Friday, 18 September 2020

Whale entangled in fishing gear found off the coast of Atlanta.

The US Coast Guard have recovered the body of a Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, found entangled in fishing gear off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Wednesday 16 September 2020. The 10 m Mammal was found dead resting against a moored dredging platform about six and a half km off the shore on Wednesday 15 September. This is the latest in a series of Whale entanglements on the east coast of North America, with the most recent being an Animal off the coast of New York in August, which was successfully released by divers.

A dead Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, off the coast of New Jersey on 16 September 2020. SkyForce10/NBC10.

Humpback Whales were nearly exterminated by commercial Whaling in the first part of the twentieth century. The species has been protected since 1946, and in recent years their population has appeared to be recovering in many areas, now being seen as being of Least Concern  under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. These Whales are becoming increasingly common in waters around the world, but are also increasingly often becoming entangled in fishing tackle, which is not generally designed with Whales in mind.

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Eruptions on Mount Ebako on Paramushir Island in the Russian Far East.

The Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team has reported a series of explosive eruptions on Mount Ebako, a 1156 m volcano on the northern end of Paramushir Island in the Kuril Archipelago in the Russian Far East, on 4-5 and 10 September 2020. These produced a series of ash columns that reached up to 3.5 km above sealevel, and drifted to the east and southeast.

An ash column over Mount Ebako on 5 September 2020. Deprem Raporu/Twitter.

The Kuril Archipelago runs from the northwestern tip of Hokkaido to the southern tip of the Kamtchatka Peninsula. It marks the southern margin of the Okhotsk Plate, which underlies the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island and Tōhoku and Hokkaidō in Japan. Along this southern margin the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Okhotsk Plate in the Kuril Trench. As the Pacific Plate sinks under the Okhotsk Plate it is partial melted by the resultant friction and the heat of the Earth's interior. Some of the melted material then rises up through the overlying Okhotsk Plate as magma, fuelling the volcanoes of the Kuril Archipelago.

Simple diagram showing the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Okhotsk Plate along the Kuril Trench. Auburn University.

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Cheshire man requires hospital treatment after being bitten by Pike.

A man from Cheshire, England, has had to receive hospital treatment after being bitten by a Pike, Esox lucius, on Monday 7 September 2020. Steve Lightfoot, 55, who lives on a boat on the Macclesfield Canal, near Bosley, was attempting to retrieve his glasses, which he had dropped into the water, when he was attacked by the metre-long Fish, which delivered a lacerating bit to his hand. Mr Lightfoot had his hand bandaged and was treated with antibiotics and a tetanus inoculation, before being released.

A Northern Pike, Esox lucius, at Plzeň Zoo. Wikimedia Commons.

The Northern Pike, Esox lucius, is found in temperate fresh and brackish waters throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and is the largest freshwater Fish in the UK. Although not large enough to consume Humans, they are ambush predators that hang in the water column waiting for likely prey, and will occasionally strike at Humans splashing about in their environment. 

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Magnitude 4.0 Earthquake in northwest Algeria.

The Centre Seismologique Euro-Méditeranéen  recorded a Magnitude 4.0 Earthquake at a depth of 29 km, about 11 km to the northeast of the town of Sidi Bel Abbès in northwest coast of Algeria, slightly after 8.05 am local time (slightly after 7.05 am GMT) on Friday 19 September 2020. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, though it may have been felt locally.


The approximate location of the 18 September 2020 Sidi Bel Abbès Earthquake. Centre Seismologique Euro-Méditeranéen.

Algeria lies on the northernmost part of the African Plate, while southern Europe to the north is part of Eurasia. Africa is pushing into Europe from the south, which causes Earthquakes around the Mediterranean Basin. These are most common in southeast Europe, but those in northwest Africa, while less frequent, are often larger and more deadly.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

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Baringochromis senutae, Baringochromis sonyii, and Baringochromis tallamae: Three new species of Cichlid Fish from the upper Miocene of the palaeolake Waril in Central Kenya.

The tropical freshwater Fish family Cichlidae and its estimated 2285 species is famous for its high degree of phenotypic diversity, trophic adaptations and specialised behaviors, and represents an established model in studies dealing with evolutionary processes. The monophyly of the family is well supported by morphological and molecular data, but most morphological synapomorphies (characteristics present in an ancestral species and shared exclusively, in more or less modified forms, by its evolutionary descendants) relate to soft tissue or delicate bone structures, which are rarely preserved in fossils. The only Cichlid apomorphy (character that is different from the form found in an ancestor) with a relatively high potential to be well preserved in the fossil record is related to their saccular otoliths (‘ear stones’), which display a specific ornament termed the ‘anterocaudal pseudocolliculum’ on their mesial surface. Fortunately, modern Cichlid fishes also possess several morphological traits that typify them. These include: a bipartite lateral line, a specific composition of the caudal skeleton and fin (i.e. eight principal caudal fin rays in each lobe, two epural bones, uroneural and parhypural each autogenous, preural centrum 2 with autogenous haemal spine and reduced neural spine, preural centrum 3 with fused haemal spine), a single dorsal fin consisting of spines and rays, a pelvic fin with one spine and five rays, and a hyoid bar with five branchiostegals. It is essentially this combination of characters that enables one to identify a fossil Fish as a Cichlid.

