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Germany on the way from a part-lockdown to a full-lockdown?

Leaders of the German national subsidiaries and the federal government, above all the chancellor Merkel, ask for stricter contact limitations. Although the current conditions in form of a part-lockdown as reaction to increasing numbers of covid-19-infections throughout Germany restrict numbers of people, who are allowed to meet up inside or outside as well as the numbers of households, to which they belong, already remarkably. All public places for socializing and cultural activities are closed, also sport clubs, public swimming trainings or outdoor sport activities in greater groups are impossible. That means, bars, cafés, restaurants are closed. Theaters and opera houses as well. Especially „smaller“ stage artists suffer existentially.

Only the german football (soccer) is still omni-present in the news reports. I don’t know why. Seemingly their games can happen under limited circumstances. I am not interested in football at all. It is also not football, which is since the beginning of the human evolution a major fundament of our societies, it’s art. Art is not only creativity, it also stands for legal criticism against all aspects of social and political interactions. Thus something important is missing. And private life? It is already in the recent part-lockdown harmed in a way, that acts against the human biology as social primates. Not only old people in retirement homes live almost under conditions of a dentation centre, also single-persons of all ages, living in smaller apartments, need to tolerate loneliness. The Homo sapiens is a social species, too much isolation can cause longtime-damages, emotionally, psychologically, in case of older people even physically. Not to forget those citizens without any kind of home. The many homeless people, especially in Berlin, are very sensible victims of recent restrictions. Are all these risks, the Germans actually are exposed to, worth to happen? I think yes, they are, if it is for a limited time and under circumstances, which do not cause more damages than the virus infections themselves. It is fact that the new corona virus can be harmful to people of all ages, especially when there are significant medical histories existing. But as all these sanctions represent limitations of our basic laws, it is important that all these limitations are reversed when the pandemic is over.

Critical questions are allowed. They are also important and necessary. And you even do not need to be a believer of modern religious movements like Qanon. I for example ask for the relevance of indirect contacts between individuals for the still too high infection numbers. When I see super markets, forcing their clients to use shopping baskets or trolleys without employees existing, who desinfect each of them before and after use, then I hear the virus clapping amused its non existing hands: „We couldn’t get you so far? Here we are, left behind from hundreds of people per day, who touched this basket or this trolley before!“ Are such contra- productive rules necessary, even when the argument is that baskets and cars force a proper distance between customers? Also in U-Bahn cars (subway etc.), trams or busses, an indirect virus transfer between passengers needs to be much better prevented . Shouldn’t it be possible to employ people, who permanently walk through the cars and desinfect seats and handrails whenever possible?

As a natural scientist and active researcher as well as reviewer for scientific journals I know that statistics generally bear many reasons for critical questions. It can easily happen that submitted natural-scientific papers in peer-review journals are rejected by the reviewers based on doubtful or insufficient or even wrong statistical methods. We read or hear in the news permanently about growing incidence numbers. Many people might think that these are given facts, about which questions or critical remarks are not appropriate or necessary. Based on the limited informations via the popular media, the following questions are very sure and from a scientific point of view of interest: How many people of a specific region, for example a district of Berlin, were tested and how many were not? In case of higher numbers of non-tested citizens, statistical means need to be used in order to extrapolate to the whole population of the corresponding region. It is important that a statistical variance within the tested people is guaranteed. There would for example be a lack of a sufficient variance, if it came out that specific genders or specific occupational groups had more reasons or even forces to participate test procedures than others. Statistical tests always have a defined probability of errors. But more and illegitime errors can for examples be added, when research institutions need to provide a defined high number of data in a defined period of time, especially when the procedure is well paid and „success“ thus economically important. According to my knowledge and experiences, scientific studies can only be finished, when they are finished. Evaluations in defined time periods with defined numbers of sample sizes are prone to error. I know from commercial institutions for market and opinion research that the time pressure is often or sometimes used for the disadvantage of a sufficient variation of test persons. Some facilitate their work by contacting such people for phone interviews, who’s telephone numbers were part of a commercial phone number trading. That means they buy existing phone numbers instead of generating them via a random number generator. Additionally/ or they facilitate statistical methods, which were developed to guarantee a variation of test persons. An example is the „Geburtstagsschlüssel (birthday key)“, which requires from the interviewer to strictly only talk to that person of a household, who was the last to have birthday or alternatively will be the next to celebrate it. If that person, so the rules, is not available, the interview cannot happen. Based on economic interests of the institutions and the time pressure, facilitated versions of the „birthday-key“ are sometimes used. Such as: asking for the birthday person in the household, and if the person is not available interviewing everybody available instead, or even leaving the birthday key completely out. Results of such „manipulated“ evaluations can be representative nevertheless. But they also might not be representative at all. There exist examples for extrapolations of upcoming electoral successes, being far removed from the real situations. What does all this have to do with evaluations about covid-19-infection numbers? I hope that independent sources regularly control the responsible research institutions regarding the proper use of statistical methods even under time pressure conditions.

In case it is made sure that indeed bars, restaurants, theaters and opera houses and not indirect contaminations elsewhere or statistical errors or manipulations cause the permanently high numbers of new infections everywhere in Germany, a total lockdown will be unavoidable. The German government and the federal state representatives will come together for further deliberations still before Christmas. This was announced in the news today. It is important that the decision for stricter measures need to take those groups of the German population under consideration, which might physically, psychologically or financially too much harmed by a full-lockdown over a longer period of time. It furthermore needs to be excluded that participating politicians have other motivations than protecting us from a pandemic virus, such as lust for power, interest in totalitarian experiments or a total lack of empathy.

