The Venom Spider: new genus named after Tom Hardy’s Marvel character

Researchers referenced the British actor and Spider-Man villain due the unusual pattern on the Australian arachnid’s abdomen.

Venomius tomhardyi pictured next to an illustration of Tom Hardy’s Venom character.
Photo by Rossi et al. Illustration by Zeeshano0 via Pixabay.

Tom Hardy and his Marvel character Venom have given their names to a newly discovered Australian spider. The genus Venomius and its only current species Venomius tomhardyi were described following an expedition to Tasmania.

Scientists MSc Giullia Rossi, Dr Pedro Castanheira and Dr Volker Framenau from Murdoch University ( Perth, Australia) partnered with Dr Renner Baptista from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to describe the new genus of orb-weaving spiders published in the open access journal Evolutionary Systematics.

Tom Hardy portrays Eddie Brock and his alter-ego Venom, an antihero closely associated with Spider-Man, across two Marvel films and gives his name to the sole species of the new genus. The distinctive black spots on the arachnid’s abdomen reminded the scientists of Venom’s head, inspiring them to select the unusual name.

Annotated image showing five angles of a spider.
Venomius tomhardyi male holotype. Scale bars: 2 mm (A, B); 0.2 mm (C–E).
Photos by Rossi et al.

The genus belongs to the Araneidae family of spiders, or Araneae, that build upright circular webs to capture prey. Despite resembling the related genus Phonognatha as both do not have tubercles on the abdomen, the newly described spiders are distinct in their behaviour of creating silk-lined holes in the branches of trees for shelter, as well as their different genitalia.

The holotype of the new species was discovered and subsequently preserved at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery following an expedition to Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

“This is part of a long-term research that aims to document the entire Australian spider fauna, which will be of extreme importance for conservation management plans and the continuation of the decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand.”

Dr. Pedro Castanheira, contributing author.
Distribution records of Venomius tomhardyi.
Image by Rossi et al.

Researchers also sourced supplementary specimens from scientific arachnology collections, with researchers examining approximately 12,000 records in Australian and overseas institutions.

“It is really important to keep describing new spiders to assess the total biodiversity of these predators in Australia,” added the study’s first author MSc Giullia Rossi.

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Original source:

Rossi GF, Castanheira PS, Baptista RLC, Framenau VW (2023) Venomius, a new monotypic genus of Australian orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Araneidae). Evolutionary Systematics 7(2): 285-292. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.7.110022

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Follow the Evolutionary Systematics journal on Twitter and Facebook.

A new “groins of fire” frog, from the Peruvian Amazon

“When we found this new species in the Amazon lowlands of central Peru, we were quite surprised and kind of speechless.”

Guest blog post by Germán Chávez

As a South American herpetologist, it is inevitable to be absolutely buzzed every time I hear “Germán, you have to go to the Amazon jungle”. Going to the Amazon forest in Peru is perhaps the most joyful way to do your work. The chances to find so many frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, and even caimans are really high, so one can’t help but get excited.

The Agua Blanca forest. Photo by Germán Chávez

The thing is, to someone like me who focuses their work on describing new species, the expectations shouldn’t be that high. The Amazon has always been a place full of mysteries, so many explorers, seduced by its enigmatic atmosphere, have gone deeper and deeper into the Amazonia. This has resulted in the description of so many species and very few unexplored places left.

So, when Wilmar Aznaran and I found this new species in the Amazon lowlands of central Peru, a well-visited area, we were quite surprised and kind of speechless. I have to confess that my reaction was “Bloody hell!” Externally, the frog is clearly different from any other similar species, and that was evident for us at the very moment we caught it. Indeed, the first option for the title of our new paper in Evolutionary Systematics was “Expect the unexpected: a new treefrog from the Amazon lowlands of Peru.” We could not believe that a medium-sized arboreal frog had passed in front of other researchers’ eyes, and remained unseen.

Scinax pyroinguinis. Photo by Germán Chávez

Soon we found out that it is not a common species in the area: after catching two individuals, we were unable to find more. Not ready to give up, we went once more time to that site a few months later and our efforts to find it were unsuccessful, so we suggest it is not a common frog.

At that point, we knew that we had a new species on hands, but describing it with only two specimens was challenging. Luis A. García-Ayachi went to the area and his efforts were also unsuccessful. That is when Alessandro Catenazzi joined us, so we decided to add an integrative approach to our work, basing our research on morphological and genetic differences. I can only say thanks to all our co-authors: from then on, everything started to work out.

Scinax pyroinguinis. Photo by Germán Chávez

We noticed there were wildfires in the area, are a serious threat to the frog’s habitat. So it is really curious that the orange pattern on the groins, thighs and shanks of the new species, resembles flames, like those threatening its habitat. No better name for our frog than Scinax pyroinguinis, which literally means “groins of fire”.

