Two new tree species discovered in Colombia

Trees of the genus Otoba have small, foul-smelling flowers coloured in yellow or greenish yellow, and round, aromatic fruits. Toucans, monkeys, or small terrestrial animals sometimes feed on their fruits, while herbivorous insects have developed a taste for their leaves. Part of the nutmeg family, Otoba trees are widely distributed from Nicaragua to Brazil, with as many as nine species native to Colombia.

Fruits of Otoba from Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Photo by Reinaldo Aguilar

Despite this apparent abundance, though, scientific knowledge on their biology is very limited.

Thanks to researchers from the Louisiana State University and the Missouri Botanical Garden, we now know more about these interesting trees, as Daniel Santamaría-Aguilar and Laura P. Lagomarsino recently described two new species of Otoba in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic meant limited access to physical specimens, the research team were able to identify the two new species while investigating herbaria samples. This discovery helps clear some taxonomic confusions in the genus, as both of these new species had often been mistaken for other Otoba members.

The newly described Otoba scottmorii and Otoba squamosa can be found in Colombia’s Antioquia department, growing in premontane and humid forests. Known from the premontane forests of Cordillera Occidental in Colombia, Otoba squamosa grows at 1330–1450 m, while Otoba scottmorii, locally known as Cuángare otobo, grows in the humid forests in the Department of Antioquia, northwestern Colombia.

Staminate flowers of Otoba from Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Photo by Reinaldo Aguilar

The scientific name scotmorii is a tribute to Dr. Scott A. Mori (1941–2020), “a wonderful person and skilled botanist; a dedicated explorer of Central and South America humid forests (where this species occurs), especially in the Guianas and the Amazon basin; and an authority on Neotropical Lecythidaceae,” who inspired and personally supported Daniel Santamaría-Aguilar in his botanical work.

Because their habitats are threatened by deforestation, both tree species are preliminarily assessed as Endangered according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Research article:

Santamaría-Aguilar D, Lagomarsino LP (2021) Two new species of Otoba (Myristicaceae) from Colombia. PhytoKeys 178: 147-170. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.178.64564

As uniform as cloned soldiers, new spiders were named after the Stormtroopers in Star Wars

One of the newly described bald-legged spider species Stormtropis muisca. It is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. Image by Carlos Perafan.

The new species are amongst the very first bald-legged spiders recorded in Colombia

Despite being widely distributed across north and central South America, bald-legged spiders had never been confirmed in Colombia until the recent study by the team of Drs Carlos Perafan and Fernando Perez-Miles (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay) and William Galvis (Universidad Nacional de Colombia). Published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, their research paper describes a total of six previously unknown species inhabiting the country.

Four of the novel spiders were unable to fit into any already existing genus, so the scientists had to create a brand new one for them, which they called Stormtropis in reference to the Star Wars‘ clone trooper army known as Stormtroopers.

Considered to be amongst the most enigmatic in the group of mygalomorphs, the bald-legged spiders are a family of only 11 very similarly looking, small- to medium-sized species, whose placement in the Tree of Life has long been a matter of debate. In fact, it is due to their almost identical appearance and ability for camouflage that became the reason for the new bald-legged spider genus to be compared to the fictional clone troopers.

One of the most striking qualities of the bald-legged spiders (family Paratropididae) is their ability to adhere soil particles to their cuticle, which allows them to be camouflaged by the environment.

A bald-legged spider of the genus Paratropis in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

“The stormtroopers are the soldiers of the main ground force of the Galactic Empire. These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage, but with unskillful movements, like this new group of spiders,” explain the researchers.

“We wanted to make a play on words with the name of the known genus, Paratropis, and of course, we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest sagas of all time”, they add.

One of the new ‘stormtrooper’ species (Stormtropis muisca) is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. It was recorded from an elevation of at least 3,400 m in the central Andes. However, the authors note that they have evidence of species living above 4,000 m. These results are to be published in future papers.

In the course of their fieldwork, the researchers also confirmed previous assumptions that the bald-legged spiders are well adapted to running across the ground’s surface. The spiders were seen to stick soil particles to their scaly backs as a means of camouflage against predators. More interestingly, however, the team records several cases of various bald-legged species burrowing into ravine walls or soil – a type of behaviour that had not been reported until then. Their suggestion is that it might be a secondary adaptation, so that the spiders could exploit additional habitats.

In conclusion, not only did the bald-legged spiders turn out to be present in Colombia, but they also seem to be pretty abundant there. Following the present study, three genera are currently known from the country (AnisaspisParatropis and Stormtropis).

A bald-legged spider (Paratropis elicioi) in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

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Original source:

Perafan C, Galvis W, Perez-Miles F (2019) The first Paratropididae (Araneae, Mygalomorphae) from Colombia: new genus, species and records. ZooKeys 830: 1-32. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.830.31433

New termite species condemned to 100 years of solitude with a second chance

While the last species of the termite genus Proneotermes genus has been discovered more than a hundred years ago, now scientists have discovered a new and a third one. Part of the fauna living in the dry forests in Colombia, its name was inspired by the magic realism of the fictional town of “Macondo” from the novel ‘One hundred years of solitude’ by Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Marquez.

