Experts in insect taxonomy “threatened by extinction” reveals the first European Red List of Taxonomists

While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union. 

Expertise tends to be particularly poor in the countries with the richest biodiversity, while taxonomists are predominantly male and ageing

While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union. 

Scientists who specialise in the identification and discovery of insect species – also known as insect taxonomists – are declining across Europe, highlights the newly released report by CETAF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Pensoft. The authors of this report represent different perspectives within biodiversity science, including natural history and research institutions, nature conservation, academia and scientific publishing.

Despite the global significance of its taxonomic collections, Europe has been losing taxonomic expertise at such a rate that, at the moment nearly half (41.4%) of the insect orders are not covered by a sufficient number of scientists. If only EU countries are counted, the number looks only slightly more positive (34.5%). Even the four largest insect orders: beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), flies (Diptera) and wasps, bees, ants and sawflies (Hymenoptera) are only adequately ‘covered’ in a fraction of the countries.

To obtain details about the number, location and productivity of insect taxonomists, the team extracted information from thousands of peer-reviewed research articles published in the last decade, queried the most important scientific databases and reached out to over fifty natural science institutions and their networks. Furthermore, a dedicated campaign reached out to individual researchers through multiple communication channels. As a result, more than 1,500 taxonomists responded by filling in a self-declaration survey to provide information about their personal and academic profile, qualification and activities. 

Then, the collected information was assessed against numerical criteria to classify the scientists into categories similar to those used by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. In the European List of Insect Taxonomists, these range from Eroded Capacity (equivalent to Extinct) to Adequate Capacity (equivalent to Least Concern). The assessment was applied to the 29 insect orders (i.e. beetles, moths and butterflies etc.) to figure out which insect groups the society, conservation practitioners and decision-makers need not be concerned at this point.

Overview of the taxonomic capacity in European countries based upon the Red List Index (colour gradient goes from red (Eroded Capacity) to green (Adequate Capacity).
Image by the European Red List of Taxonomists consortium.

On a country level, the results showed that Czechia, Germany and Russia demonstrate the most adequate coverage of insect groups. Meanwhile, Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Luxembourg, Latvia, Ireland and Malta turned out to be the ones with insufficient number of taxonomists.

In most cases, the availability of experts seems to correlate to GDP, as wealthiest countries tend to invest more in their scientific institutions.

What is particularly worrying is that the lack of taxonomic expertise is more evident in the countries with the greatest species diversity. This trend may cause even more significant problems in the knowledge and conservation of these species, further aggravating the situation. Thus, the report provides further evidence about a global pattern where the countries richest in biodiversity are also the ones poorest in financial and human resources. 

The research team also reminds that it is European natural history museums that host the largest scientific collections – including insects – brought from all over the globe. As such, Europe is responsible to the world for maintaining taxonomic knowledge and building adequate expert capacity.

Other concerning trends revealed in the new report are that the community of taxonomists is also ageing and – especially in the older groups – male-dominated (82%). 

One reason to have fewer young taxonomists could be due to limited opportunities for professional training (…), and the fact that not all professional taxonomists provide it, as a significant number of taxonomists are employed by museums and their opportunities for interaction with university students is probably not optimal. Gender bias is very likely caused by multiple factors, including fewer opportunities for women to be exposed to taxonomic research and gain an interest, unequal offer of career opportunities and hiring decisions. A fair-playing field for all genders will be crucial to address these shortcomings and close the gap.

comments Ana CasinoCETAF’s Executive Director.

***

Entomologist examining a small insect under a microscope.
Photo by anton_shoshin/stockadobe.com.
The European Red List of Taxonomists concludes with practical recommendations concerning strategic, science and societal priorities, addressed to specific decision-makers.

The authors give practical examples and potential solutions in support of their call to action.

For instance, in order to develop targeted and sustainable funding mechanisms to support taxonomy, they propose the launch of regular targeted Horizon Europe calls to study important insect groups for which taxonomic capacity has been identified to be at a particularly high risk of erosion.

