biologe

Blog and online journal with editorial content about science, art and nature.

Tag: video

Teaching: Ich als Naturalist – Me as a naturalist

Bumble bee Bombus sp. in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2021/2022
Honey bee Apis mellifera in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth 2021/2022
Deutonymphs of the microscopically tiny mite Schwiebea cf. eurynymphae (Acaridae, Astigmata) formally attached to beetle Phosphuga atrata under the bark of felled tree trunk of Tilia platyphyllos in urban park Rehberge in Berlin, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, 2021/2022
Larvae of beetle Oryctes nasicornis from Italy with associated gamasid mites under studio light conditions, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2016/2022
Land crab Metasesarma obesum under studio conditions, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2017/2022

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Ich biete Unterricht, Förderkurse, Vorträge und Fortbildungskurse zu den Themen Naturkunde, Naturschutz, Artenvielfalt, Ökologie, Klimaschutz und Evolution an sowie Unterricht oder Vorträge zur Naturfotografie oder der Naturfilmerei. All dies entweder auf Honarbasis oder via Anstellung. Bitte entnehmen Sie weitere Informationen meinem Menüpunkt zum Thema Unterricht und Lehre. Selbstverständlich verfüge ich über Qualifikationsnachweise zu meinen diversen bisherigen Lehrtätigkeiten sowie meine fachliche Kompetenz. Bitte beachten Sie hierzu auch meinen Menüpunkt Curriculum Vitae.

Doch was sind eigentlich meine Themengebiete? Im Folgenden finden Sie interessante Fragestellungen aus meinen Kompetenzbereichen.

Was ist ein Ökosystem? Welche Ökosysteme sind gut untersucht, welche eher nicht? Wie gut kennt man die Artenvielfalt von Mikro-Lebensstätten in Deutschland, und was ist über deren biologische (ökologische) Zusammenhänge bekannt? Was ist denn eigentlich eine Art, was sind denn dann Zwillingsarten, und was versteht man gar unter einem Artenkomplex (kryptische Artengruppe)? Ist das Aussterben von Arten ein normaler Bestandteil der Evolution oder ist das Aussterben einer Art immer zwingend ein alamierender Hinweis auf eine (evtl. menschengemachte) Naturkatastrophe? Wieviele Arten aus allen Organismengruppen weltweit kennen wir, und wieviele in etwa kennen wir noch nicht? Warum kennen wir viele Arten, sogar in Deutschland, noch immer nicht? Wie erkennt man neue Arten, und wie ist eine sogenannte Artbeschreibung aufgebaut? Ist der Mensch eine Tierart, und wo im Stammbaum der Tiere ist er dann anzusiedeln?

Warum sind ein Wald, ein Teich oder eine Wiese Orte für interessante Entdeckungen, und zwar insbesondere auch für Kinder? Was lebt denn da, und wie ist es an seinen Lebensraum angepasst? Was haben unterschiedliche Arten in solchen Lebensräumen eigentlich miteinander zu tun? Und wie beobachtet man Tierverhalten am besten? Wie dokumentiert man es aussagekräftig, um sein Wissen später mit Freunden oder über soziale Netzwerke teilen zu können?

Wie kommt es zum sogenannten Global Warming, der globalen Klimaerwärmung? Wie können wir sie nachweisen? Warum ist sie zu einem beträchtlichen Teil menschengemacht? Und welche Auswirkungen haben Klimaerwärmung und die Ausbeutung natürlicher Ressourcen (Energiespeicher, Rohstoffe, wie zum Beispiel Tropenholz) für die Zukunft der Menschheit und die Artenvielfalt auf unserer Erde. Welche Auswege erhofft man sich? Woran wird derzeit gearbeitet?

