Are zoos inadvertently complicit in wildlife trade? The case of a rare Borneo lizard

Should zoos display legally protected species that have been smuggled out of their range countries? A new study suggests that a pause and rethink may be needed, as it reports that accredited zoos have acquired a rare and legally protected reptile, the earless monitor lizard endemic to Borneo, without any evidence that the animals were legally exported.

The earless monitor lizard occurs only on the island of Borneo and has been described as a “miniature Godzilla” and “the Holy Grail of Herpetology.” Discovered by western scientists almost 150 years ago, for most of this period the species was known largely from pickled specimens in natural history collections, and wasn’t recorded from the wild for decades. In the 1970s, the three countries that make up Borneo – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – added it to their protected species lists. This means that the species can neither be legally traded within these countries, nor legally exported out of them.

Earless monitor lizard. Photo by Chien C. Lee, Wild Borneo.

Despite legal protection and lack of export permissions, reptile enthusiasts and unscrupulous traders have long been smuggling small numbers of earless monitor lizards out of Indonesia and Malaysia, eventually bringing them to Europe. This greatly accelerated in 2012, when the species’ rediscovery was announced in a scientific journal. In 2016, all 183 countries that are signatory to the Convention on international trade in endangered species agreed to regulate global trade in earless monitor lizards in order to limit the negative effects of smuggling on wild populations. Agreed export numbers were set at zero.

Enforcing the laws has proven to be challenging, however, and to date only two smuggling attempts have been thwarted. In both cases, German smugglers were apprehended at Indonesian airports while attempting to move respectively eight and seventeen earless monitor lizards out of the country.

The first zoo that proudly announced it had obtained earless monitor lizards was Japan’s iZoo in 2013. This zoo is not accredited, and the ways in which the animals were obtained remain questionable. In Europe, the first zoos to openly display earless monitor lizards were located in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. The animals were obtained from what zoos referred to as “private individuals” or “dedicated hobby breeders”, and, in one instance, from iZoo. Just like in Japan, how these animals ended up in Europe is questionable, but perhaps not illegal – and it is evident that no export permits were ever issued.

In recent years, more and more zoos in Europe, and since the beginning of this year also in the United States, have started displaying earless monitor lizards. Some cases were part of zoo exchanges, others were obtained from private individuals, and a handful were placed in zoos by authorities after they were seized, but it is clear that many were at one point illegally exported out of Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei, or were illegally imported into non-range countries.

The acquisition of these protected lizards by zoos is neither in line with the intentions of national laws of their countries of origin, nor with international wildlife trade regulations. Moreover, it is diametrically opposed to the commitments the international zoo community has made to address illegal wildlife trade.

“To me, the current situation concerning the purchasing and proudly displaying of earless monitor lizards by accredited zoos can be compared with a road safety organisation posting online videos of its CEO doing wheelies on a motorbike and then adding that it was done on a private road where neither wearing a helmet nor having a driver’s licence is required,” said Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, author of the study that was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation. “Both may be legal in a technical sense, but the optics are not good.”

“Modern, scientifically managed zoos are increasingly organising themselves with set ethical values and binding standards which go beyond national legislation on conservation and sustainability, but, unfortunately, this still only counts for a small proportion of zoos worldwide,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Executive Director of Monitor Research Conservation Society. “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.”

Seven years ago, the price for a single earless monitor lizard was in the order of EUR 8,000 to 10,000 , so any zoo or hobbyist wanting to have one or more pairs had to make a serious financial commitment. These high prices put a restriction on the number of people that wanted to acquire them and could afford them. It probably also gave potential buyers a tacit reminder that the trade was illicit. In recent years, however, prices have come down, to less than EUR 1,000. Now that earless monitor lizards are more affordable, and with accredited zoos giving a sense of legitimacy, Nijman is concerned that it might become more and more acceptable to keep these rare animals as pets.

“When I grew up in the 1970s, it was still perfectly acceptable for what we now see as accredited zoos to regularly buy rare and globally threatened birds, mammals and reptiles from commercial animal traders. Few questions were asked about the legitimacy of this animal trade. This has dramatically changed for the better, and now many of the animals we see in zoos today have been bred in captivity, either in the zoo itself, or in partner zoos”, Nijman said. He added that in many ways zoos are a force for good in the global challenge to preserve species and conserve habitats. “It is imperative that these efforts are genuinely adopted by all in the zoo community, and, when there is doubt about the legitimacy of animals in trade, that a cautionary approach is adopted.”