To address specific gaps in expertise – such as the ones reported in the publication from Romania – a country known for its rich insect diversity, yet poor in taxonomic expertise – the consortium proposes the establishment of a natural history museum or entomological research institute that is well-fitted to serve as a taxonomic facility.

Amongst the scientific recommendations, the authors propose measures to ensure better recognition of taxonomic work at a multidisciplinary level. The scientific community, including disciplines that use taxonomic research, such as molecular biology, medicine and agriculture – need to embrace universal standards and rigorous conduct for the correct citation of scientific publications by insect taxonomists.

Societal engagement is another important call. “It is pivotal to widely raise awareness of the value and impact of taxonomy and the work of taxonomists. We must motivate young generations to join the scientific community” points Prof. Lyubomir Penev, Managing Director of Pensoft.

***

Understanding taxonomy is a key to understanding the extinction risk of speciesIf we strategically target the gaps in expert capacity that this European Red List identifies, we can better protect biodiversity and support the well-being and livelihoods of our societies. With the climate crisis at hand, there is no time left to waste,

added David Allen from the IUCN Red List team.

As a dedicated supporter of the IUCN Red List, I am inspired by this call to strengthen the capacity, guided by evidence and proven scientific methods. However, Europe has much more scientific capacity than most biodiversity-rich regions of the world. So, what this report particularly highlights is the need for massively increasing investment in scientific discovery, and building taxonomic expertise, around the world,”  

said Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

***

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

A double defensive mutualism? A case between plants, extrafloral nectaries, and trophobionts

Тhis is the first case reported in the literature of a double defensive mutualism occurring simultaneously on a single plant species.

Guest blog post by Cássio Pereira

The Zeyheria montana shrub is quite common in the Brazilian Cerrado and is known to have extrafloral nectaries on the leaf blade that attract patrolling ants such as the aggressive Ectatomma tuberculatum. The ant, in turn, defends the leaves against the action of herbivores. However, extrafloral nectaries can distract ants on the leaves, segregating them from the reproductive parts and preventing them from driving away pollinators, which can benefit the action of florivores and nectar robbers.

Surprisingly, in southeastern Brazil, we observed a second defensive mutualism occurring on the reproductive tissues of these shrubs between E. tuberculatum and the treehopper Guayaquila xiphias, which provides the ant with honeydew in exchange for protection. This trophobiosis relationship (interaction between ants and phytophagous hemipterans that secrete sugary exudates) seems to be effective not only in the defense of floral buds and flowers, but also of the fruit, which, despite being dry, contains a lot of water in its formation and is attacked by beetles of the Curculionidae family.

The treehoppers G. xiphias at the base of Z. montana fruits.

As far as we know, this is the first case reported in the literature of a double defensive mutualism occurring simultaneously on a single plant species. Given this record, important questions arise regarding these interactions. Is the trophobiosis that occurs in reproductive organs capable of increasing the fitness of these plants? Although these ants are probably also scaring away possible pollinating insects, could the fact that Z. montana is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds offset this loss given that hummingbirds are larger and perhaps immune to ant attacks?

Our record raises more questions than it answers. Long-term Z. montana population studies would help improve our ecological understanding of these interactions.

Invasive fruit fly may pose threat to forest ecosystems

The decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila leads to a loss of resources, which can cause considerable ecological damage.

The invasive spotted wing drosophila (SWD), introduced from South-East Asia, is a well-known fruit crop pest. It lays its eggs by destroying the mechanical protection of the fruit’s skin, providing an entry point for further infestation. Egg deposition and inoculated microbes then accelerate decay, and as a result the fruit rots and becomes inedible. While this small fly is known to cause massive economic damage in agriculture, little is known about its ecological impact on more natural ecosystems such as forests.

The larvae of the invasive spotted wing drosophila develops in fruits of many forest species such as brambles. Its occurrence result in a fast decay of the fruits.

