Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A new silky ant: Sericomyrmex radioheadi

Credit: Ana Ješovnik
The ants of the genus Sericomyrmex -- literally translated as 'silky ants' -- belong to the fungus-farming ants, a group of ants that have figured out how to farm their own food. The silky ants are the less well-known relatives of the famous leaf-cutter ants.

At only four million years, Sericomyrmex is an evolutionary youngster, the most recently evolved genus of fungus-farming ants, and an example of adaptive radiation which is a process in which organisms diversify quickly into a multitude of forms, making these ants good candidates for studies into speciation and evolution.

The new species has been named after the famous British band Radiohead in honor of the musicians' environmental efforts, especially in raising climate-change awareness. This is one of my favorite bands which makes this even more exciting to me.

For the experts: The genus Sericomyrmex Mayr (Formicidae: Myrmicinae: Attini) is a Neotropical group of fungus-farming ants known for its problematic taxonomy, caused by low morphological variability across the species, vague and old species descriptions, and an outdated and incomplete key published in 1916. Recent molecular studies revealed that Sericomyrmex is the product of a rapid recent radiation, with a divergence date of 4.3 million years ago. Here we present a comprehensive taxonomic revision of the genus Sericomyrmex based on morphology and a recently published molecular phylogeny. We discuss and illustrate morphological characters for Sericomyrmex workers, males, queens, and larvae. We report 18 standard morphological measurements and 5 indices for 529 workers, 50 queens, and 39 males, which we employ in morphometric analyses. The revised genus Sericomyrmex comprises eleven species, including three new species, here described as S. maravalhas sp. n., S. radioheadi sp. n., and S. saramama sp. n. We also redescribe S. amabilis Wheeler, S. bondari Borgmeier, S. lutzi Wheeler, S. mayri Forel, S. opacus Mayr, S. parvulus Forel, S. saussurei Emery, and S. scrobifer Forel. The number of recognized species (11) is lower than the previously recognized 19 species and 3 subspecies. The following species and subspecies are synonymized: under S. opacus [=S. aztecus Forel syn. n., S. zacapanus Wheeler syn. n., and S. diego Forel syn. n.]; under S. bondari [=S. beniensis Weber syn. n.]; under S. mayri [=S. luederwaldti Santschi syn. n., S. moreirai Santschi syn. n., S. harekulli Weber syn. n., S. harekulli arawakensis Weber syn. n., S. urichi Forel syn. n.]; under S. saussurei [=S. burchelli Forel syn. n., S. impexus Wheeler syn. n., S. urichi maracas Weber syn. n.]; and under S. parvulus [=S. myersi Weber syn. n.]. We provide a key to Sericomyrmex species for the worker caste and information on the geographic distributions of all species.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A new pistol shrimp: Synalpheus pinkfloydi

Pistol shrimps, or snapping shrimps, have an ability to generate substantial amounts of sonic energy. By closing its enlarged claw at rapid speed the shrimp creates a high-pressure cavitation bubble, the implosion of which results in one of the loudest sounds in the ocean - strong enough to stun or even kill a small fish.

A newly discovered conspicuously coloured pistol shrimp found on the Pacific coast of Panama has now been named Synalpheus pinkfloydi in recognition of the discoverers' favourite rock band -- Pink Floyd.

As a lifetime fan of the band I can only applaud my colleague for this decision.

For the experts: A new, conspicuously coloured species of the alpheid genus Synalpheus Spence Bate, 1888, is described based on material collected on the Pacific coast of Panama. Synalpheus pinkfloydi sp. nov. is closely related to the western Atlantic S. antillensis Coutière, 1909, the two taxa being transisthmian, cryptic sister species. Both species are characterised by the distal areas of their major and minor chelae coloured in an intense, almost glowing pink-red. The morphological differences between S. pinkfloydi sp. nov. and S. antillensis Coutière, 1909 are subtle, being limited to the slightly different proportions of the merus of both chelipeds, distodorsal armature of the major cheliped merus, relative length of the antennal scaphocerite, and body size. However, they are genetically different with a 10.2% sequence divergence in COI. Based on molecular clock estimates, these transisthmian taxa diverged around 6.8–7.8 mya, i.e. well before the final closure of the Isthmus of Panama 2.5–3 mya.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A new frog: Pristimantis attenboroughi

Credit: Dr. Edgar Lehr from publication
One extraordinarily diverse genus of frogs, Pristimantis, includes 465 recognized species, 131 of them from Peru. The mountainous terrain of the Andes probably led to the evolution of so many different ground-dwelling frogs, in which the eggs develop directly into tiny baby frogs without going through a tadpole phase.

The new species inhabits several localities across the Pui Pui Protected Forest, a nature reserve located at elevations between 3400 and 3936 m in central Peru. Its name was dedicated to Sir David Frederick Attenborough in honor for his educational documentaries on wildlife, especially on amphibians (e.g., Life in Cold Blood, Fabulous Frogs), and for raising awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation.

