Saturday 30 March 2024

Solva andamanensis: A new species of Wood Soldier Fly from Andaman Island.

Wood Soldier Flies, Xylomyidae, are a little studied group of Dipteran (True) Flies found across Asia, Australia, and Oceana. These Flies spend the majority of their lives in a larval state, beneath the bark of dead trees. There are currently 143 described species of Wood Soldier Fly, nine of which have been described since 2011, with many areas never sampled for their presence. The phylogenetic positioning of these Flies was uncertain for a long time, but modern genetic methods have shown that they form a sister group to the True Soldier Flies, Stratiomyidae.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Entomological Research Society on 27 March 2024, Debdeep Pramanik, Atanu Nascar, and Dhriti Banerjee of the Zoological Survey of India, present the results of the first survey for Wood Soldier Flies carried out in the Andaman Islands, including a description of a new species.

Pramanik et al. carried out sweep netting in the Sabari and Yeratta forests in North & Middle Andaman District on Andaman Island between 7 and 26 September 2024. During these surveys they recovered two species of Wood Soldier Fly, the previously described Solva javana, which is otherwise known only from the island of Java, over 2000 km to the southeast, and a new, previously undescribed species.

The new species is named Solva andamanensis, where 'andamanensis' means 'from Andaman'. It is described from six adult Flies, all male. These are between 5.0 mm and 5.5 mm in length, with a forewing length of between 4.6 mm and 4.8 mm, and a yellow and black body pattern with white hairs in places.

Field photograph of Solva andamanensisPramanik et al. (2024).

See also...

Friday 29 March 2024

Swift-like Apodiform Birds from the Early Eocene London Clay of Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, southern England.

The modern Avian Order Apodiformes includes the Swifts, Apodidae, Treeswifts, Hemiprocnidae, and Hummingbirds, Trochilidae. The morphological distinctness of this group of highly specialised fliers has made determining how they are related to other Bird groups difficult, although modern phylogenetic techniques have revealed that they are the sister group to the Owlet-Nightjars, Aegotheliformes. Although a number of fossil Apodiformes are known, with the oldest coming from the Early Eocene London Clay of southern England, the early history of the group is not well understood, as, in common with most Birds, the skeletons of Apodiformes tend to be small and delicate, not lending themselves to preservation, so that most fossils assigned are of isolated, and often fragmentary, bones.

The earliest known members of the group are Primapus lacki, which is known from a nearly-complete humerus from the London Clay at Bognor Regis in West Sussex, and the distal portion of a second humerus from the Isle of Sheppy in Kent, and Eocypselus vincenti, which was described from associated wing and pectoral girdle bones from Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, with partial skeletons assigned to the same species described from the early Eocene Fur Formation  in Denmark. A second species of EocypselusEocypselus rowei, has been described from the Early Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming.

The classification of these early Apodiform Birds remains unclear. Primapus lacki has been assigned to the Aegialornithidae, an extinct group which also includes four species from the Middle Eocene-Early Oligocene Quercy fissure fillings of France, and which may be stem group Apodiformes or more closely related to Swifts than other members of the group. Eocypselus vincenti is sometimes considered to be an early member of the Hemiprocnidae, but more usually to an Apodiform stem group, the Eocypselidae.

In a paper published in the journal Ibis on 22 March 2024, Gerald Mayr of the Ornithological Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, and Andrew Kitchener of the Department of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland, and the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, describe multiple new skeletons of Apodiform Birds from the Early Eocene London Clay at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, from the collection of the late Michael Daniels, an Edinburgh resident and amateur palaeontologist who passed away in 2021, leaving his collection to National Museums Scotland. From this material they describe three new species of Eocypselus, as well as new specimens of Eocypselus vincenti and Primapus lacki, which add significantly to our understanding of these Birds.

The first new species described is Eocypselus geminus, where 'geminus' means 'twin' in reference to the fact that this species closely resembles Eocypselus vincenti. It is described from a partial disarticulated skeleton, specimen NMS.Z.2021.40.116, which comprises a partial rostrum and mandible, the axis,  a furcula (wishbone) broken into three pieces, the right scapula, the right coracoid in a piece of matrix, a partial sternum, a partial left humerus, the left radius, the proximal portion of the right radius, the right phalanx proximalis  digiti majoris,  both carpometacarpi, fragments of the pelvis, a right tarsometatarsus lacking its proximal end, a few pedal phalanges and the anungual phalanx. A second specimen is also referred to this species, NMS.Z.2021.40.117, which comprises the left coracoid, the omal extremity of the right coracoid, the left humerus, the proximal portion of the right humerus, the left ulna, and the proximal portion of the right ulna. A mediolaterally narrow premaxilla found associated with this specimen belongs to a different, non-Apodiform species.

Eocypselus geminus from the early Eocene London Clay of Walton-on-the-Naze (Essex, UK). Mayr & Kitchiner (2024).