We hope that this discovery encourages people  and institutions to protect these remnant forests in central Peru, because they may yet harbour unknown species. If these forests disappear, we will probably lose a diversity that we do not even know now yet, and may never will. It is sort of a race against deforestation and habitat loss, but this doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. Research like ours is really important to help put the focus on this place, at least in the short term, and try to attract people to join forces in the conservation of Scinax pyroinguinis and its habitat.

Research article:

Chávez G, Aznaran W, García-Ayachi LA, Catenazzi A (2023) Rising from the ashes: A new treefrog (Anura, Hylidae, Scinax) from a wildfire-threatened area in the Amazon lowlands of central Peru. Evolutionary Systematics 7(1): 183-194. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.7.102425

New spider genus named after pop band ABBA

Two ABBA-mad arachnologists from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, have described a new genus dedicated to the famous band.

Spiders of the family Araneidae are known for building vertical orbicular webs to catch upon prey. They can be easily identified by their eye pattern, the abdomen normally overlapping the carapace, and complex genitalia. The family currently has 188 genera and 3,119 species worldwide.

Two scientists from Murdoch University in Perth (Australia), Dr Pedro Castanheira and Dr Volker Framenau, described a new spider genus of Araneids following a comprehensive study of orb-weaving spiders found in Australian zoological collections. They named it after one of their favourites bands, the Swedish pop group ABBA, paying tribute to the band members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

The band’s “songs and subsequent musicals Mamma Mia! (2008) and Mamma Mia – Here We Go again! (2018), provided hours of entertainment for the authors,” they explain in their study, which was published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.

Abba transversa. Photo by Volker Framenau

The new genus is composed of a relatively small single species (ca. 3-4 mm), Abba transversa (Rainbow, 1912), whose specimens are currently known from the coastal area of New South Wales and Queensland. It is differentiated from other species within the family by the presence of two dark spots in the middle of abdomen and by the thick macrosetae on the first pair of legs of the males.

The description comes after 15 years of scientific work, with the researchers looking at 12,000 records in Australian museums and overseas collections.

“Describing new taxa is vital for conservation management plans to assess biodiversity and protect forests areas across Australia,” says study author Dr Pedro Castanheira. “Currently, 80% of Australian spider species are unknown, and many of the described ones are misplaced in different genera, like Abba transversa used to be.”

Original source:

Castanheira PS, Framenau VW (2023) Abba, a new monotypic genus of orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Araneidae) from Australia. Evolutionary Systematics 7(1): 73-81. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.7.98015

Follow Evolutionary Systematics on Facebook and Twitter.

Pensoft among the first 27 publishers to share prices & services via the Journal Comparison Service by Plan S

All journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.

In support of transparency and openness in scholarly publishing and academia, the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft joined the Journal Comparison Service (JCS) initiative by cOAlition S, an alliance of national funders and charitable bodies working to increase the volume of free-to-read research. 

As a result, all journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.

The JCS was launched to aid libraries and library consortia – the ones negotiating and participating in Open Access agreements with publishers – by providing them with everything they need to know in order to determine whether the prices charged by a certain journal are fair and corresponding to the quality of the service. 

According to cOAlition S, an increasing number of libraries and library consortia from Europe, Africa, North America, and Australia have registered with the JCS over the past year since the launch of the portal in September 2021.

While access to the JCS is only open to librarians, individual researchers may also make use of the data provided by the participating publishers and their journals. 

This is possible through an integration with the Journal Checker Tool, where researchers can simply enter the name of the journal of interest, their funder and affiliation (if applicable) to check whether the scholarly outlet complies with the Open Access policy of the author’s funder. A full list of all academic titles that provide data to the JCS is also publicly available. By being on the list means a journal and its publisher do not only support cOAlition S, but they also demonstrate that they stand for openness and transparency in scholarly publishing.

“We are delighted that Pensoft, along with a number of other publishers, have shared their price and service data through the Journal Comparison Service. Not only are such publishers demonstrating their commitment to open business models and cultures but are also helping to build understanding and trust within the research community.”

said Robert Kiley, Head of Strategy at cOAlition S. 

***

About cOAlition S:

On 4 September 2018, a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), announced the launch of cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. It is built around Plan S, which consists of one target and 10 principles. Read more on the cOAlition S website.

About Plan S:

Plan S is an initiative for Open Access publishing that was launched in September 2018. The plan is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding and performing organisations. Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms. Read more on the cOAlition S website.

🥳 Here goes THE title in our New Species Showdown!

