of winter birds“).

Common cranes Grus grus and greylag geese Anser anser normally migrate over bigger distances and numerous bigger routes towards southern winter refuges. Especially cranes are in summer for examples inhabitants of the Havelland Luch, thus prefer areas more western of Berlin. A trend was observed by ornithologists that more and more often, obviously corresponding with a global warming, troops of crane specimens stay instead of migrating southward.

Migration behavior of common cranes and greylag geese in Linum, autumn 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Female of the red-backed shrike in Berlin (Köppchensee). The bird is a typical long-distance migrating animal. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Butterflies

 

The red admiral butterfly Vanessa atalanta is known as a migrating insect. The „normal“ case is that migration from Southern Europe towards Central Europe is performed in spring. There, a summer generation develops and in autumn either tries to migrate back southward or to hibernate as adult butterfly, where it hatched, for example in Germany. But specimens mostly do not survive their tries to hibernate during our cold winters. This makes the admiral to a rare example of our summer-fauna, which over here partly indeed dies out before winter begins. The migration routes of populations throughout Europe is still topic of research. The migration behaviors seem to change corresponding to a global warming.

Admiral butterfly in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

River lamprey

 

Also the river lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis obligatory needs migrations over bigger distances. But these migrations do not correspond primarily with our cold seasons, but instead with the complexity of its life cycle. Larvae, which differ morphologically from adults, hatch in our freshwaters and develop as filter feeders within about three years, in which they  hibernate inside their aquatic freshwater habitats. They then migrate after a morphological metamorphosis towards the Sea. There they live as ectoparasites on fishes until they reach sexual maturity and then return into freshwater-rivers to reproduce and finally die. It is still subject of research, whether they return for their reproduction to the areas of their original larval development.

 

Hibernation

 

Sand lizard

 

The sand lizard Lacerta agilis  hibernates in hideaways, which are able to hold a temperature around 5°C. There they fall into winter numbness due to their unability to regulate their body temperature independently from the environment. Juveniles and adult genders start their hibernations  at different times.

Sand lizard juvenile, found in Berlin Grunewald/ Teufelsberg, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Frogs

 

Toads and frogs hibernate after finishing their metamorphosis, juvenile and mature specimens spent a diapause as a total numbness such as in lizards. Amphibians and lizards are poikilotherm, thus their body temperature corresponds to their environment (some monitor lizards Varanus were found to have physiological abilities for a limited self regulation of their temperature, which is an exception within the taxon big Squamata).

Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibundus, pool frog Pelophylax lessonae and edible frog Pelophylax kl. esculentus survive the cold season in hideaways, which maintain acceptable environmental temperatures. While pool and edible frog hibernate on land, the marsh frog spends its diapause in aquatic habitats. Skin respiration then plays an even more imortant role, which is why these frogs require a high availability of oxygene. The edible frog is even from the evolutionary point of interest, as it represents a hybride between two closely related species, namely marsh and pool frog. It is in many of its populations non reproductive with other hybrides and needs one of the parental species to reproduce. But interestingly triploid specimens of the edible frog sometimes develop in populations and bear the complete genomic information of one of the parental species. These edible frogs can reproduce with other hybrides They can be found throughout Berlin. Such specimens are difficult to be determined morphologically, as they resemble in their outer appearance either to the marsh or the pool frog.

 

Sand wasps

 

Insects hibernate in different developmental instars, if holometabolic, egg, larva, pupa and adults are options, if hemimetabilic eggs, nymphs or adults perform the winter diapause. Some insects can even hibernate in all of their developmental instars.

The quite common red-banded sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa for example is part of the insect interstitial fauna and does not practise brood care, but maternal care. Females built up several single nests up to 20 centimeters into the soil, each of them containing only one cell for the deposition of always one egg. As food supply they hunt caterpillars preferrably of Noctuidae, stun them with a sting and carry them to their nests, which will be closed with soil particles afterwards. The last brood hibernates as pupa or larva inside the nest.

Sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

 

Grasshoppers

 

The grasshopper Sphingonotus caerulans is a thermophilic species, which is a typical inhabitant of sandy areas in Southern Europe. It also appears in Berlin. Its eggs are deposited into deeper soil layers and hibernate there.

Grasshopper Sphingonotus caerulans, male, found in Berlin (Köppchensee). Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

terrestrial Isopods

 

The common woodlouse Oniscus asellus for example hibernates as nymph or mature adult in hideaways inside deeper soil layers, dead wood or compost. These terrestrial curustaceans become inactive, when colder temperatures appear. Specimens can live over several years (usually about two years).

An example for a woodlouse, in this case a mediterranean species of genus Porcellio, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Hibernating animal communities

 

Communities of different animal species often hibernate altogether. I focus here on inhabitants of micro habitats. Especially long living insect nests can bear greater numbers of cohabitants. But also deadwood or compost bear many different animal species side by side.

 

Ant nests

 

Nests of the red wood ant Formica rufa represent complex animal communities, as it is typical for ant nests generally. Besides ants and their brood noumerous nematode and mite species inhabit nest mounts of F. rufa. Additionally different larvae of other insect taxa can be members of the ant community, I even discovered the larvae of the green rose chafer sometimes inside red wood ant nests in the area of the Berlin forest Grunewald. Also several species of pseudoscorpions are known to science to be adapted for a survival in nests of F. rufa in Europe: commonly found are for example the species Allochernes wideri and Pselaphochernes scorpioides. Pseudoscorpion species of genus Allochernes are known to practice a dispersal strategy named phoresy. They use bigger and better motile insects as carriers and that way are transferred to new habitats. Besides ants, their suitable phoretic carriers seem to be dipterans. Also different mite and nematode taxa inside nests of the wood ant perform phoresy. A mite example is the species Histiostoma myrmicarum (Acariformes, Histiostomatidae), which seems to be carried by ants and eventually additionally also by other arthropodes.

The larva of the green rose chafer inside a nest of Formica rufa, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2011

Mite Histiostoma myrmicarum (Astigmata) collected from its hibernation habitat in the soil underneath an old oak in Berlin forest Grunewald, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2018

 

Formica rufa itself hibernates inside its nest in absence of eggs, larvae or pupae. Only the queen and workers remain during the cold season. Not much is known about other nest inhabitants. More research is needed.

Typical ant cohabitants (with Formica rufa) do not necessarily need to hibernate inside their ant nests. I collected deutonymphs of the mite Histiostoma myrmicarum in winter 2017/18 from soil (some centimeters deep) underneath an old oak in the absence of ants and their nest. The well scleotized deutonymph (phoretic dispersal juvenile stage) might represent the hibernation stage.

The advantage for organisms, living in ant nests, is a higher and constant temperature due to the ant worker’s nest-care-activities. Additionally the defensive behaviors of ants offer protection for those organisms being adapted (based on evolution) to survive inside ant nests.

Due to suitable temperatures, many organisms inside nests of the red wood ant might stay even active in winter. Interactions between ant nest-cohabitants can be very complex. An example is the Alcon large blue butterfly Phengaris alcon, being adapted to other ant species: Myrmica rudinodis and M. rubra. The caterpillar resembles an ant worker due to the morphology of its cuticle and the production of ant-similar pheromones. Ant workers fail for this imitation, carry the caterpillar into their nests and feed it. The butterfly’s larva hibernates inside the ant nest as larva, molts into pupa in the subsequent spring season and finally leaves the nest as adult butterfly. Still inside the ant nest, the caterpillar can become a victim of the parasitic wasp Ichneumon eumerus. Its female invades the ant nest, only after recognizing that caterpillars of the blue butterfly are indeed inside. It then confuses the antworkers due to the release of different chemicals and then attaches its eggs to the caterpillar. The wasp’s larva hibernates there and molts into its pupa inside the host’s pupa. The adult wasp afterwards leaves the ant nest.