A recent study by Swiss scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL and the Ökobüro Biotopia, published in the scientific journal NeoBiota, concluded that the SWD competes strongly with other fruit-eating species and that its presence could have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems.

The research team assessed the use of potential host plants at 64 sites in forests from mid-June to mid-October 2020 by checking a total of 12,000 fruits for SWD egg deposits. To determine if SWD attacks trigger fruit decay, they also recorded symptoms of fruit decay after egg deposition. In addition, they monitored the fruit fly (drosophilid) fauna in the area, assuming that the SWD would outnumber and possibly outcompete other fruit-eating insects.

The male of the invasive spotted wing drosophila can be easily identified by the dark spots on the wings.

The authors found egg deposits on the fruits of 31 of the 39 fruit-bearing forest plant species they studied, with 18 species showing an attack rate of more than 50%. Furthermore, more than 50% of the affected plant species showed severe symptoms of decay after egg deposition. The egg depositions may alter the attractiveness of fruits, because they change their chemical composition and visual cues, such as colour, shape and reflective patterns, which in turn might lead seed dispersers such as birds to consume less fruits.

Given the large number of infested fruits, significant ecological impacts can be expected. “Rapid decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila results in a loss of fruit available for other species competing for this resource, and may disrupt seed-dispersal mutualisms due to reduced consumption of fruit by dispersers such as birds,” says Prof. Martin M. Gossner, entomologist at the WSL. “If the fly reproduces in large numbers, both seed dispersers and plants could suffer.”

The females of the invasive spotted wing drosophila has an enlarged, serrated ovipositor to attack undamaged fruits, which gives it a competitive advantage over native fruit flies.

The authors further found that SWD were strongly represented and dominant in trap catches, and showed that the more abundant SWD were, the less abundant native drosophilids were. This suggests additional negative impacts of the invasive species on native communities.

With ongoing climate change, these potentially severe ecological impacts might be amplified in temperate forests, as higher average and winter temperatures will most likely lead to shorter generation times and lower winter mortality, which will eventually further increase the pressure on forest fruits and the competitiveness of the SWD over native drosophilids, the authors note.

Research article:
Bühlmann I, Gossner MM (2022) Invasive Drosophila suzukii outnumbers native controphics and causes substantial damage to fruits of forest plants. NeoBiota 77: 39-77. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.77.87319

Photos by Prof. Martin M. Gossner.

Follow NeoBiota on Facebook and Twitter.

New unusual bee species discovered with dog-like snout

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, author Dr Kit Prendergast named the new species after her pet dog Zephyr.

A new native bee species with a dog-like “snout” has been discovered in Perth bushland though Curtin-led research that sheds new light on our most important pollinators.

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, author Dr Kit Prendergast, from the Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences, has named the new species after her pet dog Zephyr after noticing a protruding part of the insect’s face looked similar to a dog’s snout, and to acknowledge the role her dog played in providing emotional support during her PhD.

Dr Prendergast said the rare and remarkable finding would add to existing knowledge about our evolving biodiversity and ensure the bees, named Leioproctus zephyr, were protected by conservation efforts.

“When I first examined the specimens that I collected during my PhD surveys discovering the biodiversity of native bees in urbanised regions of the southwest WA biodiversity hotspot, I was instantly intrigued by the bee’s very unusual face,” Dr Prendergast said.

Insects in general are so diverse and so important, yet we don’t have scientific descriptions or names for so many of them.

Dr Kit Prendergast

“When I went to identify it, I found it matched no described species, and I was sure that if it was a known species, it would be quite easy to identify given how unusual it was in appearance.

“You can only confirm a particular species once you look at them under a microscope and go through the long process of trying to match their characteristics against other identified species, then going through museum collections.

“When perusing the WA Museum’s Entomology collection, I discovered that a few specimens of Leioproctus zephyrus had first been collected in 1979, but it had never been scientifically described.”

Dr Prendergast said she was excited to play a role in making this species known and officially naming them.