Original source:

Nijman V (2021) Zoos consenting to the illegal wildlife trade – the earless monitor lizard as a case study. Nature Conservation 44: 69-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.44.65124

Plant diversity and endemism in China: unreachable locations and diverse microclimates

The newly described Bulbophyllum reflexipetalum

A new issue of the scholarly, open-access and peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys focuses on the Chinese biodiversity hotspots and their substantial role in understanding the country’s unique flora. The special issue embarks on a treasure hunt into China’s biodiversity hotspots, including the descriptions of 23 species previously unknown to science and new insights into the ecological diversity of ferns based on their DNA sequences.

In China, biodiversity-rich landscapes vary from the dry Northwest region, through the surrounded by massive mountain ranges of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, to the tropical and subtropical southern China. The combination of remote and hard to reach mountain areas and diverse microclimates promises high levels of endemism.


“With extended collaboration among Chinese scientists and coordination of networks on plant conservation and taxonomy across China, we synthesize a special issue entitled “Revealing the plant diversity in China’s biodiversity hotspots”, to present the latest findings by Chinese botanists, and to update knowledge of the flora for China and adjacent countries”, explained De-Zhu Li, professor of botany at Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in the editorial.

Among the newly described species, four new members of the African violet family were found from a subtropical forest in Yunnan province in southern China, discovered by researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, CAS and their collaborators. Half of them were found only from a sole population and require further botanical examinations to deploy the conservation priorities, remark the scientists.

In another paper, scientists Yun-Feng Huang and Li-Na Dong and Wei-Bin Xu, representatives of Guangxi Institute of Botany, revealed the discovery of a new species from the primrose family. Found nowhere outside the limestone areas in Liucheng county (Guangxi, China), this rare plant species is currently facing serious threats of extinction because of the fragility and sensitivity of its habitat to the environmental changes associated with the rapid economic development of China.


The newly described Lysimachia fanii
Credit: Yun-Feng Huang, Li-Na Dong, Wei-Bin Xu
License: CC-BY 4.0

Another team from the Guizhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and KIB describes a new representative of the parachute flowers. Ceropegia jinshaensis, characterized by the shape and size of its leaves and flowers. 


“More conservation efforts are needed in this region to counteract the increasing anthropogenic disturbance and destruction”, state the leading authors from KIB, who discovered a new species of orchid in the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot.

The special issue features the description of additional two orchid species, discovered in Motuo, located at the Himalayan border between China, Myanmar and India. The region is well known for its vertical vegetation system, varying from tropical forest to permanent glaciers. Ji-Dong Ya and Cheng Liu from the KIB and Xiao-Hua Jin from the Institute of Botany, CAS underline that the difficult access to the area allows the thriving and diversification of plants. 

Find the complete “Revealing the plant diversity in China’s biodiversity hotspots” special issue openly published in PhytoKeys at: https://phytokeys.pensoft.net/issue/1703/

Naming rights for 5 new snail-sucking snake species auctioned to save rainforests in Ecuador

Sibon bevridgelyi is arguably the prettiest of the lot. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

The existence of five delightfully weird snail-sucking snakes slithering through the forest floors of Ecuador was announced by a group of scientists in a study in the open access journal Zookeys.

Believe or not, there is an entire group of snakes for which snails are number one on their menu. This is why their jaws are modified in such a way that they can suck the viscous slimy body of a snail right out of its shell.

Dipsas bobridgelyi trying to suck a snail out of its shell. Photo by Matthijs Hollanders.

Luckily for us, these snakes are harmless to humans. However, humans are not harmless to them. Four out of the five newly discovered species are already facing the possibility of becoming extinct, as the forest remnants they call home are currently being destroyed.

In a bid to take care after the unfortunate reptiles, the scientists auctioned the naming rights for the new species at a recent event in New York City. The money are to purchase and save a previously unprotected 72 ha (178 acre) plot of land where some of these species live.

To do so, Fundación Jocotoco is to add the purchased plot to the Buenaventura reserve, in order to expand the only protected area where two of the new snakes are found, and prevent these endangered snake species from going extinct.

Dipsas bobridgelyi. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

Three of the five species were discovered during a series of expeditions to three rainforests in Ecuador between 2013 and 2017, conducted by Alejandro Arteaga, an Ecuadorian–Venezuelan PhD student at the American Museum of Natural History and scientific director of Tropical Herping, who partnered with Dr. Alex Pyron, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA.

