Sunday, 9 December 2018

Antheromorpha pumatensis: A new species of Polydesmid Millipede from Vietnam.

Polydesmid Millipedes of the family Paradoxosomatidae are found from South and Southeast Asia to Australia, dominating Millipede faunas in many areas. With over 1000 species in 200 genera the Paradoxosomatidae is probably the most specious group of Polydesmid Millipedes. The genus Antheromorpha currently comprises eleven species of large, brightly coloured Millipedes, found across Southeast Asia, from Myanmar and South China in the north, south to Vietnam and Malaysia. 

In a paper published in the journal Raffles Bulletin of Zoology on 21 February 2018, Anh Nguyen of Duy Tan University, and the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Son Nguyen, also of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and Son Le of the Institute of Tropical Ecology at the Vietnamese-Russian Tropical Center, describe a new species of Antheromorpha from the Pu Mat National Park in Nghe An Province, northern Vietnam.

The new species is named Antheromorpha pumatensis, meaning from ‘from Pu Mat’. It is described from four male and six female specimens collected in April 2011. The male specimens measure between 28.1 and 37.4 mm in length, while the females measure between 28.0 and 36.5 mm. Both sexes are magenta in colour with a yellow-brown stripe along their backs and pink markings.

Antheromorpha pumatensis, from Pu Mat National Park. Nguyen et al. (2018).

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Asteroid 2018 XB passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2018 XB passed by the Earth at a distance of about 793 000 km (2.06 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.53% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), before 2.20 pm GMT on Sunday 2 December 2018. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2018 XB has an estimated equivalent diameter of 3-12 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 3-12 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere more than 30 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2018 XB. Minor Planet Center.

2018 XB was discovered on 1 December 2018 (the day before its closest approach to the Earth) by the Atlas MLO Telescope at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The designation 2018 XB implies that the asteroid was the second object (object B) discovered in the first half of December 2018 (period 2018 X).

2018 XB has an 565 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 4.06° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.93 AU from the Sun (i.e. 93% of he average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 1.73 AU from the Sun (i.e. 173% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, further from the Sun than the Planet Mars). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). As such the asteroid has occasional close encounters with the planet Earth, which it is expected to pass again in September 2021.

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Saturday, 8 December 2018

Bulbophyllum chrysolabium: A new species of Epidendroid Orchid from Yunnan Province, China.

Epidendroid Orchids, Epidendroideae, are the largest subfamily of Orchids, with over 15 000 described species, more than all other Orchid groups combined. The majority of these species are epiphytic (live on other plants, typically in the canopy of rainforest trees), though terrestrial forms are known. The group is found across the globe, with the exception of the polar regions, the deserts of Africa, Arabia and Australia, and the southern part of South America. The genus Bulbophyllum contains around 2200 described species from tropical regions around the world, and is thought likely to contain many more undescribed species. Members of the genus can be very difficult to tell apart when they are not in flower, as their vegetative parts tend to be much reduced, often with only a single leaf emerging from a pseudobulb (a pseudobulb, like a bulb, is an enlarged stem base used as a food store by a plant during dormant periods, but unlike a bulb is not found in the soil).

In a paper published in the journal Phytokeys on 13 November 2018, Lin Li of the Key Laboratory of Plant Resources Conservation and Sustainable Utilization at the South China Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, De-Ping Ye of the Forest Bureau of Pu’er and Song-Jun Zeng, also of the Key Laboratory of Plant Resources Conservation and Sustainable Utilization at the South China Botanical Garden, describe a new species of Bulbophyllum from Menglian County in south-western Yunnan Province, China.

The new species is named Bulbophyllum chrysolabium, where ‘chrysolabium’ means ‘golden-lipped’ in reference to the flowers of the species. Bulbophyllum chrysolabium grows in Moss on the trunks of trees, with a creeping rhizome 2-3 mm thick that produces pseudobulbs every 3-5 cm, from each of which grows a single leaf 12-14 cm in length, as well as a raceme 5-6 cm in length and densely packed with flowers in December. These flowers are greenish-yellow with yellowish-orange or golden yellow lips, and give off an unpleasant, fishy smell.

