Termite House-Guests

A termite-loving rove beetle (Discoxenus), viewed from beneath. Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

A termite-loving rove beetle (Discoxenus), viewed from beneath. Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Last week I wrote about mites that live alongside honey bees, eating and reproducing within their hives. There are many tiny animals that associate with social insects, and today’s new species are yet another example: termite-loving rove beetles from Cambodia (Kanao and Maruyama 2015).

Just like their hosts, termite-loving beetles are tiny, often less than 2 millimeters long, and don’t really look like conventional beetles. Their bodies are flattened and glossy, almost tear-drop shaped, with attractive woody shades. For small insects that spend most of their lives in complete darkness, they are surprisingly attractive.

What makes these beetles so amazing is, of course, their termite-loving predilection. “Loving” is a bit misleading – termite-loving beetles are social parasites, living off the hard work of their hosts. The termites eat wood, but in order to eat it they cultivate gardens of fungi which help to break down the wood’s tough chemical components, especially cellulose. The beetles can’t eat wood, but are happy to eat their way through the fungal gardens.

A rove beetle stealing fungus from the termite's "garden." Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

A rove beetle stealing fungus from the termite’s “garden.” Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Whether this has any damaging effect on the termite colony is unknown, but there are far worse guests. Many animals that live in termite nests, including some rove beetles, are there to prey on the termites themselves. Just last month scientists described a new species of whip-spider that lives as a predator in termite mounds.

How do rove beetles manage to go undetected in a swarming termite colony? They don’t, at least, not entirely. The termites often notice the beetles, even feeling them with their antennae, but apparently cannot recognize them as intruders. Possibly the beetles secrete pheromones, chemical signals that mimic those produced by termites. This allows them to be accepted into the colony, despite being poor house-guests.

Termites and beetles, friends forever. Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Termites and beetles, friends forever. Photo from Kanao and Maruyama (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Cited:

Kanao T. and M. Maruyama. 2015. Eight new species, a new record, and redescription of the genus Discoxenus Wasmann, 1904: The first record of termitophilous rove beetles in Cambodia (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae). Zootaxa 4044(2): 201-223.

Reveillion F. and P.O. Maquart. 2015. A new species of Charinus Simon, 1892 (Amblypygi, Charinidae) from termite nests in French Guiana. Zootaxa 4032(2): 190-196.

 

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Microbe Monday #1: Life in a Freezing Desert

Each week, new bacteria and other microbes are described in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. Most days, papers are published online closed to midnight my time (EST). So, if I write about them the next day, they are technically betraying the rules of this blog: I write about new species, the same day their descriptions are published.

The result of this is that, with much regret, I have been neglecting bacteria on this blog. No longer! From now on, each Monday I will write about my favorite new species of bacteria (or other microbe) that was published the week prior. Last week’s new species, Saccharibacillus deserti, was the one that convinced me. This amazing bacterium is most unusual for the place it lives: the frigid deserts of northern China (Sun et al. 2015).

The Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang Province. Photo by Colegota, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 ES.

The Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang Province. Photo by Colegota, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 ES.

Deserti was discovered in the upper layers of soil in the Ordos Desert, in Inner Mongolia (a province in China, not Mongolia). On a yearly basis, there is less than 9 inches of rain, and almost all of this falls during a series of storms in the summer months. The Ordos is not only dry, but also cold, with winter temperatures consistently below 10º F.

The new species’s close relative, S. kuerlensis, has it even worse (Yang et al. 2009). The deserts near Kuerle (Xinjiang province, China) are similarly cold in winter, but even drier, with and average annual rainfall of less than 3 inches.

Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo by Yaan, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo by Yaan, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Because they are so inhospitable, the cold deserts of central Asia are home to very few large animals. The best-known is the Bactrian camel, whose thick insulating fur and fat-storing humps allow it to survive long periods without eating or drinking. Still, camels have to migrate long distances to find enough food and water to last the winter.

Bacteria are, of course, not migratory. So how does a desert-dwelling bacteria survive between rains? They form endospores, protective structures that allow them to go dormant, “hibernating” until warmth and moisture wake them back up again.