Was benötigt man zur Naturfotografie, was, wenn man zusätzlich oder alternativ auch noch auf gutem Niveau filmen möchte? Was ist grundsätzlich wichtiger: Das Equipment oder das Bild, das zuvor im Kopf des Fotografen oder Filmers entsteht? Muss taugliches Equipment immer ultra-teuer sein? Welche Software eignet sich am besten zum Editieren? Was genügt dabei den Ansprüchen von Anfängern, was benötigen Fortgeschrittene und Profis? Wie filme oder fotografiere ich draußen in der Natur? Wie hole ich stattdessen die Natur in mein Fotostudio und inszeniere sie dort so, dass es aussieht, als habe man im Freien gearbeitet?

Dies sind alles mögliche Themen, die in meinem Unterricht, meinen Kursen oder Vorträgen vertieft werden können. Beliebige weitere Fragestellungen aus den Bereichen Naturkunde, Biologie, Ökologie und Evolution arbeite ich gerne für Sie aus.

I offer lessons, remedial courses, lectures and advanced training courses on the subjects of natural history, nature conservation, biodiversity, ecology, climate protection and evolution, as well as lessons or lectures on nature photography or nature filming. All this either on a fee basis or via employment. Please see my menu item on the subject of teaching for further information. Of course, I have proofs of qualifications for my various previous teaching activities as well as my professional competence. Please also note my menu item Curriculum Vitae. 

But what are my topics? In the following you will find interesting questions from my areas of competence:

What is an ecosystem? Which ecosystems have been well studied and which not? How well do you know the biodiversity of micro habitats in Germany and what is known about their biological (ecological) relationships? What is actually a species, what are sibling species, and what is meant by a species complex (cryptic species group)? Is the extinction of species a normal part of evolution or is the extinction of a species always an alarming indicator of a (possibly human-made) natural disaster? How many species from all groups of organisms worldwide do we know, and roughly how many do we not yet know? Why do we still not know many species, even in Germany? How do we recognize new species and how is a so-called species description structured? Are humans an animal species, and if so, where do they belong in the animal tree?

Why are a forest, a pond or a meadow places for interesting discoveries, especially for children? What lives there and how is it adapted to its habitat? What do different species actually have to do with each other in such habitats? And what is the best way to observe animal behavior? How can you document it meaningfully so that you can later share your knowledge with friends or via social networks? 

How does the global warming come about? How can we prove its existence? Why is it largely human-made? And what are the effects of global warming and the exploitation of natural resources (energy stores, raw materials such as tropical wood) on the future of humanity and biodiversity on our planet? What exits to avoid emergency situations are we hoping for? What are scientists currently working on to ensure a healthy human future? 

What do we need for nature photography, what if we also want to film at a good level in addition or as an alternative? What is fundamentally more important: the equipment or the image that is created in the head of the photographer or filmmaker? Does suitable equipment always have to be ultra-expensive? Which software is best for editing? What meets the requirements of beginners, what do advanced and professionals need? How do we film or take photos outdoors in nature? Instead, how do we bring nature into our photo studio and stage it there in such a way that it looks as if we were working outdoors? 

These are all possible topics that can be deepened in my teaching, courses or lectures. I would be happy to work out any other questions from the fields of natural history, biology, ecology and evolution for you. 



all copyrights Stefan F. Wirth Berlin 2022

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

Wild bee Andrena flavipes and nesting behaviors

The bee Andrena flavipes is also known as the common sand bee, as this species represents the most common of several regularly present sand bee species in Central Europe.

 

Aggregations at suitable nesting sites

 

Bee females create solitary nests, which is unlike to social hymenopterans such as the honey bee Apis mellifera. However huge and from a distance well visible aggregations of nesting A. flavipes specimens can appear. It is said that these aggregations are due to mated females being attracted to similar suitable nesting sites. In fact also a tolerance for conspecifics very close by is required to allow conditions, in which the whole ground seems to consist of bees, flying around and preparing their nests or importing pollen or nectar to feed their larvae. By the way: One nest contains contains about 2-3 brood cells only.

