Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A new snail: Gastrocopta sharae

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A new plasterer bee: Lonchopria heberti

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

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

A new gall midge: Contarinia n. sp.

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

A new amoeba: Arcella gandalfi

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A new gecko: Geckolepis megalepis

Image Credit: F. Glaw
Many lizards can drop their tails when grabbed, but one group of geckos has devised a different method to escape predation. The skin of fish-scale geckos is specially adapted to tearing. The large scales are attached only by a relatively narrow region that tears with ease, and beneath them they have a pre-formed splitting zone within the skin itself. Together, these features make them especially good at escaping from predators. Although several other geckos are able to lose their skin like this if they are grasped really firmly, Geckolepis are apparently able to do it actively, and at the slightest touch. And while others might take a long time to regenerate their scales, fish-scale geckos can grow them back, scar-free, in a matter of weeks.

The new species was found in northern Madagascar and its name was build from the two Greek stems mégas, meaning ‘very large’ and lepís, meaning ‘scale’, and refers to the large size of the scales of this species in comparison to other geckos.

For the experts: The gecko genus Geckolepis, endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro archipelago, is taxonomically challenging. One reason is its members ability to autotomize a large portion of their scales when grasped or touched, most likely to escape predation. Based on an integrative taxonomic approach including external morphology, morphometrics, genetics, pholidosis, and osteology, we here describe the first new species from this genus in 75 years: Geckolepis megalepis sp. nov. from the limestone karst of Ankarana in northern Madagascar. The new species has the largest known body scales of any gecko (both relatively and absolutely), which come off with exceptional ease. We provide a detailed description of the skeleton of the genus Geckolepis based on micro-Computed Tomography (micro-CT) analysis of the new species, the holotype of G. maculata, the recently resurrected G. humbloti, and a specimen belonging to an operational taxonomic unit (OTU) recently suggested to represent G. maculata. Geckolepis is characterized by highly mineralized, imbricated scales, paired frontals, and unfused subolfactory processes of the frontals, among other features. We identify diagnostic characters in the osteology of these geckos that help define our new species and show that the OTU assigned to G. maculata is probably not conspecific with it, leaving the taxonomic identity of this species unclear. We discuss possible reasons for the extremely enlarged scales of G. megalepis in the context of an anti-predator defence mechanism, and the future of Geckolepis taxonomy.