The subdivision of the Cichlidae into four subfamilies, Etroplinae, Ptychochrominae, Cichlinae (Neotropical Cichlids) and Pseudocrenilabrinae (African Cichlids), is well established based on molecular data. The Pseudocrenilabrinae are famous for their radiations in the Great Lakes of East Africa (Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, Lake Malawi) and they are thought to comprise more than 1200 species in all. As for the family, the synapomorphies that define the subfamilies have a limited fossilisation potential. The character ‘single supraneural’, which appears to be a synapomorphy for the Pseudocrenilabrinae, and which is readily recognizable in fossils, actually occurs in the subfamily Cichlinae as well. Nevertheless, previous studies of fossil Cichlids have considerably extended our knowledge of their ancient diversity and biogeography. To date, 22 fossil Cichlid species are known from Eocene to Pliocene sediments of Africa, Arabia and Europe, but only a few could be classified as members of extant tribes. This subset testifies to the presence of the tribe Oreochromini since at least the middle Miocene implies at least a late Miocene age, and perhaps even a date in the early Miocene, for the origin of the tribe Haplochromini.

The Haplochromini constitute the most speciose of the 27 recognized tribes of the African cichlids, and are represented by approximately 800 and 600 species in Lakes Malawi and Victoria, respectively. Today they can be found in most areas of Africa, with the exception of the north-western part of the continent. The success of the Haplochromini appears to be related to their ability to occupy each of the major trophic niches available in their habitats, including planktivory, abrasion of Algae from rocks, scale eating, Snail crushing, Insect eating, paedophagy, and piscivory. To cope with their preferred diet, Haplochromine species have repeatedly developed specific types of oral and/or pharyngeal dentition or jaws. A further reason for the success of Haplochromine Cichlids lies in their specialized modes of reproduction, such as polygynous and/or polygynandrous mating systems and maternal mouthbrooding.

In a paper published in the journal Hydrobiologia on 18 August 2020, Melanie Altner and Bettina Reichenbacher of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Palaeontology & Geobiology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitît München, present a continuation of previous works on the fossil Cichlid specimens from the Waril locality in central Kenya, in which they introduce a new extinct Cichlid genus and possible member of the Haplochromini, represented by three species. Their co-occurrence indicates that an ancient small species flock had evolved in the palaeolake Waril during the late Miocene (9–10 million years ago).

The study site Waril is located in the Kerio Valley, to the west of the Tugen Hills in the Central Kenya Rift Valley (or Gregory Rift) within the eastern branch of the East African Rift System. The Tugen Hills are well known for their Miocene and Pliocene rocks of volcanic, fluvial and lacustrine origin. The fossiliferous sediments exposed at Waril represent the upper part of the Ngorora Formation (Member E) and date to the upper Miocene (9–10 million years ago). According to geological mapping, the palaeolake Waril may have covered an area of about 30–35 km², but could have been even considerably larger.

(a) Geographic overview of East Africa, showing the position of Waril (indicated with star) in the Gregory Rift in the eastern branch of the East African Rift System. (b), (c) overview of the outcrop, in the background are the Tugen Hills (b) and the Elgeyo Escarpment (c); (d) basal lake sediments above volcanic tuff, showing unconformity and palaeorelief; (e) erosional relicts of tilted and disturbed lake sediments (indicated with arrows) above volcanic tuff at the southern margin of the outcrop; (f) detail of basal lake sediments above volcanic tuff, showing crack filled with volcanic debris within the tuff. Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The outcrop Waril is a former quarry exposing finely laminated, up to 10 m thick lake sediments above homogeneous greyish and yellowish volcanic tuffs. In places, cracks appear within the tuff, which are filled with fine-grained debris derived from basaltic rocks. The lake sediments overly the volcanic tuff with a clear unconformity and can also fill a palaeo-relief formed by the tuff. At the southern periphery of the outcrop, the lake sediments are tilted (rather than horizontally layered), and their bedding is disturbed. This may indicate deposition of sediment on the slope of the ancient shoreline, and episodes of subaquatic slumping. Fossil Fish can be found mainly in the basalmost sediments in the centre of the outcrop, about 2 m above the tuff. Their good preservation documents that the ancient lake had anoxic conditions at the bottom. Two fossil Cichlid taxa have been described previously: one is an extinct member of the Lake Tanganyika Cichlid radiation (Tugenchromis pickfordi), and the other is an ancient predatory species of the Haplochromini (Warilochromis unicuspidatus). In addition, fossils of well-preserved Insects and Plant remains have been found.

The entire fossil material from the study site consists of 298 articulated remains of fish skeletons, mostly preserved in lateral view, of which 36 are complete and further six almost complete. The subject of this study are a total of 78 Fish fossils (24 complete ones, 54 fragments). All fossil specimens were collected during field work in 2013 and 2014 at the site Waril. They are currently housed at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, and will be deposited in Kipsaraman, Baringo County, Kenya, as soon as the new Baringo County Geopark has been established. 

The fossils share a unique skeletal architecture, have essentially similar meristic counts and, with a few exceptions, similar morphometric characters. Their osteological and fin-related characters allowed us to attribute them to the family Cichlidae. This was further confirmed by the discovery of one specimen with well-preserved otoliths in situ, which exhibit the apomorphic ‘anterocaudal pseudocolliculum’. Phylogenetic analysis results in a single most parsimonious tree, which places the fossil in the subfamily Pseudocrenilabrinae. Moreover, the combination of characters exhibited by the fossil specimens is not known from any extant or extinct Cichlid genus. Therefore a new genus, Baringochromis, is introduced.

Phylogenetic position of Baringochromis (indicated with star) among the four Cichlid subfamilies. This is the single most parsimonious tree produced by TNT (implied weights, K = 12), tree length 34 steps, consistency index 0.85, retention index 0.93. Bootstrap values from 1000 pseudoreplicates are presented on the branches. The arrowhead symbols indicate values below 50%. Eight (out of 28) characters were coded for Baringochromis. Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

Among the material attributable to the new genus, 78 specimens were complete enough to be assigned at the level of species. These document the presence of three new species, Baringochromis senutae, Baringochromis sonyii, and Baringochromis tallamae. The features that distinguish them from one another relate to the oral dentition and relative proportions of head length, dorsal fin base and body height at point of onset of the anal fin. 