For the experts: We describe a new species of Pristimantis from upper montane forests and high Andean grasslands of the Pui Pui Protected Forest and its close surroundings, Región Junín, central Peru. The description of the new species is based on 34 specimens found at elevations between 3400 and 3936 m a.s.l. Pristimantis attenboroughi sp. n. is characterized by a snout–vent length of 14.6–19.2 mm in adult males (n = 21), 19.2–23.0 mm in adult females (n = 10), and is compared morphologically and genetically with other taxonomically and biogeographically relevant species of Pristimantis. The new species is characterized by having narrow digits that lack circumferential grooves, irregularly shaped, discontinuous dorsolateral folds, and absence of both tympanic membrane and tympanic annulus. The high similarity in morphology between P. attenboroughi sp. n. and members of the Andean genera Phrynopus and Bryophryne provides an example for convergent evolution, and highlights the importance of using molecular data to justify generic assignment. Pristimantis attenboroughi sp. n. is most similar to Phrynopus chaparroi from the Región Junín, suggesting that the generic placement of this species needs to be revised. Phylogenetically the new species belongs to the Pristimantis danae species Group, a clade that includes several Pristimantis species distributed in the montane forests of central Peru, including P. albertus, P. aniptopalmatus, P. ornatus, and P. stictogaster.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A new snail: Gastrocopta sharae

Credit: Dr. Rodrigo B. Salvador from publication
The genus Gastrocopta comprises of a number of minute air-breathing land snails. These little animals usually measure less than 2 mm. They are cave-dwelling invertebrates, which in general, receive scarce attention from researchers. Given their size and the environment they live in it should come as no surprise that little is known about them. It also means that the closer researchers look the more new species they will likely find.

Inspired by where the snails were found the researchers named it after Shar, a fictional goddess of darkness, caverns, and secrets, from the Faerûnian pantheon of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.

For the experts: A sample of land and freshwater snails, mainly pulmonates, was recently collected in caves in Goiás and Bahia states, Brazil. Twenty-one species were found in the material. The following species are reported for the first time for Goiás state: Cecilioides consobrina (Ferussaciidae), Dysopeas muibum and Stenogyra octogyra (Subulinidae), Entodina jekylli and Prohappia besckei (Scolodontidae; also reported for the first time for Bahia state), Pupisoma dioscoricola (Valloniidae). A new species from Goiás is described herein: Gastrocopta sharae sp. n. (Gastrocoptidae). The new records and species addressed here constitute important findings, helping to fill distributional gaps and improving the knowledge of the local molluscan fauna, an essential step for future conservation efforts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A new plasterer bee: Lonchopria heberti

Members of the bee family Colletidae are also called plasterer bees because of their way to smooth the walls of their nest cells with secretions which dry into a cellophane-like lining. The majority of the 2000 known species in this family live in South America and Australia. No surprise that this new species was found in Chile. 

The species is named after the inventor of DNA barcoding: Paul Hebert who happens to be my boss. The species had gone unnoticed until the authors used DNA barcoding and detected a deep genetic divergence between this species and Lonchopria similis, prompting the search for standard morphological differences and thereby speeding up species discovery.

For the experts: We compare the diversity of bees in the Chilean fauna as understood from traditional taxonomy-based catalogues with that currently known from DNA barcodes using the BIN system informed by ongoing morphology-based taxonomic research. While DNA barcode surveys of the Chilean bee fauna remain incomplete, it is clear that new species can readily be distinguished using this method and that morphological differentiation of distinct barcode clusters is sometimes very easy. We assess the situation in two genera in some detail. In Lonchopria Vachal one “species” is readily separable into two BINs that are easily differentiated based upon male mandibular and genitalic morphology (characters generally used in this group) as well as female hair patterns. Consequently, we describe Lonchopria (Lonchopria) heberti Packer and Ruz, new species. For Liphanthus Reed, a large number of new species has been detected using DNA barcoding and considerable additional traditional morphological work will be required to describe them. When we add the number of BINs (whether identified to named species or not) to the number of Chilean bee species that we know have not been barcoded (both described and new species under study in our laboratories) we conclude that the bee fauna of Chile is substantially greater than the 436 species currently known. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

A new gall midge: Contarinia n. sp.

Photo by SRDC 
Members of the fly family Cecidomyiidae are known as gall midges or gall gnats. Their larvae feed within plant tissue and release chemicals that induce abnormal plant growths called galls. These flies are minute, many of them are less than 1 mm long. They are characterized by hairy wings and have long antennae. More than 6,000 species are currently known to science but this is likely a gross underestimate.

Researchers at the Saskatoon Research and Development Centre (SRDC), along with colleagues at the University of Guelph, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency now found a new Cecidomyiid damaging canola in northeastern Saskatchewan and east-central Alberta. The new species, which has yet to be named and scientifically described, belongs to the genus Contarinia. It is similar in appearance to the swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii, a gall midge native to Europe and Asia, was first found as a pest of plants in the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family in Ontario in 2000. This was the first reported occurrence of this pest species in North America. It is now widely distributed in Ontario and Quebec and has been detected in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and several U.S. states. 

The potential threat posed by the new species needs to be determined. This summer researchers will try to determine the midge’s range and learn more about its life cycle in order to find out if it causes yield losses as well.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A new amoeba: Arcella gandalfi

Image by Jordana C. Féres & Alfredo L. Porfírio Sousa
Thecamoebians are one of 30-45 lineages of amoebae known to science. During their evolution, they have developed the ability to produce an outer carapace or shell for their own protection.

Most amoebae in the genus Arcella  vary considerably in morphology, typically being hemispherical or disk-shaped. Some resemble an Asian rice hat, while others are crown-like with denticulations, small ridges resembling bristles or spines around the edges. The genus comprises some 200 species and is one of the most diverse genera among thecamoebians.

The new species was named after a famous wizard as its carapace resembles the hat worn by Gandalf (Lord of the Rings).

For the experts: Arcellinida are free-living lobose amoebae that produce an outer shell (test). Here, we describe a conspicuous new species, Arcella gandalfi sp. nov, from Brazilian continental waters, along with a morphological and biometrical characterization. Test diameter and test height are on average 81 and 71 respectively. This new species has an apical conical extension, which differentiates it from other Arcella species. A. gandalfi seems to be closely-related to A. brasiliensis, due to the distinct marginal ring (test brim) present only in these two species. Since A. gandalfi is easily identified by morphological features and due to its apparent geographic restriction to South America, we discuss its possible use as a new flagship species.