Tom Hardy and his Marvel character Venom have given their names to a newly discovered Australian spider. The genus Venomius and its only current species Venomius tomhardyi were described following an expedition to Tasmania.
Tom Hardy portrays Eddie Brock and his alter-ego Venom, an antihero closely associated with Spider-Man, across two Marvel films and gives his name to the sole species of the new genus. The distinctive black spots on the arachnid’s abdomen reminded the scientists of Venom’s head, inspiring them to select the unusual name.
The genus belongs to the Araneidae family of spiders, or Araneae, that build upright circular webs to capture prey. Despite resembling the related genus Phonognatha as both do not have tubercles on the abdomen, the newly described spiders are distinct in their behaviour of creating silk-lined holes in the branches of trees for shelter, as well as their different genitalia.
The holotype of the new species was discovered and subsequently preserved at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery following an expedition to Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
Researchers also sourced supplementary specimens from scientific arachnology collections, with researchers examining approximately 12,000 records in Australian and overseas institutions.
“It is really important to keep describing new spiders to assess the total biodiversity of these predators in Australia,” added the study’s first author MSc Giullia Rossi.
Rossi GF, Castanheira PS, Baptista RLC, Framenau VW (2023) Venomius, a new monotypic genus of Australian orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Araneidae). Evolutionary Systematics 7(2): 285-292. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.7.110022
When you think of dinosaurs, you might automatically imagine iconic dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. But at the same time when these were stomping on the ancient coastal plains of North America, some of their very distant cousins were reigning over Europe’s lands.
During the Late Cretaceous (between 100 and 66 million years ago), Europe was an extensive archipelago with numerous small and large islands situated in a shallow tropical sea, the so-called Late Cretaceous European Archipelago. The dinosaur groups that lived on these islands were very different from those of other continents, often being much smaller than their mainland relatives. These European dinosaurs include small and medium-sized carnivorous theropods, armoured ankylosaurs, long-necked sauropods, duck-billed hadrosaurs, and rhabdodontids.
Arguably one of the most important of these European dinosaur groups is the family Rhabdodontidae, which groups together the most common medium-sized herbivores of the Late Cretaceous European Archipelago. A joint research team from the Universities of Tübingen (Germany), Budapest (Hungary) and Bucharest (Romania) recently reviewed what we know about these peculiar dinosaurs in a new paper published in the journal Fossil Record.
Generally, rhabdodontid dinosaurs were small to medium-sized animals with an overall body length of approximately 2–6 m. “They were probably habitually bipedal herbivores, characterised by a rather stocky build, with strong hind limbs, short forelimbs, a long tail, and a comparatively large, triangular skull that tapers anteriorly and ends in a narrow snout,” explains Felix Augustin, lead author of the study in Fossil Record.
“They had a relatively robust skull with strong jaws, large teeth and a pointy beak that was covered in keratin, demonstrating that these dinosaurs were well-adapted to eating tough plants.”
In some instances, fossil remains of several individuals of different ages have been found together, indicating that they were gregarious.
Although they died out well before the mass extinction in Western Europe (about 69 million years ago), potentially due to environmental changes that affected the plants they fed on, they survived much longer in Eastern Europe and were among the last non-avian dinosaurs still present before the end of the Cretaceous (66 million years ago).
Interestingly, fossils of rhabdodontids have only been found in Europe and only in rocks ranging in age from 86–66 million years ago, so they were endemic to the Late Cretaceous European Archipelago.
The group currently comprises nine different species from five European countries (France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, and Romania).
“The first rhabdodontid species was scientifically named more than 150 years ago and the last one as recently as November 2022, so, although the group looks back to a long research history, we still have much to learn about it,” says Felix Augustin.
“Generally, our portraying of the world of dinosaurs is heavily biased towards the well-known North-American and Asian dinosaur faunas,” he adds.
Dinosaur fossils from the Late Cretaceous are much rarer in Europe than in North America or Asia, and thus far no complete skeleton of a rhabdodontid has been described. Even though they were so abundant and common in the Upper Cretaceous of Europe, several key aspects about them remain poorly known, including their detailed body proportions, their posture and locomotion, as well as their feeding behaviour.
“In the past decades, a wealth of new, and often well-preserved, rhabdodontid fossils has been discovered throughout Europe, the majority of which still remains to be studied,” says Felix Augustin. “A joint research project is currently underway to study the available fossil material in order to gain new insights into the evolution and lifestyle of these fascinating yet still poorly known dinosaurs.”