Species of Baringochromis, lateral view. (a) Holotype of  Baringochromis senutae (OCO-5-29-R(1)), (b) paratype of Baringochromis senutae (2014-Wa-8(2)), (c) paratype of Baringochromis sonyii (OCO-5-37(1)), (d) holotype of Baringochromis sonyii (OCO-5-29(1), mirrored for better comparison), (e) holotype of  Baringochromis tallamae (2014-WA-24b). Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The name Baringochromis derives from Baringo, the name of the county in which the fossils were found, and chromis (Greek), which has been applied to various colourful Fish and is often used in the genus name of Cichlids. 

Baringochromis can be distinguished from other Cichlids by the following combination of characters: vomer not notched; lacrimal with four lateral-line tubules, followed by five tubular infraorbitals; oral jaw teeth exclusively tricuspid or tricuspid + unicuspid; preopercle with three lateral-line tubules on lower arm; opercle and subopercle partially scaled; urohyal without anterodorsal projection; low numbers of fin spines and rays (D XI–XIII, 7–10; A III, 7–10); single or no supraneural bone; 27–29 vertebrae; cycloid scales on body and head; otoliths with prominent rostrum and antirostrum separated by deep excisura.

Baringochromis is a medium-sized, low-bodied Cichlid reaching 79.7 mm in standard length and 90.9 mm in total length. Most of the specimens are preserved in lateral view (with the head in lateral or dorso-lateral view), indicating that these Fish were fairly narrow in body width compared to depth. The point of maximum body depth (31.2–45.8% of body length) is located between the head and the origin of the pelvic fins. The minimum body depth (10.5–18.8% of body length) is found on the posterior part of the caudal peduncle, close to the hypural plates. The depth of the head (40.7–52.3% of body lenght) is equal to or slightly exceeds the greatest body depth. The dorsal profile of the head varies due to preservation. The mouth is terminal but slightly prognathous, with the lower jaw being longer (about 41.2% of head length) than the upper (about 28.0% of head length). The dorsal profile of the body is nearly straight from the supraoccipital crest to the end of the dorsal fin, and straight to slightly concave from the end of the dorsal fin to the caudal fin. The ventral profile of the body is gently curved from the lower jaw to the onset of the caudal peduncle, and straight to slightly concave along the caudal peduncle. The caudal peduncle is moderately long (23.9–34.9% of body length).

The elongated and distally widened nasal bone is preserved lateral to the premaxillary ascending spine. The frontals are laterally compressed and elongate. The parietals are elongate, follow immediately  behind the frontals, and are connected to the epiotics by the parietal crest. The supraoccipital crest is low and short, extending to the posterior border of the orbit. The orbit is rather small and nearly round, with a vertical diameter of 10.9% of the body length. The parasphenoid bisects the orbit into approximately equal parts. The suture between the parasphenoid and the vomerine wing is simple and the vomer is not notched anteriorly. The neurocranial sensory canals are visible on the frontals. They do not seem to meet at the midline.

Neurocranium, infraorbital series, suspensorium and hyoid arch of Baringochromis. (a1) head of Baringochromis sonyi (paratype OCO-5-4) in dorsolateral view showing epiotics, frontals, neurocranial lateral line canals, and parietals, (a2) reconstruction of the neurocranium in dorsal view, (b) close up of parasphenoid and vomer of Baringochromis senutae (holotype OCO-5-29R(1), ventral view), showing vomer without anterior notch; (c) close up of parasphenoid and vomer of Baringochromis sp. (OCO-5-31(2), lateral view), showing simple suture between both bones, (d1) overview of head of Baringochromis sp. (OCO-5-43) showing opercle, subopercle, preopercle, infraorbital series, dentary, angular, premaxilla, (d2) reconstruction of preopercle, (d3) reconstruction of infraorbital series with lacrimal with four lateral-line tubules followed by five tubular infraorbitals (io 2–6). Abbreviations: ang & ang’, anguloarticular; cl, cleithrum; dent, dentary; e & e’, ectopterygoid; eo, epiotic; f & f’, frontal; hyo, hyomandibula; io1, infraorbital 1 (lacrimal); io2–6, infraorbitals 2–6; mx, maxilla; nlc & nlc’, neurocranial lateral line canal; pa & pa’, parietal; pal & pal’, palatine; pmx, premaxilla; pop & pop’, preopercle; ps, parasphenoid; q, quadrate; ret & ret’, retroarticular; soc, supraoccipital process; sop, suboperculum; st, supratemporal; sy, symplectic; vo, vomer. Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

Six infraorbitals are surrounding the orbit: the lacrimal (infraorbital1) and infraorbitals 2–6; the last bone might be the dermosphenotic. The lacrimal is nearly rectangular in form, with convex ventral and posterior borders and nearly straight dorsal and anterior borders; it has four lateral-line tubules and does not overlap with infraorbital 2. Infraorbitals 2–6 appear as tubular bones with one sensory canal in the middle; infraorbital 4 and infraorbital 5 are elongated.

The ascending arm of the premaxilla is shorter than the straight to slightly concave dentigerous arm (10.9% bodylength vs. 14.0% bodylength), with an angle of about 90° between them. The maxilla is longer than the dentigerous arm of the premaxilla; its anterior margin is nearly straight, whereas the posterior margin exhibits a pointed dorsal wing. In dorsal view the maxilla presents the premaxillad and palatinad wings of its articular head which are widely separated from each other. The dentary is short and robust. Its lower limb is longer than the upper limb and both limbs form a posteriorly open triangle into which the anterior process of the anguloarticular inserts. Teeth can be discerned on the first two-thirds of the dentary. The anguloarticular is slightly longer than deep, with a pointed, dorsally directed primordial process. The ventralmost part of the anguloarticular is longer vertically than horizontally and is closely associated with the small retroarticular. The oral jaws bear relatively large robust tricuspid and/or unicuspid teeth in the outer row and slightly to distinctly smaller tricuspid and/or unicuspid teeth in the inner rows; it is not possible to discern the exact number of inner tooth rows, but at least two rows are present.