 

Specific conditions, in which specimens of my footage were found

 

The bees of my video were filmed between 4-6 April 2020 in the urban park around lake Plötzensee in Berlin. The site for my recordings was an area with forest edge character, interrupted by dry meadows, all at least in the afternoon exposed by the sun (temperatures between 15-20 °C).

 

 

Females of Andrena flavipes cleaning their nests, youtube: copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, April 2020

 

 

Orientation and nest cleaning behaviors of A. flavipes females, hindlegs as multifunctional organs

 

Contents of my behavioral documentation is the cleaning of nest hole entrance areas and behavior patterns, which seemingly support the orientation and finding their own nests again in midst of a sandy forest ground covered by fallen leaves.

To be enabled to recognize the entrance of the own nest again, bees perform regularly smaller walking tours around their nests to memorize soil structure and other details, being suitable to characterize this specific nesting site.

The bee’s hindlegs represent important multi-functional organs. They walk on them, collect pollen, which adhere to specific structures on legs III, and they are used to clean the areas in front of the nest openings from dirt, such as smaller stones or wooden particles. As nest entrance areas stay opened during the day, a proper cleaning of the soil around is regularly necessary. The bee performs that work mostly while backward-walking using its hindlegs like shovels to sweep dirt some centimeters away. This behavior is well visible in my footage.

 

General and short  information about mite associations

 

Andrena flavipes and other soil breeding wild bees are generally also of acarological interest. As presumably all hymenopterans, they have for example associations with phoretic mites, for example mites of the Scutacaridae (such as Imparipes apicola). I so far did not study mites on these bees, but phoresy means that mite instars use the insect as carrier to reach their final sites, in which they develop and reproduce. In case of Imparipes, adults feed on fungi and waste inside the bees brood cells.

 

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin april 2020, as always: all rights reserved

Locomotion behavior of Schizomida (Arachnida)

They look without magnification more like very motile and fast running ants or very tiny grasshoppers than like arachnids. But they indeed represent relatives of the web spiders and scorpions: Schizomida, a clade of whip scorpions. They are the sister taxon of Thelyphonida, the rather well known „big whip scorpions“, which are often kept as pets in terraria around the world. Schizomida are only rarely filmed in a higher resolution quality, which is due to their small size and their almost invisibility due to their semi-transparent cuticle and their very fast way of walking or even jumping. They are additionally difficult to be filmed as they strictly avoid all lights and tend to dry out quickly, when they cannot hide themselves by time in a slightly moist substrate.

 

Closeups of behaviors of a Schizomid species from a greenhouse in Germany. Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Schizomida in Greenhouses

 

Schizomids represent mostly tropical or subtropical organisms. But some species are regularly dispersed into greenhouses around the world. The filmed species might be Stenochrus portoricensis, but was not systematically studied in detail so far. As all known species, which appear in greenhouses, also S. portoricensis reproduces (apart from their original habitats) parthenogenetically with females producing females without mating procedures (thelytoky). I never found males so far.

 

 S. portoricensis: native to subtropical Zones

 

The specimens, which I kept since months in a small terrarium, were collected in autumn 2016 at the famous fun and wellness bath „Tropical Islands“ South of Berlin. There they are a natural part of the world’s biggest indoor rainforest. The species S. portoricensis is originally native to Florida, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Porto Rico and other localities in similar tropical zones. These microscopical tiny organisms are predators and do not harm human beings at all. According to the available organisms in a suitable size in my terrarium, they might feed on the numerous collembolans and/or mites. Especially mites of the Gamasina appear in greater numbers in my substrate, which represents the original substrate from the greenhouse. I enriched this substrate regularly by smaller pieces of fruits or vegetables to stimulate the growth of microorganisms. I keep them at room temperature (about 20°C) and with not too much moisture. I do not know, whether they reproduced within these months, but the specimens of my recent video footage represent all sub-adults.