Augustin FJ, Ősi A, Csiki-Sava Z (2023) The Rhabdodontidae (Dinosauria, Ornithischia), an enigmatic dinosaur group endemic to the Late Cretaceous European Archipelago. Fossil Record 26(2): 171-189. https://doi.org/10.3897/fr.26.108967
An international research team including the University of Göttingen has described seven previously unknown species of leaf insects, also known as walking leaves. The insects belong to the stick and leaf insect order, which are known for their unusual appearance: they look confusingly similar to parts of plants such as twigs, bark or – in the case of leaf insects – leaves.
This sophisticated camouflage provides excellent protection from predators as well as presenting a challenge to researchers. Genetic analysis enabled the researchers to discover “cryptic species”, which cannot be distinguished by their external appearance alone. The findings are not only important for the systematic study of leaf insects, but also for the protection of their diversity. The results were published in the scientific journal ZooKeys.
Taxonomy – meaning the naming, description and classification of species – is difficult in the case of leaf insects: individuals of different species can be difficult to tell apart, yet there can be huge variations within a species. “Individuals of different species are often counted as belonging to the same species based on their appearance. We were only able to identify some of the new species by their genetic characteristics,” explains the Project Lead, Dr Sarah Bank-Aubin, Göttingen University’s Animal Evolution and Biodiversity Department.
Some individual insects from India were previously thought to belong to a species that is widespread in Southeast Asia. But now the researchers have found out that they are a completely new species of leaf insects. Bank-Aubin emphasises: “The finding is important for species conservation: if all the individuals die out in India, it is not just a group within a species that is reduced, as was previously thought. In fact, a whole distinct species is being wiped out. This means that the Indian species is particularly important to protect.” Other newly discovered species come from Vietnam, Borneo, Java and the Philippines.
The researchers from Göttingen University worked with leaf insect expert Royce Cumming, City University New York. This research collaboration has led to the identification of over twenty new species. Dr Sven Bradler, who has been researching the evolution of stick and leaf insects at the University of Göttingen for more than 20 years, explains: “There are around 3,500 known species of stick and leaf insects and there are currently just over 100 described species of leaf insect. Although they only make up a small fraction of this diverse family of insects, their spectacular and unexpected appearance makes them unique.”
Cumming RT, Le Tirant S, Linde JB, Solan ME, Foley EM, Eulin NEC, Lavado R, Whiting MF, Bradler S, Bank S (2023) On seven undescribed leaf insect species revealed within the recent “Tree of Leaves” (Phasmatodea, Phylliidae). ZooKeys 1173: 145-229. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1173.104413
In the latest issue (1174th) of the scientific open-access journal ZooKeys, you can find our paper describing a new species of tarantula (family Theraphosidae) found in northwestern Iran.
This species belongs to Chaetopelma, a relatively small genus, distributed in Crete, Sudan, and the Middle East, and one of the only two tarantula genera inhabiting the Mediterranean region.
Our discovery is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it marks the first record of this genus in Iran and the third known species of tarantulas in this country. Additionally, it extends the known range of Chaetopelma spiders by almost 350 km eastwards.
We named this species Chaetopelma persianum, paying homage to its occurrence in Iran, which has historically been known as Persia. As a potential common name, we suggest “Persian Gold Tarantula”, where we are also making a reference to the “woolly, golden hairs’’ on its carapace.
For the purpose of our study, we only had one specimen: a female with a leg span of almost 9 cm, available. Yet, its distinct characteristics allowed us to confidently differentiate it from other known Chaetopelma species.
This tarantula is an obligate burrower and inhabits high elevations in well-vegetated mountainous regions of the northern Zagros Mountains. The holotype specimen was collected from a self-made ground burrow on sloped rocky ground, amidst sparse low vegetation and grasses.
It all started with local nature enthusiast Mehdi Gavahyan, who photographed a wandering male and sent me the photo. When I figured it was most likely an undescribed species, I asked him to team up with Amir Hossein Aghaei, a nature enthusiast and a friend of mine, and send me specimens of these spiders for further examination. Unfortunately, they only managed to collect that one female. However, it turned out to be enough for us to describe the Persian Gold Tarantula!
Additionally, thanks to local citizen scientists and naturalists, we later also got hold of photos of another two males of the same genus, taken very close to the type locality of the new species: one in Sardasht in West Azerbaijan Province of Iran, and the other in the surroundings of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq. While it is highly probable that both these males belong to Ch. persianum, this cannot be confirmed until further examination of collected material from both sexes is conducted.
Burrow of Persian Gold Tarantulas in West Azerbaijan Province, Iran. The arrow in the photo on the right indicates the location of the burrow. Photos by Amir Hossein Aghaei.