The protective endospore does not form on the outside of the bacterium, as you might expect, but on the inside of the cell — hence the prefix “endo,” meaning inside. The spore exists only to protect the most important parts of the cell, such as the DNA, ribosomes (molecules used to translate genetic information into proteins), and a few choice chemicals that help prevent everything from degrading when subject to heat, cold, or drought. One of these chemicals is calcium dipicolinate, which helps to prevent DNA from degrading when subject to harsh conditions.

Because the endospore only forms around the nucleoid of the cell, only the most vital parts of the bacterium are protected. Everything outside the endospore withers away, but when conditions are right again (e.g., summer rains come to northern China) the endospore breaks down and the DNA, RNA, and ribosomes get to work rebuilding what is lost. Because all the DNA is saved, the bacterium still has all the information it needs to re-create itself.

Cited:

Sun J.Q., X.Y. Wang, L.J. Wang, L. Xu, M. Liu, and X.L. Wu. 2015. Saccharibacillus deserti sp. nov., isolated from desert soil. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology doi: 10.1099/ijsem.0.000766.

Yang S.Y., H. Liu, R. Liu, K.Y. Zhang, and R. Lai. 2009. Saccharibacillus kuerlensis sp. nov., isolated from a desert soil. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 59: 953-957.

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Imperfect Fungi

You may have head that the mushroom is only a small part of a fungus, and this is true — a mushroom is a temporary spore-releasing structure, ephemeral like a flower, while the growing, eating part of the fungus is usually hidden away. Here it takes the form of a network of hyphae, thin filaments that branch out into soil, rotting wood, an animal carcass, old cheese or whatever else happens to be the fungus’s purview. The hyphal network is the fungus.

The lichen-eating fungus (Talpapellis solorinae). Photo from Zhurbenko et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The lichen-eating fungus (Talpapellis solorinae). Photo from Zhurbenko et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some fungi have evolved that never produce mushrooms. Mycologists sometimes call them “imperfect fungi” — others call them molds. Today’s new species is an imperfect fungus, Talpapellis solorinae, from British Columbia (Zhurbenko et al. 2015). It is not unusual in appearance, but in habits: this fungus is a parasite that lives and grows on the surface of lichens.

Such lichen-eating fungi are termed “lichenicolous.” In this case, the host is the socket lichen (Solorina crocea), a large species that can grow on soil, rocks, tree bark, and a variety of other surfaces. As it grows, the parasite creates velvety black, “moldy” patches on the lichen, which itself is an attractive shade of green.

A socket fungus (Solorina). Photo by Malcolm Storey, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UK.

A socket fungus (Solorina). Photo by Malcolm Storey, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UK.

Lichens are fungi that have formed symbiotic relationships with algae. In this relationship, the fungus provides a protected environment and nutrients for the alga, while the alga turns sunlight into energy that both partners can use. Although lichens are often fleshy and look similar to mushrooms, they are not. Instead, the lichen is formed by above-ground hyphae, densely coiled, woven, and packed into a solid mass.

Many fungi are parasitic, feeding on hosts ranging from insects to plants to humans. Most are extremely specific, only growing on a particular family, genus, or even species of host. The new socket lichen parasite has only been found on one species of lichen. Other closely-related parasites have been found on other species of lichens, but only in a single family Peltigeraceae. Incidentally, Peltigeraceae includes many of the large, attractive lichens we commonly associate with boulders and rock walls.

As with all molds, the velvety, visible layer is covered with single-celled spores. When the wind picks up, it carries these spores and scatters them over the landscape. A lucky few land on or near a socket lichen, and begin the cycle anew.

Ed.: Shortly after I posted this article, I found another recent paper (Westberg et al. 2015) featuring the lichens of Scandinavia along with their fungal parasites. The most interesting of these is the gall-forming Tremella. Tremella fungi are parasites on a wide range of hosts, always other fungi and often lichens. Just like gall-forming insects that manipulate their plant hosts, this species (T. lobariacearum) secretes chemicals that force its lichen host to warp and grow into a gall, a protective structure in which the parasite lives.

The gall-forming Tremella fungus. Photo from Westberg et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The gall-forming Tremella fungus. Photo from Westberg et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Cited:

Westberg M., E. Timdal, J. Asplund, M. Bendiksby, R. Haugan, F. Jonsson, P. Larsson, G. Odelvik, M. Wedin, A. Millanes. 2015. New records of lichenized and lichenicolous fungi in Scandinavia. MycoKeys 11: 33-61.