Details of the head and hyoid arch of Baringochromis senutae (a)–(d), (f) and Baringochromis sp. (e). (a) Close up of lower jaw with anguloarticular, retroarticular and quadrate (OCO-5-1(1)), (b) isolated subopercle (OCO-5b-10(1)), (c) close up of squamation on opercle and subopercle (OCO-5-42(2), opercular spot indicated with dotted line), (d) close up of hyoid arch with five branchiostegal rays (2014-WA-11-R(1)), (e) isolated hyoid arch with dorsal hypohyal preserved (2014-WA-11(5)), (f1), (f2) photo and reconstruction of hyoid arch showing urohyal (grey) without anterior projection (2014-WA-7-R(2)). Abbreviations: ach & ach’, anterior ceratohyal; ang & ang’, anguloarticular; br1–5, branchiostegal rays 1–5; dent, dentary; dhh, dorsal hypohyal; op, opercle; pch, posterior ceratohyal; pop & pop’, preopercle; ptt, posttemporal; q, quadrate; ret & ret’, retroarticular; sop, suboperculum; sy, symplectic; uh, urohyal; vhh & vhh’, ventral hypohyal. Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The quadrate is triangular with a convex posterior margin. Its condyle is anteroventrally directed and articulates with the articular facet of the anguloarticular. The symplectic is a narrow, posteriorly broadening and laminar bone, that contacts the quadrate ventrally and extends posteriorly almost as far as the hyomandibula. The palatine is connected to the slender and pointed ectopterygoid and displays a 155° angle between its anterior and ventroposterior arms (best in specimen OCO-5-31(2)). The L-shaped preopercle has an elongated and dorsally pointed vertical arm, whereas its horizontal arm is much shorter and broader; the posteroventral corner is rounded and forms an approximately 90° angle. It presents a branched sensory canal with two terminal and four medial tubules, whereof three tubules are situated on the horizontal arm. The hyomandibula is found dorsal to the tip of the preopercle and extends to the middle of the vertical arm of it. The opercle is almost triangular in shape, with a pointed anteroventral corner, which is in contact with the subopercle. Its anterior and dorsal margins are convex and the anterior margin ends in a pointed anterodorsal process, whereas the posterior margin is slightly S-shaped. The subopercle has a curved ventral margin and a prominent pointed ascending process anteriorly, projecting between the opercle and preopercle. The interopercle is an elongated and slender element with rounded anterior and posterior ends.

The ceratohyal bears five branchiostegal rays, of which the first is attached to the slender part of the anterior ceratohyal, followed by three rays attached to the broader part of the anterior ceratohyal and the last one is attached to the posterior ceratohyal. Anterior to the ceratohyal, the ventral hypohyal and the dorsal hypohyal are recognisable. The urohyal is robust, posteriorly widening and lacks an anterodorsal projection. 

The teeth on the pharyngeal bones are bicuspid, with a prominent and slightly recurved major cusp and a small minor cusp, or shoulder. In specimen OCO-5-8/23(7) the pharyngeal jaws are partially preserved, but their outline is unclear.

The vertebral column is gently curved and contains a total of 27–29 vertebrae; 13–15 of them are abdominal and 13–15 caudal. All vertebral centra bear a longitudinal lateral ridge. The last two vertebrae are short. The first, and in some cases the second neural spine project in front of the first dorsal pterygiophore. The neural spines are short at the beginning of the vertebral column, gradually increase in length towards the end of the spinous part of the dorsal fin and shorten again along the caudal peduncle. There are 11–13 pairs of robust ribs, which reach the margin of the abdominal cavity and are connected to the centra by strong parapophyses. The first pair of ribs originates on the third vertebra. Either none or a single supraneural bone is present between the supraoccipital and the first pterygiophore. Epineurals are recognizable as thin rod-shaped parallel imprints on the upper third of the ribs. Black organic remains are recognisable underneath the tips of the ribs until the origin of the anal fin, which might be the remains of the abdominal cavity or stomach contents. 

The cleithrum is elongate and curved, with a lamellar posterior projection and a pointed ventral end. A small and pointed process is present at the posteroventral extension. The dorsal process is pointed, but in most cases it is overlain by the elongated and slender supracleithrum. The posttemporal is bifurcated, with the upper limb thinner than, but approximately as long as the lower. The scapula is rectangular with a central scapular foramen and supports the upper two proximal radials of the pectoral fin. The coracoid is coneshaped, tapers rostrally and supports the lower two of the four rectangular proximal radials. The uppermost of the proximal radials is the smallest and the lowermost the largest. The pectoral fin has 13–15 rays, whereof the fourth from the top seems to be the longest and the following rays diminish continuously in size, giving this fin a pointed shape.

Pectoral and pelvic girdle and caudal skeleton of Baringochromis. (a1), (a2) photo and reconstruction of pectoral girdle (Baringochromis sp., OCO-5-21(1)); (b) pectoral fin showing 14 rays and four proximal radials (Baringochromis senutae, OCO-5-38R(5)); (c) pelvic girdle and fins (Baringochromis sp., OCO-5-15(1)); (d1)–(d2) caudal skeleton showing hypural plates 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 separated by a suture (Baringochromis sp., OCO-5-5(2)). Abbreviations: cl, cleithrum; co, coracoid; ep1, ep2, epurals; hyp1–5, hypural plates; NS3, neural spine of preural vertebra 3; ph, parhypural; ptt, posttemporal; PU2–3, preural vertebrae 2–3; rad, proximal pectoral fin radials; sca, scapula; scl, supracleithrum; us, terminal centrum (urostyle). Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The basipterygia are triangular and anteriorly tapered. The pelvic fin has one spine and five rays, none of which reach the anal fin. Which of the rays is the longest cannot be stated with certainty.