During our research, we also noted that one species of Chaetopelma described from Cameroon is misclassified and should be transferred to another genus. However, this transfer is pending until the type material undergoes examination.
Looking ahead, we believe that more comprehensive investigations employing integrative methods would greatly benefit the taxonomy of Chaetopelma.
For example, Ch. olivaceum, a species with seven junior synonyms and one of the broadest ranges within the entire family, covering an area of approximately 1,493,978 km2, might potentially have cryptic species within its range. Moreover, the disjunct distribution of Ch. olivaceum in Turkey, where it occurs both in the southern regions and as far north as Istanbul, raises the possibility of distinct species status for the latter population, which is geographically isolated from the rest of the recorded occurrences. Integrative studies incorporating molecular data could offer insights into this.
Additionally, further collection efforts in lesser-sampled or completely unexplored regions, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, eastern Turkey and western Iran, could lead to the discovery of additional Chaetopelma species or records. These findings would be instrumental in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the taxonomy and distribution of this genus.
Deep in the tropical Andes are hiding plants that were discovered and then forgotten; plants that we knew almost nothing about. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of botanists from Germany, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica and amateur plant enthusiasts, these plants have been rediscovered, some of them after more than 100 years. The findings were described in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.
The plants belong to Nasa, a genus from the Blazing Star family (Loasaceae) that has long caused headaches to scientists as its delicate but painfully urticant leaves make it difficult to collect. Most of them are rare, highly endemic, and only around for short periods, which makes them even more unlikely to end up in a herbarium collection.
Luckily, today’s scientists don’t have to rely on herbaria as their sole source of material and clues. Thanks to the advent of global networking and the increasing use of free data repositories, there is a lot more biodiversity data now that is available to use and easily accessible, for example as geo-referenced occurrence records and photos. Citizen science platform iNaturalist, where users can, among others, post photographic occurrence records, has turned into a valuable tool for biodiversity scientists, and plays a significant role in the rediscovery of these Andean plants.
One notable species, Nasa colanii, had only been recorded once, in 1978, until the research team came upon a photograph from 2019. This scarcity in records might have to do with the fact that the plant grows in a highly inaccessible region: in a cloud forest in the buffer zone of Peru’s Cordillera de Colán National Sanctuary, at an elevation of 2605 m.
Another species hadn’t been reported for approximately 130 years when iNaturalist users confirmed its existence in 2022 by uploading photographs. Nasa ferox had been known for centuries, but it didn’t get its scientific description until 2000. “Given the location of the park close to the [Ecuadorian] city of Cuenca, and the fact that the important road 582 goes through the park makes it particularly surprising that the species has not been reported in such a long time, even more so if we consider the numerous botanical expeditions that have been carried out in the general region,” the researchers write in their paper. In fact, only a small population of about ten fertile plants of N. ferox has been found, with the plants always growing in sheltered places such as in rock crevices or at the base of shrubs.
Remarkably, the typical form of Nasa humboldtiana called Nasa humboldtiana subspecies humboldtiana was rediscovered after 162 years, when the research team found a specimen in a conserved remnant of montane Andean forest in the province of Chimborazo, Ecuador.
But probably the most exciting discoveries happened when the team found species that have been considered extinct in the wild. Two species of Nasa, namely N. hastata and N. solaria, were believed to share this fate, both from the Peruvian Department of Lima, a comparably well sampled area, given the proximity to the national capital. Until very recently, both species “remained unknown (or almost so) in the wild.” Earlier attempts to recollect these species near their type localities where they have been found some 100 years ago failed and it needed the help of iNaturalist to reveal that they are still present in the area.
Nasa hastata was recently rediscovered, after, for the first time, photos of living plants showed up taken by the sister of one of the authors. Only a handful of plants have since been reported from two sites, some 7 km apart. Similarly, a few dozens of plants have been found so far from N. solaria occurring in four small relict populations in remnants of forest that once covered larger areas in this region.
Observations uploaded to iNaturalist also revealed important information on another species, Nasa ramirezii,providing the first photographs of living plants from Ecuador and the first data on its exact location.
“All these discoveries serve as a reminder that even well-studied regions harbor diversity that can so easily remain overlooked and unexplored, and point to the role of botanists in documenting biodiversity which is an essential prerequisite for any conservation effort.” leading author Tilo Henning from the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) says.
“Hopefully, as more scientists and members of the public contribute to the database, and more professionals get involved in the curation, more undescribed or ‘long lost’ taxa will be found. Our examples of the rediscovery of Nasa ferox after 130 years and Nasa hastata after 100 years, both ‘found’ on iNaturalist underscore this point,” the researchers say in their study.