Berlin, 08.12.2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Linyphiid spider visits much bigger snail and bites into mucus

During a photo shooting with a specimen of the snail Arianta arbustorum in an evening outdoors in urban park Rehberge in Berlin with artificial light from an extra lamp and camera LED light, a tiny spider of Linyphiidae (seemingly Bolyphantes sp., may be still a juvenile) appeared unexpectedly and walked seemingly targeted to the snail’s head, which was partly retracted into its shell, and stayed there for about 3 minutes, biting repeatedly into the snail’s mucus and remained subsequently each time for seconds in that position. In between it skillfully and repeatedly rearranged the positions of its legs, presumably to be not in danger to remain stuck.

While doing so, it sometimes lifted legs, when not needed, in the air, may be to reduce that way the probability to remain stuck. After about 3 minutes the spider left its position around the snail-head mucus and walked partly sidewards to the top of the shell, where it carefully cleaned its legs from remaining mucus. Due to the difficult light conditions and the unexpected spider visit, I was in this short time unable to move the camera closer to the spider (would have been technically possible, when more time and more light). Thus-close-ups with a high magnification in my video were only due to digital magnifications out of the original 4K footage. Only one biting action could be clearly documented as video file. The same short scene is in my video three times repeated to exemplify that behavior.

Spider visiting a snail, in order to incorporate mucus? Berlin May 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

The last repetition is additionally modified into slow motion. There was furthermore no video footage of legs adjusted in the air. Thus the corresponding short scene is one of numerous photos, which I captured before filming. It is unknown to me, what the purpose of the spider’s behavior was. I also did so far not find any scientific publication mentioning tiny spiders visiting much bigger snails on purpose. It looked to me as if the spider would incorporate mucus or moisture or other components excreted by the snail. I do not know, whether such a spider behavior happens regularly or at least occasionally, as I only have this one observation. I would exclude the possibility that the spider was disturbed by my photo activities in its web may be in the adjacent meadow, tried to flee and accidentally landed on the snail and just observed this unusual surrounding with its mouthparts. All looked too much like a targeted behavior with even specific behavioral adaptations. There is generally not much known about spider and snail interactions. The scientists Nyffeler and Symondson (Bern, Switzerland) published in 2001 about malacophagy in the sense of gastropod feeding by spiders (Ecological Entomology 26). But that paper deals about bigger and even big spiders feeding on snails of adequate size, which is unlike the size relations in my observed case.

It is not trivial for a spider to incorporate anything from snail mucus, as this very sticky slime acts besides other functions as defense mechanism for the gastropod. In that context the above mentioned authors cite Tretzel (1961) by mentioning that mucus production of gastropods seems to have no deterring effect on some spiders. The question then is the efficiency of spider enzymes against snail tissue, a topic, about which I did not do more literature research. According to the above mentioned authors, moisture can in malacophagous spiders be an important factor, as gastropod bodies consist to a high percentage of water. They refer to Lain (1982), who published about New Zealand mygalomorph spiders. In the case of my observation it would eventually be of interest, referring to the context above, that also gastropod mucus contains a high water percentage. More observations such as mine would be needed to find out, whether the behavior of the linyphiid spider on a much bigger slug is a specific behavior or not.

Berlin, May-November 2020, urban park Rehberge, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Der Doktortitel der Franziska Giffey/ the doctoral degree of Franziska Giffey (SPD)

On purpose falsifications of doctoral theses are unfortunately quite common in the world of German leading politicians (SPD and CDU). They either performed plagiarisms or other illegal methods to be honored with an undeserved academic title in order to push their later political careers. Since years online communities check doctor-theses of celebrities and often discovered inconsistencies or plagiarisms. Many titles subsequently were denied.

A recent case is the federal minister of family affairs Franziska Giffey (SPD). She already longer time ago was discovered having too many citations without labellings in her thesis. The responsible university, FU Berlin, reacted with a reprimand. As groups thought this not being sufficient, the university announced to start a new examination procedure, of course with a risk for Giffey to loose her title. She seemingly (my own interpretation) tries now to stop or influence that procedure by officially stating that she would renounce any further use of her title forever. According to my knowledge this is academically no solution. One has a doctoral title or one doesn’t. Thus the procedure by the university needs to be continued.

I think it’s a wrong opinion that illegal methods in academic times would not at all affect the later politician career. According to my conviction, a criminal instinct is necessary to falsify that document, for which other invest much life energy. These remarkable numbers of illegally received doctor titles in politicians from CDU/CSU and SPD additionally reduce the reputation and worth of legal doctoral theses of other academics. The willingness to falsify indicates a character issue that I think also effects the recent politician work of the corresponding persons remarkably. If Mrs. Giffey looses her doctoral degree, I would recommend her to step down from her political position immediately.

Gefälschte oder abgekupferte Doktortitel sind unter Politikern der SPD und CDU/ CSU nur allzu häufig geworden. Zahlreiche höher rangige Politiker bewiesen bereits in ihrer akademischen Zeit eine beachtliche Bereitschaft zur Fälschung, was ich mir nur durch ausgeprägte Skrupellosigkeit, ja sogar einen gewissen kriminellen Instinkt erklären kann. Während andere beachtliche Lebensenergie in ihre Doktorarbeiten investieren, wird er woanders mit illegitimen Mitteln, ja illegalen Mitteln, geradezu unaufwendig abgeerntet. Das beflügelt die spätere politische Karriere, aber zeigt auch, mit was für einer Person welcher moralischer Festigung man es zu tun hat.