From the kingdom of plants, welcome the all-time crowd-favourite species ever described in a Pensoft journal!

Which one is the species that springs to mind when you think about the most awesome discoveries in recent times?

In an age where we more than ever need to appreciate and preserve the magnificent biodiversity inhabiting the Earth, we decided to go for a lighter and fun take on the work of taxonomists that often goes unnoticed by the public. 

From the ocean depths surrounding Indonesia to the foliage of the native forests of Príncipe Island and into the soils of Borneo, we started with 16 species described as new to science in journals published by Pensoft over the years. 

Out of these most amazing creatures, over the past several weeks we sought to find who’s got the greatest fandom by holding a poll on Twitter (you can follow it further down here or via #NewSpeciesShowdown).

Grand Finale – here comes the champion!

Truly, we couldn’t have a more epic final!

The two competitors come from two kingdoms, two opposite sides of the globe, and the “pages” of two journals, namely PhytoKeys and Evolutionary Systematics.

While we need to admit that we ourselves expected to crown an animal as the crowd-favourite, we take the opportunity to congratulate the botanists amongst our fans for the well-deserved win of Nepenthes pudica (see the species description)!

Find more about the curious one-of-a-kind pitcher plant in this blog post, where we announced its discovery following the new species description in PhytoKeys in June 2022:

Back then, N. pudica gave a good sign about its worldwide web appeal, when it broke the all-time record for online popularity in a competition with all plant species described in PhytoKeys over the journal’s 22-year history of taxonomic papers comrpising over 200 issues.

What’s perhaps even more curious, is that there is only one species EVER described in a Pensoft-published journal that has so far triggered more tweets than the pitcher plant, and that species is the animal that has ended up in second place in the New Species Showdown: a tiny amphibian living in Peru, commonly known as the the Amazon Tapir Frog (Synapturanus danta). Which brings us once again to the influence of botanists in taxonomic research.

Read more about its discovery in the blog post from February 2022:

Another thing that struck us during the tournament was that there was only one species described in our flagship journal in systematic journal ZooKeys: the supergiant isopod Bathynomus raksasa, that managed to fight its way to the semi-finals, where it lost against S. danta.

This makes us especially proud with our diverse and competitive journal portfolio full of titles dedicated to biodiversity and taxonomic research!

The rules

Twice a week, @Pensoft would announce a match between two competing species on Twitter using the hashtag #NewSpeciesShowdown, where everyone could vote in the poll for their favourie.

Disclaimer

This competition is for entertainment purposes only. As it was tremendously tough to narrow the list down to only sixteen species, we admit that we left out a lot of spectacular creatures.

To ensure fairness and transparency, we made the selection based on the yearly Altmetric data, which covers articles in our journals published from 2010 onwards and ranks the publications according to their online mentions from across the Web, including news media, blogs and social networks. 

We did our best to diversify the list as much as possible in terms of taxonomic groups. However, due to the visual-centric nature of social media, we gave preference to immediately attractive species.

All battles:

(in chronological order)