Phoretic mites of the taxon Astigmata inside a nest of Myrmica rudinodis, found on island Usedom, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Bark beetle galleries

 

Numerous mite and nematode species live inside the galleries of bark beetles. Such a complex fauna is known for many bark beetle species. Additionally the larvae of different other insects can be cohabitants. Depending on the species, they can perform all kinds of life-strategies: being predators of adult bark beetles or their offspring or of other gallery cohabitants, they can also be microorganism feeders and prefer the bark beetle galleries due to its ideal warmth-isolation or due to the specific micro-climate that is created there by the activities of all different inhabitant activities. Besides animals, also fungi and bacteria contribute to that climate.

Bark beetle Hylurgops ligniperda and phoretic mites, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Wood associated nematode Diplogaster sp. found in the tree fungus Laetiporus sulphureus in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Mite deutonymphs of the Histiostomatidae mites inside the galleries of the bark beetle Tomicus destruens in Italy, Vesuvio National Forest, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2016

Bark beetle Ips typographus with some of its gallery-cohabitants, such as phoretic mites, found in SW-Germany (Saarland), copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2015

 

Furthermore the composition of species in a bark beetle gallery changes with an increasing age of a gallery. Secondary infections are often performed by other wood parasiting beetles, after the bark beetle brood finished its development and left the gallery. A secondary parasitism can for example be performed by longhorned beetles.

The bark beetle Dendroctonus micans for example infests several conifer species: Picea, Abies, Larix and Pinus. This bark beetle can hibernate in all its instars: eggs, larvae or adults. Adults can in spring sometimes be found in specific hibernation-chambers. In a research project with russian collegues, I isolated beetles of that species in the early spring season in Siberia (Russia) out of such a chamber on Pinus silvestris. Adjacent to attached substrate particles, I found nymphal stages of the phoretic mite Bonomoia opuniae, a species of the Histiostomatidae (Astigmata), which was even new to science at that time. I described this species, which I so far only know from those siberian samples. It is still unknown, whether it also appears in Central Europe.

The nymphal stages (protonymphs and tritonymphs) of that mite species might represent the hibernating instars. They were not fallen into a numbness after the collection and even remained active in a refrigerator, where my samples were stored subsequently for a while. I doubt that the mite in winter can pass through different generations as it would happen in a warmer climate, because the found mite nymphs appeared -also active- still rather weak in their cold environment. Thus I assume these nymphs to hibernate throughout the winter season. But there is still much research missing about the ecology/biology of bark inhabiting mites.

Adult beetles of Dendroctonus micans with deutonymphs of Bonomoia sibirica, Tyumen/ Siberia, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2017

 

 

Berlin, December 2018. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

 

 

 

 

Phoretic Mites waiting on Ant Pupae

Greater numbers of pupae from a nest of the myrmecine ant Myrmica rudinodis are attached by phoretic mites, which wait for these pupae to hatch. They would then attach the newly developed ants to be carried around and dispersed this way. They this way had already occupied their later ants before, namely during their pupal stage, one could call this phenomen „pupa-guarding“. In my samples, I discovered two species of mites performing this pupa guarding behavior. Most abundant were deutonymphs of the mite Forcellinia wasmanni (Astigmata). But also individuals of a mite species of the Gamasina were repeatedly discovered sitting on pupae, where they were hiding between head, ventrum and limbs of the pupa. They even seemed to defend their pupae, when they felt disturbed, e.g. by my filming activities.

 

Ant pupa guarding by mitees, looking for a carrier for dispersal

 

These pupa guarding-findings concerning this ant and with these corresponding mite species might be new to science (so far I didn’t found literature indications) and thus need to be studied closer in the future in order to understand the whole context of behaviors. In the footage, two types of pupae are visible, pupae of the winged alates and those of workers. Mites generally prefered both, but especially the deutonymphs of Forcellinia wasmanni seemed to appear more often on the pupae of later workers. Most pupae had at least one deutonymph attached, rarely, there were found up to four individuals. This is different to what could be found on older workers. They on their ventral side can have 4-6 deutonymphs. Many workers seem to be covered with the deutonymphs, but I didn’t check more workers until now, so I can’t say, how many were without mites. It is unknown, how deutonymphs come to the pupae, whether they simply leave older workers for the pupa-guarding or whether they were waiting in the soil for the pupae to arrive (due to the brood caring activitoes of the ants).

