biologe

Just another WordPress.com site

Tag: Evolution

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


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

 

Geographic distribution and life-strategy aspects of Larosterna inca

 

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

 

Phylogenetic (systematic) relationships

 

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

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

 

Filming conditions and filming locality

 

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

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

 

Plumage cleaning

 

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

 

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

 

Putative reasons for plumage cleaning behaviors

 

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

 

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

Complex and modified mouthparts in Histiostomatidae mites

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

 

Diphyletic origin of mites

 

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

 

Mites of the Acariformes and body plan

 

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

 

big male 2 Saarland compost

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

 

 

Mouthparts

 

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

 

Mouthparts of Sarcoptiformes

 

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

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

 

Life-strategy of mites of the (family) Histiostomatidae

 

Rollei Digital Camera

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

 

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

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

 

Mouthparts of the Histiostomatidae

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Complex mouthpart apparatus

 

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

 

Mouthpart apparatus as multifunctional organ

 

 

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

 

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

 

Membraneous structures create an underpressure to incorporate food

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Scanning-electron-microscopic experiments

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Mite species Bonomoia opuntiae

 

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

 

A putatively new species

 

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

 

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

 

Chelicera endings (digitus fixus)

 

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

 

Fig. 2

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

 

Berlin, September 2019

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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

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

Ancient ruins around the Gulf of Naples

 

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

 

Pollius Felix and his eccentric extended villa in Sorrento

 

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

 

 

 

How to visit the ruins?

 

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

 

Landscape and biodiversity

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Olfactory sense organs in mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

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

 

Chemical communication of mites of the Histiostomatidae

 

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

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

 

Deutonymphs need to find a carrier for dispersal

 

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

 

 

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

 

Specific way of walking in deutonymphs

 

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

 

Two different behavioral modes for an efficient orientation towards a carrier

 

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

 

Carrier of H. sachsi still unknown

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

„Fische“ ist keine spezielle systematische Gruppierung

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Zuerst gab es Lungen, aus denen Schwimmblasen evolvierten

 

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

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

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

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

 

Arapaima gigas veratmet mithilfe seiner Schwimmblase atmosphärische Luft

 

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

 

Berlin, Februar 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Berlin forest Grunewald – former gravelpit area, type location for the mite Histiostoma palustre

The city of Berlin geomorphologically consists of witnesses of the Weichselian glacier. The modern city itself and adjacent federal states represented end moraine areas with fluvio-glacial debris accumulations,  even well visible today due to a very sandy soil composition and a corresponding vegetation, creating landscapes, which partly almost look like from around the Mediterranean Sea.

Sands carried by the glaciers towards their end positions remained in partly huge layers with a thickness of up to 20 meters or more.

 

Gravelpit zone and its history

 

Also the area of the old gravelpit zone, called „Sandgrube im Jagen 86“, in the Berlin forest Grunewald is located inside such an end moraine zone, which was represented by plates belonging to the geological Teltow-plateau. In the time period between 1966 and 1983, gravel was excavated for industrial purposes. After 1983 a part renaturation was supported by nature conservationists. In 1992 in total 13 hectares of the former gravelpit area were allocated as nature conservation areas.

Other parts of this unique landscape remained accessible for the public. They represent today popular places for leisure and experiences of nature. Especially the huge sand dune is a popular destination for families with children.

 

Aerial videography of the gravelpit area in January 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please like my video also on Youtube, in case you like it.

 

 

Gravelpit zone and its ecology and biodiversity

 

The whole area – nature protection and accessible zones – show a complex mosaic of different  landscape types, offering numerous animal and plant species a well suitable refuge.  Neglected grasslands and dry meadows are surrounded by sandy areas free of any vegetation („dunes“) and moist osier beds and wetlands with ponds. The wetlands represent breeding grounds for numerous amphids. Lizards such as the sand lizard Lacerta agilis and snakes such as the grass snake Natrix natrix can regularly be observed. Sandy habitats offer space and specific ecological conditions for a interstitial fauna, consisting for example of different bee and sand wasp species.

In total the area bears more than 300 ferns and flowering plants, 16 breeding bird species, 7 amphibian species and 188 butterfly species.

 

My own scientific mite research in the gravelpit area

 

I was performing scientific research in that gravel pit landscape during the work on my phd-thesis between 2000 and 2005. My interest was (and one of my interests is still) focussed on specific organisms living around the shoreline of ponds.

The whole area of the gravelpit landscape is a good example for ecological changes that happen naturally with the ongoing time or even being affected by climatic changes. Between 2005 and 2018, the landscape partly changed significantly. Neglected grasslands and dry meadows covered less space originally, and instead several smaller ponds existed and offered amphibs and wetland inhabiting insects additional habitats. But some of the ponds already years ago dried out permanently. Their remnants are now covered by extended dry grasslands.

In former times of my phd thesis and even today, my research interests focus and focussed on the mite fauna in and around the muddy shorelines of ponds inside this former gravelpit area. The ponds are mostly surrounded by sapropel, a seemingly black and brownish mud, which is colored that way due to the incorporation metal sulfides. These muddy areas develop due to biochemical modifications of organic material in the absence of oxygen. Different insects, especially beetles live on top of these waterside habitats or even inside. Carabids of genera Elaphrus or Bembidion represent predators, while heterocerid beetles of genus Heterocerus are substrate feeders, presumanly with a preference for diatoms. Also water beetles of Dytiscidae and Hydrophilidae inhabit these habitats.

 

The mites Histiostoma maritimum and Histiostoma palustre

 

I discovered some of these beetles as dispersal carriers for specific mites. The dispersal strategy to take a ride on bigger animals to become carried from one habitat to another is called phoresy. Mites of the Astigmata represent typical phoretic organisms. I am scientifically specialized in a specific family of the Astigmata, which is named Histiostomatidae, and I discovered the mite species Histiostoma maritimum Oudemans, 1914 on Heterocerus fenestratus and H. fusculus as well as on Bembidion and Elaphrus species insside and on top of these muddy zones. I was the first acarologist, who ever studied the biology of this mite species. I furthermore discovered another mite species that was completely new to the scientific knowledge, and thus I scientifically described it as Histiostoma palustre („palustris“ = „muddy“) in 2002.

This species deserves particularly mention due to an unusual biological phenomenon: populations show a so called male dimorphism (better diphenism). Besides males with a „normal“ morphology, morphologically modified males appear. Their second legs differ from the typical shape of a mite and are modified into clasping organs. The function of these conspicuous organs could so far only be interpreted in the context of male to male competition conflicts for a female. In such situations, I observed the organs being used as arms against other males, against such ones with and such ones without clasping organs.

 

img_0015.jpgbest

Right modified leg of a male of Histiostoma palustre. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2002/ 2019

 

img_0016best

Modified leg of a H. palustre male in closed position. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2002/ 2019

 

img_0017.jpgbest

Underside of a H. palustre male with modified leg. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

img_0013.jpgbest

Asymmetry: male of H. palustre with only the right leg modified. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

img_0012.jpg best

Asymmetry: male of H. palustre with only the left leg modified. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2002/ 2019

 

img_0014.jpgbest

Copulation of a Histiostoma palustre male with both-sided modified legs. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2002/ 2019

 

img_0010best

Details of a copulation with a modified male, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2002/2019

 

 

Berlin, January 2019. 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

 

 

 

 

 

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