The dorsal fin consists of 11–13 spines and 7–10 branched rays, with the spiny and soft dorsal fin portions being continuous. The spiny dorsal fin base is up to three times longer than the rayed on. The anteriormost spines increase in length from the first to the last. They are followed by segmented rays, which are longer than the spines. Each spine and ray is supported by a thin and elongate pterygiophore, with exception of the last ray, which can be autogenous. The anterior pterygiophores are associated with their individual interneural space, whereas two pterygiophores enter the interneural space posteriorly (last rays). The first pterygiophore inserts into the interneural space between vertebrae 1 and 2 or 2 and 3, while the last pterygiophore associated with a dorsal spine inserts behind the neural spine of vertebra 11, 12, 13 or 14. The pterygiophores associated with the rays gradually shorten towards the caudal fin.

The anal fin originates far behind the dorsal fin origin approximately at the height of the last dorsal fin spine. It consists of three spines and 7–10 branched and segmented rays, which are longer than the spines. The two anteriormost fin spines are supported by one pterygiophore, while the third spine and the branched rays are each associated with a single pterygiophore, though the last ray can be autogenous. The first pterygiophore is associated with the haemal spine of the first caudal vertebra or the ribs of the last abdominal vertebra. The anal fin spines increase in length posteriorly, the third being the longest (2.1–2.6 times the length of the first). The first three branched rays are the longest ones; they gradually diminish in size, as do the pterygiophores.

The caudal axial skeleton includes five hypural plates, a parhypural, two epurals, one uroneural, and two or three preural vertebrae. Hypural plates 1 and 2 and hypural plates 3 and 4 can either be fused or be separated by a suture. In the latter case, hypural plate 1 is always larger than hypural 2 and hypural 4 is always larger than hypural 3. Hypural 5 is slender and always separate from hypural 4. It extends into the space between the terminal centrum and the uroneural. The diastema is small, ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 mm in depth. The parhypural is broad and its distal section lies close to hypural 1; it can either be isolated from, or make contact with the terminal centrum, and displays a short, posteriorly directed hypurapophysis on its proximal part. The uroneural is long (third the length of the neural spine of preural vertebra 3) and extends between the second epural and hypural 5. Two elongate epurals of equal length and width are aligned in parallel between the uroneural and the distinctively elongated neural spine of preural vertebra 3. Preural vertebra 2 lacks a neural spine, while the neural arch is present. The terminal centrum is approximately triangular in shape, and extends posteriorly between hypurals 4 and 5.

The caudal fin has a slightly rounded to truncated posterior margin and is made up of 16 (8 dorsal + 8 ventral) principal rays and 2–7 dorsal and 3–7 ventral procurrent rays. The principal caudal rays are aligned without interruption and supported by the parhypural, the epurals and the five hypurals.

Relatively large (1.3–1.6 mm height, 1.5–2.1 mm width), ovate cycloid scales cover the body. Also the opercle bears large cycloid scales. The subopercle is covered by a single row of large cycloid scales, its ventral part is scaleless. The preopercle and the interopercle appear to be scaleless. Weak imprints of small belly scales are recognisable in one specimen of Baringochromis sonyii (OCO-5-37/42(1)), other specimens do not show scales in the belly region.

Squamation and lateral line of Baringochromis. (a), (b) Flank and caudal peduncle of Baringochromis senutae (holotype, OCO-5-29-R(1)) showing large cycloid scales with prominent radii (arrow in (b) depicts sensory pore of the lower lateral line segment), (c) flank and caudal peduncle of Baringochromis tallamae exhibiting upper and lower lateral line (holotype, 2014-WA-24), (d) flank of Baringochromis sonyii exhibiting upper and lower lateral line (paratype, OCO-5-42(1)). Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

As is typical for Cichlids, the lateral line is divided into two parts. The origin of the anterior lateral line segment is not recognizable, but it seems to consist of approximately 15 scales (not all of which are pored) with the posterior end located approximately above the 20th vertebra. There is a gap of two scale rows between the anterior and posterior lateral line segments, while 1.5 to two scale rows lie between the anterior lateral line segment and the dorsal fin. The posterior lateral line segment (consisting of 10 to 12 scales with tubular sensory opening or simple pore) continues approximately opposite to or slightly behind the end of the anterior lateral line segment and runs either above, below, or on the vertebral column. The flank scales show up to 12 radii.

A pair of saccular otoliths was found in an isolated head of Baringochromis senutae (specimen OCO-5-23-R(2)). The otoliths are of elliptical shape and have smooth to slightly crenate margins. The inner face is planar to very slightly convex and the outer face is almost planar. A prominent and pointed rostrum and a much shorter antirostrum is present, with a deep excisura between them. The ventral margin is slightly curving, the posterior margin is round to blunt, and the dorsal margin has a median tip with a slight indentation behind it. The sulcus is in median position; it first runs straight before curving downwards in its posterior section. The ostium is narrow and deep, the cauda less narrow, but still deep. An anterocaudal pseudocolliculum is recognisable. The crista inferior is weak, whereas the crista superior is high and sharp along the ostium and the cauda, with the exception of the posteriormost segment of the cauda. The crista inferior is very thin. The ventral line is relatively high set.