In another habitat type, the dry forest, Ecuadorian scientists Dr. Omar Torres-Carvajal, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), David Salazar-Valenzuela, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Diego Cisneros-Heredia, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Juan Carlos Sánchez, Universidad del Azuay, Mario Yánez-Muñoz, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad  (INABIO), and Peruvian scientist Pablo Venegas, CORBIDI, noted the existence of the other two new species.

“We had to let people know that these cool snakes exist,” Alejandro said, “and that these species might soon stop to exist, and we need people’s help to protect the snake’s habitat.”

In order to confirm these five snakes as new species, the team of researchers, particularly Drs. Konrad Mebert, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Nicolás Peñafiel, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Gabriela Aguiar, Tropical Herping, and Timothy Colston, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA, counted scales and gathered measurements from more than 200 museum specimens, and extracted DNA from nearly 100 snakes.

PhD student Alejandro Arteaga measured snake specimens at various museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Having made the highest bid at the auction, Rainforest Trust (RT) and Bob Ridgely got to name three of the five new snakes.

Thus, the species Dipsas georgejetti now honors George Jett, who supported the inception of Fundación Jocotoco’s reserves in Ecuador; while Dipsas bobridgelyi is a tribute to Dr. Robert “Bob” S. Ridgely, a leading ornithologist and distinguished conservationist who helped the establishment of the Buenaventura reserve. Bob, who was at the auction, chose the name Sibon bevridgelyi (Bev Ridgely’s Snail-Eater) to honor his father.

Dipsas georgejetti is found in only in dry forests in the coast of Ecuador. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

The remaining two snail-eating species, Dipsas oswaldobaezi and D. klebbai, were named after Dr. Oswaldo Báez and Casey Klebba, respectively, in recognition for their passion for Ecuador’s biodiversity and conservation.

Dipsas klebbai is the only one among the new species currently not threatened with extinction. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

“Several companies let you name a star after a loved one,” Alejandro says, “but, generally, such names have no formal validity. Naming an entire species after someone you love or admire is different. With few exceptions, this is the name that both the general public and the whole scientific community will use. So, why not let people choose the name of a species in exchange for a donation that protects its habitat?”

Dipsas oswaldobaezi photographed at Reserva la Ceiba. Photo by Jose Vieira.

The act of naming species is essential in raising awareness about the existence of a species and its risk of extinction, but it also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people and institutions fighting to protect the species.

“Naming species is at the core of biology,” says Dr. Juan M. Guayasamin, co-author of the study and a professor at Universidad San Francisco in Quito. “Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of the species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described.”

“Everybody knows elephants and orangutans,” says Dr. Martin Schaefer of Fundación Jocotoco, “but some reptiles and amphibians are even more threatened. Yet, we still lack even the basic information to protect them better. This is why the work by scientists is so important; it provides the necessary information to guide our conservation decisions.”

“Through photography or by joining a scientific expedition, the general public can learn more about hidden biodiversity and how threatened it is,” says Lucas Bustamante of Tropical Herping. “This is a model to obtain support for research and conservation while recruiting more environmental ambassadors.”

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Find out more about the Tropical Herping’s scientific discoveries and expeditions on Instagram and Facebook.

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Watch the video below to follow entomologist and science communicator Phil Torres as he joins Alejandro Arteaga for one of his expeditions to document what it takes to find a new snake.

Academic paper:

Arteaga A, Salazar-Valenzuela D, Mebert K, Peñafiel N, Aguiar G, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Pyron RA, Colston TJ, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Venegas PJ, Guayasamin JM, Torres-Carvajal O (2018) Systematics of South American snail eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 766: 79–147. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.766.24523

An extraordinary cave animal found in Eastern Turkmenistan

A remote cave in Eastern Turkmenistan was found to shelter a marvelous cave-adapted inhabitant that turned out to represent a species and genus new to science. This new troglodyte is the first of its order from Central Asia and the first strictly subterranean terrestrial creature recorded in the country.

Kaptarhana cave is located at the foot of Koytendag Mountain, one of the most distinctive mountain landscapes in Central Asia. A curious amalgam of desert landscapes, often highly dissected by ravines, foothills with ridges, cuestas and fan plains, the mountain is a potential home to key biodiversity gems still awaiting discovery.

Also remarkable for its richness of caves and other limestone formations, Koytendag Mountain has more than 300 caves, sinkholes and potholes, hitherto registered from its territory, including the sixth largest cave system in Asia Gap Goutan/Promezdutachnaya stretched at more than 57 km underground. Also worthy of a mention is the beautiful cave Gulshirin, known for its snow white passages and extraordinary formations.