Ein solcher Fall ist möglicher Weise Familienministerin Franziska Giffey. Der Plagiatvorwurf ist schon etwas älter, wie auch die Reaktion der zuständigen Universität, FU Berlin, die nach Überprüfung damals lediglich mit einer Rüge reagierte. Diese Vorgehensweise ist nun in Kritik geraten, weswegen die Universität ein neuerliches Prüfungsverfahren angekündigt hat. Heute lässt die Ministerin wissen, sie verzichte freiwillig auf die künftige Verwendung ihres Doktortitels. Ist dies ein Versuch, das Verfahren der FU, das mit gewisser Wahrscheinichkeit zu einer Aberkennung führt, zu stoppen oder zu beeinflussen? Es geht nicht um Versprechungen zur Nutzung des Titels, es geht darum, ob man ihn hat oder nicht. Das Verfahren muss daher fortgesetzt werden. Im Falle einer Aberkennung wünsche ich mir einen Rücktritt der Politikerin von allen politischen Ämtern. Es ist aus meiner Sicht nämlich nicht wahr, dass die Skrupellosigkeit gepaart mit möglicher Weise kriminellem Instinkt während der Dissertation zu trennen ist von der Persönlichkeit im späteren politischen Amt. Was soll da der trennende Faktor sein? Wenn man die Erfahrung gemacht hat, durch Betrug zum Erfolg zu gelangen, warum sollte die betroffene Person plötzlich ehrbar, glaubwürdig und legal sowie mit moralischen Werten in ihrem politischen Amt agieren?

Doctoral certification from a university in Berlin, Promotionszeugnis einer Berliner Universität (Symbolbild)

Berlin, November 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Meine Odyssee für Marco Polo Film/ My Odyssey for Marco Polo Film

It happened unexpectedly, when in 2019 suddenly a female employee from the German documentary film company „Marco Polo Film“ contacted me. She let me know that they saw one of my YouTube videos and that they would be interested in a cooperation with me. It later came out that they intended to produce a documentary film series with four episodes about Italy. And they asked me to record video footage in 4 K standard of native Northern or Central Italian macro fauna. I agreed, and a journey to Italy began, which I mostly funded by myself. Where exactly to find the required species or taxa in a country, in which climbers can easily fall into the deep? I stepwise will publish here paragraphs about that interesting and adventurous trip.

Unerwartet meldete sich plötzlich im Jahre 2019 eine Mitarbeiterin des Dokumentarfilm-Unternehmens Marco Polo Film. Sie teilte mir mit, man habe eines meiner Youtube-Videos gesehen und sei an einer Kooperation interessiert. Später zeigte sich, dass geplant war, eine vierteilige Dokumentarfilm-Serie über Italien zu produzieren. hierzu wurde ich angefragt, Macro-video-Footage italienischer klein-Organismen zu fimen. Ich stimmte zu, und eine reise nach Italien begann, die ich hauptschlich selbst finanziert habe. Wo würden die gewünschten Arten oder Taxa exakt zu finden sein, immerhin in einer region, in der schon mancher bei gewagten Kletter-Manövern in die Tiefe gefallen ist? Ich werde hier schrittweise Abschnitte publizieren, die diese spannende und abenteuerliche Reise schildern sollen.

Video about Central Italian scorpions from 2013. I for my new footage of course used more professional equipment and filmed in the 4k standards. Ein Video aus 2013. Natürlich habe ich in meinen neuen Aufnahmen professionelleres Equipment und den 4K-Standard verwendet. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2013 and 2020

The project required a mixture of my biological skills and my experienced feeling for small animal species, which are suitable objects for a nature tv-documentary. Also my knowledge about a specific Italian area was of importance. Thus I offered them to visit the Gulf of Naples, which I use to visit regularly and where I already was involved in several research projects.

(Das Projekt setzte eine Mischung aus biologischer Kompetenz und meiner filmischen Erfahrung, für Filmshootings geeignete Kleinlebewesen zu erkennen, voraus. Auch meine Kenntnis der gesamten italienischen Region war wichtige Grundlage. Ich empfahl daher, den Golf von Neapel zwecks der Sammlung von Filmobjekten zu besuchen, da ich das Gebiet regelmäßig bereise und dort bereits in mehrere Forschungsprojekte involviert war.)

The documentary team especially asked for Italian scorpions in order to create video footage of their interesting reproductive behaviors. I furthermore was asked to collect different other macro-organisms, which needed to represent species, which can commonly be found in Northern and central Italy. I was free to decide for organisms of a suitable size (macro videography) and suitable interesting behaviors.

(Das Dokumentarfilm-Team bat mich insbesondere, in Italien beheimatete Skorpione aufzufinden, um deren interessantes Reproduktionsverhalten filmisch dokumentieren zu können. Ich war allerdings auch dafür verantwortlich, verschiedene andere Tierarten nach filmischer Eignung auszusuchen und ausfindig zu machen. Sie sollten für Nord- und Mittelitalien typisch sein. Beruhend auf meiner Expertise war ich also frei, festzulegen, welche Arten hinsichtlich ihres Verhaltens und ihrer Größe für Macro-Shootings gut geeignet sind.)

The Gulf of Naples is a greater bay, extending between Naples, the capital of the Region Campania, and the city Sorrento. It’s climate is generally characterized by typical Mediterranean conditions. In detail, there is a mosaic of very different ecological zones: rocky beaches, mountain ranges, forest areas and sclerophylls. Typical rock formations consist of limestone and lava rocks. Based on the mountainous character of the entire gulf region and due to the chemical composition of the corresponding rocks, the formation of caves is very common. Some are accessible, others are hidden under soil layers and vegetation. They bear a high risk for wanderers and climbers to break down with a potential of serious injuries.