Cichlid otoliths (sagittae). (a) Terminology of the mesial otolith surface based on a right sagitta of Haplochromis teegelaari (standard length 9.0 cm), hatched area indicates the anterocaudal colliculum, (b) Baringochromis senutae, close up of right (b1) and left (b2) sagitta (OCO-5-23-R(2)), (c) Astatoreochromis alluaudi (Haplochromini) (standard length 10.1 cm), (d) Tropheus duboisi (Tropheini) (NHM 0382, total length/standard length not known), (e) Oreochromis niloticus (Oreochromini) (mirrored for better comparison; SAPM-PI-03523, total length 25 cm), (f) Sarotherodon galileus galileus (Oreochromini) (SAPM-PI-03528, total lenght 16 cm). All scale bars 1 mm. Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The first species of Baringochromis described is Baringochromis senutae, in honour of French palaeontologist Brigitte Senut, for her dedicated research in the field of Human evolution and palaeoanthropology on the African continent, and for her continuous kind support of Altner and Reichenbacker's research project.

Baringochromis senutae differs from the two other species of Baringochromis by its oral dentition, which consists of exclusively tricuspid teeth both in the outer and inner row (compared to a combination of tricuspid and unicuspid teeth in Baringochromis sonyii, and mostly unicuspid teeth in Baringochromis tallamae). The tricuspid teeth of Baringochromis senutae are characterised by a middle cusp that is only slightly longer than the lateral cusps (except in very small teeth), and by a rounded or slightly truncated shape of all three cusps. In contrast, tricuspid teeth of Baringochromis sonyii show an elevated middle cusp and all cusps are slightly pointed. Baringochromis senutae is further distinct from Baringochromis sonyii by its greater head length (49.3–62.1% of body length in Baringochromis senutae compared to 35.1–40.5% of body length in Baringochromis sonyii) and from Baringochromis tallamae it is additionally separated by a more slender body depth at anal fin origin (23.5–34.8% of body length in Baringochromis senutae compared to 32.9–37.7% of bodylength in Baringochromis tallamae), and a shorter dorsal fin base (60.3–70.1% of body length in Baringochromis senutae compared to 72.5% of bodylength in Baringochromis tallamae).

Oral jaw dentition of Baringochromis. (a) Multiple rows of elongated, slender tricuspid teeth from the oral jaws of  Baringochromis senutae (paratype, 2014-Wa-8), (b) large, robust tricuspid teeth at the anterior tip of the premaxilla of Baringochromis senutae (paratype, 2014-Wa-20b(1)), (c) two rows of long tricuspid teeth of the dentary of Baringochromis senutae (paratype, OCO-5-19), (d), (e) small tricuspid tooth with relatively elevated middle cusp ((d) OCO-5-20(1)) and large tricuspid tooth with relatively low middle cusp of Baringochromis senutae ((e) 2014-WA-7-R(2)), (f), (g) small tricuspid tooth with elevated middle cusp (f) and conical to cone-shaped unicuspid teeth (g) from the posterior part of the premaxilla of Baringochromis sonyii (OCO-5-23(6)), (h)–(j) large unicuspid and tricuspid (h), large conical (i), and medium-sized tricuspid tooth (j) from the anterior part of the premaxilla of Baringochromis sonyii (paratype, OCO-5-16(4)), (k) large tricuspid tooth from the anterior part of the premaxilla of Baringochromis sonyii (holotype, OCO-5-29(1)), (l)–(q) different unicuspid teeth from the anterior part of the premaxilla of Baringochromis tallamae (holotype, 2014-Wa-24b), (r) tricuspid tooth from the premaxilla of Baringochromis tallamae (paratype, 2014-Wa-10). Altner & Reichenbacher (2020).

The second new species described is named Baringochromis sonyii, in honour of Stefan Sónyi of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, for his commitment and valuable help during fieldwork in Central Kenya and in acknowledgement of his excellent preparation of the fossil Fish specimens.

Baringochromis sonyii differs from the two other species of Baringochromis by its oral dentition, which consists of a combination of unicuspid and tricuspid teeth of different sizes. The outer row shows a mixture of large and small unicuspid and relatively large tricuspid teeth, smaller tricuspid teeth occur in the inner row. Unicuspid teeth vary from conical to blunt to cone-shaped, tricuspid teeth have a middle cusp that is distinctively longer than the lateral cusps. Baringochromis sonyii is further distinct from both Baringochromis senutae and Baringochromis tallamae by a shorter head (35.1–40.5% of bodylength in Baringochromis sonyii compared to  49.3–62.1% of bodylength in Baringochromis senutae and. 50.1–53.1% of bodylength in Baringochromis tallamae). It additionally differs from Baringochromis tallamae by a shorter dorsal fin base (55.8–62.7% of bodylength compared to 72.5% of bodylength).

The final species described is Baringochromis tallamae, named in honour of Stella Tallam of the Orrorin Community Organisation, who significantly contributed to Altner and Reichenbacker's fieldwork and successful excavations of Fish fossils.

Baringochromis tallamae differs from both Baringochromis senutae and Baringochromis sonyii by the presence of mostly unicuspid oral jaw teeth (as opposed to solely tricuspid teeth in Baringochromis senutae and and equal cooccurrence of tricuspid and unicuspid teeth in Baringochromis sonyii). Larger unicuspid teeth of Baringochromis tallamae can be conical or cone-shaped, smaller unicuspid teeth can be shouldered-unicuspid or relatively thick and pointed. Tricuspid teeth occur rarely and have rounded cusps, their middle cusp is slightly higher than the lateral cusps, and the lateral cusps are slightly directed laterally (rather than straight, as seen in the other two species). Baringochromis tallamae is further distinct from both Baringochromis senutae and Baringochromis sonyii by its head length (50.1–53.1% of bodylength in Baringochromis tallamae compared to 49.3–62.1% of bodylength in Baringochromis senutae and 35.1–40.5% of bodylength in Baringochromis sonyii) and a greater dorsal fin base (72.5% of bodylength compared to 60.3–70.1% of bodylength in Baringochromis senutae and 55.8–62.7% of bodylength in Baringochromis sonyii). It is further distinct from Baringochromis senutae by a deeper body at anal fin origin (32.9–37.7% of bodylength in Baringochromis tallamae compared to 23.5–34.8% of bodylength in Baringochromis senutae).