The caveAnother fine example, cave Kaptarhana, presents a unique habitat for a high number of cave-adapted animals, among which is the new species of a few millimetres long, pale and eyeless insect-like creature, whose relatives in the order Diplura also go by the name of two-pronged bristletails.

The scientists named it Turkmenocampa mirabilis, where the genus name (Turkmenocampa) refers to the creature’s country of origin (Turkmenistan), while the species name (mirabilis) means “unusual, amazing, wonderful, remarkable” in Latin to highlight its unique morphology and position among its relatives.

The new species is described in the open access journal Subterranean Biology by Dr. Alberto Sendra, University of Alcalá, Spain, Prof. Boris Sket, University of Ljubljana, and Prof. Pavel Stoev, National Museum of Natural History, Bulgaria.

In fact, Stoev and Sket were the first speleobiologists to visit and explore Kaptarhana in nearly 43 years. The survey was part of their study into the caves of Koytendag State Nature Reserve, Turkmenistan, conducted in 2015 and endorsed by a Memorandum of Understanding between the State Committee on Environment Protection and Land Resources of Turkmenistan and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

To discover the new species, the scientists spent about 8 hours in the cave looking for specimens and placed pitfall traps with smelly cheese used as a bait. While visual observations had no success due to the cave being very spacious, a number of exemplars of the hitherto undescribed animal fell victims of the traps.

“What we have here is not only a new remarkable organism, but also an amazing and unusual cave critter that has undergone a long evolutionary journey to adapt to the underground environment of Central Asia,” says the lead author Alberto Sendra.

The authors see their latest discovery as a proof of the importance of Kaptarhana as a refuge for a number of endemic invertebrates and an opportunity to draw attention to its protection under the laws of Turkmenistan.

“While many speleobiologists consider the terrestrial cave fauna in Central Asia as poor, it is places such as Kaptarhana that can turn the tables by giving us new insights about the biodiversity richness, evolutionary history, formation and functioning of the underground ecosystems of this part of the world.” comments Stoev.

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Original source:

Sendra A, Boris Sket B, Stoev P (2017) A striking new genus and species of troglobitic Campodeidae (Diplura) from Central Asia. Subterranean Biology 23: 47-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.23.14631

Light at the end of the tunnel: Restored forest now shelters dozens of endangered species

During the last twenty years, scientists worked hard to protect and restore the scattered patches of a dilapidated forest and its surroundings of agricultural and fallow vegetation in southern Benin.

With the help of their locally recruited assistants, Peter Neuenschwander, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Benin, and Aristide Adomou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, successfully thinned out the alien timber growing there and introduced 253 species, whose seeds and plantlets they had managed to collect from the last remnants of the original forest. Their research article is published in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

The team collecting seeds and plantlets in a neighbouring rainforestToday, the rehabilitated forest in Drabo harbours about 600 species of plants and constitutes a sanctuary for many animals, including the critically endangered and endemic red-bellied monkey.

Over the course of the last two decades, pantropical weedy species declined, while West-African forest species increased in numbers. Of the former, fifty-two species, mostly trees, shrubs and lianas, are listed as threatened – more than those in any other existing forest in Benin. Furthermore, some of the critically endangered species amongst them can be found exclusively in the last small, often sacred forests in Benin, which while covering merely 0.02% of the national territory, harbour 64% of all critically endangered plant species.

“The biodiversity richness of the rehabilitated forests of Drabo now rivals that of natural rainforest remnants of the region,” note the authors.

The newly restored forest in Drabo is relatively easy to access due to its proximity to large towns. It is intended to become an educational and research centre maintained by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. In fact, it already serves as an exemplary forest in the region.

With their initiative, the scientists and their followers demonstrate that by involving local communities and taking their customs into consideration, the safety of exposed precious ecosystems, even if located in a densely populated area, can be effectively assured.

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Original source:

Neuenschwander P, Adomou AC (2017) Reconstituting a rainforest patch in southern Benin for the protection of threatened plants. Nature Conservation 21: 57-82. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13906

Moth gift: Winner of an eBay auction thanks his mother by naming a new species after her

The loving son presented the name to his mother on St. Valentine’s Day

Winner of an eBay auction Steve Mix received the opportunity to pick the name for a new species of satiny-white winged moth collected from the white gypsum dunes of the White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. A fan of butterflies and moths himself, he chose to honor his supportive and encouraging mother Delinda Mix, so the moth is now formally listed under the species name delindae. It is described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Having spent 10 years studying the moth fauna at the White Sands National Monument, Eric H. Metzler, curator at the Michigan State University, but also research collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and research associate at the University of New Mexico and the University of Florida, discovered the moth during the first year of the study, in 2007. Back then, he spotted a curious small white moth with a satiny appearance, which immediately drew his attention.