(Der Golf von Neapel ist eine größere Bucht in Mittelitalien. Der durch mich bereiste Teil erstreckt sich von Neapel (der Landeshautstadt Kampaniens) bis zur sorrentinischen Halbinsel mit der Stadt Sorrent. Grundsätzlich ist das Gesamtklima durch typische mediterrane Bedingungen gekennzeichnet. Im Detail jedoch trifft man auf ein Mosaik verschiedener ökologischer Zonen: Felsstrände, Gebirgszüge, Waldgebiete und Gebiete mit Hartlaubvegetation. Das typische Felsgestein besteht hauptsächlich aus Kalk oder Lava. Aufgrund des gebirgigen Charakters der gesamten Golfregion und einhergehend mit den chemischen Eigenschaften der Gesteine ist die Bildung größerer und kleinerer Höhlen ein häufiges Phänomen. Manche sind begehbar und sogar für den Tourismus eröffnet, andere verbergen sich versteckt unter Bodensubstrat und Vegetation. Sie bergen ein hohes Risiko für Wanderer und Kletterer, abzustürzen und sich erheblich zu verletzen.)

Gulf of Naples, film from 2012, Golf von Neapel, Film aus dem Jahre 2012. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2012-2020.

Especially the Peninsula of Sorrento is covered by a row of mountains extending along the coast of Amalfi up to the city Salerno. Monti Lattari is the name of mountain ranges adjacent to Sorrento. But even much more conspicuous is the most famous Mount along the Gulf of Naples, the vulcano Mount Vesuvio. It is surrounded by a huge forest area, the protected Vesuvio National forest. Representing today rather more a mixed forest than a mono culture of pine trees (Pinus pinea), it originally was artificially planted as monoculture of P. pinea for economic reasons. But these plantations couldn’t compete with edible seeds from Spain or other Mediterranean countries. Thus the forest was allowed to grow wild, meanwhile representing an impressive nature refuge, including even endemic species, as for example a species of lichens.

Vor allem die sorrentinische Halbinsel zeichnet sich durch mittelhohe Gebirgszüge aus, die von dort entlang der Amalfi-Küste bis nach Salerno verlaufen. In Höhe der Stadt Sorrent ist sie durch die Monti Lattari representiert. Noch auffälliger ist freilich der bekannteste Berg am Golf von Neapel, der noch aktive Vulkan Vesuv. Er ist von einem großen Waldgebiet umschlossen, dem unter Schutz stehenden Vesuvio National Park. Obwohl er heute eher einen Mischwald darstellt, war das Areal ursprünglich mit Monokulturen der Schrmpinie Pinus pinea bepflanzt, und zwar aus ökonomischen Gesichtspunkten heraus. Allerdings konnte der Ertrag an Pinienkernen mit Pflanzungen aus Spanien und anderen Mittelmeer-Gebieten auf Dauer nicht konkurrieren. Und so hat man den Wald kontrolliert verwildern lassen, wodurch ein sehr beachtlches Natur-Refugium entstanden ist, das sogar endemische Arten beherbergt, zum Beispiel nur dort wachsende Flechten.

Seeds of Pinus pinea sprouting, keimende Pinienkerne in einfacher Fast-Motion, Berlin 2011-2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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.

 

Amsterdam_027

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

Personal aversion or competitor – common reasons for bullying

Bullying is a major weapon in modern times to eliminate competitors or people, which do not fit into the herd of other people or against whom somebody shows a personal aversion. Generally people with individualistic attitudes are endangered to become victims of bullying. The mechanism is often simple: As many people use to follow group dynamics and are open for dogmata, the ability for an independent enquiry is often limited. A „Don’t talk to that Person!“, means for streamlined people frequently „ok, I should not talk to that person“. Why? They don’t ask why.

As bullying is surely a still not fully recognized hidden violence that appears in all kinds of communities, unfortunately even in academic circles, I decided to point out this phenomenon herewith again.  Especially in my fields of fundamental research in systematics and evolutionary biology/ zoology, elbow mentalities are quite common. We need to learn to cooperate, especially when for example financial resources are limited, it’s about our future, and in cases of natural sciences it’s about the future of these sciences.

 

menschengemischt

Bullying can happen everywhere

 

All copyrights including photo: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin July 2020

Fox and Witch – a fable – Part II

Exhausted and with a missing right ear and with both hind legs broken, the fox very slowly crawled up to the top of the sandy hill on the other side of the restless and hissing little stream. He felt no pain and thought that the release of all his left power would be still enough to continue his way. The moonlight swished through the tiny bilberry bushes along the edges of a rounded forest clearing. Dewdrops mirrored the light, and the ground sparkled and glinted, when suddenly hundreds of male fireflies started their flights in the air. And while these living tiny stars formed up a very motile starry sky directly around the fox’s head, his brain refused its attentiveness. He closed his eyes and tried to listen to the sound of his forest, with one ear only. Silence, only an incidental rough nasty grunt of the old owl from far away, no wind and no other birds, neither singing nor fluttering around. The fox laid immovably on the ground, where the white, grainy and supple sand, still warm from the daily summer heat, smoothly cuddled his body. Two streams of ruby-colored blood meandered downward the hill. A third one filled up his closed eyeballs from outside and made them both resemble very tiny little ponds. From there they flowed off to the chalky sand, which drop by drop changed its color from wine red to ebony.

 

 Mushroom Man

 

He would only rest a little while and then continue his way, as this way was all he had, thus it needed to be continued in spite of his wounds. The fox’s front paws were strong, he knew they would bring him forward, step by step. But all of a sudden, he heard a fast rustle and crackles and a hoarse „hihihi“. And zap, a first ax blow, and zap, a second ax blow severed both of his hind legs.