Round 1
The first tie of the New Species Showdown was between the olinguito: Bassaricyon neblina (see species description) and the “snow-coated” tussock moth Ivela yini (see species description).
In the second battle, we faced two marine species discovered in the Indian Ocean and described in ZooKeys. The supergiant isopod B. raksasa (see species description) won against the Rose Fariy Wrasse C. finifenmaa (see species description) with strong 75%.
In the third battle, we faced two frog species: the tapir ‘chocolate’ frog described in Evolutionary Systematics (see species description) winning against the ‘glass frog’ described in Zookeys (see species description) with 73%.
With 62% of the votes, the two-species tournament saw the Harryplax severus crab grab the win against another species named after a great wizard from the Harry Potter universe: the Salazar’s pit viper, which was described in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution in 2020. The “unusual” crustacean was described back in 2017 in ZooKeys. As its species characters matched no genus known to date, the species also established the Harryplax genus.
With the fifth battle in the New Species Showdown taking us to the Kingdom of Plants, we enjoyed a great battle between the first pitcher plant found to grow its pitchers underground to dine (see the full study) and the Demon’s orchid, described in 2016 from a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest in southern Colombia (read the study). Both species made the headlines across the news media around the world following their descriptions in our flagship botany journal PhytoKeys.
Next, we saw the primitive dipluran Haplocampa wagnelli (read its species description in Subterranean Biology) – a likely survivor of the Ice Age thanks to the caves of Canada – win the public in a duel against Xuedytes bellus (described in ZooKeys in 2017), also known as the Most cave-adapted trechine beetle in the world!
We had a close battle between the Principe Scops-owl Otus bikegila (see species description published in our ZooKeys earlier in 2022) and the blue-tailed Monitor lizard Varanus semotus (also first ‘known’ from the pages of ZooKeys, 2016). Being adorable species, but also ‘castaways’ on isolated islands in the Atlantic, they made great sensations upon their discovery. In fact, the reptile won with a single vote!
In the last battle of Round 1, the ‘horned’ tarantula C. attonitifer claimed the victory with a strong (80%) advantage from its competitor with a rebel name: the freshwater crayfish C. snowden (species description in ZooKeys from 2015). Described in African Invertebrates in 2019, the arachnid might be one amongst many ‘horned’ baboon spiders, yet there was something quite extraordinary about its odd protuberance. Furthermore, it came to demonstrate how little we know about the fauna of Angola:  a largely underexplored country located at the intersection of several ecoregions.
Round 2 – Quarter-finals
In the first quarter-final round, in the close battle, the isopod ’emerged’ from the ocean depths of Indonesia B. raksasa (species description in Zookeys from 2020) claimed the victory with just a few votes difference (58%!) from its competitor: lovely olinguito B. neblina, also described in Zookeys but back in 2013.
In the second round of the quarter-final, the tapir ‘chocolate’ frog S. danta (described in Evolutionary Systematics this year) claimed the victory with a significant advantage (69%) over its competitor crab H. severus described in Zookeys in 2017.
The third battle in Round 2 secured a place at the semi-finals for the only plant to get this far in the New Species Showdown. If you are dedicated to the mission of proving the plant kingdom superior: keep supporting Nepenthes pudica in the semi-finals and beyond!
In the meantime, read the full description of the species, published in our PhytoKeys in June.
The last quarter-final send the Angolan ‘horned’ tarantula to the next round. Described in African Invertebrates in 2019, its discovery would have likely remained a secret had it not been for the local tribes who provided the research team with crucial information about the curious arachnid.
Round 3 – Semi-finals
Curiously enough, by winning against the ‘supergiant’ isopod B. raksasa – also known around the Internet as the ‘Darth Vader of the seas’ – the Amazonian anuran S. danta outcompetes the last species in the New Species Showdown representing our flagship taxonomy journal: ZooKeys.

The charming anuran was described in February 2022 in Evolutionary Systematics, a journal dedicated to whole-organism biology that we publish on behalf of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change (LIB).
In a dramatic turn of events, the tight match between the Angolan tarantula C. attonitifer , whose ‘horn’ protruding from its back surprised the scientists because of its unique structure and soft texture, and the first pitcher plant whose ‘traps’ can be found underground in Borneo, ended up with the news that the New Species Showdown will be concluding with a battle between the kingdoms Animalia and Plantae! What a denouement!

The record-breaking plant was described in June 2022 in PhytoKeys: a journal launched by Pensoft in 2010 with the mission to introduce fast, linked and open publishing to plant taxonomy.
THE FINAL
And here we were at the finish line.
But why did we hold the tournament right now?

If you have gone to the Pensoft website at any point in 2022, visited our booth at a conference, or received a newsletter from any of our journals, by this time, you must be well aware that in 2022 – more precisely, on 25 December – we turned 30. And we weren’t afraid to show it!

Pensoft’s team happy to showcase the 30-year story of the company at various events this year.
Left: Maria Kolesnikova at the annual Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG 2022) conference, hosted by Pensoft in Sofia, Bulgaria. Right: Iva Boyadzhieva at the XXVI International Congress of Entomology (ICE 2022) in Helsinki, Finland.

Indeed, 30 is not that big of a number, as many of us adult humans can confirm. Yet, we take pride in reminiscing about what we’ve done over the last three decades. 

The truth is, 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to picture this day, let alone think that we’d be sharing it with all of you: our journal readers, authors, editors and reviewers, collaborators in innovation, project partners, and advisors. 

Long story short, we wanted to do something special and fun to wrap up our anniversary year. While we have been active in various areas, including development of publishing technology concerning open and FAIR access and linkage for research outcomes and underlying data; and multiple EU-supported scientific projects, we have always been associated with our biodiversity journal portfolio.

Besides, who doesn’t like to learn about the latest curious creature that has evaded scientific discovery throughout human history up until our days? 😉

Now, follow the #NewSpeciesShowdown to join the contest!

Pensoft’s ARPHA Publishing Platform integrates with OA Switchboard to streamline reporting to funders of open research

By the time authors open their inboxes to the message their work is online, a similar notification will have also reached their research funder.

Image credit: OA Switchboard.

By the time authors – who have acknowledged third-party financial support in their research papers submitted to a journal using the Pensoft-developed publishing platform: ARPHA – open their inboxes to the congratulatory message that their work has just been published and made available to the wide world, a similar notification will have also reached their research funder.