Bulbophyllum chrysolabium. (A) Habitat. (B) Inflorescences. (C) Close-up of inflorescence. (D) Flower, lateral view showing floral bract. (E) Flower, frontal view. Scale bars are 2 mm. Li et al. (2018).

Bulbophyllum chrysolabium was found growing at an altitude of 1400-1600 m in exposed positions near a river. Only about 30-50 clumps of the Orchids were observed, all within an area of about 4 km², though it is possible that there are other, undiscovered stands in the nearby forests, which were somewhat inaccessible. The area where the plants were found has no protected status, although it does receive some protection from the difficulty in accessing it. For this reason Li et al. suggest that Bulbophyllum chrysolabium be provisionally listed as Critically Endangered under the  terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Bulbophyllum chrysolabium, habit. Scale bar is 2 cm. Li et al. (2018). 

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Crocodile attacks man in Karnataka State, India.

A man is recovering in a hospital in Dharwad after being attacked by a Crocodile in the Kali River near the village of Nirmal Nagar in Dandeli District in the Western Ghats of Karnataka State, India, on Friday 7 December 2018. Nagesh Eshwar Ballari,, 43, a day-labourer, was bathing in the river with his wife and son, when he was dragged into the water by the animal. He was found shortly afterwards by a search party made up of local people, Forest Department officials, and a water sports adventure team that was in the area, and taken to the hospital suffering from multiple injuries and severe shock.

Crocodiles in River Kali, near Dandeli, Karnataka. Lakshmikanth Itnal.

Crocodile attacks on Humans are relatively rare, but they are opportunistic ambush predators and will potentially attack anything going close to the water. Saltwater Crocodiles, Crocodylus porosus, the species responsible for almost all attacks on Humans in India, have a particularly poor reputation for such behaviour, being the largest species of Crocodile and notoriously aggressive. These Crocodiles are one of the few Crocodile species not considered vulnerable to extinction, being found from India to Australia  and inhabiting many areas that Humans shun, such as Mangrove forests and islands without fresh water. Unfortunately they are also found in rivers in the Indo-Pacific region, where rising Human populations is leading to increasing conflict with many animal species.

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Cylindera mindoroana: A new species of Tiger Beetle from Mindoro Island, the Philippines.

The Philippines are considered to be a biodiversity hotspot, due to the very large number of species found only in the islands. This is particularly true of Insects, where many species are found with very limited distributions, and even groups that are good fliers seldom bridge the gaps between the major islands of the group. Tiger Beetles, Cicindelidae, are a large group of distinctively coloured carnivorous Beetles, considered to be useful environmental indicators. There are about 2840 described globally, of which about 140 come from the Philippines, about 90% of which are endemic (i.e. found nowhere else).

In a paper published in the journal Insecta Mundi on 25 May 2018, Herbert Zettel of the 2nd Zoological Department at the Natural History Museum Vienna, and Jürgen Wiesner of Wolfsburg in Germany, describe a new species of Tiger Beetle from Mindoro Island, the Philippines.

The new species is placed in the geuns Cylindera, and given the specific name mindoroana, in reference to the island where it was discovered. The species is described from one male and four female specimens collected on Mindoro Island and one male collected on Mindanao Island (though Zettel and Wiesner are not confident about the recorded origin of this specimen, and believe the presence of this species on Mindanao needs to be confirmed). These Beetles range from 9.7-11.1 mm in length and are dark-bronze to olive green in colour with a pattern on each elytra (wing-case) comprising of a oblique stripe with a spot on either side.

Cylindera mindoroana. (1) Male. (2) Female. Zettel & Wiesner (2018). 

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Chrysaora spp.: Thousands of Compass Jellyfish wash up on beaches around Cape Town, South Africa.

Bathers visiting beaches around Cape Town, South Africa, over the past two weeks have been surprised, and sometimes alarmed, to find many thousands of Jellyfish washed up on the shores. The Jellyfish belong to three closely related species, the Benguela Compass Jelly, Chrysaora fulgida, the Purple Compass Jelly, Chrysaora africana, and the Cape Compass Jelly, Chrysaora agulhensis, all of which are indigenous to the region, and non of which is considered particularly dangerous. At worst Compass Jellies can deliver a sting comparable to that of a Bee, and most of the specimens found on the beaches around Cape Town appear to have lost their tentacles, making them quite harmless.