 

 

P7250919a Kopie

 

 

„Hihihi, poor fox, you should have stayed, where you were, should have found a new way through another forest. You don’t belong here any more, hihihi, now see, what happened to you. You are dirty and full of parasites, you destroy the peaceful silence of our woods. You should have expected the woods beating back. Hihihi, but however I feel compassion with you, that’s how I am, my little heart is always filled up with too much sympathy. Hihi, your legs were both broken numerous times. You would have died by inflammations and blood poisoning….“. The fox opened his eyes and saw everything distorted and in red. His lungs lacked enough blood and thus he could scarcely breath. His tongue couldn’t form one word, and his whole body trembled, while his heart was beating irregularly and became louder and louder. Still no pain. „Good to know“, the fox thought, „that one can lose the ability to feel the pain“. And his eyeballs moved to all sides, searching for the mushroom man, whom they finally detected on top of an adjacent tree stump.

He was about as tall as the fox’s head, wore blue striped knee breeches and a wide green shirt with a yellowish necktie. His still young and reddish face lacked a dense beard growth, thus only some single grown long whiskers around his narrow mouth formed a fuzzy parody of a moustache and a goatee. His weird and curly brown protruding hair was intertwined with tiny withered leaves, while the upper part of his head covered by a flat, bulging and dried fruit body of a tree fungus as hat, almost hiding his crooked nose and his green narrow slit eyes. He giggled constantly, even when there was no reason at all to giggle. He giggled, because he considered generally all life a funny rhapsody. The fireflies dancing above his head. „Hihi,…“, he said, „this morning, I slew a too snoopy rat. I carefully eviscerated it, ate its tasty little heart and its vitamin-packed kidneys and draw off its fur, which I sew together into two elegant booties. I twirled its intestines to yarn, should be dried meanwhile, hihihi, …oh, you urgently need my treatment, can you hear me?“ The fox could only sigh, and saw the tiny man, stretching out his narrow chest, and standing there in his new hairy booties with his legs apart, seemingly hoping to appear that way much bigger than he was. „Hihihi,.. I’ll quickly pick up the yarn to suture your wounds, as I don’t want to see you bleed to death..“. And he disappeared, hectically hopping from one tree stump to the other, by keeping his balance with his extended skinny arms and his delicate slender fingers of both hands, alternately moving up and down.

The fox’s body was laying in a lake of blood and slowly attracted swarms of carrion flies, which he never saw flying at night, flying without any noise, no humming and no mumbling, it never was so silent in the fox’s life before. The moon had left the forest clearing, it became darker, and even the fireflies vanished without any trace from the scenery, instead only these legions of blackish carrion flies, buzzing around his head, without producing any noises, like an army of zombie souls of former flies, which already had died decades ago. The fox suddenly felt a short draught, then both of his thighbones were quickly grabbed and sewed up with the surrounding drooping lobes of meet. „Hihi, my old friend is saved, he won’t lose more blood, he will lick his wounds and survive. And see, I connected two small wooden wheels to each of your stumps“. And the mushroom man jumped with a nimble motion on the fox’s neck, with his tiny rat boots frenetically knocking against his bloody shoulders. „Hop, hop, hihi,..“, he said, „get up, trust in my navigation, stretch your shoulders, lift up your body, hihihi“. And the fox, feeling at least as dead as the clouds of zombie flies around him, tried his best to send signals via the neurons from his brain directly to both of his collapsed heart sacs and ordered them to beat. And, a miracle, they first twitched alternatingly, and then contracted faster and faster, bump, bump, bump, and the fox began to pant for oxygen, until the muscles of his forelegs received enough energy to finally and successfully fulfill their service. „hihi, yeah, walk like a fox, hihihi, one step after the other. You are doing it right, my friend, so right…“. And the fox walked forward, still slowly, but with his head courageously raised, while his hind body followed on squeaky wheels.

He left a lake of coagulating blood behind, at which all zombie flies lunged in their erroneous assumption to find dead meat underneath, where they could deposit their undead eggs. „Hihihi, well done, fox, now try to follow your path once again and then never come back. There is no space for foxes in this forest any more. I mean, all we inhabitants of these woods will always honor the good memory of you. But all kinds of external effects harmed our woods: the weather, the climate, the decrease of our species and the dispersal of foreign species from far away into our land, all these things have changed our habitat forever. It became dangerous for foxes, and we all became sensitive for their ticks, we all suffer from their diseases as never before, hihi“. With a slight jerk the fox threw his rider off. And with sticky blood around his tongue, he gurgled: „Do I have to be grateful to you now?“. And the mushroom man answered: „All I ever did was due to selflessness. Get well soon again. Your strong shoulders will always carry you. And I promise you that I will regularly send you a new set of handmade wheels to your foxhole, hihihi, there is only one thing I want to ask you for: You know that I am a passionate collector, hihi, leave me your hind legs, you don’t need them any more; hihi, I will prepare them to persist for hundreds of years; Future generations will study these of your remnants, and they will recognize that you once were a member of our community. Hihihi.“ And the fox, who now suddenly began to feel his pain all over his body, tried to respond, but a new surge of blood from his missing ear came into his mouth, and thus his answer was only a suffocated noise: „mpfff“. The mushroom man took the fox’s broken legs, which he had already covered with a blanket to repel the ghost flies, and nimbly disappeared without saying any other word.

 

Old Owl

 

The fox followed his path for a while with squeaking and rattling wheels. And always, when he felt exhausted and tried to rest, his entire body was filled up with a pain, which blazed like a flame inside his wounded body and forced him to continue. He never reached the big incrusted rock that stood far out in the forest landscape, the home of the old owl, which due to his enormous age was already for a long time unable to fly. His prey needed to move astray upward to his platform, where he sat inside a dome, formed by his own dried excrements. The owl couldn’t see any more, but his hearing was still exceptional. It helped him to localize his food and to hear all noises throughout the forest. What a useless ability in such a frightening silence, the fox thought.