LocalityAlready assigned to the genus Givira to the family commonly known as carpenter millers, the moth was yet to be identified as a species. While most of its North American ‘relatives’ are either dark-colored, or have substantial dark smudges on the forewings, there are only four of them, including the new species, which are substantially white with few or no dark markings.

Further hindrance occurred when the researcher tried to study the specimens, as pinned moths turned out greased due to their abdomens being full of fatty tissue. However, the specialist managed to degrease them by carefully brushing their scales, and, having compared them to related species, confirmed them as representatives of a species new to science.

Then, Eric joined the fundraising event, organized by the Western National Parks Association (WNPA), a non-profit education partner of the US National Park Service. The highest bidder in the eBay auction would receive the chance to pick the scientific name for the satiny-looking moth, and thus, become part of history. Having won the opportunity, Steve Mix, who himself had once been interested in studying butterflies and moths, and has been maintaining his fondness of them ever since, decided to name the species after his mother Delinda Mix, in gratitude for “the support and encouragement she gave to her son”.

“Steve Mix submitted the winning bid, and he chose to have the moth named after his mother because of the lasting nature of this naming opportunity”, shares Eric. “I received no remuneration in this fundraising venture, and by volunteering my personal money, time, expertise, and experience I was able to help WNPA gain world-wide positive publicity while raising some much needed cash. The rewards to me were being able to help WNPA and Steve Mix honor his mother, which is just so very sentimental”.

“WNPA is so pleased that we were able to work with Eric and we are grateful to Steve. This project is a shining example of working together towards the common good of our parks with the added value of providing a priceless experience for everyone involved”, says Amy Reichgott, Development Manager at the Western National Parks Association.

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Original source:

Metzler EH (2017) The Lepidoptera of White Sands National Monument, Otero County, New Mexico, USA 9. A new species of Givira Walker (Cossidae, Hypoptinae) dedicated to Delinda Mix, including a list of species of Cossidae recorded from the Monument. ZooKeys 655: 141-156. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.655.11339

Champions of biodiversity: A weevil genus beats records of explosive evolutive radiation

With as many as 120 recently discovered weevils placed in the genus Laparocerus, it now hosts a total of 237 known species and subspecies. They are all flightless beetles and most of them endemic (living exclusively in one geographic location) to a single island of the archipelagos of Madeira, Selvagens and the Canary Islands (17 islands in total). Only two species inhabit Morocco, the nearest continental land.

Independent Canarian entomologist Dr. Antonio Machado, who has been collecting and studying this genus of weevils for the last sixteen years and researched 46,500 specimens so far, was helped by geneticist Dr. Mariano Hernández, from the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, to undertake a phylogenetic study using three mitochondrial genes and one nuclear gene. The resulting phylogenetic tree also allowed for estimating the whole evolutionary process along a timeframe of about 11.2 million years. Their study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The molecular analysis confirms that all Laparocerus weevils have a common evolutionary ancestor (monophyly), but could not clarify whether that ancient founding species arrived from southern Europe or northwestern Africa. The two extant Moroccan species were found to be the result of a back-colonisation from the Canary Islands to Africa, and not the ancestral source lineage, which unfortunately is still unknown.

weevils PR 2Colonisation of Macaronesia started in Porto Santo, Madeiran archipelago, which is the oldest island, and from there it ‘jumped’ to Madeira and the Desertas. The colonisation of the Canary Islands started shortly after, and it basically moved stepwise from the east to the west in line with the decreasing age of the volcanic islands. Yet, there have been several back-colonisations, as well (see map). Large islands, such as Tenerife (2034 km2), ended up with 65 species and subspecies. Globally, there is an outstanding ratio of one endemic Laparocerus for each 35.7 km2; a record not beaten by any other genus of plant or animal in Macaronesia.

The evolutionary process responsible for such richness comprises sequential radiation events in these archipelagoes, each generating several monophyletic groups. These groups, 20 in total, have been recognised as subgenera of Laparocerus, and five of them — Aridotrox, Belicarius, Bencomius, Canariotrox, and Purpuranius — are described as new to science in this study. Colonisation routes, habitat shifts, disruption of populations by volcanism, dispersal by massive landslides, and other relevant aspects for adaptive and non-adaptive radiation, are largely discussed and confronted with previously published data referring to other groups of beetles or to other biological organisms (spiders, bush crickets, plants, etc.).