Baringochromis can be attributed to the Cichlidae based on its combination of osteological and fin related characters and the presence of otoliths exhibiting an anterocaudal pseudocolliculum. Its possession of a simple suture between the vomer and the parasphenoid, a single supraneural and four lateral-line tubules on the lacrimal permit it to be assigned to the subfamily Pseudocrenilabrinae, as has been confirmed by a phylogenetic analysis. The dentition of the oral jaw allows to further refine the placement of Baringochromis within the subfamily. In all of its species the teeth in the inner row are tricuspid, and this character is the only known synapomorphy of the members of the Haplotilapiines. Baringochromis can therefore be interpreted as a member of the Haplotilapiines.

For interpretation of Baringochromis at the level of tribe, Altner and Reichenbacker adopted the ‘best-fit approach’. Accordingly, they compared the combination of characters displayed by Baringochromis with a large dataset of extant species that includes representatives of all tribes and lineages of the Haplotilapiines, and related published data. The outcome reveals that the combination of a single supraneural and lacrimal with four lateralline tubules and five infraorbitals, as seen in Baringochromis, occurs in only three of the 22 Haplotilapiine tribes, namely the Cyprichromini, Haplochromini, and Oreochromini. Also a short infraorbital 2 with a sensory canal as seen in Baringochromis is found only in these three tribes.

Before it can be considered to which of the three candidate tribes the new fossil taxon can be attributed, one conspicuous character of the preopercle of Baringochromis, i.e. the presence of only three lateral-line tubules on its lower (horizontal) arm, deserves further comment. In African Cichlids, the preopercle usually has four lateral-line tubules on the lower arm, and the bone bears seven lateral-line tubules in all. In contrast, South American Cichlids have three lateral-line tubules on the lower arm of the preopercle (like Baringochromis), and correspondingly a total of six altogether. However, deviations from the usual configuration of the African Cichlids do occur, albeit rarely, among the members of three tribes. The condition seen in Baringochromis has been reported for a nonHaplotilapiine tribe, i.e. the Chromidotilapiines (genus Congochromis), and also for one extinct and one extant member of a Haplotilapiine tribe, the Oreochromini (Rebekkachromis and Oreochromis (Alcolapia)). Moreover, a different Haplotilapiine tribe, the Trematocarini, deviates from all others in having five tubules on the lower preopercle arm. The occurrence of three lateral-line tubules on the lower arm of the preopercle in South American Cichlids, as well as in two distantly related tribes of the African Cichlids, indicates that this character is homoplastic (a character shared by a set of species but not present in their common ancestor). Therefore, Altner and Reichenbacker do not consider it further in their application of the best-fit approach to the classification of Baringochromis.

Another potentially useful character for systematic classification is the presence or absence of a projection on the anterodorsal surface of the urohyal bone. The plesiomorphic state (state found in the last common ancestor of all members of the group, but not necessarily in all of its decendents) is characterised by the presence of such a projection, and the apomorphic state (a derived state seen in some members of the group) by its virtual or complete absence (as in Baringochromis). Among the three candidate tribes to which Baringochromis most likely belongs, only the Cyprichromini possesses this condition. However, the data matrix uppon which these assumptions are based focused on the Lake Tanganyika Cichlids and is thus not representative for the tribes Oreochromini and Haplochromini (most of which are found elsewhere). Additional information on the urohyal condition from other sources describes a urohyal lacking the anterodorsal projection for the extant Haplochromini Rhamphochromis and Pseudocrenilabrus, respectively. But the same condition of the urohyal has also been reported for two fossil Oreochromine genera (Oreochromimos and Rebekkachromis). Thus, it appears that the lack of the anterodorsal urohyal projection is a condition that has evolved independently in several lineages. This compromises the character’s ability to support the attribution of Baringochromis to a particular tribe.

Nevertheless, its meristic traits preclude assignment of Baringochromis to the Cyprichromini. Unlike Haplochromini and Oreochromini, Cyprichromini has many more vertebrae (35–40) and dorsal fin rays (10–18) compared to Baringochromis, which has 27–29 vertebrae and 7–10 dorsal fin rays. In addition, previous have shown that the genus Cyprichromis (but not Paracyprichromis) is characterised by an abdominal cavity that is extended posteriorly, i.e. it reaches beyond the anal-fin origin.  Altner and Reichenbacker interpret the black organic remains that are recognisable below the tips of the ribs up to the origin of the anal fin as possible remains of the abdominal cavity or stomach contents, which would imply that the abdominal cavity did not extend beyond the anal-fin origin.

Taking all osteological and meristic data together, two candidate tribes remain: the Haplochromini and the Oreochromini. Therefore Altner and Reichenbacker turned to the otoliths of Baringochromis as a potential source of additional insights. Saccular otoliths are established tools in taxonomic and systematic studies of Teleosts. Although little information is available for Cichlid otoliths, previous studies have demonstrated their usefulness in Cichlid systematics. Altner and Reichenbacker considered images depicting otoliths of the Oreochromini and Haplochromini from previous works, together with newly assembled material from museum collections. Comparisons with the otoliths of Baringochromis show that the latter differ from those of the Oreochromini in that the area of the ostium is smaller, the excisura is deeper, the antirostrum more pronounced, and the end of the cauda less curved downwards. In all these respects, the otoliths of Baringochromis are similar to the otoliths of Astatoreochromis alluaudi (Haplochromini) and Tropheus duboisi (Tropheini). Three of the aforementioned characters (small ostium, deep excisura, pronounced antirostrum) are rarely seen in Cichlid otoliths, and thus seem likely to represent synapomorphies shared by the members of the Haplochromini and Tropheini. Consequently, Altner and Reichenbacker tentatively attribute Baringochromis to the Haplochromini.