Bravely and without complaints he slowly, but purposefully, with powerful steps of his forelegs, followed the sandy narrow path alongside the big snowberry hedge area; still no noise, and his still bloody eyes discolored his surrounding into red shades. Some of the undead carrion flies had followed him, but the many bats, whizzing lightning-fast through the air, discarded him accurately and silently from his somehow inanimate persecutors. His forward locomotion was a fight, and the fox thought that each forward direction is the most important aim in life, which always deserves all available investment. His badly wounded body begged for a rest, but he answered with more oxygen and panted with his widely opened mouth. He crossed the wet meadow, passed the birch grove and was on his way down to the rocky little valley, when he noticed that the wheels, which replaced both of his hind legs, tried to run faster than his paws could, it became an energy-sapping and tedious procedure. Finally down in the valley, there was a fork in his way. One path went further down to the stream, which at this point of the forest was already swollen into a little river, and continued along the riverbank, while the other led to the old owl’s rock. The fox didn’t know yet that he wouldn’t arrive at the lonely rock to talk to his former owl friend, but it was at least his intended destination, after a short rest at the waterside. His body entirely refused his service, and the fox needed water to quench his thirst and to carefully wash thoroughly his throbbing ear injury and finally to cool down his overheated head. The tight stony riverside welcomed him with a warm and humid air and the aromatic scents of marsh-marigold, water forget-me-not and ragged-robins. The moon had disappeared to the other side of the forest and thus, and the fox crouched down in the midst of a rather dark night scenery, interrupted by some single rays of light, which were wandering around.

When the fox was just in order to tilt his snout down to the water surface, at this point of the forest surprisingly calm and silent, a deep and croaking voice cut through the mysterious quietness of the forest: „Fox, I could hear the sound of your wheels, and I am very well informed about your misfortune, which is based on your own recklessness and stubbornness. Times have changed, fox, today, we prefer the silence. Your noise disturbed my trains of thought. I doubt that you’ll ever learn how to behave appropriately. Listen to my well intentioned advice. Get back to health soon, and when you then still think that this world was not fair to you, climb on the highest mountain, you can find, and then look down and see the minuteness of the world and the insignificance of all individual worries“. „I can’t climb up a mountain any more and I don’t think about fairness, only about survival and moving forward“, the fox thought, but couldn’t answer any more, as the weights of his wheel-apparatuses drew his hind body down into the water and his struggling paws couldn’t resist these forces at all, he fall.

 

River

 

The water was rather warm, and it smoothly washed around his sticky fur. The fox slowly drifted away, following the flow direction of the quiet river, and he did not oppose it. He felt weightless, and some occasional colder drifts from lower depths calmed his deep wounds. His eyes were clear again, and he saw extended reed beds passing by and even two sleeping swans, but both with an astonishing blackish plumage. The wood of his wheels increasingly swelled up due to the wetness, and after a while, both constructions broke coincidentally and came loose from the seams of his leg stumps. A relief, and soon, the fox noticed that he could even control his mutilated former hind legs, and he carefully began to paddle with his stumps, and seemingly thanks to the smooth and calming water, this caused him no pain at all any more. „An interesting phenomenon“, he thought, „first the shock prevented me from noticing the pain, which wounds would normally cause, then they appeared with delay and then unbearably heavy, while the later situation created an insensitivity again, an immunity based on a permanent stimulation, or was it a miracle? The river soon got wider, while the water flow was still surprisingly smooth. The reed beds were meanwhile replaced by carrs on both sides, mostly consisting of black alders. Again black swans. And even the mallards, sleeping on a tiny bald headland slope, seemed to have lost all colors. There was no audible, but visible active life: The moor frogs entirely replaced the water surface along the river banks. They submerged and emerged, a bustle consisting of heads, paddling legs and splashing water, all fully soundless.

The fox quickly learned performing meandering movements with his body, first barely noticeably, then always more confidently, and he paddled increasingly skillful with his leg stumps, moved them alternating up and down, until he found a stable rhythm, and lo and behold: he gathered speed, did not only float passively any more, but controlled his way with advancement and even a certain elegance. He then discovered the sideward rowing by turning his hind body slightly to one side that his hind-leg-rudders needed to change their angles and allowed him to swim a small circle, and even to stand against the soft water flow direction. He supported his maneuvers with courageous strokes of his paws, while the river made a sharp right turn. Shortly after, the fox lifted his head a bit above the water surface and blinked with his eyes, as if he was looking for a very tiny specific detail. And indeed, a greyish obstacle appeared in the near distance, coated with fumes, while the moon behind him generated billowing reflections on the body of water and irradiated the obfuscated tiny island.

The fox knew the little island very well and noted to his satisfaction that he was still on his way, another mode of locomotion, but yet the right direction. His maneuverability grew, and his sensation of pain decreased. And he turned around his own axis like a seal, but it was no expression of exuberance or recklessness, it was an expression of the awareness of new opportunities. Improvement instead of death, new advantages based on the woundings of his hurtful discrimination; and the fox puckered his mouth to a broad grin, he smiled at his own amazement, which seemed to be an amazement about the time in itself. About the last two single hours, standing fully against his entire life, which at least already had seen around 40.000 hours passing by; complete changes almost within a wink of an eye.

The closer he got to the island, the more it seemed released from its misty cover and presented a miniature landscape of tiny rocks, older conifers of a too small height, and it was covered with gloriously shining yellow blossoms of loosestrife flowers, softly illuminated by the last beams of an already very low standing moon. The small and sickle-shaped piece of land was a firm component of his daily route through the woods, which he usually passed via the narrow rabbit way on the opposite very close river bank. Thus its presence, meanwhile just ahead in front of his snout, was a proof for still being on the normal way, albeit under abnormal conditions; and with a certain satisfaction, he nodded imperceptibly with his head, which meanwhile had been sunken back down beneath the water surface.