Termitologists Robin Casalla, Freiburg University, Germany, and Universidad del Norte, Colombia, Dr Rudolf H. Scheffrahn, University of Florida, USA, and Prof Dr Judith Korb, Freiburg University, discovered a termite species and described it as new based on its unique shapes and colors, as well as its genes. The new termite is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Furthermore, there is a story behind the name of this new species, called Proneotermes macondianus. “Macondianus” refers to the fictional town of “Macondo” in the novel ‘One hundred year of solitude’ written by Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Marquez. Macondo stands for a forgotten microcosm in the history of Colombia with unimaginable events. According to the story, the magical realm was eventually wiped off the map by gigantic storms of the Caribbean as a form of divine punishment to the violation of the biblical laws of genetics, incest.

P. macondianus may have been one of those characters playing in the novel during the destruction of Macondo, remaining unrecognized until today,” comments lead author Robin Casalla.

In Colombia many species still await their discovery, either in the wild, or frozen in time in museum cabinets and lacking a name. The only way to refer to them, is by pointing to them with your finger. But now, P. macondianus has been described in ZooKeys.

The soldiers of this species have a characteristic elongated, rectangular heads, about 5 – 7 mm long, ranging in color from black (at the tip) to ferruginous orange (at the back). P. macondianus has a voracious appetite for drywood, especially thin branches of less than 2 cm in diameter, and lives in small colonies of about 20 individuals. Although few drywood termites are considered pests in some urban areas, P. macondianus lives only in the wild and prefers tropical dry forests.

The termite P. macondianus ‘sentenced’ to over a hundred years of ‘solitude’, has now been given a second chance to not be forgotten again, being recognized as part of the Colombian natural ecosystem.

 

Original source:

Casalla R, Scheffrahn RH, Korb J (2016) Proneotermes macondianus, a new drywood termite from Colombia and expanded distribution of Proneotermes in the Neotropics (Isoptera, Kalotermitidae). ZooKeys 623: 43-60. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.623.9677

Orchid or Demon: Flower of a new species of orchid looks like a devil’s head

A lone and unique population of about 30 reddish to dark violet-maroon orchids grows on the small patch of land between the borders of two Colombian departments. However, its extremely small habitat is far from the only striking thing about the new species.

A closer look at its flowers’ heart reveals what appears to be a devil’s head. Named after its demonic patterns, the new orchid species, Telipogon diabolicus, is described in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Discovered by Dr Marta Kolanowska and Prof Dariusz Szlachetko, both affiliated with University of Gdansk, Poland, together with Dr Ramiro Medina Trejo, Colombia, the new orchid grows a stem measuring between 5.5 – 9 cm in height.

With its only known habitat restricted to a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest at the border between departments Putumayo and Nariño, southern Colombia, the devilish orchid is assigned as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List.

Although the curious orchid could be mistakenly taken for a few other species, there are still some easy to see physical traits that make the flower stand out. Apart from the demon’s head hidden at the heart of its colours, the petals themselves are characteristically clawed. This feature has not been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.close-up

“In the most recent catalogue of Colombian plants almost 3600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included,” remind the authors. “However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered. Only in 2015 over 20 novelties were published based on material collected in Colombia.”

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Original source:

Kolanowska M, Szlachetko DL, Trejo RM (2016) Telipogon diabolicus (Orchidaceae, Oncidiinae), a new species from southern Colombia. PhytoKeys 65: 113-124. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.65.8674

A hair’s breadth away: New tarantula species and genus honors Gabriel García Márquez

With its extraordinary defensive hairs, a Colombian tarantula proved itself as not only a new species, but also a new genus. It is hypothesised that the new spider is the first in its subfamily to use its stinging hairs in direct attack instead of ‘kicking’ them into the enemy.

Described in the open access journal ZooKeys by an international research team, led by Carlos Perafán, University of the Republic, Uruguay, the name of the new spider genus honours an indigenous people from the Caribbean coast region, whose language and culture are, unfortunately, at serious risk of extinction. Meanwhile, its species’ name pays tribute to renowned Colombian author and Nobel laureate for his novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ Gabriel García Márquez.male kankuamo

The new tarantula, formally called Kankuamo marquezi, was discovered in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. When examined, the arachnid showed something extraordinary about its defensive hairs and its genitalia. The hairs were noted to form a small oval patch of lance-shaped barbs, hypothesised by the scientists to have evolved to defend their owners by direct contact.

On the other hand, when defending against their aggressors, the rest of the tarantulas in this subfamily need to first face the offender and then vigorously rub their hind legs against their stomachs. Aimed and shot at the enemy, a ball of stinging hairs can cause fatal injuries to small mammals when landed into their mucous membrane (the layer that covers the cavities and shrouds the internal organs in the body). Once thrown, the hairs leave a bald spot on the tarantula’s belly.

“This new finding is a great contribution to the knowledge of the arachnids in Colombia and a sign of how much remains to be discovered,” point out he authors.

Figure 8“The morphological characteristics present on Kankuamo marquezi open the discussion about the phylogenetics relationship between subfamilies of Theraphosidae tarantulas and the evolutionary pressures that gave rise to the urticating hairs.”

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Original source:

Perafán C, Galvis W, Gutiérrez M, Pérez-Miles F (2016) Kankuamo, a new theraphosid genus from Colombia (Araneae, Mygalomorphae), with a new type of urticating setae and divergent male genitalia. ZooKeys 601: 89-109. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.601.7704