“Insects in general are so diverse and so important, yet we don’t have scientific descriptions or names for so many of them,” Dr Prendergast said.

“The Leioproctus zephyr has a highly restricted distribution, only occurring in seven locations across the southwest WA to date, and have not been collected from their original location. They were entirely absent from residential gardens and only present at five urban bushland remnants that I surveyed, where they foraged on two plant species of Jacksonia.

“Not only is this species fussy, they also have a clypeus that looks like a snout. Hence, I named them after my dog Zephyr. She has been so important to my mental health and wellbeing during the challenging period of doing a PhD and beyond.”

Through DNA barcoding, Dr Prendergast was able to confirm that the new species was most closely related to other species of unidentified Leioproctus.

Originally published by Curtin University. Republished with permission.

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Can amateurs combat the threat of alien species? Tracking introduced species in the world of citizen science

How citizen scientists documented the spread of an alien mantis across Australia

Guest blog post by Matthew Connors

From the infamous cane toad to the notorious spotted lanternfly, we all know the drastic effects that introduced species can have on both ecosystems and agriculture.

In today’s interconnected world, these alien species are being moved around the globe more frequently than ever before.  Hitchhikers and stowaways on ships, planes, and other vehicles can cause irreversible and catastrophic damage to fragile native ecosystems and to us humans, and tens of billions of dollars are spent every year trying to control these invaders.

Spotted lanternfly. Photo by peterlcoffey licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

But one of the greatest problems for researchers and government bodies trying to combat these threats is that it can be incredibly difficult to monitor the invaders even when we know they’re here.

So how on earth is anyone supposed to detect when a new species has invaded?  Many of these organisms are small, inconspicuous, and difficult to identify, and by the time they’ve been spotted it’s often already too late to act.

What if there was a way to quickly and easily find invasive organisms all over the world?  Enter the world of Citizen Science, where anybody and everybody can produce important scientific data without even leaving their backyard.  Just by taking a photograph of an organism and uploading it to a citizen science platform like iNaturalist or QuestaGame, amateurs and enthusiasts can provide scientists with invaluable records from across the globe.

A screenshot from the iNaturalist homepage, captured on July 7, 2022.

Back in 2015, when amateur naturalist Adam Edmonds spotted an unusual praying mantis in his garden, he took a photo and posted it to the Australian citizen science platform BowerBird.  When even the local experts didn’t recognise it, a specimen was sent off to mantis specialist Graham Milledge.  He confirmed that it was a newly introduced species – the South African Mantis (Miomantis caffra).

Miomantis caffra, an adult female from Victoria, Australia. Photo by Adam Edmonds

Since then, this alien mantis has spread across Australia from Sydney to Perth.  And every step of the way, citizen scientists have been there to document its spread.

Last month, all of these citizen science records were compiled by entomologist Matthew Connors of James Cook University (Queensland, Australia) into the first comprehensive report of the mantis’s presence in Australia.  Understanding where the species has spread and what impacts it has had on native species is crucial to managing and controlling it.

The introduced South African Mantis (Miomantis caffra) preys on a native Harlequin Bug (Dindymus versicolor) in Geelong, Australia.  Photo by Kelly Clitheroe

The research found that the South African Mantis has spread through suburban habitats in three Australian states (Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia) and one offshore territory (Norfolk Island).  It probably arrived in these regions as egg cases attached to plants and equipment, and it can now be found in high numbers, especially during late summer and early autumn.  Despite this, it appears to be highly localised and has only been recorded in suburbia, and furthermore there has not been any noticeable impact on native species.

Miomantis caffra, egg case (ootheca) from Victoria, Australia. Photo by Ken Walker

None of this research would have been possible without citizen scientists – the dedicated community of enthusiasts and amateurs who share their finds with researchers online.  Photographs from citizen science platforms and social media sites have been instrumental in showing just how far the South African Mantis has spread.  In fact, more than 90% of the records of the species come from citizen scientists, and without them we would barely know anything.