His destination was the small gap of water between island and the rabbit trail ashore, where he planned a short rest, not from exhaustion any more, but to savor the mild fruity scent of the insular flowers, the deep flavor of the adjacent deep forest and the warm, somehow very complex, but also heavy smell of the water. When he arrived at his desired position, he could feel a network of roots closely beneath the water surface and could hold on the strongest of them with both of his remaining paws. The mere sight of the blooming loosestrife flowers awoke a warm and almost forgotten feeling of delight inside his head. The fox knew that blossoms of this beautiful plant, being colored like an golden hour evening sunlight, could differ from each other, depending on blooming in the shadow or being exposed to the daylight. Light bloomers owned a reddish-yellowish color shade and elongated pistills, while shadow bloomers were shining in a bright yellow shade with shorter pistills. Some flowers carried already seeds, and he saw a short and slight gust of wind blowing some of these rounded tiny capsules into the air, from where they slowly sailed down to the water. There, directly in front of the fox’s snout, they performed a quickly merry-go-round and then disappeared with the soft water flow.

 

Death

 

All of a sudden, something inexplicable changed about the normal working procedures of his internal organs, his heart flickered in a surreal fast motion, while his lungs remained fixed in their inhalation mode, and daylight and moonlight alternated within seconds, blossoms withered in the rhythm of several winks of his eyes. The fox’s fur colored from orange-red to a muddy deep-brown and shrank piecewise from his body. Seasons had imperceptibly changed and suddenly autumn laid in the air, the forest was ablaze with motley colors, while the tendrils of the underwater featherfoil plants all at once enclosed the meanwhile fully naked body of the fox and relentlessly dragged him slowly deeper and deeper. And before the fox completely disappeared in the depth, a bitter cold winter moon emitted misty light beams through the bald skeletons of trees.

 

 

P7250945a Kopie

 

 

The fox’s body came to lay between a rocky protrusion with a hook-shaped tree root around his neck, still embraced by dozens of featherfoil tendrils. He couldn’t feel nor could he hear any more, but he saw. The water was clear, and the ground deeply beneath his body, which now more and more began to decompose. A „You are dead“ whispered through his head, while his brain was surely still alive. And it fought against its decay with an unearthly power, which the fox never released before. And indeed, his heart at once began to beat again, his lungs suddenly demanded for air, and blood began to circulate throughout his almost fully rotten corpse. He tried to move, but he couldn’t, and then forced by a rapidly increasing respiratory distress, he grasped an adjacent hollow tube of a reed plant only with his snout, and carefully bit a piece out of its wooden wall, and then began to breathe, to slowly inhale his new life.

 

The tiny Tit

 

The time was passing in a fast motion speed, and then all at once fell back to its normal rhythm: The early summer approached, when the fox stepwise awoke to all his former life functions, he began to hear the far away bird’s twittering as a muffled noise, the crawling of mice along the riverbank, and he became hungry for the first time, since he had died. But he saw no other option than crying for help. His hoarse and broken voice mutedly sounded out of the on-air part of the reed tube, „help, help, I want to live“, but no one responded. And the fox fall asleep and dreamed of a forest under water, through which he swam like an elegant dolphin and was friendly welcomed by all animals of these surreal woods. He saw a community of harmony and a never before seen goodwill, when he suddenly woke up. He had slept over months, and now it was midsummer already, when the fox again cried for help. But this time, he unexpectedly received an answer from the other end of the tube. „Who are you?“, the tender voice of a bird asked. And the fox answered: „I was the decaying fox, but I want to survive, oh please give me food, I am hungry.“ The small penduline tit chirped amused in a language, which the fox did not understand. Then he said: „I am just a small bird, but I feel sorry for you and thus will try to provide you with everything I can, I need to impose one condition only, tell me about your life and tell me everything about the forest, I am still so young, make me understand the life that is expecting me here.“ The fox happily agreed and told the tit all he knew about the forest from times, in which most trees of today were still sprouts. In fact stories that he had heard himself by the old owl, stories about health and development. The tit was a passionate listener and captured a small grasshopper, which he carefully dropped into the tube opening, from where it directly landed in the fox’s throat.

 

 

P7250932a Kopie

 

 

Years passed by, and fox and tit were connected by a growing deep friendship, although they never saw each other. The fox’s body kept fixed by his fetters, but his naked skin was soon covered by a new fur in grey with white stains. And his hind limbs grew to fins, and if he hadn’t been tied up, he would have swum away like a seal. In the warm season, tit and fox met each other daily, with the bird always bringing a small insect or even an earthworm to their meetings; and the fox told him about his former friendship with the witch and about times, in which he used to offer the tiny mushroom man a ride on his back, and about the old owl, whom he provided with all kinds of things, which the old lazy-to-move bird couldn’t reach from around his rocky nest. And the tiny tit was so fascinated from hearing about older times and soon also from the fox’s warm and friendly voice that he fell in love with him and never looked for a bird mate, and in the winter time he only followed his migrating conspecifics as short as possible towards the warmer South. He was always the first penduline tit arriving back from the Mediterranean in early spring and then couldn’t wait to meet his friend at the still stable old reed-tube. The fox, who used to oversleep the winter time, then got his first food for the year, and the presence of his new friend warmed his almost decomposed heart, and he began to love him back. He loved him for his impartiality, his curiosity, his optimism and his lovely character, which made him begin a friendship with a dead fox, which he could not even see.