 

Film set and topic locomotion

 

Focus of my film is to present the different ways of locomotion, cleaning behaviors and burrowing activities of these fascinating animals. During the filming procedure, I used two cold-light-lamps for a suitable illumination and an ILCE-6300 (internal 4K mode), connected to a stereomicroscope and a lightmicroscope (with uplight).

 

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

Drone flights: Worth seeing nature around the fields of Berlin

The metropolis Berlin is the capital of Germany and much more than that. It represents an unusual green city. When using elevated viewpoints to watch the cityshape, then at least in summer visitors of Berlin can receive the impression of being in the midst of a greening huge landscapes with several villages in between.

 

Green areas in Berlin

 

 

Indeed related to other metropolitan cities of the world, Berlin is still partly not very densely populated and covered by remarkable huge natural countryside instead. The area of landing and runway strips of the former airport Tempelhof for example up to date represents the largest coherent green area inside a city worldwide. The so called Tempelhofer Feld was after the termination of the air traffic exposed to renaturation and is currently a very popular recreational park. It’s located in the South of the city.

Also the West and South-West partly represent nature reserve areas and are covered by the big urban forest Grunewald.

 

Meadows and wetlands in the North of Berlin as nature refuges

 

I am since two years discovering the Northern parts of Berlin, which according to my random observations (in comparison with other Berlin areas, such as Tempehofer Feld, Teufelsberg (Grunewald) and some urban parks in the center of the city; examples of species will be visible on my corresponding blog article) bears the greatest biodiversity in bloom visiting insects.

 

 

 

Mosaic of different landscape types close to each other

 

 

 

 

 

This is seemingly due to the complexity of different meadow-, field-, wetland- and bog-habitats, being originally shaped by the Weichselian-glaciers. I regularly visited the stream valley of the so called Tegeler Fließ with the lake Köppchensee. It’s a hilly area with different gradients of sunny slopes with partly Mediterranean climatic conditions, surrounded by different kinds of wetlands. This area is well known for its great biodiversity.

 

Between the villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde

 

But my drone flights present vast tracts in the South of that stream valley, consisting of fields, green meadows and wetlands. It is the area between the Berlin villages Rosenthal, Lübars and Blankenfelde. Inner urban agriculture is rare in metropolian cities worldwide, in Berlin there is only a small agriculture area in the South (Dahlem Dorf) and the fields between the named villages in the North.

 

Drone flights and bloom visiting insects

 

 

Fields and meadows with adjacent forests and wetlands in the North of Berlin, September 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth. Please give my video also your like on Youtube.

 

Most part of the footage in my film represents the fields adjacent to the village Rosenthal. I newly discovered the partly quite tiny meadows between and adjacent to agricultural fields around Rosenthal this summer and discovered an impressive and steadily visible diversity of bloom visiting insects there. Fields as monoculture habitats usually bear a smaller biodiversity related to wild-growing nature zones. But due to the connection of the edges of fields with complex nature refuge zones around, I could observe a quite great number of species on closely adjacent meadows and even the natural border zones of these agricultural areas.

 

Videographic details

 

The footage was captured in 4K and D-cinelike quality using a Mavic 2 Zoom drone between September and October 2019.

 

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

 

Different wing colors in a harlequin ladybeetle specimen

The ladybeetle Harmonia axyridis is naturally distributed over eastern Asia, but was imported to the United States already at the beginning of the 20th century as pest control. At first, there was no population development in the open fields. These were at first reported from Louisiana in 1988. In 2001 the first free living specimens were for Europe discovered in Belgium. Since then the beetle distributed over several European countries, such as France, entire Germany or Switzerland.

 

Variations of Harmonia axyridis

 

The beetle is well known for its great form variations. Worldwide more than 200 different color pattern forms of thorax and elytrae are described. They are distinctly shaped and maintain in this shape and arrangement of pattern. But four forms dominate within natural populations. Speaking about the elytrae (not the thorax patterns), the reddish form with dark spots, as visible in my film, is one of them.