This automated workflow is already in effect at all journals (co-)published by Pensoft and those published under their own imprint on the ARPHA Platform, as a result of the new partnership with the OA Switchboard: a community-driven initiative with the mission to serve as a central information exchange hub between stakeholders about open access publications, while making things simpler for everyone involved.

All the submitting author needs to do to ensure that their research funder receives a notification about the publication is to select the supporting agency or the scientific project (e.g. a project supported by Horizon Europe) in the manuscript submission form, using a handy drop-down menu. In either case, the message will be sent to the funding body as soon as the paper is published in the respective journal.

“At Pensoft, we are delighted to announce our integration with the OA Switchboard, as this workflow is yet another excellent practice in scholarly publishing that supports transparency in research. Needless to say, funding and financing are cornerstones in scientific work and scholarship, so it is equally important to ensure funding bodies are provided with full, prompt and convenient reports about their own input.”

comments Prof Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft and ARPHA.

 

“Research funders are one of the three key stakeholder groups in OA Switchboard and are represented in our founding partners. They seek support in demonstrating the extent and impact of their research funding and delivering on their commitment to OA. It is great to see Pensoft has started their integration with OA Switchboard with a focus on this specific group, fulfilling an important need,”

adds Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director of the OA Switchboard.

***

About the OA Switchboard:

A global not-for-profit and independent intermediary established in 2020, the OA Switchboard provides a central hub for research funders, institutions and publishers to exchange OA-related publication-level information. Connecting parties and systems, and streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of metadata, the OA Switchboard provides direct, indirect and community benefits: simplicity and transparency, collaboration and interoperability, and efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

About Pensoft:

Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials.

All journals (co-)published by Pensoft are hosted on Pensoft’s full-featured ARPHA Publishing Platform and published in a way that ensures their content is as FAIR as possible, meaning that it is effortlessly readable, discoverable, harvestable, citable and reusable by both humans and machines.

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Follow Pensoft on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
Follow OA Switchboard on Twitter and Linkedin.

Swimmer’s Itch: what causes this neglected snail-borne disease?

A new study suggests that a cercarial dermatitis outbreak in South Thailand was caused by the blood fluke Schistosoma indicum.

Cercarial dermatitis, also known as swimmer’s itch or clam-digger’s itch, is caused by the larvae of blood flukes that are parasites of birds or mammals. When these larvae, called cercariae, penetrate human skin, they trigger an allergic reaction within 10-15 hours that takes about a week to heal. Unable to mature into adults, the larvae then die on the skin. The gravity of an outbreak depends on how humans and birds or mammals come in contract with the aquatic environment, but people engaged in water activities, such as farmers, fishermen, and agricultural workers, are most likely to be affected.

Cercarial dermatitis cases from Chana district, October 2020

Between August and October 2020, a cercarial dermatitis outbreak with 359 confirmed cases occurred in Chana district, Songkhla Province, South Thailand. It mostly affected rice farmers from the area, who were busy with cultivation during the rainy season. Following a short investigation, three cases of patients were confirmed to be cercarial infections by skin biopsy (Bureau of Epidemiology, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand).

“The study of intermediate host and definitive host in the outbreak area are important for the control program of snail-borne disease,” the researchers argue in their research paper, which was published in the open-access scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics.

Having studied six snail species from the area, they found out that two were infected, each with three different species of flatworms. The cercarial dermatitis outbreak was due to ruminant parasites, such as the blood fluke Schistosoma indicum, which often uses domestic animals as its host.

Collected snails from five locations of cercarial dermatitis outbreak area. a. Filopaludina s. peninsularis b. Filopaludina s. polygramma c. Indoplanorbis exustus d. Filopaludina m. cambodjensis e. Bithynia s. siamensis f. Pomacea canaliculata (Scale bar: 1 cm).

Ruminant-infecting trematodes, namely, S. indicum and S. spindale, cause a hepato-intestinal schistosomiasis resulting in reduced milk yield,” the authors explain. “This occurrence of S. indicum and S. spindale implies the spread of cattle blood fluke cercariae in aquatic environments.”

“Additionally, these species of the S. indicum group primarily cause cercarial dermatitis in humans, which has become an important public health issue for people living in endemic regions.”

“In South India and Southeast Asia, where S. indicum and S. spindale have been reported to be widespread, they caused major pathology and mortality to livestock, leading to welfare and socio-economic issues, predominantly among poor subsistence farmers and their families.”

