Smooth hunters: How environmental awareness helped the Bushmen to poison their game

Being responsible for providing their food straight from nature, the San tribes, also called Bushmen, have quickly found ways to evolve their hunting methods. It is assumed that it did not take long between the adoption of bowhunting and the application of poison arrow heads. An American team of researchers, led by Dr. Caroline S. Chaboo, University of Kansas, have studied the various substances and their sources used in different San groupings from Namibia and have their paper published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

A cross-disciplinary examination involving socio-cultural, historical and ecological as well as entomological knowledge and fieldwork has allowed for a report on the poison sources, their preparation, use and antidotes for the two largest San groupings in Namibia and also summarise the scattered information about other seven groups.

While some of the used poisons are derived from certain plants, others have been found to come from specific beetle species. In the present paper, the scientists describe the process of poison preparation, based on their observation among the San peoples. Interestingly, they used neither adults, nor pupae for its production, but only larvae.

An observant hunter first dug up a cocoon from under the soil of the host plant, which he broke open and took out the larva from within. He rolled the larvae between his fingers, rubbing its skin against a stick he used as a pestle, and then extracted its tissue in one of his special tools – an old giraffe or kudu knuckle bone, where he could mix it with the rest of the ingredients. These included a chewed bark of a particular pea flowering plant species and the beans from others.

Although nowadays many San tribes that have used bowhunting and poison arrows in the past have abandoned them due to restrictions, modern tools and change of lifestyle in general, the familiarisation, adoption and development of poison weapons dating back to Ancient times are excellent examples of the cognitive shifts in human evolution.

“Although these San communities live short distances apart, their arrow poisons are diverse, pointing to an incredibly intimate knowledge of their environment,” explain the researchers. “The discovery of arrow poisons was a significant evolutionary step for humankind, yet we are facing the last opportunity to document arrow-poison use in southern African hunter-gatherer societies.”

“Ethnological data collection such as ours, including the collection of terms in the local vernacular, can open new avenues of research about variations in ecology, fauna and flora,” they conclude.

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Original source:

Chaboo CS, Biesele M, Hitchcock RK, Weeks A (2016) Beetle and plant arrow poisons of the Ju|’hoan and Hai||om San peoples of Namibia (Insecta, Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae; Plantae, Anacardiaceae, Apocynaceae, Burseraceae). ZooKeys 558: 9-54. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.558.5957

Twenty-four new beetle species discovered in Australian rain forests

As many as twenty-four new species from Australian rainforests are added to the weevil genus Trigonopterus. Museum scientists Dr. Alexander Riedel, State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe, Germany, and Rene Tanzler, Zoological State Collection Munich, Germany, have first discovered them among unidentified specimens in different beetle collections. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Australia is well known for its extensive deserts and savanna habitats. However, a great number of native Australian species are restricted to the wet tropical forests along the east coast of northern Queensland. These forests are also the home of the recent discoveries.

Most of the weevil species now recognised as new have already been collected in the 80s and 90s of the past century. Since then they had been resting in museum collections until German researcher Alexander Riedel had the opportunity to study them.

“Usually a delay of decades or even centuries occurs between the encounter of a new species in the field and its thorough scientific study and formal naming,” he explains. “This is due to the small number of experts who focus on species discovery,” he elaborates. “There are millions of unidentified insect specimens stored in collections around the world but only few people have the training necessary to identify those of special interest.”

However, old museum specimens alone are not enough either. Nowadays, researchers try to include DNA data in their descriptions, and the necessary sequencing techniques work more efficiently with freshly collected material. Therefore, the scientists set off to the field after they have studied the collections of others. Nevertheless, the German team were led to the discovery of one additional new species, which had never been seen before. They called itTrigonopterus garradungensis after the place where it was found.

All of the newly described weevils are restricted to small areas. Some are found only in a single locality. Presumably, this is a consequence of their winglessness, which has prevented them from spreading around. Furthermore, most of them dwell in the leaf litter where they are easily overlooked. Usually, they come to light during specific surveys of the litter fauna.

This is what Geoff Monteith from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, for instance, has done in the past. As a result, his work is now relevant to conservation because highly localised species are extremely vulnerable to changes of their habitat such as climate change or the arrival of invasive species.

It is likely that Trigonopterus weevils have originated in Australia, the oldest landmass in the region. The island of New Guinea is geologically much younger, but there the genus has quickly enough diversified into hundreds of species. Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. As a result of the present research, for the Australian fauna these are now available.

Besides the publication in the open-access journal ZooKeys, high-resolution photographs of each species are uploaded to the Species ID website, along with the scientific description. All this puts a face to the species name, and therefore is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution.