These distinct different forms must be named a polymorphism and are based on genetic information as well as on environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity and light intensitivity. According to that even the term polyphenism might be adequate.

 

 

 

 

Transcription factor pannier responsible for color pattern polymorphism

 

According to the work of M. Gautier et al. (the genomic basis of color pattern polymorphism  in the harlequin ladybird, Current biology, 28, 20), the transcription factor pannier is responsible for the genetically based control of this polymorphism. They discovered that different pannier alleles determine the color pattern in the different known forms. The authors furthermore report that pannier was never found before to play a keyfactor role in the pigmentation of insects.

 

Ladybeetle species on a meadow in Berlin

 

The specimen in my footage was discovered on an urban meadow in the park area „Nordhafen“ in Berlin. It’s a meadow in autumn predominantly consisting of lucerne and clover, sorrel and yellow field cress. Different ladybeetle species could be in greater numbers found there between September and October 2019. The sevenspot-ladybird, the adonis ladybird (Hippodamia variegata) and most abundant the harlquin ladybird in all its developmental stages.

 

Asymmetrical wing colors and possible explications

 

 

Harlequin beetle specimen from Berlin with asymmetrically colored wings, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, please like my video also on Youtube

 

The most conspicuous character of „my“ harlequin ladybird specimen was its distinct asymmetrically colored wings (elytrae). One side reddish with black spots, the other side brownish with black spots. During my research about such asymmetries in ladybirds, I didn’t find recent studies, which distinctly focussed on that topic. H. E. Roy et al. reported in their book „ladybirds“ (original version 1989, revised version 2013) about the existance of such differently colored wings in the same specimen. They emphasized that the phenominon was not studied in detail, but assumed different factors being eventually responsible for such a development of a beetle individual: 1) disruption of pigment production, 2) mitotic mutation in early development, 3) environmental conditions, eventually influencing the colors of an originally normal developed young adult (exposed for longer time to different light intensities etc.). The latter might in the case of „my“ specimen being an indeed possible factor, as it is clearly visible that also the brownish wing has at its edges some of the reddish pigments.

 

 

Filming/ photography conditions

 

The beetles was filmed and photographed under artificial conditions in a soil and grass-set in my video lab. There, mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes, evtl. mostly Laelapidae) were common. They interestingly showed a phoretic behavior by quickly climbing onto the wings of that ladybeetle. They obviously recognized it as a suitable carrier to new habitats. I assume ladybeetles in the field not being of much attraction for phoretic dispersal, based on their life-cycles and preferred habitats.

 

Berlin, September/ October 2019, Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

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


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

 

Geographic distribution and life-strategy aspects of Larosterna inca

 

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

 

Phylogenetic (systematic) relationships

 

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

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

 

Filming conditions and filming locality

 

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

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

 

Plumage cleaning

 

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

 

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

 

Putative reasons for plumage cleaning behaviors

 

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

 

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

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

Pompeii, ancient Roman city under a dynamic sky

Ash layers preserved almost the entire city

 

The ancient Roman city Pompeii is famous for its incredible conservation status. Huge ash layers preserved all anorganic remnants of the city and its inhabitants. Also organic tissue persisted in partly remarkable conditions, but can not be compared with artefacts, which survived the destruction of the neighbour city Herculaneum. There lava rocks enabled an airtight seal and thus could shield decomposing microorganisms.

 

Well visible sky over the city of no roofs

 

Unlike Herculaneum, Pompeii is also famous as the city without roofs. And indeed, when walking through the vast excavated area of ancient ruins, no higher buildings are shading or obstruct a free view to the sky. Exactly these phenomina male sauntering through Pompeii so unique. The sky with its seasonal dynamics is from everywhere always well visible and due to in spring or in autumn sometimes rapidly changing weather conditions, a dramatic atmosphere based on powerfully moving cloud formations can occur.

 

 

 

 

Pompeii/ 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.