Zhurbenko M.P., B. Heuchert, and U. Braun. 2015. Talpapellis solorinae sp. nov. and an updated key to the species of Talpapellis and Verrucocladosporium. Phytotaxa 234(2): 191-194.

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Botany in the Azores

So … I skipped yesterday’s new species. It isn’t because there weren’t any new species that day (there were), but because I was studying for exams and, irresponsibly, didn’t leave enough time to write about ghost shrimp or African mice.

Aichryson laxum from La Palma in the Canary Islands. Photo by Frank Vincentz, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aichryson laxum from La Palma in the Canary Islands. Photo by Frank Vincentz, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Succulents, plants that retain water in thick, fleshy parts, are amazing. The most familiar are the cacti, and you may recall a few weeks ago I wrote about the discovery of a new species of Mexican cactus, a prickly pear. Aloes are also familiar succulents, but there are many more, including today’s new species, Aichryson santamariensis (Moura et al. 2015).

Aichryson species have thick, fleshy leaves that hold lots of water. This is important because, like most succulents, they tend to live in dry habitats where rain can be both scarce and highly seasonal. Our new species hails from the island of Santa Maria in the northeast Atlantic, and appears to live nowhere else. All Aichryson have narrow ranges, with most found on the Canary Islands and just a few from mainland Portugal and Morocco.

Santa Maria is one of the Azores, a series of islands off the coast of Portugal. The Azores are popular tourist destinations but, like most small-island archipelagos, their recent biological history is not a very happy one. Invasive plant species, including mock-orange (Pittosporum undulatum) and Australian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) have wreaked havoc on native plants. Most of the native trees are declining rapidly, and the fates of smaller plants such as succulents may be soon to follow (Triantis et al. 2010).

Aichryson laxum, from La Palma, one of the Canary Islands. Photo by Tigerente, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aichryson laxum from La Palma. Photo by Tigerente, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The problem is compounded by habitat loss. As much as 95% of the islands’ original laurel forest was cleared to make way for agriculture, resulting in the extinction of many plants that could not live anywhere else. In more recent years, when the economy took a bad turn and islanders started to leave for the more promising mainland, much of this farmland was abandoned. Now the vacant fields serve as habitat for invasive species, which are quick to take advantage of the disturbed land and heavy sunlight.

Three species of birds are known only from the Azores: Monteiro’s storm petrel, the Azores bullfinch, and the São Miguel scops owl. The storm petrel is considered vulnerable, the bullfinch is endangered, and the owl was not even discovered until long after it went extinct due to habitat destruction (Rando et al. 2013). Today the only São Miguel scops owls are dead, stuffed, and locked away in museum collections.

Azores islands. Photo by Guillaume Baviere, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Some of the Azores islands. Photo by Guillaume Baviere, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

There is a phenomenon in conservation biology known as extinction debt. The idea is that after a disturbance (e.g., losing 95% of forest) there is typically a lag in the time it takes for most species to go extinct. To study extinction debt, researchers studied historical changes in insect biodiversity on one of the Azores, Graciosa Island (Triantis et al. 2010). This allowed them to make predictions about how many species the island is likely to lose if current patterns do not change.

The upshot: more than half of all insect species on the Azores may go extinct if nothing is done to restore the habitat that was destroyed. Whether this holds true for plants is unclear, but if more habitat is not protected, Santa Maria’s Aichryson could easily go the way of the scops owl, the only remaining specimens dried and curated in a museum.

Cited:

Moura M., M.A. Carine, and M.M. de Sequiera. 2015. Aichryson santamariensis (Crassulaceae): a new species endemic to Santa Maria in the Azores. Phytotaxa 234(1): 37–50

Rando J.C., J.A. Alcover, S.L. Olson, and H. Pieper. 2013. A new species of extinct scops owl (Aves: Strigiformes: Strigidae:Otus) from São Miguel Island (Azores Archipelago), North Atlantic Ocean. Zootaxa 3647(2): 343–357.