Henning T, Acuña-Castillo R, Cornejo X, Gonzáles P, Segovia E, Wong Sato AA, Weigend M (2023) When the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence: Nasa (Loasaceae) rediscoveries from Peru and Ecuador, and the contribution of community science networks. PhytoKeys 229: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.229.100082
BKH is a one-stop portal that allows users to access FAIR and interlinked biodiversity data and services in a few clicks. BKH was designed to support a new emerging community of users over time and across the entire biodiversity research cycle providing its services to anybody, anywhere and anytime.
For an eighth year in a row, all conference abstracts will be submitted to TDWG via the Association’s own journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS Journal), published by Pensoft and powered by the end-to-end publishing platform ARPHA. Using the ‘mini-paper’ format, participants are not only openly and efficiently sharing their work with the world, but they also get to enjoy many features typically exclusive to ‘standard’ research papers, including DOI registration on Crossref, semantic enrichment and structural elements (e.g., tables, figures), all of which are stored as easily exported data.
Apart from an abstract submission portal, BISS Journal also serves as a permanent, openly accessible scholarly source for all contributions concerning the creation, maintenance, and promotion of open community-driven data standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all.
As in previous years, the abstracts will be published ahead of the event itself to provide the community with a sneak preview of the conference. The 2023 collection of abstracts, will allow readers to explore the abstracts by session (e.g., symposia, posters, contributed presentations, keynotes). Sometime after the conference, check out the media tab on most abstracts for slides presented and a link to session video when it is posted on TDWG’s YouTube channel.
Visit the TDWG 2023 conference website for more information about the scientific program, registration, abstract submission and more. Ahead, during and after the conference, join the conversation on Twitter and Mastodon via #tdwg2023.
A spectacular crocodile newt from the Central Highlands of Vietnam was just published in the international peer-reviewed open-access academic journal ZooKeys.
“It is an exceptional discovery as it is one of the most colourful species in the genus Tylototriton. This is also the first time that a crocodile newt species is recorded from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Occurring at elevations from 1,800 to 2,300 m above sea level, this discovery sets an elevational record for the genus in the country, with former distribution ranges between 250 m and 1,740 m.”
says discoverer and first author of the study Trung My Phung.
The habitat of the new species is located approximately 370 air km away from the nearest Tylototriton population, which makes it an important discovery in terms of evolution and zoogeography.
The name “ngoclinhensis” refers to the type locality of the new species, Ngoc Linh Mountain. Restricted to evergreen montane forest, the Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt is currently known only from the Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve, Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This is the eighth salamander taxon described from Vietnam, and is the thirty-ninth Tylototriton species officially recognized.
Crocodile newts, scientifically known as the genus Tylototriton,include nearly 40 species inhabiting montane forest areas throughout the Asian monsoon climate zone. Remarkably, 15 of these species have been described in the past five years, and there remain several unnamed taxa, which contain cryptic species that are morphologicallydifficult to distinguish.
Established in 1986, Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve is a key biodiversity area for rare species like the endangered Golden-winged Laughingthrush and the Truong Son Muntjac. The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt certainly will represent another flagship species of this protected area and its surroundings, say the researchers.
This recent discovery is another remarkable case, “demonstrating that the Central Highlands play a special role in Vietnamese amphibian diversification and evolution,” by the words of co-author Dr. Cuong The Pham from IEBR.
The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt belongs to the group of range-restricted, so-called micro-endemic species, which face the greatest risk of extinction because of their presumably small population size. Unfortunately, on top of its special zoogeographic situation and rarity, its particularly colorful appearance will likely make it highly attractive to illegal collectors.
“This has already been successfully implemented for another recently discovered, micro-endemic crocodile newt species from Vietnam, Tylototriton vietnamensis, of which already more than 350 individuals could have successfully been reproduced at the Cologne Zoo in Germany and also at the Melinh Station for Biodiversity in Vietnam, which is a promising example for IUCN’s Reverse the Red campaign and the idea of the conservation zoo”,
says Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Vietnam conservation team member and coordinator from Cologne Zoo, Germany.
Phung TM, Pham CT, Nguyen TQ, Ninh HT, Nguyen HQ, Bernardes M, Le ST, Ziegler T, Nguyen TT (2023) Southbound – the southernmost record of Tylototriton (Amphibia, Caudata, Salamandridae) from the Central Highlands of Vietnam represents a new species. ZooKeys 1168: 193-218. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1168.96091
When introducing a new species to science, taxonomists always get to choose its scientific name. And while there are some general rules to naming, there’s also relative freedom. Often, new species are named after the area where they were found, or their key diagnostic features, but researchers may also choose names that recognize those who helped or inspired them in their career: prominent scientists, celebrities, and, sometimes, their grandma, or their dog. In Amazonia, a new species of butterfly was discovered whose name honors the decades-long work of someone who has worked patiently behind the scenes in museum collections to provide invaluable support to researchers.