“If oceanic islands have been traditionally considered as laboratories of evolution and species-producing machines, Laparocerus will become the ideal guinea-pig for broadening studies in dispersal and speciation processes of all kinds,” say the authors. “Working with such a group is like getting a picture of Nature with more pixels. Several intriguing cases highlighted in this contribution may turn into the inspiration for further phylogeographic research.”

The scientists hope that, in near future Laparocerus will merit sharing the podium with Darwin´s finches or Drosophila in the studies of island evolution”.

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Original source:

Machado A, Rodríguez-Expósito E, López M, Hernández M (2017) Phylogenetic analysis of the genus Laparocerus, with comments on colonisation and diversification in Macaronesia (Coleoptera, Curculionidae, Entiminae). Zookeys 651: 1-77 (02 Feb 2017) https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.651.10097

A colorful yet little known snout moth genus from China with 5 new species

A group of beautiful snout moths from China was revised by three scientists from the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In their study, recently published in the open access journal Zookeys, entomologists Dr. Mingqiang Wang, Dr. Fuqiang Chen and Prof. Chunsheng Wu describe five new species and two newly recorded for the country.

Despite being morphologically interesting, the snout moth genus Lista remains little known. Usually, its members have bright-coloured wings, often pink, orange, or yellow, which makes them strikingly different from the rest in their subfamily (Epipaschiinae). In fact, it is because of the beautiful coloration that these moths are sometimes favourably compared to butterflies. However, these moths are indifferentiable from one another on the outside.

image-1As a result of the present study, there are now ten species of Lista snout moths known from China, with their world fauna amounting to thirteen. Mostly distributed in the south the East-Asian country, the genus likely originates from there.

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Original source:

Wang M, Chen F, Wu C (2017) A review of Lista Walker, 1859 in China, with descriptions of five new species (Lepidoptera, Pyralidae, Epipaschiinae). ZooKeys 642: 97-113. 10.3897/zookeys.642.7157

Species conservation profile of a critically endangered endemic for the Azores spider

Subject to continuing population decline due to a number of factors, an exclusively cave-dwelling (troglobitic) spider endemic to the Azores is considered as Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List criteria.

To provide a fast output, potentially benefiting the arachnid’s survival, scientists from the IUCN – Spider and Scorpion Specialist Group and the Azorean Biodiversity Group (cE3c) at University of Azores, where the main objective is to perform research that addresses societal challenges in ecology, evolution and the environment, also known as the three E’s from the centre’s name abbreviation, teamed up with colleagues from University of Barcelona, Spain, and the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

Together, they make use of a specialised novel publication type feature, called Species Conservation Profile, created by the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal, to provide scholarly credit and citation for the IUCN Red List species page, as well as pinpoint the population trends and the reasons behind them.

The studied spider species (scientifically called Turinyphia cavernicola) is a pale creature with long legs, large eyes and a total size of merely 2 mm in length. These spiders never leave their underground habitats, which are strictly humid lava tubes and volcanic pits. There they build sheet webs in small holes and crevices on the walls of the caves.

The volcanic pit Algar do Carvão (Terceira, Azores), the main location of the species Turyniphia cavernicola.Not only is the species restricted to a single island within the Azorean archipelago (Portugal), but it is only found in three caves. Furthermore, out of the three, only one of them is home to a sustainable large population. These caves are under severe threat due to pasture intensification, road construction and tourist activities.

Although there is not much information about the species distribution through the years, with the spider having been discovered as recently as in 2008, the authors make the assumption that originally there have been significantly greater populations. Not only have they studied thoroughly another fifteen caves located on the island without finding any individuals, but they have identified increasing anthropogenic impact on the habitat.

“The species original distribution was potentially very large compared with the current,” the scientists explain. “Relatively intensive searches in and around the current caves where the species occurs have failed to find additional subpopulations.”

“The trend of decline is based on the assumption that this species can occur in all these caves and that the absence is due to anthropogenic disturbance on caves during the last 50 years,” they note.

 

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Original source:

Borges P, Crespo L, Cardoso P (2016) Species conservation profile of the cave spiderTurinyphia cavernicola (Araneae, Linyphiidae) from Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal.Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e10274. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.4.e10274

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