Triantis K.A., P.A.V. Borges, R.J. Ladle, J. Hortal, P. Cardoso, C. Gaspar, F. Dinis, E. Mendonça, L.M.A. Silveira, R. Gabriel, C. Melo, A.M.C. Santos, I.R. Amorim, S.P. Ribeiro, A.R.M. Serrano, J.A. Quartau, and R.J. Whittaker. 2010. Extinction debt on oceanic islands. Ecography 33: 285–294.

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Life in a Coconut Flower

An ascid mite, a relative of today's new species. Photo from Bee-Associated Mites of the World, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

An ascid mite, a relative of today’s new species. Photo from Bee-Associated Mites of the World, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Mites are incredibly diverse — nearly 50,000 species have been described so far, but close to a million may await discovery. With most mites smaller than the head of a pin, studying them and describing new species can be a formidable challenge, requiring the use of powerful microscopes and, often, DNA sequencing.

Coupled with the diversity of species comes a tremendous diversity of lifestyles. Many (including ticks) are parasitic, living on the bodies of animals from insects to humans. Quite a few species are detritivores, eating decomposing leaf litter in the forest understory and helping to recycle nutrients so plants can grow. Others eat those plants, and some can be serious pests of agricultural crops.

There are also, of course, predatory mites, and some of these have proven quite useful to humans. Blattisocius tarsalis is one such mite (Nielsen 2003). In flour mills, tarsalis is used to control the Mediterranean flour moth (Ephestia kuehniella), whose caterpillars live, grow, and eat stored grains. Although the mites aren’t nearly large enough to prey on caterpillars or moths, they are effective predators of the moths’ eggs, which makes them highly effective. In recent years they have become more important as European governments have banned the use of certain pesticides in flour mills.

The Mediterranean flour moth. Photo by Sarefo, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Mediterranean flour moth. Photo by Sarefo, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Living on an exclusive diet of moth eggs seems like an odd strategy, but not compared to the rest of the Blattisocius species. Although most are predators, at least one is a parasite that rides and feeds on adult moths (Halliday et al. 1998), and several, known as bee mites, live inside honey bee hives (Crozier 1989). What they do in there is not clear — although many mites can be found in bee hives, some are deadly parasites (like Varroa) while others are helpful cleaners by scavenging on detritus that collects in the hive.

Today’s new species, the coconut flower mite (Blattisocius thaicocofloris), may belong to any one (or several) of these categories. Scientists discovered the mite while studying the mite species associated with Thai coconut plantations, where some mites are pests but others, by eating those pests, are beneficial (Oliviera et al. 2015). The new species was found inside the flowers of coconut trees, so it might be preying on mites or insect eggs on the plant.

Coconut trees and their flowers are home to a dizzying array of species. Can you spot two geckos? Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, licensed under GFDL-1.2.

Coconut trees and their flowers are home to a dizzying array of species. Can you spot two geckos? Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, licensed under GFDL-1.2.

The mite’s discoverers aren’t so sure, however. Coconut flowers are often visited by honey bees, so they suggest that the flower mite could be a bee associate, living in hives and riding bees to and from flowers. This might like a stretch of the imagination, but many species of honey bee hive “squatters” (including a pseudoscorpion: Subbiah et al. 1957) have been observed doing the same thing. Understanding the relationship between these mites and bees may be important — although coconut tree pollen can travel by wind, bees are important to make sure as many flowers as possible become pollinated and develop into coconuts.

Whether they prowl coconut trees for insect egg prey, take joy rides on the backs of honey bees, or do something else that biologists couldn’t possibly think of, the coconut flower mite is just one of many mites about which we know far too little.

To learn more about mites that live in and around bee hives, be sure to check out the North American Bee Mite project at their website. Here you can read about all sorts of bee-associate mites, from parasites to scavengers and everything in between. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the website maintained by Dr. Barry O’Connor and Dr. Pavel Klimov of the University of Michigan.

Cited:

Crozier L. 1989. Melittiphis alvearius (Berlese) and other mites found in honeybee colonies in Nova Scotia. Journal of Apicultural Research 28: 166-168.

Halliday R.B., D.E. Walter, and E.E. Lindquist. 1998. Revision of the Australian Ascidae (Acarina : Mesostigmata). Invertebrate Taxonomy 12: 1-54.