While Eocypselus geminus resembles Eocypselus vincenti closely, the two species can be distinguished on the basis that the processus procoracoideus of the coracoid projects less strongly towards the processus acrocoracoideus in Eocypselus geminus than in Eocypselus vincenti, the furcula of Eocypselus geminus has wider omal sections of the scapi clavicularum than that of Eocypselus vincenti, and the humerus of Eocypselus geminus, which has a stouter shaft and a dorsoventrally wider distal end than that of Eocypselus vincenti.

The second new species described is named Eocypselus paulomajor, where 'paulomajor' is intended to mean 'somewhat larger' in Latin, in reference to the size of the species, which is larger than Eocypselus vincenti. This species is described from a single specimen, NMS.Z.2021.40.118, which comprises a partial furcula, a left coracoid, and a left ulna.

Eocypselus paulomajor from the early Eocene London Clay of Walton-on-the-Naze (Essex, UK). Mayr & Kitchiner (2024).

The third new species described is named Eocypselus grandissimus, where 'grandissimus' means 'the largest' in reference to the fact that this specimen is larger than all other members of the genus. It is described from a single specimen, NMS.Z.2021.40.119, which comprises a few vertebrae, both coracoids, both scapulae, the cranial portion of the sternum, the distal end of the right humerus, the proximal end of the left humerus, a partial left carpometacarpus, the distal end of the left femur, and one pedal phalanx. A distal left humerus associated with the specimen belongs to a non-Apodiform species.

Eocypselus grandissimus from the early Eocene London Clay of Walton-on-the-Naze (Essex, UK). Mayr & Kitchiner (2024).

A number of further specimens are referred to Eocypselus, but not to any particular species. All are of similar size to Eocypselus geminus and Eocypselus vincenti, but cannot be confidently be assigned to either species, and may potentially represent additional, undescribed, species. although without further, more complete, specimens to refer to, it would be impossible to be certain of this.

A new specimen of Primapus lacki is also described. This specimen, NMS.Z.2021.40.133, comprises the furcula, the right coracoid, the left and right humeri lacking distal ends, the left radius, a partial right carpometacarpus, and a single pedal phalanx.

Primapus lacki from the early Eocene London Clay of Walton-on-the-Naze (Essex, UK). Mayr & Kitchiner (2024).

Mayr and Kitchiner consider the Aegialornithidae and Eocypselidae to be stem-group Apodiform Birds, forming sister taxa to the crown group Apodiformes. Primapus lacki represents the earliest representative of the Aegialornithidae, a group which persisted at least 19 million years, into the Early Oligocene. In contrast, the Eocypselidae are known only from Early Eocene deposits, and appear to have been a short-lived group. The crown group Apodiformes are unknown in the Early Eocene, with the earliest known example being Scaniacypselus szarskii, thought to be an early Swift, from the Middle Eocene Messel Shale of Germany. 

See also...

Thursday 28 March 2024

Panthera tigris sondaica: A possible sighting of the 'extinct' Javan Tiger.

Indonesia was once home to three species of Tiger, the Sumatran Tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae, the Javan Tiger, Panthera tigris sondaica, and the Bali Tiger, Panthera tigris balica. Two of these species  have been declared extinct in the past twenty years, the Javan Tiger in 2008, and the Bali Tiger in 2013, using the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's criteria of not having been observed in more than 30 years; the last confirmed sighting of a Javan Tiger happened in 1976 in Meru Betiri National Park, East Java.

The Javan Tiger was endemic to Java, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was frequently encountered in lowland forests, thickets, and even gardens on the island. However, it was widely seen as a pest (Tigers will feed on both livestock and Humans), leading to widespread hunting of the species, and its presumed extinction in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The last systematic search for the species deployed 35 camera traps in the Meru Betiri National Park in 1999-2000, but made no observations.

A Javan Tiger observed in Ujung Kulon Nature Reserve (now Ujung Kulon National Park) in 1938. Andries Hoogerwerf/Wikimedia Commons.

Although there have been no confirmed sightings since 1976, rumours of the species' continued existence persist, with numerous unconfirmed sightings, reports of footprints too large to belong to a Leopard, and even reports of attacks on livestock. 

In a paper published in the journal Oryx on 21 March 2024, Wirdateti Wirdateti of the Research Center for Biosystematics and Evolution of the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency, Yulianto Yulianto of the Research Center for Applied Zoology of the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency, Kalih Raksasewu of the Yayasan Bentang Edukasi Lestari Bogor Foundation, and Bambang Adriyanto of the Cikepuh Wildlife Reserve, describe a possible sighting of a living Javan Tiger, and the results of an investigation which followed it.

On 18 August 2019, Ripi Yanur Fajar, a local resident and conservationist, reported seeing a Javan Tiger close to the village of Cipendeuy in South Sukabumi Forest, West Java, to Kalih Raksasewu, who visited the site the next day, along with Bambang Adriyanto. Ripi Yanur Fajar described the Tiger as having jumped a fence between a village road and a plantation, and examination of this fence by Raksasewu and Adriyanto led to the discovery of a single hair, which could potentially have come from a Tiger.