The co-occurrence of three superficially similar species of Baringochromis, which are differentiated solely by their oral dentition and a few morphometric traits (mainly related to the head and dorsal fin base), indicate the presence of a small fossil species flock in the ancient lake Waril. Reviewing the literature dealing with lakes inhabited by a small Cichlid species flock, Altner and Reichenbacker found possible modern analogues of palaeolake Waril in Africa and, with Lake Apoyo in Nicaragua, also in the New World. Lake Apoyo, with a surface area of 21 km², was created by explosive volcanism about 23 000 years ago, and its waters are warm (27–29.5°C) and alkaline (pH 8.1). Similar conditions can be assumed for palaeolake Waril based on geological, palaeontological and mineralogical evidence: (i) Explosive volcanism is shown by the tuff beneath the lake sediments; (ii) the restricted thickness of the lacustrine sediments (about 10 m) indicates that the palaeolake existed for only a short period of time (about 10 000–20 000 years); (iii) the fossil floral assemblage recovered from the lake sediments point to warm climate; and (iv) the dominance of the minerals heulandite (30%) and analcime (42%) point to volcanic activity and the existence of an alkaline water body, respectively. Lake Apoyo is inhabited by a species flock comprising six species of the cichline genus Amphilophus that evolved by sympatric speciation (the evolution of new species from a surviving ancestral species while both continue to inhabit the same geographic region).

In Africa, three lakes in Cameroon, namely the volcanic crater lakes Lake Barombi Mbo, Lake Bermin and Lake Ejagham, albeit small, with surface areas of 0.49–4.15 km², represent possible modern analogues.  Lake Barombi Mbo (area 4.15 km²) is home to a species flock comprising 11 species, while Lake Bermin (area 0.6 km²) has an endemic species flock encompassing nine species. Each of these species flocks has evolved by sympatric speciation in the course of trophic and reproductive differentiation. Hybridisation may also have contributed to the diversity of the flock found in Barombi Mbo. The third lake, Lake Ejagham has a surface area of 0.49 km², has been in existence for a short time (about 10 000 years), and is inhabited by a flock of five Tilapia forms derived from a riverine founder species. Usefully, a previous study precisely documented the differentiated composition of the bottom of Lake Ejagham. Leaves, twigs, insects and their aquatic larvae cover the lake floor near the shoreline. At intermediate depths, the substrate is sandy, while the central (deepest) part of the lake is covered with mud that is rich in organic material. This last sector is a perfect actualistic model for the very well preserved Fish fossils in the palaeolake Waril, as such a sediment is deficient in oxygen and facilitates fossil conservation. The insights provided by Lake Ejagham also offer a possible explanation for the fact that Altner and Reichenbacker encountered a single fossil Insect and only a few fossil leaves, whereas numerous such finds had previously been reported for palaeolake Waril; these remains had mostly accumulated nearer to the shoreline of the ancient lake.

Palaeolake Waril was probably connected to a small river or stream, which is indicated by fossil remains of a Crocodile, Turtles and a few (transported) Mammal bones, which were found a few metres above the lake sediments. A riverine Cichlid founder species may thus have entered the palaeolake, as suggested for Lake Ejagham. It may have colonised the new habitat by rapid adaptation to different environments, rocky shore, sandy bottom, and pelagic zone. In the next phase of radiation, the newly evolved species may have begun to subdivide their initial niches by trophic differentiation. The three species of Baringochromis may well have emerged at this latter stage. Possible sources of food could have been Plant debris and Insects, as their fossilised remains are known from Waril. Accordingly, the three species of Baringochromis may have specialised by feeding on either Plant debris or iInsects. Whether or not other feeding strategies, such as paedophagy or scale-eating, were also exploited in palaeolake Waril must remain speculative. The fourth species recorded from the site, Warilochromis unicuspidatus, was interpreted as a predatory species; it may have fed on young Fish. The fifth Cichlid species from Waril is Tugenchromis pickfordi, of which the dentition is not known. But its rarity suggests that it may have lived near the rocky shore of the lake, which would be expected to be less conducive to the preservation of complete fossil Fish.

In the fossil record, evidence for species flocks is comparatively rare and only two other examples are known for fossil Cichlids. One is from the Eocene volcanic crater lake of Mahenge in Tanzania (East Africa). Lake Mahenge was small (less than 0.5 km²) and inhabited by five species of Mahengechromis, which were mainly differentiated by their head shapes. The second example is a possible species flock of the Oreochromine genus Rebekkachromis from alkaline lake deposits of the middle and upper Miocene of the Tugen Hills. The late Miocene species flock of Baringochromis provides the third case of an ancient Cichlid species flock, and possibly the first fossil record of a Haplochromine species flock.

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Thursday, 17 September 2020

Asteroid 2020 RM passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2020 RM passed by the Earth at a distance of about 1 047 000 km (2.73 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.70% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 4.20 am GMT on Friday 11 September 2020. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2020 RM has an estimated equivalent diameter of 8-24 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 8-24 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 between 35 and 17 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's  surface.

The current position and orbit of 2020 RM. JPL Small Body Database.

2020 RM was discovered on 6 September 2020 (five days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2020 RM implies that the asteroid was the 12th object (asteroid M - in numbering asteroids the letters A-Y, excluding I, are assigned numbers from 1 to 24, with a number added to the end each time the alphabet is ended, so that A = 1, A1 = 25, A2 = 49, etc., which means that M = 12) discovered in the first half of September 2020 (period 2020 R - the year being split into 24 half-months represented by the letters A-Y, with I being excluded).

2020 RM has a 374 day (1.02 year) orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 3.17° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.79 AU from the Sun (79% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) and out to 1.24 AU (124% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are very common, with the last thought to have happened in September 2019 and the next predicted in September 2021. 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).

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