In the fourth year, it was early spring, the fox awoke from his hibernation and turned his head to the left, then to the right and even tried to bend it as far as possible to his underside, and what he saw did not resemble the weak body of a seal from the former year any more. All his muscles were enormously grown during the season of his inactivity, and he seemed almost be ready to break his bonds. Punctually he heard the voice of the tit, excited and full of a loving friendliness. He brought him the first worm that he could catch from a still frozen forest ground and twittered:“My dear and beloved fox, I missed you more than anything, and I couldn’t wait to meet you. Listen, so much happened, while you were sleeping and me being abroad. I heard it from the blackbird. The witch, who used to rear trumpet lichens around her teeth, which she considered the latest fashion for witches, became seriously sick, after a giant bird tick had bitten into her right butt cheek, when she was sitting on her wooden witches toilet. She became so weak that the lichens grew out of her mouth and covered her entire body until she almost could not move any more. She lost all control over her whirlwinds, which disappeared forever somewhere in the air. Flightless and unable to walk or to talk, she was lastly seen to crawl on her knees around a smelly pond, where she tried to chew on rotten algae, while her voice resembled the sounds of fire-bellied toads and moor frogs so much that even the old and blind grass frog mistook her with his aunt. It is a terrible tragedy, and the whole woods talked about it. But listen, fox, unfortunately also other things happened: Once, when the winter was especially cold, a lonesome wolf got lost into our forest, and the first, he met, was the mushroom man in his nasty winter clothes. He first took a ride on the wolf without asking for permission and lately even tried to cut off the wolf’s ear for his collection. But the tall loner couldn’t take a joke at all and devoured the tiny man with skin and hair and everything around.“ The bird’s voice became quieter with a very sad sound. „dear tiny friend“, the fox answered, „these people were part of my life, and thus I do not feel any malicious joy.“ And the tit responded: „It was sad to hear all that, my whole body was trembling, when the blackbird continued his stories. Finally the wolf couldn’t digest the gnarled little man and excreted him undigested and still alive. But he had shrank to the size of a mouse, his skin became green like a frog, and since that, he almost always hides inside his tree cave, as all rats of the forest had discovered him as a suitable prey. And that’s still not all I need to tell you. The friendly swallow from my neighborhood yesterday morning discovered the old owl fully enclosed by walls of its own guano, being obviously still very much alive inside, but nobody knows, how and where he would find his future food, but so far he fortunately didn’t stop to comment all incidents in the forest, just being less well audible. Fox, that’s not the forest, you were telling me about. How can I survive in such a rough and immoral world. Miseries everywhere…“.

 

Metamorphosis and Rebirth

 

The little tit felt as a stranger in his world and fearful saw the time passing, clinging to the only thing he had, the friendship with an invisible fox, which seemingly and hopefully was on his way to get back to a normal life ashore. The summer time had just begun, and one day, a somehow stronger water flow released the fox all of a sudden from his bonds, he first drifted away, far away and almost reached the wetlands with the witch’s house, until he got used in the water locomotion of a seal, from which his outer appearance almost didn’t differ at all any more; but then, hours later and due to vigorous movements of his hind leg fins, he arrived back at its tiny island, where he happily several times circled around, when he all of a sudden felt a pulling and drawing along his entire skin, and within one deep breath of air, his seal fur burst open from all sides, and the fox, who had already become a seal-like creature, molted back to a fox in the way a lizard or a snail would repel their old skin. His new fur appeared deep red and  clear, such an intense and shiny red, shinier and clearer than ever before he died as a fox. And the fox with hind leg stumps instead of fins crawled on shore, in order to finally see his new friend, after all these years, they had spent together, the fox in under-water bonds, the honest little tit ashore, on the other side of the tube: the only good soul he could find inside an increasingly evil surrounding, his new hope, which made him belief in the outstanding superiority of moral integrity. A new light in a malicious world. And the tit had desired nothing more than seeing his fox, his link to a better past and his hope for a bright future. But when the fox reached the outer part of the reed- tube, it was empty, nobody was waiting there. And the fox waited and waited and waited, but the tiny tit never came back, nor did they ever see again.

 

Epilogue

 

The wood fay visited the forest only once a hundred years. When she arrived this time, she flew along the river and sat down on an old tree stump, close to a tiny island, on which yellow blossoms in different shapes reflected a warm evening sun. While she enjoyed her rest, she discovered a lonely reed-tube, obviously dead since many years, on which a lonely little tit sat down with powerlessly hanging wings and waited. All other tits were busy with each other, only this one specimen stayed apart from everybody and seemed with sad eyes staring into the depth of the hollow tube. „What a beautiful little guy, so full of yearning and hope“, the fay thought, when suddenly an owl approached in flight and grabbed the tiny waiting tit, killed him with his giant beak and carried his lifeless bloody body away through the air. The fay couldn’t know that the owl was a son of the well known old owl, which meanwhile lived invisibly inside his guano cavity. But shocked by the unusual rudeness in a forest that she knew as a peaceful place from her last visit hundred years ago, she decided to stay for a while and to observe the changes that were going on. A week later, she discovered a very wondrous scenery. The most beautiful fox, she ever saw, with two ears of different sizes and with such vigorous hind legs, never ever seen on a fox, stood in front of the same reed-tube, and he waited there with tears in his eyes.

 

I will tell, and you will wonder, about the monstrous result of an ancient crime. But now the unaccustomed effort tires me, and, look, a poplar tree entices us with its welcome shade, and the turf yields a bed. I should like to rest here on the ground (Ovid’s metamorphoses: Orpheus sings Venus and Adonis).

 

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said god to one of his angels; and the angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said god, “for in my garden of paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the happy prince shall praise me.” (Oscar Wilde, the happy prince)

 

 

Copyrights of text and all paintings: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin July 2020

Paintings: in tempera colors on canvas

 

 

 

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

 

hpiceaeimage0498photoshop

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

 

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

Mite Histiostoma maritimum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 10 June 2020