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Original Source:

Riedel A, Tanzler R (2016) Revision of the Australian species of the weevil genus Trigonopterus Fauvel. ZooKeys 556: 97-162. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.556.6126

30th anniversary of Symposia on Chysomelidae celebrated in a new leaf beetle-themed issue

For the last 30 years entomologists all over the world have been gathering together on a regular basis, led by their fascination with one of the three most captivating with their colours and numbers beetle families. The most cardinal of these gatherings is the Symposium on Leaf Beetles, nowadays organised every two years, which traditionally culminates into special issues to hold the quintessence from the findings, talks and debates and keep them safe for the future generations. For a fifth time in a row, the latest volume is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The present volume, assembled with the works of a large multinational research team and put together by editors Drs. Michael Schmitt, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität, Jorge Santiago-Blay and long-year head of the community of leaf beetle researchers, Prof. Pierre Hippolyte Auguste Jolivet, continues the seemingly ever-going task assumed by the community to further build on the knowledge about the taxonomy, distribution, physiology and biology of the amazing creatures.

In light of the news of Prof. Pierre Jolivet’s resignation from his post as head and senior editor of Research on Chrysomelidae, his colleagues and friends from the chrysomelid community have dedicated the present volume to their “spiritus rector”. “We, editors, many authors, and publishers of Research on Chrysomelidae are grateful for Pierre’s permanent intellectual stimulation, his helpful input, and his friendship,” read the final words of the editorial.

Apart from the activities linked to Research on Chrysomelidae, Prof. Pierre Jolivet has been the inspiring leader of the community of leaf beetle researchers for more than half a century. Furthermore, the Normandy-born entomologist has also published works on ants, ant-plant interactions, parasites of insects and even broader topics, such as evolution.

However, with its 30-year legacy the collaborative global initiative does not seem anywhere close to its slowing down. While a sixth consecutive volume of RoC is currently in production with ZooKeys journal, more and more young chrysomelidologists join the community. Meanwhile, the Symposia themselves having been held every four years, now take place every twenty-four months.

“Eight symposia on Chrysomelidae have been held. Many new things have been found but some problems remain unsolved,” conclude the editors.

“It is certain that some areas need more investigation, as Madagascar for instance, and that there remain many biological problems to be solved or to be discovered,” they point their next steps. “Deforestation reduces the number of species and genera, and many will disappear before being described. Few will persist as fossils in the tropics. Millions of insects have existed in the past and will remain unknown forever.”

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Original source:

Jolivet P (2015) Together with 30 years of Symposia on Chrysomelidae! Memories and personal reflections on what we know more about leaf beetles. In: Jolivet P, Santiago-Blay J, Schmitt M (Eds) Research on Chrysomelidae 5. ZooKeys 547: 35-61. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.547.7181

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Research on Chrysomelidae 5 Special Issue is available to read and order from here.

 

Lava attraction: 74 new beetle species found hiding in plain sight on a Hawaiian volcano

Confined to the limits of Haleakala volcano, Maui Island, Hawaii, the beetle fauna there turns out to be not only extremely diverse, but very abundant as well. When Prof. James Liebherr of the Cornell University Insect Collection thoroughly sampled beetle populations on the volcano, he identified 116 species of round-waisted predatory beetles, including 74 new to science. The taxonomic revision, complete with descriptions of the new species, is now published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The present discoveries and observations are certainly surprising due to their scale, even though it has been long known that the Hawaiian Islands support disproportionately high levels of biodiversity. For this group of native round-waisted beetles, called Mecyclothorax in the zoological naming system, there are 239 species across the Hawaiian Islands, all of them descended from a single colonizing species.

The 116 species known from Haleakala make that volcano the center of biodiversity for this group within Hawaii. These beetles’ evolution during the 1.2-million-year lifespan of Haleakala volcano means they have speciated faster than most organisms on Earth, including the Hawaiian Drosophila and the cichlid fishes of eastern Africa.

No less striking is the fact that the 74 newly described beetle species previously evaded discovery within the limits of Haleakala’s 1,440 km2 of surface area. Reasons for this include the restricted distributions of many of the beetle species, and the previous lack of comprehensive field sampling. During his research, Prof. Liebherr examined all quarters of the mountain to eventually find many places of 1′ latitude × 1′ longitude where more than 20Mecyclothorax species lived closely together within a limited area of forest.

Most of these diverse microhabitats were discovered in windward rainforests. Moreover, different forest areas, geographically isolated from each other by volcanic lava flows, steep valleys, or extensive mudflows, supported different sets of species. “Haleakala volcano is a large pie with different sets of beetle species living in the different slices,” comments Prof. Liebherr. “Actually the different pie slices are just like the original Hawaiian land divisions called ahu pua’a, showing that the Hawaiian people had a keen sense for how their island home was organized.”

Additionally, the round-waisted beetle species seem to thrive across a wide range of altitudes, with their populations covering the major part of the mountain’s height. Historical as well as modern records have identified representatives of these insects from 450-metre elevation up to the volcano’s summit at 3000 m. However, given land conversion and the influx of alien invasive plants, habitats below about 1000 m have been seriously disrupted, and these elevations support few native beetles.

Looking to the future, Liebherr points out that “the substantial level of sympatry, associated with occupation of diverse microhabitats by these beetles, provides ample information useful for monitoring biodiversity of the natural areas of Haleakala.”

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Original source:

Liebherr JK (2015) The Mecyclothorax beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Moriomorphini) of Haleakala-, Maui: Keystone of a hyperdiverse Hawaiian radiation. ZooKeys 544: 1-407. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.544.6074