Compass Jellies, Chrysaora spp., on a beach near Cape Town. Helena Souza/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Jellyfish, although often large, are entirely planktonic in nature, meaning that they simply drift in the water column, and are unable to swim against currents, so that storms or other events that cause temporary changes in current flow can deposit large numbers on shorelines. Jellyfish numbers are determined largely by nutrient availability, as nutrient levels determine the amount of phytoplankton (single-celled Algae) in the water column, and this in turn controls the numbers of smaller zooplankton (small planktonic Animals), which are the main source of food for Jellyfish.

The waters around Cape Town are extremely rich in nutrients, due to the Benguela Current, which is fed by deep upwellings from the South Atlantic, which carries nutrients up from the ocean floor. Importantly, this is driven largely by wind direction (upwelling is strongest when the current direction is at 90° to the wind direction) so that the amount of upwelling is seasonal, leading to seasonal changes in nutrient availability, and therefore Jellyfish numbers.

The Benguela Upwelling on the coast of South Africa. Mohrholz et al. (2018).

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Drosera albonotata: A new species of Pygmy Sundew from Western Australia.

Sundews, Droseraceae, are a highly successful group of Carnivorous Plants found around the globe. Like other forms of Carnivorous Plants, they can grow on very poor soils by supplementing their nutritional intake by feeding on animals, generally Insects or other small Invertebrates. Sundews capture their prey using specialised leave, which are covered in tentacles, each of which is tipped with a blob of sticky glue, that adheres to the prey animal preventing it from escaping. As the animal struggles it is likely to encounter multiple tentacles, all of which will stick to it until it becomes wrapped and immobilised, enabling the plant to digest it. The Pygmy Sundews, Drosera spp., are the largest single genus of Carnivorous Plants known, with over 250 described species, over 110 of which come from Australia. The genus has a Southern Hemisphere distribution, being found in arid regions of Brazil, South Africa and Australia. These plants are distinguished by small leaves and orange flowers.

In a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa on 6 April 2018, Alastair Robinson of Southbank in Victoria, Australia, Adam Cross of the Centre for Mine Site Restoration of the Department of Environment and Agriculture of Western Australia, Manfred Meisterl of Vienna in Austria, and Andreas Fleischmann of the Botanische Staatssammlung München, describe a new species of Pygmy Sundew from Western Australia.

The new species is named Drosera albonotata, meaning ‘white marked’ in reference to the white markings on the petals of this species. The new species is a perennial herb forming rosettes 0.8-2.5 cm in diameter, with 6-18 active leaves. The leaf rosettes start out flat to the soil, but as the plant grows each season’s growth overlays the previous, so that in some plants it sits on top of a 4 cm layer of withered leaves. Flowers are born in September and October, on a stem that rises 3.3-14.2 cm above the plant. Each stem can bear up to 15 orange, five-petaled flowers, 16-25 cm in diameter, each petal having two white markings at its base, that form a collar around the centre of the flower.

Living plants photographed in situ, showing left a flowering plant, and right a mature rosette. Alistair Robinson in Robinson et al. (2018).

The plants were initially found growing in the Wandoo National Park, and subsequently found in the shires of Northam, York and Quairading, and possibly Cunderdin, Tammin and Kellerberrin (there was some difficulty in establishing the full range of the plants, as many were growing in agricultural areas, and the study period overlapped with the Wheat harvest), all within the western Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. They favoured woodland on ridges and low rises, generally on gravelly slopes and pale yellow to brown sandy clay-loam soils with a moderate to dense shrub understorey. Several observations were made of a Scarab Beetle of the genus Liparetrus visiting the flowers of Drosera albonotata and emerging covered in pollen. This is unsurprising, as Beetles of this genus are known to pollinate several Sundew species. The species is known from less than ten locations, each with about 25-150 individuals, and all within an area of less than 2000 km², and the species is clearly at risk from expanding agriculture in the region. As such Drosera albonotata is assessed to be Vulnerable under the terms ofthe International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

A pollinator of Drosera albonotata, identified as a Melolonthid (Scarabaeidae) possibly in the genus Liparetrus. Alistair Robinson in Robinson et al. (2018).

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