Trigonopterus corona, the new species of tiny beetle named after the coronavirus

… and 27 other new species of beetles discovered on Sulawesi Island

Many curious animals can be found on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi – such as the deer-hog and the midget buffalo. But the island’s tropical forests hide a diversity of tiny insects that still remains largely unexplored. Museum scientists from Indonesia and Germany have just discovered 28 new species of beetles, all belonging to the weevil genus Trigonopterus.

Twenty-four newly discovered species of the genus Trigonopterus from Sulawesi. Image by Alexander Riedel

Most of the new species were collected by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, from two localities of Central Sulawesi Province: Mt. Dako and Mt. Pompangeo. In fact, the forests on their slopes had never been searched for small weevils before.

A view from a ridge over the cloudy slopes of Mt. Pompangeo. Photo by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo

His research partner, Alexander Riedel of the Natural History Museum Karlsruhe, had been studying this genus for the past 15 years and was planning for a research trip to Papua New Guinea, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Finding himself grounded, he decided to work on the specimens from Sulawesi together with Narakusumo instead.

After diagnosing the new species, it was a challenge to find suitable names for them. One obvious choice was Trigonopterus corona, which reflects the large impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this project. However, T. corona is by far not the first insect species with a pandemic-inspired name. In the last year, we’ve seen the species descriptions of the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus and the wasps Stethantyx covida and Allorhogas quarentenus.

Trigonopterus corona.
Trigonopterus ewok.

While some of the newly described species go by rather ‘standard’ names that derive from either the localities they have been collected from or their distinct characters, others were given a free pass to the Hall of Fame. Two of them were named after Indonesian movie characters (T. gundala and T. unyil), while T. ewok is another addition based on the Star Wars universe – perfectly in line with T. chewbacca, T. yoda and T.porg, all described between 2016 and 2019 by teams involving Riedel. The two-millimeter-long, rust-coloured Trigonopterus ewok was found at 1900–2000 m on Mt Pompangeo, hiding among the leaf litter in the forest.

But how come the critters have remained overlooked for so long? Almost all of these beetles measure only 2-3 millimeters, while most entomologists have a preference for the larger and strikingly looking stag beetles or jewel beetles. 

A second factor is the superficial resemblance of many species: they are most easily diagnosed by their DNA sequences. Besides the publication in the open-access journal ZooKeys, high-resolution photographs of each species were uploaded to the Species ID website, along with a short scientific description. This provides a face to the species name, an important prerequisite for future studies.

R.P. Narakusumo during fieldwork at the top of Mt. Dako. Photo by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo

This is the duo’s second published paper on Trigonopterus weevils from Sulawesi – the first one describing the whopping 103 new species from the area. Currently, the known Trigonopterus species on the island amount to 132, which is likely a mere fraction of the real diversity. The numerous mountains of Sulawesi have a distinct fauna of endemics that have evolved over the past millions of years, and these wingless, flightless weevils, highly isolated in their habitats, are a good example of this diversification. Their evolution is interwoven with the island´s geological history. Riedel wants to increase the number of sampled localities: 

“Once we have enough locality coverage and understand the weevils’ evolution, we can draw conclusions on the geological processes that formed the island of Sulawesi. This is a fascinating subject, because this island was formed by the fusion of different fragments millions of years ago.” The new species thus fill an important gap required for solving the island´s geological puzzle.

For the Indonesian side, it is equally important to obtain an inventory of species: “A large percentage of Indonesian biodiversity is yet unknown and we need names and diagnoses of species, so we can use these in further studies on conservation and bioprospecting,” says R. Pramesa Narakusumo. “Two of the newly described species came from our museum collection, and this underlines the importance of museums as a source for biological discoveries,” he added.

With many more new species of this genus to be expected, it is a lucky coincidence that the number of Star Wars characters is equally long. May the Force be with these researchers!

Research article:

Narakusumo RP, Riedel A (2021) Twenty-eight new species of Trigonopterus Fauvel (Coleoptera, Curculionidae) from Central Sulawesi. ZooKeys 1065: 29-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1065.71680

Delicious discoveries: Scientists just described a new onion species from the Himalaya

While the onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives have been on our plates for centuries, becoming staple foods around the world, their group, the genus Allium, seems to be a long way from running out of surprises. Recently, a group of researchers from India described a new onion species from the western Himalaya region, long known to the locals as “jambu” and “phran”, in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The genus Allium contains about 1,100 species worldwide, including many staple foods like onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives. Even though this group of vegetables has been making appearances at family dinners for centuries, it turns out that it is a long way from running out of surprises, as a group of researchers from India recently found out.

The flower of Allium negianum

In 2019, Dr. Anjula Pandey, Principal Scientist at ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi, together with scientists, Drs K Madhav Rai, Pavan Kumar Malav and S Rajkumar, was working on the systematic botany of the genus Allium for the Indian region, when the team came across plants of what would soon be confirmed as a new species for science in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The plant, called Allium negianum, was discovered in the Indo-Tibetan border area of Malari village, Niti valley of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. It grows at 3000 to 4800 m above sea level and can be found along open grassy meadows, sandy soils along rivers, and streams forming in snow pasture lands along alpine meadows (locally known as “bugyal” or “bugial”), where the melting snow actually helps carry its seeds to more favourable areas. With a pretty narrow distribution, this newly described speciesis restricted to the region of western Himalaya and hasn’t yet been reported from anywhere else in the world. The scientific name Allium negianum honours the late Dr. Kuldeep Singh Negi, an eminent explorer and Allium collector from India.

Although new to science, this species has long been known under domestic cultivation to local communities. While working on this group, the research team heard of  phran, jambu, sakua, sungdung, and kacho – different local names for seasoning onions. According to locals, the one from Niti valley was particularly good, even deemed the best on the market.

The bulb and underground parts of Allium negianum.

So far only known from the western Himalaya region, Allium negianum might be under pressure from people looking to taste it: the researchers fear that indiscriminate harvest of its leaves and bulbs for seasoning may pose a threat to its wild populations.

Research article:

Pandey A, Rai KM, Malav PK, Rajkumar S (2021) Allium negianum (Amaryllidaceae): a new species under subg. Rhizirideum from Uttarakhand Himalaya, India. PhytoKeys 183: 77-93. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.183.65433

Two new pit vipers discovered from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper from Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan.

Guest blog post by Jingsong Shi

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild)

The Nujiang pit viper has a greyish brown back with irregular black ring-shaped crossbands, wide, greyish-brown stripes behind the eyes, and relativity short fangs, while the Glacier pit viper is blueish-grey, with zigzag stripes on its back, and has relatively narrow stripes behind its eyes.

Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi)

Interestingly, the Glacier pit viper was found under the Dagu Holy-glacier National Park: the glacier lake lies 2000 meters higher than the habitat of the snakes, at more than 4,880 m above sea level. This discovery suggests that the glaciers might be a key factor to the isolation and speciation of alpine pit vipers in southwest China.

The stories behind the snakes’ scientific names are interesting too: with the new species from Tibet, Gloydius lipipengi, the name is dedicated to my Master’s supervisor, Professor Pi-Peng Li from the Institute of Herpetology at Shenyang Normal University, just in time for Li’s sixtieth birthday. Prof. Li has devoted himself to the study of the herpetological diversity of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and it was under his guidance that I became an Asian pit viper enthusiast and professional herpetological researcher. 

Gloydius swild, the new species from Heishui, Sichuan, is in turn named after the SWILD Group, which studies the fauna and biodiversity of southewst China. They discovered and collected the snake during an expedition to the Dagu Holy-glacier.

A misty morning near the habitat of Glacier pit viper.

We are equally impressed by the sceneries we encountered during our field work: throughout our journey, we got to look at sacred, crystal-like glacier lakes embraced by the mountains, morning mist falling over the village, and colorful broadleaf-conifer forests. During our expedition, we met a lot of hospitable Tibetan inhabitants and enjoyed their kindness and treats, which made the expedition all the more unforgettable.

Research article:

Shi J-S, Liu J-C, Giri R, Owens JB, Santra V, Kuttalam S, Selvan M, Guo K-J, Malhotra A (2021) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), with description of two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China. ZooKeys 1061: 87-108. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420

Two new tree species discovered in Colombia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research article:

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

New beautiful, dragon-like species of lizard discovered in the Tropical Andes

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful, highly variable new species of lizard discovered in the upper basin of the Huallaga River in central Peru. The authors, having searched for amphibians and reptiles in the area between 2011 and 2018, have now finally described this stunning reptile as new to science in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics. In fact, E. feiruzae is the fourth herp species discovered by the team in this biologically underresearched part of Peru.

The Huallaga River in the Andes of central Peru extends for 1,138 km, making it the largest tributary of the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon River. This basin harbours a great variety of ecosystems, including the Peruvian Yunga ecoregion, which is considered a shelter of endemic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Closeup of a male of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

How is it possible, then, that this corner of the Tropical Andes remains poorly known to biologists to this day? The main reason is indeed a quite simple one and it lies in the civil wars with terrorist organisations and drug traffickers that were going on in the region in the 1980s, disrupting biological studies. 

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and that’s when, little by little, some biologists began to venture back to the Huallaga Valley. However, forest destruction by coca plantations during the internal war, which eventually led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, left the Huallaga valley highly fragmented, making for an even more urgent need for biodiversity research in the area.

An adult female of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

A new species of wood lizard, Enyalioides feiruzae, was recently confirmed from the premontane forest of the Huallaga river basin, and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics. It took the researchers seven years of field surveys to formally describe it. To do so, they had first to spend plenty of nights in the forests, in order to pick by hand lizards that were sleeping on bushes 20–150 cm above the ground.

The Feiruz wood lizards – especially the males – come in a stunning variety of colours. Males can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides.

The researchers believe E. feiruzae might have established as a separate species after it got geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly as a result from tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to the Early Miocene.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after – you guessed it – Feiruz – “a female green iguana, muse and lifelong friend”. The owner of Feiruz the iguana, Catherine Thomson, supported the authors’ efforts in taxonomic research and nature conservation.

The habitat of the E. feiruzae is very fragmented by croplands and pastures for cattle ranching, and for now we only know of a single protected population in the Tingo Maria National Park. Much more remains to be discovered about the size and distribution of E. feiruzae populations and their ability to survive and adapt in a fragmented landscape.

The new species belongs to the genus Enyalioides, which contains sixteen species. More than half of the known Enyalioides species have been described in the last two decades, largely due to the recent surveys of remote places in the Tropical Andes from Ecuador and Peru.

Original source:

Venegas PJ, Chávez G, García-Ayachi LA, Duran V, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) A new species of wood lizard (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from the Río Huallaga Basin in Central Peru. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 263-273. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.69227

On the amazing discovery of a new species and how to choose names for spiders

Guest blog post by Alireza Zamani

As someone who enjoys taking regular long walks, listening to podcasts has always been an irreplaceable source of pleasure for me. As an arachnologist and taxonomist, I had been hoping for years that someone would start a podcast dedicated to taxonomy and the discovery of new species. Thankfully, earlier this year Dr. L. Brian Patrick from Dakota Wesleyan University started such a project with the New Species Podcast, and the results are much, much better than what I’d been hoping for. I was particularly delighted when I got invited to the show to talk about a paper in which, together with my colleague Dr. Yuri M. Marusik, we described 17 new species of zodariid spiders from Iran and Turkmenistan.

Loveh region in northern Iran, where Mesiotelus patricki was found. Photo by Barbod Safaei-Mahroo

I first met Brian in person at the 19th International Congress of Arachnology in Taiwan in 2013, where we had a fruitful discussion about various collecting methods for spiders and other arthropods. I personally believe that it is of utmost importance that efforts like Brian’s to popularize taxonomy – especially in these trying times – should be publicly acknowledged. And what better way to acknowledge someone’s efforts in popularizing the discovery of new species than to actually dedicate a new species name to them? For this reason, together with my colleague Dr. Marusik we decided to name one of our newly discovered species of Iranian spiders after Brian, in recognition of his wonderful job on the production of the podcast.

Mesiotelus patricki. Photo by Alireza Zamani

I am deeply moved and flattered that anyone would name a species after me. I think they must have run out of ideas for specific epithets if they’re naming a species after me!

I am glad that the podcast has inspired at least a few people, and I am trying to help more people understand that dozens to hundreds of new species are described almost every day of the year. I want people to understand the process of biodiversity discovery and the lab and field work associated with that process. Most importantly, I hope that people recognize that we are losing species before we can even find them.

L. Brian Patrick

The new species is named Mesiotelus patricki and is a member of the family Liocranidae. Commonly known as spiny-legged sac spiders, this family is relatively poorly studied globally, with less than 300 currently recognized species; most liocranids are free-living ground-dwelling spiders that can be found within the forest litter and under rocks and stones, usually in well-vegetated habitats.

Loveh region in northern Iran, where Mesiotelus patricki was found. Photo by Barbod Safaei-Mahroo

In the same paper, we also described a new genus and another nine new species of spiders from Iran. Among these, Brigittea avicenna was named after the preeminent Persian polymath Avicenna, while Zagrotes borna and Zagrotes parla were named using Persian given names, meaning “young” and “glowing”, respectively.

It is noteworthy that all of the specimens used in this study had been collected in the 70s by Austrian and Swiss zoologists, and had been sitting on museum shelves for decades, waiting to be “discovered” and formally described. This clearly demonstrates the importance of natural history museums and the value of their scientific collections, as major institutes around the world house hundreds of thousands of undescribed species that are just out there, waiting to be named. We hope that efforts like Brian’s podcast would bring more attention to taxonomy and discovery of new species, as more and more people and investments are indeed needed in this field to unveil the magnificent biodiversity of our planet.

Editor’s note: Alireza will be a guest speaker in L. Patrick Brian’s New Species Podcast this Tuesday, August 17, to discuss the ten new species of spiders he and Yuri Marusik discovered and published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys. This is not his first appearance on the show – in May, he talked about another 17 new species of spiders he described. Other New Species Podcast highlights include booty-shaking peacock spiders, glow-in-the-dark caterpillars and a whole bunch of trapdoor spiders.

Rare new orchid species just discovered in the Andes

Three new endemic orchid species were discovered in Ecuador and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys. Lepanthes microprosartima, L. caranqui and L. oro-lojaensis are proof that Ecuador – one of the world’s megadiverse countries – hides much more biodiversity waiting to be explored.

For its size, Ecuador has an impressive biological diversity that harbours a unique set of species and ecosystems, many of them endemic or threatened. Because of this great biodiversity, most studies still focus on recording species richness and very little is known about how these species actually interact. This is why in 2017 Dr Catherine H. Graham from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, with support from the European Research Council and local NGO Aves y Conservation, initiated an ambitious project in the northwestern Andes of Ecuador to study the ecology of plant-hummingbird interactions along an altitudinal and land-use gradient.

Lepanthes oro-lojaensis. Photo by Diego Francisco Tobar Suàrez

To this end, researchers established 18 transects in areas of well-preserved cloud forest and sites at different altitude and with different levels of disturbance, and visited them monthly to count the flowers that attract hummingbirds and to place time-lapse cameras in flowering plants.

Lepanthes microprosartima. Photo by Diego Francisco Tobar Suàrez

Several new species to science were discovered during the intensive botanical work of identifying the nearly 400 plant species recorded by the surveys and cameras. One of them is a new orchid species called Lepanthes microprosartima.

Found on the western slopes of Pichincha volcano in northern Ecuador, L. microprosartima is endemic to the Yanacocha and Verdecocha reserves, where it grows at 3200 to 3800 m above sea level in evergreen montane forest – remarkably, this species can thrive even under deep shade in the forest.

Over three years of monitoring, only 40 individuals of L. microprosartima were found, which suggests it is a rare species. Because of this, and because it is only found in a small area, researchers preliminarily assessed it as Critically Endangered according to IUCN criteria.

Lepanthes caranqui. Photo by Diego Francisco Tobar Suàrez

Within the same hummingbird monitoring project, another new orchid – Lepanthes caranqui – was discovered in eastern Pichincha. Around the same time, a different research group from the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador found the same species in Imbabura. While in Imbabura it was found growing in páramo, with small groups on roadside embankments, in Pichincha it grew in evergreen montane forest, on top of tree trunks or lower branches, in the company of other orchid species. Its name, Lepanthes caranqui, honors the Caranqui culture that historically occupied the areas where this plant grows.

Lepanthes oro-lojaensis. Photo by Diego Francisco Tobar Suàrez

But the wonders of Ecuadorean biodiversity don’t stop there – a research project of Ecuador’s National Institute of Biodiversity found another new species, as small as 3 cm, in the southwest of El Oro. Lepanthes oro-lojaensis was actually discovered on the border between El Oro and Loja provinces, hence its name. It was only found from one locality, where its populations are threatened by cattle ranching, fires, plantations of exotic species, and the collection of shrubs as firewood. This is why researchers believe it should be listed as Critically Endangered according to IUCN criteria.

These additions to the Ecuadorean flora are all described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys. They are proof that Ecuador – one of the world’s megadiverse countries – hides much more biodiversity waiting to be explored.

Original source:

Suarez FT, López MF, Gavilanes MJ, Monteros MF, García TS, Graham CH (2021) Three new endemic species of Lepanthes (Orchidaceae, Pleurothallidinae) from the highlands of Ecuador. PhytoKeys 180: 111-132. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.180.62671

New alpine moth solves a 180-year-old mystery

Butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera) are one of the most diverse animal groups. To date, scientists have found as many as 5,000 species from the Alps alone. Having been a place of intensive research interest for 250 years, it is considered quite a sensation if a previously unknown species is discovered from the mountain range these days. This was the case when a Swiss-Austrian team of researchers described a new species of alpine moth in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Alpine Entomology, solving a 180-year-old mystery.

Decades of research work

Initially, the team – Jürg Schmid, a full-time dentist, author and passionate butterfly and moth researcher from Switzerland, and Peter Huemer, head of the natural science collections of the Tyrolean State Museums in Innsbruck and author of more than 400 publications, needed a lot of patience.

Habitat of Dichrorampha velata. Photo by Jürg Schmid

Almost thirty years ago, in the 1990s, the two researchers independently discovered the same moth species. While they found it was similar to a moth of the leaf-roller family Tortricidae and commonly named as Dichrorampha montanana which had been known to science since 1843, it was also clearly different. Wing pattern and internal morphology of genitalia structures supported a two-species hypothesis. Moreover, the two were found at the same time in the same places – a further indication that they belong to separate species. Extensive genetic investigations later confirmed this hypothesis, but the journey of presenting a new species to science was far from over.

The Hidden Alpine Moth

To “baptise” a new species and give it its own name, scientists first have to check that it hasn’t already been named. This prevents the same species from having two different names, and essentially means looking at descriptions of similar species and comparing the new one against them to prove it is indeed unknown to science. In the case of this new moth, there were six potentially applicable older names that had to be ruled out before it could be named as new.

Dichrorampha velata. Photo by Jürg Schmid

Intensive and time-consuming research of original specimens in the nature museums of Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and London eventually led to the finding that all six ancient names actually referred to one and the same species – Dichrorampha alpestrana, which has been known since 1843 and had to be adopted as the valid older name for Dichrorampha montanana as having been described a couple of months earlier. Similarly, all other available names proved to belong to Dichrorampha alpestrana. The species discovered by Schmid and Huemer, however, was different, not yet named, and could finally be described as new to science. The authors chose to name it Dichrorampha velata – the Latin species name means “veiled” or “hidden,” pointing to the complicated story behind its discovery.

Lots of unanswered questions

The Hidden Alpine Moth is a striking species with a wingspan of up to 16 mm and a characteristic olive-brown color of the forewings with silvery lines. It belongs to a group of mainly diurnal moths and is particularly common locally in colorful mountain flower meadows. For now, we know that its distribution extends at least from Salzburg and Tyrol through southern Switzerland and the Jura to the French and Italian Alps, with isolated finds known from the Black Forest in Germany, but the researchers believe it might have a wider range in Central Europe.

The biology of the new species is completely unknown, but Huemer and Schmid speculate that its caterpillars may live in the rhizome of yarrow or chrysanthemums like other species of the same genus. As with many other alpine moths, there is a strong need for further research, so we can get a better understanding of this fascinating insect.

Original source:

Schmid J, Huemer P (2021) Unraveling a complex problem: Dichrorampha velata sp. nov., a new species from the Alps hitherto confounded with D. alpestrana ([Zeller], 1843) sp. rev. = D. montanana (Duponchel, 1843) syn. nov. (Lepidoptera, Tortricidae). Alpine Entomology 5: 37-54. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.5.67498

Dolichomitus meii Wasp Discovered in Amazonia Is Like a Flying Jewel

“The species’ striking colouring protects it from birds that prey on insects. They do not snatch the wasp sitting on the tree trunk as they think it will taste bad or that it is dangerous.”

Parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera) are one of the most species rich animal taxa on Earth, but their tropical diversity is still poorly known. Now, scientists have discovered the Dolichomitus meii and Polysphincta parasitoid wasp species previously unknown to science in South America. The new species found in the rainforests entice with their colours and exciting habits. Researchers at the University of Turku have already described 53 new animal species this year.

Researchers at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku, Finland, study insect biodiversity particularly in Amazonia and Africa. In their studies, they have discovered hundreds of species previously unknown to science. Many of them are exciting in their size, appearance, or living habits.

“The species we have discovered show what magnificent surprises the Earth’s rainforests can contain. The newly discovered Dolichomitus meii wasp is particularly interesting for its large size and unique colouring. With a quick glance, its body looks black but glitters electric blue in light. Moreover, its wings are golden yellow. Therefore, you could say it’s like a flying jewel,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Diego Pádua from the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) in Brazil, who has also worked at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

Dolichomitus parasitoid wasps are parasitic on insect larvae living deep in tree trunks. They lay a single egg on the insect larva and the wasp hatchling eats the host larva as it develops.  

Dolichomitus meii
The Dolichomitus meii wasp was discovered in western Amazonia. Its body looks black but glitters electric blue in light. The wasp lays its eggs on insect larvae living deep in wood. It reaches the host larvae with a long ovipositor. Picture: Filippo De Giovanni and Rodrigo Araújo

“The ovipositor of the Dolichomitus meii wasp is immensely long. It sticks the ovipositor into holes in the wood and tries to find host larvae inside. The species’ striking colouring protects it from birds that prey on insects. They do not snatch the wasp sitting on the tree trunk as they think it will taste bad or that it is dangerous,” says Professor of Biodiversity Research Ilari E. Sääksjärvi from the University of Turku.

Polysphincta Parasitoid Wasps Manipulate the Behaviour of the Host Spider

At the same time as the publication on the Dolichomitus meii species, the researchers published another research article on South American wasp species. The article describes altogether seven new wasp species belonging to the Polysphincta genus.

Polysphincta bonita refers to the species’ beautiful appearance. The species is parasitic on spiders. Picture: Diego Padúa and Ilari E. Sääksjärvi

The Polysphincta parasitoid wasps are parasitic on spiders. The female attacks a spider in its web and temporarily paralyses it with a venomous sting. After this, the wasp lays a single egg on the spider, and a larva hatches from the egg. The larva gradually consumes the spider and eventually pupates.

“The wasps that are parasitic on spiders are extremely interesting as many of them can manipulate the behaviour of the host spider. They can change the way a spider spins its web, so that before its death, the spider does not spin a normal web to catch prey. Instead, they spin a safe nest for the parasitoid wasp pupa,” describes Professor Sääksjärvi.

Researchers at University of Turku Have Already Discovered 53 New Species This Year

The new species are often discovered through extensive international collaboration. This was also the case with the newly published studies.

“For example, the discovery of the Dolichomitus meii species was an effort of six researchers. Moreover, these researchers all come from different countries,” says Professor Sääksjärvi.

The work to map out biodiversity previously unknown to science continues at the University of Turku and there are interesting species discoveries ahead.

“I just counted that, in 2021, the researchers of the Biodiversity Unit at the University of Turku have described already 53 new species from different parts of the globe – and we’re only halfway through the year,” Sääksjärvi announces cheerfully.

The discoveries of the research group were published in the Biodiversity Data Journal and ZooKeys.

Research articles:

Di Giovanni F, Pádua DG, Araujo RO, Santos AD, Sääksjärvi IE (2021) A striking new species of Dolichomitus Smith, 1877 (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae; Pimplinae) from South America. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e67438. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e67438

Pádua DG, Sääksjärvi IE, Spasojevic T, Kaunisto KM, Monteiro RF, Oliveira ML (2021) A review of the spider-attacking Polysphincta dizardi species-group (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae, Pimplinae), with descriptions of seven new species from South America. ZooKeys 1041: 137-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1041.65407

Trapdoor spiders named after Neil Gaiman, Peter Gabriel and Brandi Carlile among 33 new to science species

New species named after famous novelist Neil Gaiman, musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile are among thirty-three new trapdoor spiders described from across North and South America. Following the discovery, published in the openly accessible, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys, the known species in the genus Ummidia increased more than twice.

In a recent revision of the trapdoor spider genus Ummidia completed at the University of California, Davis, co-authors Dr. Rebecca Godwin (Piedmont University, GA) and Dr. Jason Bond (University of California, Davis, CA) described 33 new species found throughout North and South America. Their study is published in the openly accessible, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys. A number of these species were named after popular artists, including Neil Gaiman, Peter Gabriel and Brandi Carlile.

“I think anything we can do to increase people’s interest in the diversity around them is worthwhile and giving species names that people recognize but that still have relevant meaning is one way to do that,” says Dr. Godwin.

A male Ummidia brandicarlileae from Yucatán, Mexico

The newly described trapdoor spider Ummidia brandicarlileae is named after singer-songwriter and activist Brandi Carlile, and occurs in Yucatán, Mexico, where Carlile’s annual Girls Just Wanna Weekend Festival is held. The event was created to counter the lack of female representation at mainstream music festivals. 

A male Ummidia neilgaimani from Roanoke Co., Virginia, U.S.

Similarly, Ummidia neilgaimani is named after fantasy and horror writer, Neil Gaiman, author of a number of fantasy and horror books with spider-based characters, and a particular favorite of Dr. Godwin.

A male Ummidia gabrieli from Baja California Sur, Mexico

In addition to these pop culture references, Godwin and Bond named several species in honor of various people and places. The Pine Rockland trapdoor spider, found in southern Florida, is named after the critically endangered pine rockland habitat in which it is found. Ummidia paulacushingae is named for Dr. Paula Cushing, long-time collaborator and friend of Bond and friend, and mentor to Godwin. 

With the names of the new to science species, the authors were also able to shed light on lesser-known historical figures. Ummidia bessiecolemanae is named for Bessie Coleman (1892–1926), the first African American and Native American woman to obtain her pilot’s license. 

Trapdoor spiders are unique compared to most of the spiders that we are familiar with in that they don’t use silk to make a web. Instead, they live in burrows lined with silk and covered with a “trapdoor”. 

Trapdoor spiders in the genus Ummidia are actually very widespread—they can be found from Maryland west to Colorado through Mexico and Caribbean as far south as Brazil. However, because they spend most of their lives underground, people rarely ever encounter a trapdoor spider.  When trapdoor spiders are young, they leave their mother’s burrow and make one of their own. Females will spend their entire lives (which can be decades) in those burrows if they aren’t disturbed, but when a male spider matures (5 to 7 years of age), they emerge in search of females. This is when people are most likely to see them. 

“I am continually blown away by how little we know about what is out there living on this planet with us. Most people don’t even realize they are sharing their space with these creatures literally right under their feet”

Dr. Rebecca Godwin

“Given the fact that these spiders tend to have very limited ranges and have very low dispersal, entire species can be winked out of existence without us ever knowing they were here, and I find that kind of heartbreaking. Documenting the diversity of groups like Ummidia gives us knowledge we need to appreciate and conserve the rich and diverse life that surrounds us.” 

Research article:

Godwin RL, Bond JE (2021) Taxonomic revision of the New World members of the trapdoor spider genus Ummidia Thorell (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Halonoproctidae). ZooKeys 1027: 1-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1027.54888