Mite-Life inside an ant nest. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2015/18

 

Astigmatid mite with a strict relationship to ants

 

The mite Forcellinia wasmanni is known to be strictly associated with ants (e.g. Türk & Türk 1957). It is clear that attaching young female alates would secure the dispersial of the mite into a new ant nest. It is not clear, which function the transport via ant workers can have. But Türk & Türk (1957) mention that the free living instars of Forcellinia wasmanni would feed on dead ants. Such a kind of microhabitat for the development is not unique in astigmatid mites. Some species within the Astigmata are known to have such preferences for decaying cadavers, but are then feeding on microorganisms, which grow on these (insect) cadavers. Ant workers might be ideal to carry mite deutonymphs to new cadavers, where they would leave and develop. Ants generally have a very well developed hygienic behavior. This guarantees the mites to get access to cadavers regularly. I do not know any other video footage, showing living deutonymphs attached to their carriers on such a magnification level as visible in this film. The original footage of these deutonymphs is much longer.

 

Morphology and behavior of the dislersal-instar, the so called „deutonymph“

 

The function of the proterosoma (dorsal shield of the forebody) is acting as a flexible structure, protecting the mouthpart-area (non-functional in deutonymphs) and the fore-legs, but being very motile and being easily pushed backwards (under the following hyterosoma-shield), when the mite lifts up from the surface of the ant pupa. I cannot state much more concerning the second mite, found on pupae, which is a species of the Gamasina. I discovered this phenomenon only on three of my pupae. Ant nests represent complex communities of organisms, to which fungae, other insects, mites and nematodes can belong. The samples visible in this film were collected in July 2015 on the German island Usedom inside a forest area between the villages Zinnowitz and Karlshagen. The ant nest was quite small. An ant hill was not visible.

 

Complexity of life in ant nests

 

The complexity of life within ant nests is a result of evolution. I am an enemy of creationistic movements, including all modern faces of creationism. Creationism stimulates carelessness und illiteracy in the believing people.

 

 

Berlin August 2015/ December 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Berlin Forest Grunewald and River Havel-Waterside

River Havel

 

The river Havel has its source in the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau and after 94 km flows in the area of the border between the federal states Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt into the big river Elbe.

Havel runs besides the already mentioned states Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt also through Berlin, the capital city of Germany. On its way, the river passes several bigger and smaller lakes, which serve as water reservoirs, even in hot summers, in which many german rivers and lakes from low water levels.

In its most parts, Havel is navigable, and weirs and locks regulate water levels and water supply.

Historically, Havel since at least 928 of our Western calculation played importent roles as natural border and water route. Through the middle ages up to times of the GDR wetlands as important ecosystems were stepwise drained. In more recent times the protection of unique nature refuges is proceeding. In 2004 for example, the Naturfreunde Deutschlands and the German Fishing Federation elected the Havel area as River Landscape of the year.

In 2005 the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the Nature Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU began the land restoration to create refuges for rare bird species , beaver, river lamprey, otters and other animals and plants.

The footage of my video was captured close to the bathing beach area „Lieper Bucht“. Visible are the Havel islands Lindwerder and Schwanenwerder as well as edges of the forest area „Düppeler Forst“.

River Havel and Forest Grunewald in Berlin, quadcopter footage. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, December 2018. Please like my video also on youtube, in case you like it.

 

Forest Grunewald

 

Adjacent to the Lieper-Bucht area, the huge urban forest Grunewald extends over 3000 hectare between the Berlin districts Charlottenburg and Zehlendorf.

It was elected as Forest Area of the Year by the Union of German Foresters in 2015. The Grunewald ecologically has a specific mosaic of ecosystems: heathlands, neglected grasslands, dunes, dandpits and marshlands. They all bear a remarkable biodiversity of rare animal and plant species.

Geomorphologically the Grunewald area was formed by galcio-fluvial processess during the Weichselian glaciation , which endet about 11600 years ago. Glacio-fluvial sands cobver the area in layers up to 20 meters and more.

