Decade-old photographs shared on social media give away a new species of pygmy grasshopper

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

The scientist and photographer Roberto Sindaco, Museo Civico di Storia naturale (Torino, Italy) graciously shared his camera roll with Niko Kasalo, Maks Deranja, and Karmela Adžić, graduate students under the mentorship of Josip Skejo, all currently affiliated with University of Zagreb, Faculty of Science, Croatia. Together, they published a paper describing the yet to be named insect in the open-access scientific journal Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Typically, new species are described from specimens collected from their natural habitats and then deposited in a museum to be preserved for future reference. The authors, possessing several high-quality photographs, decided to challenge the norm and name the new species based on photographs only. The paper was initially rejected, but a compromise was reached—it could be published with the species name removed.

The International Code of Zoological nomenclature is a document that contains regulations for proper scientific naming of animal species. It allows naming species from photographs, but the practice is generally looked down upon. Thus, the authors decided to use the nameless species to draw attention to this problem and bring more clarity. Names in zoology consist of two words: the genus name and the species name. As the species name was denied, the grasshopper is now mysteriously referred to as „the nameless Scaria“.

Another important message of this paper is how citizen science portals, such as iNaturalist, allow everybody interested in nature to contribute to ‘real’ scientific work by posting their findings online.

The authors believe that including laypeople in the scientific process can help bridge the communication gap between scientists and the general population, dissipating the growing suspicion towards science. The researchers urge everybody to engage with nature around them and capture its beauty with their camera lens. 

“Only by interacting with nature can we truly feel how much we might lose if we do not take care of it, and care is urgently needed,”

said the authors of the study.
Male of the nameless Scaria species
Photo by Roberto Sindaco

Original source:

Kasalo N, Deranja M, Adžić K, Sindaco R, Skejo J (2021) Discovering insect species based on photographs only: The case of a nameless species of the genus Scaria (Orthoptera: Tetrigidae). Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(2): 173-184. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.65885

The first Red List of Taxonomists in Europe is calling for the support of insect specialists

The Red List of Taxonomists portal, where taxonomy experts in the field of entomology can register to help map and assess expertise across Europe, in order to provide action points necessary to overcome the risks, preserve and support this important scientific community, will remain open until 31st October 2021.

About 1,000 insect taxonomists – both professional and citizen scientists – from across the European region have already signed up on the Red List of Taxonomists, a recently launched European Commission-funded initiative by the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scholarly publisher best-known for its biodiversity-themed journals and high-tech innovations in biodiversity data publishing Pensoft.

Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists until 31st October 2021.

Within the one-year project, the partners are to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology and analyse the collected data to shed light on the trends in available expertise, including best or least studied insect taxa and geographic distribution of the scientists who are working on those groups. Then, they will present them to policy makers at the European Commission.

By recruiting as many as possible insect taxonomists from across Europe, the Red List of Taxonomists initiative will not only be able to identify taxa and countries, where the “extinction” of insect taxonomists has reached a critical point, but also create a robust knowledge base on taxonomic expertise across the European region to prompt further support and funding for taxonomy in the Old Continent.

On behalf of the project partners, we would like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has self-declared as an insect taxonomist on the Red List of Taxonomists registration portal. Please feel welcome to share our call for participation with colleagues and social networks to achieve maximum engagement from everyone concerned about the future of taxonomy!

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Read more about the rationale of the Red List of Taxonomists project.

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Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag. 

Recruiting participants to the first European Red list of insect taxonomists

Contributors will enable the EU to take action to plug in the essential scientific knowledge to address insect declines

The ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ initiative, funded by the European Union, launches its registration portal, where professionals and citizen scientists are called to register on. The purpose is to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology, the biological discipline dedicated to insects. The analysis of these data will elucidate the trends in available expertise, thereby forming the basis of key recommendations for policy makers to further allocate necessary efforts and funds to support taxonomists’ work and contribute to protecting European biodiversity and beyond.