Nielsen P.S. 2003. Predation by Blattisocius tarsalis (Berlese) (Acari: Ascidae) on eggs of Ephestia kuehniella Zeller (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Journal of Stored Products Research 39(4): 395-400.

Oliviera D.C., A. Chandrapatya, and G.J. de Morales. 2015. A new species of Blattisocius (Acari: Mesostigmata: Blattisociidae), with a new characterisation of the genus. Zootaxa 4040(1): 93–100.

Subbiah M.S., V. Mahadevan, and R. Janakiraman. 1957. A note on the occurrence of an arachnid – Ellingsenius indicus Chamberlin – infesting bee hives in South India. Indian Journal of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry 27: 155-156.

 

 

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Metallic Wasps

Few things make me happier than beautiful new species featured in open-access publications. Today we greet a new species of cuckoo wasp from central and southern Europe (Rosa et al. 2015), and because the paper’s content is under a Creative Commons license, I can show them to you now.

Two forms of the same new species (Cleptes striatipleuris). Photos from Rosa et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

These gorgeous little beasts belong to the genus Cleptes. Most cuckoo wasps (family Chrysididae) are parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of social insects, especially bees and other wasps. When the cuckoo larva hatches, it eats the larvae of its host – a bit more macabre than its namesake bird. Because the mother wasp must shove her way past stinging guards, cuckoo wasps have evolved tough, pitted exoskeletons, refined by natural selection to sustain multiple stings without injury.

Cleptes species are the exception to the rule – instead of laying their eggs in the nests of other insects, they lay them on the bodies of sawfly larvae, which resemble caterpillars (Wei et al. 2013). When their eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the sawfly’s flesh to eat it from the inside out – just your every-day, run-of-the-mill parasitoids.

1280px-Larch_sawfly_03[1]

The European larch sawfly. Photo by Inzilbeth, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

This makes them a bit less impressive than the other cuckoo wasps, but it also makes them more useful to humans. Of the wasps’ preferred sawfly prey, many are pests that affect agriculture and forestry. The European larch sawfly (Pristiphora erichsonii) is an important pest of larch pine trees, and preyed upon by a particular Cleptes wasp (Li et al. 2013). Similarly the European pine sawfly (Neodiprion sertifer; Wang et al. 2000) and the Japanese larch sawfly (Pachynematus itoi; Sheng et al. 1998) each have their own Cleptes parasitoids.

The most important thing about Cleptes cuckoo wasps, however, is not their utility, but their beauty. Like many cuckoo wasps that are shiny, often to the point of appearing metallic, and strikingly adorned in shades of blue and green. Cleptes wasps are far more beautiful than anything I can write, so I ask you to finish this week of species discovery by simply looking at a few of the prettiest species, and remembering how lucky we are to share the world with them.

Have a lovely and, if desired, wasp-filled weekend.

A mash-up of China’s prettiest Cleptes species. Photos from Wei et al. (2013), licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Cited:

Li T., M.L. Sheng, S.P. Sun, and Y.Q. Luo. 2013. Parasitoids of larch sawfly, Prisiphora erichsonii (Hartig) (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) in Changbai Mountains. Journal of Natural History 48(3-4): 123-131.

Rosa P., M. Forshage, J. Paukkunen, and V. Soon. 2015. Cleptes pallipes Lepeletier synonym of Cleptes semiauratus (Linnaeus) and description of Cleptes striatipleuris sp. nov. (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae, Cleptinae). Zootaxa 4039 (4): 543–552

Sheng M.L., L.X. Gao, and Q. Wang. 1998. Studies on the parasitoids of Pachynematus itoi: I. Cleptes semiauratus and Endasys liaoningensis. Forest Pest and Disease 2: 7-8.

Wang H.Z., X.G. Li, and J.X. Tong. 2000. The parasite and predator enemy of European pine sawfly Neodiprion sertifer (Geoffroy). Shaanxi Forest Science and Technology 3: 30-34.

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The New Guinean Horned Jumping Spiders

In general I won’t write about a new species unless I can find high-quality photographs of a live specimen or its close relatives. Today I’m relenting, because even though I could only find one available image, this is a group of spiders that begs to have something, anything, written about it. I’m talking about Udvardya, a genus of jumping spiders endemic to New Guinea. Until today, only one species was known. Now there are three (Gardzińska 2015).