These days, more and more researchers are realising just how useful citizen science can be.  As well as tracking introduced species, citizen scientists have rediscovered rare creatures, documented never-before-seen behaviours, and even discovered completely new species.

Miomantis caffra, an adult female from Victoria, Australia. Photo by Matthew Connors

This latest research, published in the Journal of Orthoptera Research, is among a handful of recent studies that have gone a step further though – instead of just being a source of data, the citizen scientists were invited to take part in the entire research process, from data collection all the way through to publishing.  After all, they did all of the fieldwork!

Research like this is proof that anyone can be a citizen scientist in today’s day and age – so what are you waiting for?

Research article: Connors MG, Chen H, Li H, Edmonds A, Smith KA, Gell C, Clitheroe K, Miller IM, Walker KL, Nunn JS, Nguyen L, Quinane LN, Andreoli CM, Galea JA, Quan B, Sandiford K, Wallis B, Anderson ML, Canziani EV, Craven J, Hakim RRC, Lowther R, Maneylaws C, Menz BA, Newman J, Perkins HD, Smith AR, Webber VH, Wishart D (2022) Citizen scientists track a charismatic carnivore: Mapping the spread and impact of the South African Mantis (Miomantidae, Miomantis caffra) in Australia. Journal of Orthoptera Research 31(1): 69-82. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.31.79332

Are people swapping their cats and goldfish for praying mantises?

The first overview of the pet mantis market’s dynamics reports a lack of regulations, but also the potential of a stronger collaboration between hobbyists and scientists for biodiversity conservation.

New research sheds light on the pet insect market and its implications on biodiversity conservation

Rearing insects at home as pets may sound strange and a bit nerdy, but thousands of people all over the world have already swapped their hamsters for praying mantises or stick insects.

These insects, sold at fairs and pet markets, or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals, are gaining increased popularity and fueling a largely unknown market. Not all of them are small, crawling monsters. Some are elegant, with flower-like coloration (the Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus), and some are funny-looking like Pokémons (e.g. the Jeweled Flower Mantis, Creobroter wahlbergii). Many can be safely manipulated and cuddled as they look at you with big, cute kitty-eyes (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).

 The beautiful orchid mantis Hymenopus coronatus, one of the most priced and requested mantis species on the market. Photo by William Di Pietro

When choosing a pet insect, “customers” consider things such as shape, size, colors, and behaviors. They might also take into account how rare a certain species is, or how easy it is to look after. Looking at these preferences, Roberto Battiston of Museo di Archeologia e Scienze Naturali G. Zannato (Italy), William di Pietro of the World Biodiversity Association (Italy) and entomologist Kris Anderson (USA) published the first overview of the mantis pet market. Understanding how this market, still mostly unregulated, is changing, may be crucial to the conservation of rare species and promoting awareness of their habitat and place in the ecosystem.

A survey among almost 200 hobbyists, enthusiasts and professional sellers in the mantis community from 28 different countries showed that the targets of this market are indeed predictable. The typical mantis breeder or enthusiast, the study found, is 19 to 30 years old and buys mantises mostly out of personal curiosity or scientific interest. Willing to spend over $30 for a single individual, most people will prefer beautiful looking species over rare ones.

A cute nymph of the Jeweled Flower Mantis Creobroter wahlbergii resting on the tip of a finger. Photo by William Di Pietro

The research, published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research, identified buyers as “mostly curious enthusiasts with poor knowledge of the market dynamics and the laws behind it, even if they seem to generally care about their pet.”

But the data also suggests the trade might not always be on the legal side, as “about one time out of four the lack of permits or transparency from the seller is perceived from the buyer.”

A good collaboration between science and this large community may play a crucial role in the conservation of mantises in nature, the researchers point out.

The Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis looking for a friend. Photo by William Di Pietro

Mantises and, in general, insects, are poorly known in terms of biology, distribution, and threats, with many species still unknown and waiting to be discovered. This is a big limit to their protection and conservation, since you cannot protect what you don’t know.