Globally, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting over the last decades. According to the first major Europe-wide survey of honeybee colonies, conducted in 2013, some European countries lost as many as one-third of their colonies every winter. On the other hand, estimates state, the European agriculture industry alone ‘owes’ at least €22 billion per year to honey bees and wild bees, in addition to many species from other insect orders, as together they ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe.

Insect pollination of plants is an irreplaceable service to people
Photo: Lenka Z (pexels)

The health of European pollinators on species and population level and other insects essential in our ecosystems strongly relies on our ability to rapidly turn the growing awareness about these worrying trends into swift, decisive actions. These decisions are crucial to mitigate the negative impacts of these alarming trends in human activities, mainly industrial agriculture. Taxonomists – the people who can identify, discover and monitor insect species – have a decisive role to play.

Often specialised in specific insect groups, they can investigate the diversity and abundance of insects. To a great concern, the numbers of trained insect taxonomists seem also to be fast declining. There is the real danger of losing numerous species before we get the chance to even learn about their existence! 

On a more positive note, while species extinction is an irreversible event, certain taxonomic expertise can be nourished and ‘brought back to life’ if only we have the data and analyses to bring to the attention of the relevant education institutions, governments and policy-makers, so that the necessary resources are allocated to education, training, career support and recognition.

This is how the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ project, an initiative by the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF), the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scientific publisher with a long history in the biodiversity and ecology fields: Pensoft, and funded by the European Commission, comes into play. Launched earlier this year, the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ aims to compile the very first inventory of taxonomic expertise for any group of organisms, understandably choosing the class of insects. 

Bringing together scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and extract recommendations to overcome the risks, while preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community.

The precious skills of insect taxonomists must be preserved and developed
Photo: Grafvision, Adobe Stock

As partners of the project, CETAF and IUCN are mobilising experts from their respective networks to populate the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ database. In parallel, Pensoft is extracting further data of authors, reviewers and editors from taxonomic publications across its portfolio of academic journals and books, in addition to major relevant databases working with scholarly literature. 

To reach experts, including professionals not necessarily affiliated with partnering institutions, as well as citizen scientists, the team is now calling for European taxonomists to register via the newly launched ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ portal and provide their data by filling a short survey. Their data will not be publicly available, but it will be used for in-depth analyses and reports in the concluding stage of the project, scheduled for early 2022. The collection of the data is in full compliance with GDPR requirements.

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Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists.

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Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag. 

Dating in a jungle: Female praying mantises jut out weird pheromone gland to attract mates

Scientists from the Ruhr-University and the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology discovered that females of a South American species protrude a Y-shaped organ on their backs to release pheromones and attract males. Found in none of the over 2,500 species of praying mantises worldwide, the behaviour is reported for the first time in the peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Female of Stenophylla lobivertex with protruded pheromone gland
(Photo by Christian J. Schwarz)

It isn’t only myriads of currently unknown species that await discovery in the Amazon rainforests. As a new study by German scientists at the Ruhr-University (Bochum) and the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (Munich)published in the open-access peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Orthoptera Research, concludes, it seems that so do plenty of unusual behaviours.

“When I saw the maggot-like structures peeking out from the back of the praying mantis and then withdrew, I immediately thought of parasites that eat the animal from the inside, because that is not really uncommon in insects,”

says Frank Glaw, a reptile and amphibian expert from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, who discovered the unusual phenomenon.
How does the Alien Mantis (Stenophylla lobivertex) attract partners?

However, it took specialists in this particular animal group to solve the riddle. Although the experts had seen nothing like this in praying mantises before either, they pointed out that there are other species of mantises, in which mostly unfertilised females release pheromones from a gland in the same part of the body (between the 6th and 7th tergite), in order to attract mates. The Y-shaped organ, which can stretch up to 6 mm in length, is in fact an advanced pheromone gland, which the insect controls with the help of hemolymph.

“We suspect that Stenophylla lobivertex can release the pheromones with the protrusible organ more efficiently and in a more targeted manner than other praying mantises,”

says Christian J. Schwarz, entomologist at the Ruhr-University.

“This can be very important, especially for rare species with a low population density, so that males can reliably find their females.”

Stenophylla lobivertex is a very rare species and lives hidden in the Amazon rainforests. Discovered only 20 years ago, the bizarre-looking and well-camouflaged animal has only been spotted a few times, and apparently only mates at night in the darkness.

Stenophylla lobivertex is a rare praying mantis from the Amazon rainforest. Its ‘true’ face becomes apparent only at second glance
(Photo by Christian J. Schwarz)

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Follow Journal of Orthoptera Research on Twitter and Facebook.

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Publication:

Schwarz CJ, Glaw F (2021) The luring mantid: Protrusible pheromone glands in Stenophylla lobivertex (Mantodea: Acanthopidae). Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(1): 39-41. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.55274

A Red List of insect experts in Europe

New EC-funded project will identify trends in taxonomic expertise across Europe to identify gaps in expert knowledge

Europe’s largest bumblebee, Bombus fragrans, is currently assessed as an Endangered species.
Illustration by Denitza Peneva.

Insects are the largest taxonomic group in the animal kingdom. Three out of four described animal species belong to the class Insecta. They are widely distributed in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Indispensable to the ecosystem, insects drive key processes such as pollination, decomposition, soil formation and supply an essential part of the food webs.

Yet, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting. For example, recent studies have shown a decrease of 75% of insect biomass in German Nature Reserves in less than 30 years, and the situation is probably no less dramatic anywhere in Europe. According to the European Red List of threatened species, one in ten bee species and a quarter of all grasshopper species are at risk of extinction. As it becomes clear how dependent on insects our ecosystems and our economy are, people gradually realise the dramatic consequences of insect decline.

One less known aspect of this global crisis is on the agenda today: the shrinking number of insect taxonomists, the scientists on whose highly specialised skills we depend to obtain knowledge on the diversity of organisms. Without taxonomists, no study of species or ecosystems would be possible, as we would not be able to recognise what biodiversity we are losing.

Here is why the European Commission has funded a new project to embark on the pioneer task to assess the status of taxonomic expertise on insects in Europe. A “Red List” of taxonomists will be compiled for the first time for any group of organisms. The effort is being undertaken by a diverse and interdisciplinary team of experts, including the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF) and the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

As with typical European Red List (ERL) assessments, normally applied to species level, the project involves the collection and evaluation of the available information about the number, location, qualification and field of specialisation of insect taxonomists and the application of systematic criteria to assess the risk of their “extinction”. This concept has never been applied to scientists before, but by using the ERL analogy, the project aims to combine those groups of insects and those countries that bear the highest risk of losing the associated taxonomic expertise and potential gaps.

Bringing together individual scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and pull up recommendations to overcoming the risks, preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community. Unlike species extinctions, the loss of taxonomic knowledge is reversible, especially when the needs are clear and the necessary resources are invested in education, training, career development and recognition.

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Additional information:

CETAF is the European organization of Natural History Museums, Botanic Gardens and Research Centers with their associated natural science collections comprising 71 of the largest taxonomic institutions from 22 European countries (18 EU, 1 EEA and 3 non-EU), gathering expertise of more than 5,000 researchers. Their collections contain a wide range of specimens including animals, plants, fungi and rocks, and genetic resources which are used for scientific research and exhibitions. CETAF aims to promote training, research collaborations and understanding in taxonomy and systematic biology as well as to facilitate access to our natural heritage by sharing the information derived from the collections.

IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 17,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company and technology provider, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials. Through its Research and Technical Development department, the company is involved in various research and technology projects. Founded in 1992 “by scientists, for scientists” and initially focusing on book publishing, Pensoft is now a leading publisher of innovative open access journals in taxonomy and biodiversity science.

Death from below: the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking caterpillar underwater

Named after fictional monster Godzilla, a parasitic wasp becomes the first observed and filmed to dive underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.

A very few species of parasitoid wasps can be considered aquatic. Less than 0.1% of the species we know today have been found to enter the water, while searching for potential hosts or living as endoparasitoids inside of aquatic hosts during their larval stage.

Within the subfamily Microgastrinae (family Braconidae), only two species have previously been recorded to be aquatic, based on their parasitism of aquatic caterpillars of moths. However, none has been known to actually dive in the water.

Recently, during their research work in Japan, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana of the Canadian National Collection of Insects and his team found and recorded on camera the first microgastrine parasitoid wasp that dives underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.

Interestingly, the wasp, which was described as a new to science species in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Hymenoptera Research, was given the awe-striking name Microgaster godzilla, because its emergence out of the water reminded the scientists of the Japanese iconic fictional monster Godzilla.

In the video, the female wasp can be seen walking over floating plants as it searches for hosts, specifically larvae of the moth species Elophila turbata, which constructs a portable case from fragments of aquatic plants and lives inside it near the water surface. Once the wasp finds one of those cases, it first probes it repeatedly with its antennae, while moving around. Eventually, it forces the larvae to come out of the case and parasitizes it by quickly inserting its ovipositor. In some cases, the wasp has to submerge completely underwater for several seconds, in order to find and pull the caterpillar out of its case. To do this, the species has evolved enlarged and strongly curved tarsal claws, which are thought to be used to grip the substrate as it enters the water and looks for hosts.

A female wasp Microgaster godzilla seeks out a moth caterpillar, dives in the water and pulls it out of its case, in order to parasitize it by quickly inserting its ovipositor.
Video by Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana

As for the curious choice of name for the new species, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana explains:

“The reasons why we decided to use the name of Godzilla for the wasp species are interesting. First, being a Japanese species, it respectfully honours Godzilla (Japanese: ゴジラ, Hepburn: Gōjira), a fictional monster (kaiju) that became an icon after the 1954 Japanese film of the same name and many remakes afterwards. It has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide. Second, the wasp’s parasitization behaviour bears some loose resemblance to the kaiju character, in the sense that the wasp suddenly emerges from the water to parasitize the host, similar to how Godzilla suddenly emerges from the water in the movies. Third, Godzilla has sometimes been associated, albeit in different ways, with Mothra (Japanese: モスラ, Hepburn: Mosura), another kaiju that is typically portrayed as a larva (caterpillar) or an adult moth. As you can see, we had biological, behavioural and cultural reasons to justify our choice of a name. Of course, that and having a bit of fun, because that is also an important part of life and science!”

Beyond unusual behaviours and funny names, Dr. Fernandez-Triana wants to emphasize the importance of multidisciplinary work and collaboration. The team that published this paper got to know each other at an international meeting devoted to biological control (The 5th International Entomophagous Insects Conference in Kyoto, Japan, 2017). 

“I was very impressed by several presentations by Japanese grad students, which included video recordings of parasitoid wasp biology. As a taxonomist, I am always impressed with the quality of research done by colleagues in other fields. In this case, we saw an opportunity to combine our efforts to study the wasp in detail and, when we found that it was a new species, we described it together, including adding the filmed behaviour to the original description. Usually, taxonomic descriptions of parasitoid wasps are based on dead specimens, with very few details–often none–on its biology. Thanks to my biocontrol colleagues, we could add more information to what is known about the new species being described. Hopefully we can continue this collaboration and combined approach for future studies”.

Original source:

Fernandez-Triana J, Kamino T, Maeto K, Yoshiyasu Y, Hirai N (2020) Microgaster godzilla (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Microgastrinae), an unusual new species from Japan which dives underwater to parasitize its caterpillar host (Lepidoptera, Crambidae, Acentropinae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 79: 15-26. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.79.56162

First Australian night bees recorded foraging under the cover of darkness

Original post by Flinders University, Australia

Australian bees are known for pollinating plants on beautiful sunny days, but a new study has identified two species that have adapted their vision for night-time conditions for the first time.

The study by a team of ecology researchers has observed night time foraging behaviour by a nomiine (Reepenia bituberculata) and masked (Meroglossa gemmata) bee species, with both developing enlarged compound and simple eyes which allow more light to be gathered when compared to their daytime kin.

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the researchers explain that this improved low-light ability could potentially also exist in other Australian species secretly active at night, with their image processing ability best observed through high-resolution close-up images. 

Lead author PhD Candidate James Dorey, in the College of Science & Engineering at Flinders University, says the two Australian bee species active at night and during twilight hours are mostly found in Australia’s tropical north, but there could potentially more in arid, subtropical and maybe even temperate conditions across the continent.

“We have confirmed the existence of at least two crepuscular bee species in Australia and there are likely to be many more that can forage both during the day and into the early morning or evening under low light conditions. It’s true that bees aren’t generally known to be very capable when it comes to using their eyes at night, but it turns out that low-light foraging is more common than currently thought,”

says Mr Dorey.

“Before this study, the only way to show that a bee had adapted to low-light was by using difficult-to-obtain behavioural observations, but we have found that you should be able to figure this out by using high-quality images of a specific bee.”

Mr Dorey says bees that forage during dim-light conditions aren’t studied enough with no previously reliable published records for any Australian species.  

“Our study provides a framework to help identify low-light-adapted bees and the data that is needed to determine the behavioural traits of other species. This is important as we need to increase efforts to collect bee species outside of normal hours and publish new observations to better understand the role that they play in maintaining ecosystems.”

The researchers outline why more needs to be understood about the behaviour of bee species to help protect them from the potential impacts of climate change. 

“Global weather patterns are changing and temperatures in many parts of Australia are rising along with the risk of prolonged droughts and fires. So, we have to improve our understanding about insects pollinating at night or in milder parts of the day to avoid potential extinction risks or to mitigate loss of pollination services.” 

“This also means we have to highlight the species that operate in a narrow window of time and could be sensitive to climatic changes, so conservation becomes an important concern. Because quite frankly, we have ignored these species up until now.”

Publication:

Dorey JB, Fagan-Jeffries EP, Stevens MI, Schwarz MP (2020) Morphometric comparisons and novel observations of diurnal and low-light-foraging bees. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 79: 117–144. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.79.57308

A new species of Darwin wasp from Mexico named in observance of the 2020 quarantine period

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,” comment the researchers who discovered the previously unknown species.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas (UAT) in Mexico recently discovered five new species of parasitoid wasps in Mexico, but the name of one of them sounds a bit weird: covida. Why this name?

In fact, the reason is quite simple. The thing is that the team of Andrey Khalaim (also a researcher at the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia) and Enrique Ruíz Cancino discovered the new to science species during the 2020 global quarantine period, imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their findings are described in a newly published research article, in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,”

explain the scientists.

The new species, which goes by the official scientific name Stethantyx covida, belongs to the Darwin wasp family Ichneumonidae, one of the most species-rich insect families, which comprises more than 25,000 species worldwide. 

“Darwin wasps are abundant and well-known almost everywhere in the world because of their beauty, gracility, and because they are used in biological control of insect pests in orchards and forests. Many Darwin wasp species attack the larvae or pupae of butterflies and moths. Yet, some species are particularly interesting, as their larvae feed on spider eggs and others, even more bizarre, develop on living spiders!”

further explain the authors of the new study.

Stethantyx covida is a small wasp that measures merely 3.5 mm in length. It is predominantly dark in colour, whereas parts of its body and legs are yellow or brown. It is highly polished and shining, and the ovipositor of the female is very long and slender.Along with Stethantyx covida, the authors also described four other Mexican species of Darwin wasps from three different genera (Stethantyx, Meggoleus, Phradis), all belonging to the subfamily Tersilochinae. Some tersilochines are common on flowers in springtime. While the majority of them are parasitoids of larvae of various beetles, some Mexican species attack sawflies, inhabiting the forests.

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Original source:

Khalaim AI, Ruíz-Cancino E (2020) Contribution to the taxonomy of Mexican Tersilochinae (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae), with descriptions of five new species. ZooKeys 974: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.974.54536

Scientists unravel the evolution and relationships for all European butterflies in a first

For the first time, a complete time-calibrated phylogeny for a large group of invertebrates is published for an entire continent. A German-Swedish team of scientists provide a diagrammatic hypothesis of the relationships and evolutionary history for all 496 European species of butterflies currently in existence. Their study provides an important tool for evolutionary and ecological research, meant for the use of insect and ecosystem conservation.

For the first time, a complete time-calibrated phylogeny for a large group of invertebrates is published for an entire continent. 

The figure shows the relationships of the 496 extant European butterfly species in the course of their evolution during the last 100 million years.
Image by Dr Martin Wiemers

In a recent research paper in the open-access, peer-reviewed academic journal ZooKeys, a German-Swedish team of scientists provide a diagrammatic hypothesis of the relationships and evolutionary history for all 496 European species of butterflies currently in existence. Their study provides an important tool for evolutionary and ecological research, meant for the use of insect and ecosystem conservation.

In order to analyse the ancestral relationships and history of evolutionary divergence of all European butterflies currently inhabiting the Old continent, the team led by Martin Wiemers – affiliated with both the Senckenberg German Entomological Institute and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, mainly used molecular data from already published sources available from NCBI GenBank, but also contributed many new sequences, some from very local endemics for which no molecular data had previously been available.

The phylogenetic tree also includes butterfly species that have only recently been discovered using molecular methods. An example is this Blue (Polyommatus celina), which looks similar to the Common Blue. It used to be mistaken for the Common Blue in the Canary Islands and the southwestern part of the Mediterranean Region.
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

Butterflies, the spectacular members of the superfamily Papilionoidea, are seen as an important proponent for nature conservation, as they present an excellent indicator group of species, meaning they are capable of inferring the environmental conditions of a particular habitat. All in all, if the local populations of butterflies are thriving, so is their habitat.

Furthermore, butterflies are pollinating insects, which are of particular importance for the survival of humans. There is no doubt they have every right to be recognised as a flagship invertebrate group for conservation.

While many European butterflies are seriously threatened, this one: Madeiran Large White (Pieris wollastoni) is already extinct. The study includes the first sequence of this Madeiran endemic which was recorded in 1986 for the last time. The tree demonstrates that it was closely related to the Canary Island Large White (Pieris cheiranthi), another threatened endemic butterfly, which survives only on Tenerife and La Palma, but is already extinct on La Gomera.
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

In recent times, there has been a steady increase in the molecular data available for research, however, those would have been only used for studies restricted either to a selected subset of species, or to small geographic areas. Even though a complete phylogeny of European butterflies was published in 2019, also co-authored by Wiemers, it was not based on a global backbone phylogeny and, therefore, was also not time-calibrated.

In their paper, Wiemers and his team point out that phylogenies are increasingly used across diverse areas of macroecological research, such as studies on large-scale diversity patterns, disentangling historical and contemporary processes, latitudinal diversity gradients or improving species-area relationships. Therefore, this new phylogeny is supposed to help advance further similar ecological research.

The study includes molecular data from 18 localised endemics with no public DNA sequences previously available, such as the Canary Grayling (Hipparchia wyssii), which is only found on the island of Tenerife (Spain).
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

Original source: 

Wiemers M, Chazot N, Wheat CW, Schweiger O, Wahlberg N (2020) A complete time-calibrated multi-gene phylogeny of the European butterflies. ZooKeys 938: 97-124. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.938.50878

New species of moths discovered in the Alps named after three famous alpinists

David Lama (1990 – 2019), a legendary alpinist, recognised by the study’s author also for his commitment to conservation.
Photo by MoserB / Copyrighted free use

The discovery of new, still unnamed animal species in a well-researched European region like the Alps is always a small sensation. All the more surprising is the description of a total of three new to science species previously misidentified as long-known alpine moths.

During a genetic project of the Tyrolean State Museums in Innsbruck (Austria), Austrian entomologist and head of the Natural Science Collections Peter Huemer used an integrative research approach that relies on molecular methods to study four European moths. Despite having been known for decades, those species remained quite controversial, because of many unknowns around their biology.