The hair recovered by Kalih Raksasewu and Bambang Adriyanto from a fence in Cipendeuy Village, West Java. Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency.

A genetic analysis was subsequently carried out in which DNA from the hair was compared to DNA from Sumatran Tigers, Bengal Tigers, Amur Tigers, Javan Leopards, and a museum specimen of the Javan Tiger, from Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, collected in 1930. The hair was found to show a 4.2% difference to the Leopard sample, differences of between 3.7% and 4.1% from the Sumatran, Bengal, and Amur Tigers, but only a 0.3%d difference from the Javan Tiger museum specimen.

Wirdateti et al. stop short of claiming that they have proof that the Javan Tiger still exists on the basis of a single hair, but do believe that the hair comes from a member of the species, and that this merits further investigation into the possibility of a surviving population of these Tigers in West Java.

See also...

Dwarf planet 136472 Makemake reaches oposition.

The dwarf planet 136472 Makemake will reach opposition (i.e. be directly opposite the Sun seen from Earth) on Saturday 30 March 2022 at 8.28 pm GMT. This means that it will both be at its closest to the Earth this year, about 51.80 AU (51.80 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or about 7 776 097 000 km), and completely illuminated by the Sun. While it is not visible to the naked eye observer, the planets have phases just like those of the Moon; being further from the Sun than the Earth, 136472 Makemake is 'full' when directly opposite the Sun. The planet will be in the constellation of Coma Berenices and at its highest point in the sky at about midnight local time from anywhere on Earth (this is because the rising and setting of objects in the sky is caused by the Earth's rotation, not the movement of the object). (Even at it's very brightest 136472 Makemake will only have a Magnitude of 17.1, making it almost impossible to see with any but the largest of Earth-based telescopes, and where resolvable it will only be possible to see it as a point of light indistinguishable from a faint star.

The orbit and position of 136472 Makemake (2005 FY9) at 10.00 pm on Monday 28 March 2022. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

136472 Makemake orbits the Sun on an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 29.0° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 37.8 AU from the Sun (37.8 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 52.8 AU from the Sun (52.8 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun. With an average distance of 45.3 AU, 136472 Makemake completes one orbit around the Sun every 305 years. This means that the planet is almost stationary compared to the faster moving Earth, so that it reaches Opposition only two days earlier each year than the year before, and reaches Solar Conjunction (when it is directly on the opposite side of the Sun to the Earth), roughly six months later.

Hubble Space Telescope image of 136472 Makemake. Mike Brown/NASA.

136472 Makemake was discovered on 31 Match 2005 by a team led by Mike Brown of the Palomar Observatory in California. With a diameter of 1430 km it is considered to be the fourth largest dwarf planet in the Solar System (after 134340 Pluto, 136199 Eris, and 136108 Haumea) as well as the twenty second largest body in the Solar System, excluding the Sun (several moons, including our own, are larger). Makemake is also the second-brightest Kuiper belt object, after Pluto.

The surface of 136472 Makemake appears reddish at visual wavelengths, and spectral analysis suggests that it's surface is covered primarily by methane ice, with large amounts of ethane and tholins as well as smaller amounts of ethylene, acetylene and high-mass alkanes. Notably, nitrogen, although present, is observed at much lower levels than on Pluto and Triton, where it is the most abundant ice. 136472 Makemake apparently lacks any form of atmosphere, although it does have a satellite, S/2015 (136472) 1, which is estimated to be 175 km in diameter and orbits at a distance of at least 25 000 km, with an orbital period of at least 12 days.

See also...

Neotropicomus indicus: A 'South American' Mushroom from India.

The genus Neotropicomus was created in 2022 to include two species of Boletacean Mushrooms from South America, the previously described Xerocomus parvogracili (which became Neotropicomus parvogracili) from Guyana, and a new species, Neotropicomus australis, from the Atlantic Forests of Brazil. The name 'Neotropicomus' refers to the Neotropical Realm, the biological zone which incorporates the tropical biomes of South and Central America and the Caribbean islands, to which region the new genus was thought to be restricted.

In a paper published in the journal Cryptogamie Mycologie on 27 March 2024, Salna Nanu and Arun Kumar of the Department of Botany at the University of Calicut, describe a third species of Neotropicomus from Kerala State in India.

The new species is named Neotropicomus indicus, in reference to its unexpected presence in India. It produces small Mushrooms 20-30 mm across, which are convex when young, but flatten out as they age. The upper surfaces of the Mushrooms are reddish brown, fading to greyish towards the centre. The gills and stipe (stem) are white, with the stipe being 20-40 mm long and 3-4 mm wide.

Neotropicomus indicus, holotype, basidiomata. Nanu & Kumar (2024).

Neotropicomus indicus Mushrooms were found growing solitary in Diptocarp forests in Thiruvananthapuram District. It physically resembles other members of the genus Neotropicomus, and was confirmed as being the sister taxon to the other members of the genus by a genetic analysis.

See also...