“Hobbyists and pet insect enthusiasts are producing and sharing a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of hundreds of species, even rare or still undescribed ones, a priceless heritage for the scientific community,” the researchers conclude. 

“Strengthening the dialogue between them, promoting a white market over a black one, may be a crucial help for the conservation of these insects, fundamental parts of the biodiversity of our planet, that are replacing our traditional pets at home.”

Research article:

Battiston R, Di Pietro W, Anderson K (2022) The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade (Insecta, Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research 31(1): 63-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.31.71458

A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 2

While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.

Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.

5. The Instagram model

Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?

This is exactly what happened to Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Confined to his home in Chamba, India because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he started photographing any wildlife he came across and uploading it on his Instagram account. One of his images showed a beautiful kukri snake.

The picture immediately caught the attention of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), who worked together with Virendar to describe it as a new species under the name Oligodon churahensis.

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

4. The tiny snail with an athletic name

Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.

Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic.

Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.

The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.

To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.

Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.

“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”

Published in: Subterranean Biology

3. The Coronavirus caddisfly

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.

Scientists used this as a drive and inspiration as they continued their hard work on new discoveries. Only this year, we published the descriptions of the beetle Trigonopterus corona, the wasp Allorhogas quarentenus, and, yes, the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus.

P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its name will be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.

In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.

P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.

Published in: Biodiversity Data Journal

2. The cutest peacock spider ever

If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.

Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook. It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.

Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.

‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.

Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes

Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of
Darmstadt
and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.

Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”

Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.

This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.

“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.

Published in: ZooKeys

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

A star in subtropical Japan: a new species of parasitoid wasp constructs unique cocoon masses hanging on 1-meter-long strings

A new species of parasitoid wasp that constructs remarkable star-shaped cocoon masses is reported from the biodiversity hot spot Ryukyu Islands. Japanese researchers observed how the wasps construct “stars” after making their way out of the moth larvae they inhabit during their own larval stage. In their study, published in the open-access journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the team discuss the ecological significance of the cocoon mass and the evolution of this peculiar structure.

A unique “star” was discovered from the Ryukyu Islands, a biodiversity hot spot in subtropical Japan: a star-shaped structure that turned out to be the cocoon mass of a new species of parasitoid wasp. Researchers Shunpei Fujie (Osaka Museum of Natural History), So Shimizu, Kaoru Maeto (Kobe University), Koichi Tone (Okinawa Municipal Museum), and Kazunori Matsuo (Kyushu University) described this parasitoid wasp as a new species in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The new parasitoid wasps, Meteorus stellatus. Photo by Fujie S

Parasitoid wasps parasitize a variety of organisms, mostly insects. They lay eggs in the host, a larva of hawk moth in this case, where the wasp larvae later hatch. After eating the host from the inside out, the larvae spin threads to form cocoons, in which they pupate, and from which the adult wasps eventually emerge. 

The larvae of Meteorus stellatus emerging from a host moth. Photo by Tone K

Larvae of the newly discovered parasitoid wasp form star-shaped masses of cocoons lined up in a spherical pattern, suspended by a thread that can reach up to 1 meter in length. The structure, 7 to 14 mm wide and 9 to 23 mm long, can accommodate over 100 cocoons.

The star-shaped cocoon mass and the cable of the new parasitoid wasps. Photo by Shimizu S

Despite its peculiarity, the wasp species constructing these masses had not been previously described: morphological observation and molecular analysis revealed that it was new to science. The authors aptly called it Meteorus stellatus, adding the Latin word for “starry” to its scientific name.

Thanks to the recent publication, we now have the first detailed report about the construction of such a remarkable cocoon mass in parasitoid wasps. We can also see what the process looks like, as the researchers were able to film the wasps escaping from the moth larvae and forming the star-shaped structure.

Why does M. stellatus form cocoons in such a unique structure?