The footage of my video also shows the so called Grunewald Tower. The memorial for the German Emperor  William I was planned in 1897 and finally built up by the architect Franz Schechten. The tower was finally inaugurated in 1899 and renovated between 2007 and 2011.

The footage was captured with a DJI Mavic pro quadcopter in mid December 2018.

 

 

Berlin, December 2018. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Male and female of Histiostoma sachsi and unsuccessful mating with a „stranger“

Mites of the Acariformes vary in very different forms and life-strategies. One taxon of very tiny and soft-skinned mites is named Astigmata. Within them the familiy Histiostomatidae is especially rich of species, most of them surely not yet described or discovered.

 

Modyfied mouthparts and a specific mode of dispersal

 

These mites feed on microorganisms using a complex mouthpart-apparatus with multifunctional abilities. They can be found in habitats, which dry out quickly. When it’s getting too dry, a specific instar of the mites takes a ride on insects or other bigger arthropods for dispersal to a new and fresh habitat ( strategy called Phoresy).

Histiostoma sachsi is one of numerous (often closely related) long haired (in females) species. It was originally in 1957 described from cattle-dung. I found it in compost.

 

Long upper-setation in females and tactile camouflage (mimesis)

 

Adult females are characterized by a long setation on their uppersides. They use them to hold parts of the old nymphal cuticle and soil particles on their backs. This seems to be due to a strategy named mimesis or camouflage. It’s a tactile camouflage as an optical sense in this kind of microhabitats plays almost no role.

 

Normal and unusual copulation position, trial of an interspecific copulation

 

Males mate their females via a dorsal copulation opening and thus need to ride on them. In H. sachsi, that copulation opening is located very close to the hind-edge of the body. That way it is even despite of the camouflage cover accessible. It seems even slightly being elevated out of the body surface in order to surmount adjacent soil particles. This is an adaptation of this particular species. It might share such morphological characters only with very closely related (not yet described) species In other members of genus Histiostoma, the copulation opening is usually more centered related to the hind body.

The copulation position requires that males insert their aedeagus („penis“) into the copulation opening. They additionally use their legs to grasp into the females body. That kind of leg arrangement and thus the whole copulation position can differ from species to species.

This is why copulations between members of different species already fail, because the right copulation setting does not fit, nor does the shape of the aedeagous. Nevertheless the phenomenon of unsuccessful trials for interspecific copulations can sometimes be observed in laboratory cultures. Such a trial is also visible in this video, where a male of Histiostoma feroniarum (also appears in my compost samples regularly) tries to mate a female of H. sachsi. It cannot even almost get in a proper copulation position and seems to hold on to the dorsal camouflage cover of the female. it could only remain in a transverse position related to the female body and thus not get access to the copulation opening, normal would be a longitudinal position with the sameame orientation of female and male.

Adult mites of the family Histiostomatidae (Astigmata) and a „false“ copulation. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin December 2018. Please like my video also at Youtube, in case you like it.

 

Chemical communication and chemo-sensitive leg setation

 

Mites of the Astigmata communicate and find their general orientation due to chemo-sensitive setae, mostly on legs I and II, which are named solenidia. They are even on the magnification level of my footage well visible on the male’s legs. Although a direct body contact is not necessary for a innerspecific communication by chemically interpreting scents produced from mite glands, the observed male in my video repeatedly was seeking for intense body-contacts and obviously „observed“ his conspecific while doing so with its first two legs. This might have intensified the perception of pheromones.

It showed this behavior also, when passing by the „false copulation-pair“ described above. It additionally seemed to invest power in its leg movements as if it would try to remove the „competitor“ on the female, in this case even belonging to another species.

 

Competitive fights between males

 

That mites of the Histiostomatidae can use their strongly sclerotized first legs to fight under each other for an access to a female is known to me from my older observations about the species Histiostoma palustre and Histiostoma feroniarum.

 

Origin of the compost samples

 

The compost samples were collected in SW-Germany (Saarland in October 2018). The footage was recorded in December 2018 in Berlin.

 

Berlin December 2018, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth