Six new species of goblin spiders named after famous goblins and brownies

 

Fictional characters originally ‘described’ by famous English children’s writer Enid Blyton have given their names to six new species of minute goblin spiders discovered in the diminishing forests of Sri Lanka.

The goblins Bom, Snooky and Tumpy and the brownies Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy made their way from the pages of: “The Goblins Looking-Glass” (1947), “Billy’s Little Boats” (1971) and “The Firework Goblins” (1971) to the scientific literature in a quest to shed light on the remarkable biodiversity of the island country of Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean.

As a result of their own adventure, which included sifting through the leaf litter of the local forests, scientists Prof. Suresh P. Benjamin and Ms. Sasanka Ranasinghe of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, described a total of nine goblin spider species in six genera as new to science. Two of these genera are reported for the very first time from outside Australia.

Their paper is published in the open access journal Evolutionary Systematics.

With a total of 45 species in 13 genera, the goblin spider fauna in Sri Lanka – a country taking up merely 65,610 km2 – is already remarkably abundant. Moreover, apart from their diversity, these spiders amaze with their extreme endemism. While some of the six-eyed goblins can only be found at a few sites, other species can be seen nowhere outside a single forest patch.

“Being short-range endemics with very restricted distributions, these species may prove to be very important when it comes to monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats for the forest habitats in Sri Lanka,” explain the researchers.

In European folklore, goblins and brownies are known as closely related small and often mischievous fairy-like creatures, which live in human homes and even do chores while the family is asleep, since they avoid being seen. In exchange, they expect from their ‘hosts’ to leave food for them.

Similarly, at size of a few millimetres, goblin spiders are extremely tough to notice on the forest floors they call home. Further, taking into consideration the anthropogenic factors affecting their habitat, the arachnids also turn out to be heavily dependent on humans.

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Original source:

Ranasinghe UGSL, Benjamin SP (2018) Taxonomic descriptions of nine new species of the goblin spider genera CavisternumGrymeusIschnothyreusOpopaeaPelicinus and Silhouettella (Araneae, Oonopidae) from Sri Lanka. Evolutionary Systematics 2: 65-80. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.2.25200

 

 

Life in the fast flow: Tadpoles of new species rely on ‘suction cups’ to keep up

The frogs living in the rainforest of Sumatra also represent a new genus

Indonesia, a megadiverse country spanning over 17,000 islands located between Australia and mainland Asia, is home to more than 16% of the world’s known amphibian and reptile species, with almost half of the amphibians found nowhere else in the world. Unsurprisingly, biodiversity scientists have been feverishly discovering and describing fascinating new animals from the exotic island in recent years.

Sumatran forest

Such is the case of an international team from the University of Hamburg, Germany, University of Texas at Arlington, USA, University of Bern, Switzerland and Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia, who came across a curious tadpole while collecting amphibian larvae from fast-flowing streams as part of an arduous expedition in the remote forests on the island of Sumatra.

To the amazement of the scientists, it turned out that the tadpoles possess a peculiar cup-like structure on their bellies, in addition to the regular oral disk found in typical tadpoles. As a result, the team described two new species and a genus in the open access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution. A previously known, but misplaced in an unsuitable genus, frog was also added to the group, after it was proved that it takes advantage of the same modification.

This phenomenon where tadpoles display ‘belly suckers’ is known as gastromyzophory and, albeit not unheard of, is a rare adaptation that is only found in certain toads in the Americas and frogs in Asia,” explains lead author Umilaela Arifin.

The abdominal sucker, it is hypothesized, helps these tadpoles to exploit a very special niche – fast-flowing streams – where the water would otherwise be too turbulent and rapid to hang around. Gastromyzophorous species, however, rely on the suction provided by their modified bellies to secure an exclusive access to plentiful food, such as algae, while the less adapted are simply washed away.

When the scientists took a closer look at the peculiar tadpoles and their adult forms, using a powerful combination of molecular and morphological data, they realized that they had not only stumbled upon a rare amphibian trait, but had also discovered two brand new species of frogs in the process.

Sumaterana crassiovis

Moreover, the animals turned out so distinct in their evolutionary makeup, compared to all other frogs, that the scientists had to create a whole new genus to accommodate them. Formally named Sumaterana, the genus is to be commonly referred to as Sumatran Cascade Frogs.

We decided to call the new genus Sumaterana after Sumatra, to reflect the fact that these new species, with their rare evolutionary adaptation are endemic to Sumatra’s rainforests and, in a sense, are emblematic of the exceptional diversity of animals and plants on the island,” says co-author Dr. Utpal Smart. “Tragically, all of them are in peril today, given the current rate of deforestation.

The authors agree that much more taxonomic work is still needed to determine and describe Sumatra’s herpetofaunal diversity, some of which they fear, could be irreversibly lost well before biologists have the chance to discover it.

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Original source:

Arifin U, Smart U, Hertwig ST, Smith EN, Iskandar DT, Haas A (2018) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of a taxonomically unstable ranid from Sumatra, Indonesia, reveals a new genus with gastromyzophorous tadpoles and two new species. Zoosystematics and Evolution 94(1): 163-193. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.94.22120