The Udvardya genus is not widely recognizable, and hence has no common name. I should clarify: Udvardya had no common name until now. I am hereby pronouncing the three species as “New Guinean horned jumping spiders.” That isn’t official, I just made it up. But common names are, after all, just names people make up.

Why the name?

A preserved male Udvardya specimen (arrow added by me). Photo by Támas Szűts, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

A preserved male Udvardya specimen (arrow added by me). Photo by Támas Szűts, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The arrow is pointing to a horn, and yes, that horn is on the spider’s chelicera (or fang). Only the males have these odd structures, and no one knows what they are for. They might be the result of sexual selection — generation after generation of females only mating with the “horniest” males. Perhaps they are used in courtship, to guide the female during mating, or for shoving matches between competitive males.

Many jumping spider species have males with weird-looking chelicerae, among them the ant-mimicking Myrmarachne plataleoides.

A male ant-mimicking jumping spider. Photo by Jeevan Jose, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

A male ant-mimicking jumping spider. Photo by Jeevan Jose, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

At first glance, giant fangs might seem like an adaptation to eating giant prey, but both males and females of this species eat ants. Instead the males use their fangs as tusks in sparring matches with rivals, battling over females in the treetops (Pollard 2009). In fact, the male’s fangs are so specialized for this purpose that they no longer have the ability to inject venom. The female, content with practicality, has perfectly normal-sized, venom-injecting fangs.

The female Myrmarachne plataleoides. Photo by Photo by Sean Hoyland, in public domain.

The female Myrmarachne plataleoides. Photo by Sean Hoyland, in public domain.

Might the male New Guinean horned jumping spider use his fangs to fight off other males? Perhaps. The truth is, we have no idea what the horns are used for because the only spiders ever to be studied have been dead specimens, preserved in vials of ethanol. To this day, 100 years after their discovery (Szombathy 1915), nothing is known about the behavior of horned jumping spiders, just as virtually nothing is known of their role in New Guinean ecosystems. We can at least guess that they are predatory, but that’s about as far as speculation takes us.

Sadly, our questions may never be answered: about 1.4% of Papua New Guinea’s rain forest is destroyed each year (Shearman et al. 2008). Between 70% and 90% of this is cut for timber, with the rest burnt to make way for farmland. Incidentally, New Guinea is home to around 5% of all known species on the planet, and many of these are found nowhere else.

Highland habitat in New Guinea. Photo from eGuide Travel, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Highland habitat in New Guinea. Photo from eGuide Travel, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I chose to write today’s article on Udvardya for a reason — not just because I like obscure creatures (although I do), and not because jumping spiders are amazing (even though they are). I wrote about New Guinean horned jumping spiders for the same reason that I wrote about ciliate protozoans instead of tarantulas, and Antarctic polychaetes instead of lizards, even though lizards and tarantulas undoubtedly have more “charisma.” Some of our planet’s most amazing species are also some of the most poorly-known. Many of them have only been studied in museums, and most have never been photographed while alive, if at all.

It is a tremendous privilege to live, work, and grow in a world where there are such things not only as elephants, tigers, and trees but also as ribbon worms, millipedes, and even spiders. Nothing about the laws of nature dictated that jumping spiders had to evolve, but by an incredible stroke of luck, they did, and we are here to appreciate them. What lucky creatures we are!

Cited:

Gardzińska J. 2015. Revision of Tarodes Pocock, 1899 and Udvardya Prószyński, 1992 (Araneae: Salticidae), with descriptions of two new species of Udvardya from New Guinea. Zootaxa 4039 (3): 445–455.

Pollard S.D. 2009. Consequences of sexual selection on feeding in male jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae). Journal of Zoology 234(2): 203-208.

Shearman P.L., J.E. Bryan, J. Ash, P. Hunnam, B. Mackey, and B. Lokes. 2008. The State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea: Mapping the extent and condition of forest cover and measuring the drivers of forest change in the period 1972-2002. University of Papua New Guinea, 2008.

Szombathy C. 1915. Attides nouveaux appartenant aux collections du Musée national hongrois. Annales Historico-Naturales Musei Nationalis Hungarici 13: 468-490.

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