Image of Schistosoma indicum Montgomery, 1906 (Syn. S. nasalis Rao, 1933) a. Head organ of cercaria stained with 0.5% neutral red (DIC microscopy) b. Body part of cercaria stained with 0.5% neutral red (DIC microscopy) c. Image of unstained cercaria (DIC microscopy) d. Images of cercaria stained with 0.5% neutral red (DIC microscopy) e. Drawing of cercaria structure f. Images of sporocyst stained with 0.5% neutral red (light microscopy) Abbreviations: c: cercaria, eb: excretory bladder, ep: esophagus, fu: furca, h: head organ, i: intestine, pg: penetration gland, sp: sporocyst, ta: tail, vs: ventral sucker.. (Scale bars: 100 μm).

Some of the other worm species they found parasitized the intestines of fish, mammals, or birds, while others caused anemia and even death in ruminant animals.

“The results of this study will provide insights into the parasite species that cause cercarial dermatitis and may improve our understanding of public health problems in the outbreak and agricultural vicinity areas,” the authors of the study say. “In addition, the sequence data generated here are the first S. indicum DNA sequences from Thailand, which will be useful for further genetic study of the other blood flukes in this region.”

Research article:

Krailas D, Namchote S, Komsuwan J, Wongpim T, Apiraksena K, Glaubrecht M, Sonthiporn P, Sansawang C, Suwanrit S (2022) Cercarial dermatitis outbreak caused by ruminant parasite with intermediate snail host: schistosome in Chana, South Thailand. Evolutionary Systematics 6(2): 151-173. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.6.87670

Images by Professor Dr. Duangduen Krailas.

Follow Evolutionary Systematics on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrating World Lizard day with amazing discoveries

This August 14, we’re looking back to the most impressive lizard discoveries we’ve witnessed throughout the years.

World Lizard Day is a great way to raise awareness of these curious reptiles and their conservation needs; it is also a good excuse to look at pretty lizard pictures! Today, we’re doing a bit of both.

At Pensoft, we’ve published many new lizard species, some of them rare and truly fascinating. This August 14, we’re looking back to the most impressive lizard discoveries we’ve witnessed throughout the years.

The Dracula lizard

This beautiful lizard, described in 2018, comes from the Andean slopes of southwestern Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. It inhabits evergreen low montane forests, and is only known from a relatively small territory of approximately 1582 km2. Its prey most often consists of insects, spiders and worms.

Contrary to what you might think, this species was not named after the eponymous vampire count, but rather after some beautiful tropical flowers.

The specific epithet dracula refers to the Dracula Reserve, which is located within the lizard’s distribution and near its type locality. The Reserve protects an area with a high diversity of orchids of the genus Dracula.

Published in ZooKeys.

The tiny chameleon

This lizard friend, known as Brookesia tedi, is less than 3 cm long! It is more than ten times smaller than the longest known chameleon, Furcifer oustaleti. Its size makes it difficult to find, and as a result, challenging to study. Its description, published in 2019, helped resolve a 50-year old identity question.

Living at 1300 m above sea level on the Marojejy massif in northeastern Madagascar, Brookesia tedi lives is brown in colour, its tail and the back of its head grey.

The researchers consider it Vulnerable but worry that improper protection on Marojejy, as well as fires, could rapidly drive the species to becoming Critically Endangered.

Published in Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The charismatic wood lizard

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful and highly variable lizard – especially its males, who can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides. The team behind its discovery spent seven years in the area searching for amphibians and reptiles before describing it.

The species comes from the Tropical Andes, and more specifically – from the Huallaga River basin, an area which is still poorly studied because for a long time it was disturbed by civil wars.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after another reptile, Feiruz the iguana – “muse and lifelong friend”.

The spotted monitor lizard

Mussau is a small island in northeastern Papua New Guinea. The top predator on it? A lizard.

Varanus semotus has been isolated from related species for an estimated one to two million years, with its closest relatives several hundred kilometers away.

Even so, science discovered it only recently.

The one-meter-long lizard has a black body with yellow and orange markings and a pale yellow tongue, with a turquoise to blue tail. These animals “will eat just about anything they can catch and kill,” study author Valter Weijola told the Washington Post.

As the only large terrestrial generalist predator and scavenger on the island, Varanus semotus may fill an important ecological function, making it of particular conservation concern.

Published in ZooKeys.

The black iguana

What makes Iguana melanoderma so distinct is its black color; in fact, it only gets blacker with age. The species was discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), to which it is endemic.

However, it is threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade), and competition and hybridization from invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America.

A greater focus on biosecurity, the minimization of hunting, and habitat conservation, would help its conservation, the researchers write in their paper.

In Saba, Iguana melanoderma lives on cliffs, in trees and bushes, in shrublands, and deciduous woodlands. It lives in a foggy and cool environment up to about 500 m a.s.l. and sunbathes as soon as the sun rises.

Published in ZooKeys.