At the end, however, it turned out that the scientist was not dealing with four, but seven species. The three that were not adding up were indeed previously unknown species. Therefore, Huemer described the moths in a paper in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Alpine Entomology. Curiously, all three species were given the names of legendary alpinists: Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler and David Lama.

Habitat of Caryocolum lamai (Lama’s Curved-horn moth), Italy, Alpi Cozie, Colle Valcavera.
Photo by Peter Huemer

Tribute to three legends in alpinism

“The idea to name the new species in honour of three world-renowned climbers was absolutely no coincidence,”

explains Huemer.

One of the newly described species, Caryocolum messneri, or Messner’s Curved-horn moth, is dedicated to Reinhold Messner. Messner is a famous alpinist who was the first to reach Mount Everest without additional oxygen, but also the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres. For decades, he has been inspiring followers through lectures and books. His is also the Messner Mountain Museum project, which comprises six museums located at six different locations in South Tyrol, northern Italy, where each has the task to educate visitors on “man’s encounter with mountains” by showcasing the science of mountains and glaciers, the history of mountaineering and rock climbing, the history of mythical mountains, and the history of mountain-dwelling people.

“So what could have been a better fit for a name for the species that flutters on the doorstep of his residence, the Juval Castle in South Tyrol?”

says Huemer.

The second new species, Caryocolum habeleri, or Habeler’s Curved-horn moth, honours another extraordinary mountaineer: Peter Habeler. Having joined Messner on his expedition to Mount Everest, he also climbed this mountain without additional oxygen in a first for history. Another achievement is his climbing the famous Eiger North Face in mere 10 hours. Additionally, together with the study’s author, he sits on the advisory board of the nature conservation foundation “Blühendes Österreich“. However, the species’ name is also a nod to Peter Habeler’s cousin: Heinz Habeler, recognised as “the master of butterfly and moth research in Styria”. His collection is now housed in the Tyrolean State Museums.

The third alpinist, whose name is immortalised in a species name, is David Lama, specially recognised by Huemer for his commitment to conservation. Once, in order to protect endangered butterflies along the steep railway embankments in Innsbruck, Lama took care to secure volunteers in a remarkable action. Nevertheless, Lama earned his fame for his spectacular climbing achievements. His was the first free ascent of the Compressor route on the south-eastern flank of Cerro Torre.

“Unfortunately, David lost his life far too soon in a tragic avalanche accident on 16 April 2019 in Banff National Park, Canada. Now, Caryocolum lamai (Lama’s Curved-horn moth) is supposed to make him ‘immortal’ also in the natural sciences,”

says Huemer.

Many unresolved questions

The newly described moth species are closely related and belong to the genus Caryocolum of the so-called Curved-horn moths (family Gelechiidae).

A Curved-horn moth of the genus Caryocolum feeding on a carnation plant. This genus feeds exclusively on plants in the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae).
Photo by P. Buchner / Tiroler Landesmuseen

As caterpillars, the species of this genus live exclusively on carnation plants. Even though the biology of the new moths is still unknown, because of their collection localities, it could be deduced that plants such as the stone carnation are likely their hosts. All species are restricted to dry and sunny habitats and sometimes inhabit altitudes of up to 2,500 m. So far, they have only been observed with artificial light at night.

While Messner’s Curved-horn moth occurs from northern Italy to Greece, the area of Habeler’s Curved-horn Moth is limited to the regions between southern France, northern Switzerland and southeastern Germany. On the other hand, Caryocolum lamai, only inhabits a small area in the western Alps of Italy and France.

Research on alpine butterflies and moths has been an important scientific focus at the Tyrolean state museums for decades. In 30 years, Peter Huemer discovered and named over 100 previously unknown to science species of lepidopterans. All these new discoveries have repeatedly shown the gaps in the study of biodiversity, even in Central Europe.

“How could we possibly protect a species that we don’t even have a name for is one of the key questions for science that derives from these studies,”

says Huemer in conclusion.

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Original source:

Huemer P (2020) Integrative revision of the Caryocolum schleichi species group – a striking example of a temporally changing species concept (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae). Alpine Entomology 4: 39-63. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.4.50703