Caeruleuptychia harrisi was named in recognition of Brian P. Harris, museum specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “for his tireless effort in facilitating butterfly research at USNM by going above and beyond to support visiting researchers,” according to a study which was just published in the journal ZooKeys. “Brian has provided critical support to visiting researchers for many years, including several co-authors on the paper,” writes the team of researchers, led by Harvard University’s Shinichi Nakahara.
In fact, Harris personally collected the type specimen that later facilitated the scientific description of the new species. After collecting it in Brazil, he deposited it at USNM, where it could be studied as a reference for this species.
“I think it is really important to recognize someone who has dedicated а good amount of his lifetime providing technical help to support research,” says Shinichi Nakahara.
Brian Harris started working at the Smithsonian Institution in July 2005. There, he served as a museum specialist for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) until he retired in July 2019.
“Brian’s job curating Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera collections is critical for us visiting researchers to conduct research based on these specimens, but sadly this kind of technical support is often not well recognized well in the current scientific community,” says Shinichi Nakahara. “I visited the Smithsonian’s Lepidoptera collection three times, in 2015, 2018, and 2023 (after his retirement!), and Brian provided me with the best support I could ever receive in all of these three visits. It was evident to me that he wanted us visitors to make the most out of the collections and he went out of his way to support my short visits to the collection.”
“He always communicated with me in advance about which butterfly group I wanted to examine, would set up an imaging system in advance, and even tried to help me find field notes left by a deceased collector by taking me to the stock room and spending time exploring the museum with me!,“ he adds.
Before working at the Smithsonian Institution, Brian Harris spent 18 years at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM). In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, he played drums for a band before starting at LACM.
Nakahara S, Kleckner K, Barbosa EP, Lourenço GM, Casagrande MM, Willmott KR, Freitas AVL (2023) Reassessment of the type locality of Euptychia stigmatica Godman, 1905, with the description of two new sibling species from Amazonia (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae, Satyrini). ZooKeys 1167: 57-88.https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1167.102979
The central region of Texas is a known hotspot of biological wonders. For the last five years, Dr. JoVonn Hill, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) at Mississippi State University, and his colleagues have made scientific expeditions to the area that have now revealed an extraordinary find.
The team uncovered seven previously unknown flightless grasshopper species, six of them endemic to the Edwards Plateau, which underscores the region’s extraordinary biodiversity.
With this discovery, Dr. Hill is paying tribute to two iconic musicians. In recognition of the “immense contributions” of Texas legends Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he has named two of these flightless grasshopper species after them.
“Melanoplus nelsoni and Melanoplus walkeri immortalize the enduring contributions of these legendary musicians and their connection to Texas,” he says.
“After these last few summers [of field studies], just like Mr. Nelson, we too have a little Texas in our souls,” he writes in his study, which was just published in the journal ZooKeys.
On Melanoplus walkeri, he writes: “Walker’s songs such as Hill Country Rain, Leavin’ Texas, and Sangria Wine brought me and my field team joy while traveling between field sites and added to the amazing ambiance of the Edwards Plateau.” In fact, the artist recorded his most influential album not far away from the spot where the new species was discovered.
Additionally, the team acknowledges the cultural heritage and deep connection to the region of the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes, naming two species after them, Melanoplus commanche and Melanoplus tonkawa respectively.
“These designations recognize the profound historical and cultural significance of the tribes in the region,” Dr. Hill explains.
“These seven newly described species, alongside two preexisting ones, form a cohesive species group, highlighting their shared characteristics and evolutionary relationships,” Dr. Hill says in conclusion. “The formation of this new species group presents a significant contribution to our understanding of the diverse ecosystems present in central Texas,” he adds.
The discovery of these seven flightless grasshopper species and the formation of a new species group underscore the ecological uniqueness of central Texas, Dr. Hill says. He and the staff of the Mississippi Entomological Museum remain committed to scientific exploration and understanding, promoting the conservation of biodiversity, and inspiring a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
Hill JG (2023) Diversification deep in the heart of Texas: seven new grasshopper species and establishment of the Melanoplus discolor species group (Orthoptera, Acrididae, Melanoplinae). ZooKeys 1165: 101-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1165.104047