Bonus: Illegal lizard trade might be closer than you think

Dubbed “miniature Godzilla” and “the Holy Grail of Herpetology,” the earless monitor lizard is endemic to Borneo. Legally, it can neither be traded within Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, nor exported out of them.

Even so, reptile enthusiasts and unscrupulous traders have long been smuggling small numbers of earless monitor lizards, eventually bringing them to Europe.

A new study reported that accredited zoos have acquired individuals of the protected lizard, without any evidence of legal export.

“Zoos that continue to obtain animals that have been illegally acquired, directly or indirectly, are often fuelling the illegal wildlife trade, supporting organised crime networks and possibly contributing to the decline in some species,” Vincent Nijman, author of the study, told us.

Published in Nature Conservation.

Top new species discoveries for the first half of 2022

The diversity is impressive, but what is even more amazing is how much more remains undiscovered.

In the world of biodiversity science, 2022 started with some great discoveries and a lot of hope. Here at Pensoft, we get to see a new species (or more!) make an appearance into the scientific world almost every day. The diversity is impressive, but what is even more amazing is how much more remains undiscovered.

With the first half of the year already behind us, here are the stellar new species that took the world by storm as soon as we published them.

The magical fairy wrasse

This rainbow-coloured fish is called Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, or Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse, and it was found in the Maldives’ reefs. It can live 160 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in unexplored coral ecosystems dubbed “the twilight zone”. 

It was discovered within California Academy of SciencesHope for Reefs initiative, which is aimed at better understanding and protecting coral reefs around the world.

“Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people,” says senior author and Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha. “Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers.”

Apart from its striking appearance, Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa also gained popularity as the first new-to-science species to be described by a Maldivian scientist.

“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives, even those that are endemic, without much involvement from local scientists, says study co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb. “This time it is different.”

It is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.

This beautiful fish is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade, a fact described as “unsettling” by the people who discovered it.

Published in ZooKeys.

The Taylor Swift millipede

How often is it that a millipede makes top news headlines? Well, Nannaria swiftae sure did.

Scientists Derek Hennen, Jackson Means, and Paul Marek, at Virginia Tech, U.S., described the new species in April, naming it after singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. “Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks,” Derek Hennen says, admitting he has been her fan for years.

N. swiftae joins 16 other new species of twisted-claw millipedes described from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. To find them, researchers traveled to 17 US states, checking under leaf litter, rocks, and logs. They then sequenced the DNA of the species they found and described them scientifically. They looked at over 1800 specimens collected on their field study or taken from university and museum collections!

These little-known invertebrates are somewhat tricky to catch, because they tend to remain buried in the soil, sometimes staying completely beneath the surface.

Most twisted-claw millipedes live on the forest floor, where they feed on decaying leaves and other plant matter. They also have a valuable role as decomposers: breaking down leaf litter, they release their nutrients into the ecosystem.

Published in ZooKeys.

The Greta Thunberg frog

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been namesakes with a frog for half a year now. In 2018, Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an auction offering naming rights for some new-to-science species, including Pristimantis gretathunbergae, a black-eyed rainfrog from in eastern Panama.

The undisclosed auction winner wanted to name the frog in honor of Thunberg and her work in highlighting the urgency in preventing climate change. She has impressed global leaders and her work is drawing others to action for the climate.

The international team that discovered the new rainfrog was led by Abel Batista, Ph.D. (Panama) and Konrad Mebert, Ph.D. (Switzerland). They found the frog on Mount Chucanti, a sky island surrounded by lowland tropical rainforest in eastern Panama. Reaching its habitat in the cloud forest required access via horseback through muddy trails, hiking up steep slopes, by-passing two helicopters that crashed decades ago, and camping above 1000 m elevation.

Unfortunately, the frog’s remaining habitat is severely fragmented and highly threatened by rapid deforestation for plantations and cattle pasture. Rising temperatures are another threat as they could destroy its small mountain habitat. The Mount Chucanti region already has lost more than 30% of its forest cover over the past 10 years, and the scientists insist that conservation of the remaining habitat is critical to ensure the survival of the frog.

Published in ZooKeys.

The chocolate frog

Since we’re on the subject of frogs, how about one that almost looks like it’s not real?

Instantly gaining popularity as Chocolate Frog, Synapturanus danta is a curious little frog that was recently discovered in the Peruvian Amazon. Local people had long known about this tiny, burrowing frog with a long snout; one local name for it is rana danta, “tapir frog”, for its resemblance to the large-nosed Amazonian mammal.

“These frogs are really hard to find, and that leads to them being understudied,” says Michelle Thompson, a researcher in the Keller Science Action Center at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the authors of the study describing the frog. “It’s an example of the Amazon’s hidden diversity, and it’s important to document it to understand how important the ecosystem functions.”