The authors of the study believe this unique structure helps the wasps survive through the most critical time, i.e. the period of constructing cocoons and pupating, when they are exposed to various natural enemies and environmental stresses. The star shape most likely reduces the exposed area of individual cocoons, thus increasing their defense against hyper-parasitoids (wasps attacking cocoons of other parasitoid wasps), while the long thread that suspends the cocoon mass protects the cocoons from potential enemies like ants.

“How parasitoid wasps have evolved to form such unique masses instead of the common individual cocoons should be the next thing on our ‘to-research’ list,” say the authors.

Research article:

Fujie S, Shimizu S, Tone K, Matsuo K, Maeto K (2021) Stars in subtropical Japan: a new gregarious Meteorus species (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae) constructs enigmatic star-shaped pendulous communal cocoons. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 86: 19-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.86.71225

Desert locusts remain a serious threat to Pakistan

The recent Desert Locust upsurge had a major impact on Pakistan’s agriculture, with swarms causing immense damage to all types of crops. A joint French-Pakistani team provides an overview of the dynamics of this upsurge, assesses its impact and control measures, and clarifies the role of different stakeholders in the management of this pest, suggesting various improvements for the future. The study was published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research.

In 2019 and 2020, desert locusts once again plagued parts of East Africa and huge areas as far as India and Pakistan through the Arabian Peninsula, in an infestation that was described as the worst in decades. A serious agricultural pest, the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria can feed on most types of crops, including grains, vegetables and fruit, causing significant damage to agricultural production and threatening food security in many countries.

Since the 1960s, a preventive control strategy against this pest has been implemented, based on monitoring of outbreak areas and ecological conditions, followed, if necessary, by early intervention and limited use of pesticides, so that any outbreak can be stopped as soon as possible. With 60 years of hindsight, desert locust invasions are now less frequent, smaller in scale and, if they cannot be stopped early, they are adequately managed.

Desert Locust: mature adult. Photo by A. Monard, CIRAD

However, financial and political uncertainties in many parts of the desert locust’s range continue to sustain the threat, and not all invasions can be stopped early. This was the case in 2018, when such an upsurge was largely aided by rains in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Locusts could not be detected for several months and therefore went unchecked, mainly due to the insecure conditions, especially in Yemen. The swarms then progressively contaminated a large part of East Africa and spread to Iran, Pakistan and India. Pakistan, in particular, subject to periodic swarm invasions in the past, faced a particularly severe situation in 2019-2020, where the swarms could only be contained after several months of intensive control.

Scientists Riffat Sultana, Ahmed Ali Samejo and Samiallah Soomro (University of Sindh, Pakistan), Santosh Kumar (University of Cholistan, Pakistan) and Michel Lecoq (former director of a locust research unit at CIRAD, France) synthesised these two years of upsurge in a new research article published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research. They focused on Pakistan, the damage caused in this country, and the surveillance and control operations undertaken, clarifying, at the same time, at both national and international level, the role of the different actors in the management of this pest, and suggesting some improvements for the future.

Desert Locust: hopper. Photo by A. Foucart, CIRAD

During this upsurge, a great deal of damage was caused to all types of crops. The Government of Pakistan’s preliminary estimate of monetary losses due to desert locusts for the agricultural seasons 2020 and 2021 ranges from $3.4 billion to $10.21 billion. More than 3 million people were facing severe acute food insecurity.

The authors also note that Pakistan needs to continue to be prepared and improve the prevention system already in place. They suggest developing compensatory measures for local populations in the event of an uncontrolled invasion at an early stage, increasing the use of alternatives to chemical pesticides such as mycopesticides, and maintaining funding mechanisms that provide sustainable support even in times of recession. Perhaps the most important challenge is certainly to maintain long-term efforts to build resilience, despite the apparent absence of imminent threats.

Research article:

Sultana R, Kumar S, Samejo AA, Soomro S, Lecoq M (2021) The 2019–2020 upsurge of the desert locust and its impact in Pakistan. Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(2): 145-154. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.65971