While the frogs are hard to see, they’re not hard to hear. “We just kept hearing this beep-beep-beep coming from underground, and we suspected it could be a new species of burrowing frog,” says Thompson. “But how do we get to it?”

Local guides who were familiar with the frogs led the researchers to peatland areas– wetlands carpeted with nutrient-rich turf made of decaying plant matter. “After 15 to 20 minutes of digging and looking for them, I heard Michelle screaming, and to me that could only mean that she and David had found the first adult,” says Germán Chávez, a researcher at Peru’s Instituto Peruano de Herpetología and the study’s first author.

The researchers used the physical specimens of the frogs, along with the recordings of their calls and an analysis of the frogs’ DNA, to confirm that they were a new species. They named them Synapturanus danta – Synapturanus is the name of the genus they belong to, and danta is the local word for “tapir.”

Published in Evolutionary Systematics.

The fabulous flaming-red snake

This magnificent non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, was discovered in Paraguay. It belongs to the genus Phalotris, a group of snakes from central South America noted for their striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the involved researchers, came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Together with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery, naming the new snake Phalotris shawnella.

The species name recognizes two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – who were born in the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children can inherit a better world.

This new Phalotris snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species in its genus by its red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.

Only known from three individuals, this species is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. Its extreme rarity led the authors to consider it as “Endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it is in imminent danger of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection.

Published in Zoosystematics and Evolution.

India’s relic forests reveal a new species of leopard gecko

The Painted Leopard Gecko is already under a threat of extinction, as it is being collected for the pet trade and may even be smuggled illegally.

Deep in the forests of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in India lives a colourful gecko species that only now revealed its true identity. Meet Eublepharis pictus, also known as the Painted Leopard Gecko.

In 2017, researchers Zeeshan A. Mirza of the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and C. Gnaneswar of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Chennai found a gecko in a water tank near a temple in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, during a field survey. Back then, they identified it as belonging to the East Indian Leopard Gecko species (Eublepharis hardwickii).

Painted leopard gecko ( Eublepharis pictus). Image by Sanjay Kumar & Avinash Ch.

“The species appears to be common in the hill forests, but its distinctness was only confirmed by other researchers,” Zeeshan Mirza explains.

In a phylogenetic study, where they looked for the evolutionary history and relationships within and between the leopard gecko species in the genus Eublepharis, the researchers found that what had until then been considered a southern population of East Indian Leopard Geckomight be distinct enough to represent a new species.

Once they had molecular data they could work with, the team made morphological comparisons between the species, looking at specimens across natural history museums.

Map of east India showing the distribution of E. hardwickii (black circles) and E. pictus (blue rhombus). Image of E. pictus by Gnaneshwar C. H.

“These lizards have conserved morphologies and most species are quite similar in general appearance,” Zeeshan Mirza elaborates. “With a few characters based on the number of specimens examined, we described the species and named it the Painted Leopard Gecko – in Latin, Eublepharis pictus, for its colouration.” They published their discovery in the open-access scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics.

With this new addition, the gecko genus Eublepharis now contains 7 species. Two of them – E. pictus and E. satpuraensis – were described by Zeeshan Mirza.

The Painted Leopard Gecko measures 11.7 cm in length, which is somewhat large for a leopard gecko. The Brahmani River, which runs through the Eastern Ghats, separates it geographically from the East Indian Leopard Gecko, with which it shares a lot of similar traits.

The new species lives in dry evergreen forests mixed with scrub and meadows. It is strictly nocturnal, actively foraging along trails in the forest after dusk. While looking for food, it has been observed licking surfaces as it moves, which suggests it might use its tongue as a sensory organ.

Even though the Painted Leopard Gecko seems to be widespread across the state of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh, the researchers worry about its conservation. “The species is collected for the pet trade and even now may be smuggled illegally,” they write in their paper, which is why they refrain from giving out the exact locations where it may be found.

Painted leopard gecko ( Eublepharis pictus). Photo by Zeeshan Mirza

The authors believe the species would stand more of a chance against humans if more people knew it was actually harmless. To protect it, they suggest listing it as Near Threatened based on IUCN conservation prioritisation criteria, until more is known about the size of its populations.

Further research may also encourage better protection of biodiversity in the area. “The Eastern Ghats are severely under-surveyed, and dedicated efforts will help recognize it as a biodiversity hotspot,” the authors conclude.

Research article:

Mirza ZA, Gnaneswar C (2022) Description of a new species of leopard geckos, Eublepharis Gray, 1827 from Eastern Ghats, India with notes on Eublepharis hardwickii Gray, 1827. Evolutionary Systematics 6(1): 77-88. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.6.83290