BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: new species

Not All Giraffes Are Just Giraffes

Up until now Giraffes have been considered a singular species with nine subspecies.  Recently scientist from Senckenberg and the Giraffe Conservation Center have studied the genetic makeup of giraffes throughout the continent. The samples were taken through skin biopsies of the Giraffes. The analysis of these samples have proved that there is not “only one, but at least four genetically highly distinct groups of giraffes.” These giraffes also seem to not mate in the wild. This discovery of four genetically different groups of giraffes means that the traditional way of classifying giraffes is in need of an upgrade. The traditional  way of determining species of giraffes was based on coat patterns, horn structures, and geographical distribution. The new way of classifying species is based on their genetic structure. The four species based on genetics would be “southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), comprising two distinct subspecies, Angolan (G. g. angolensis) and South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa), (2) Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), (3) reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata), and (4) northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), West African giraffe (G. c. peralta) and Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum) as distinct subspecies.” Not only did this study differentiate species but brought some older species of giraffes. This new discovery not only changes the way we refer to giraffes but how species conservation is carried out. Now not only is the giraffe under threat but their biodiversity is also under severe attack.

By LucaGaluzzi
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lucag

If you want to read more on giraffe conservation you can click here.

Meet Charlotte’s Cousin (She’s Coming to the Web this Year for Thanksgiving)

You’re taking a nice autumn walk, enjoying the scenic pathway covered in red, yellow, and brown beautiful leaves. You stop at tree and notice one small, shriveled up decaying leaf still hanging. In a whimsical motion, you decide to pluck the final leaf… Aaaaaahhhh! Spider!

Folks, you’ve heard of the stick bug. Let me introduce you to the leaf spider (it has yet to be officially named!). Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to find one unless you’re in China.

The Leaf Spider’s Cousin: The Barn Spider                                      Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tmh9/233350520

On a research excursion in Yunnan, China in 2011 (they published their findings on November 11), researcher Matjaz Kuntner* and his team came across an unusual species unidentified by the likes of man, the only known spider to resemble a dried up leaf!

Camouflage isn’t new in the animal kingdom; it’s a popular survival trait. But its more common with insects like the stick bug than arachnids.

However, roughly 100 species of spiders have bodies that don’t resemble your typical halloween decoration, ranging from a jumble of twigs to bird poo. But nothing like this!

They described the spider’s back as looking like a healthy green life while its underside resembled a dead brown leaf. And a hairy, stalk like structure branches out of its abdomen like the stem of a leaf! Take a look for yourself!

After searching for another specimen for two weeks, the researchers found only one more: a juvenile male. Searching the world’s museum for another sample, only one resembling the new specimen could be found (in a museum in Vietnam) but it is suspected this specimen comes from a known species whereas these two new individuals are a brand new discovery!

But the icing on the cake… as the title suggests, this spider is a cousin of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web! Yes, the barn spider (Araneus cavaticus) and this new spider both belong to the Poltys genus along with 3,000 relatives (what a family reunion!).

One thing to note: the researchers noticed leaves stuck to the branch the spider was resting on by silk, indicating that the spider might have placed the leaves there on purpose. Keep an eye out for new research on the matter in the future.

So, the pivotal question I ask anyone who reads this… what should the spider be called? Do you know of any cool arachnids or insects that use camouflage in unique ways? Let me know in the comments.

Original Article: http://www.livescience.com/56910-leaf-mimicking-spider-found.html

 

*Matjaz Kuntner is a principal investigator with the Evolutionary Zoology Lab at the Biological Institute Jovan Hadzi, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Tardigrades and a New Species!

If you’re a biology lover like myself, you probably spend a good chunk of time before you go to bed every night wondering, “When are we going to find a new species of tardigrade?” Well, you’re in luck, because recently a new species of tardigrade, the Echiniscoides wyethi, was discovered. For those of you who don’t know what tardigrades are, they are water-dwelling micro-animals with eight legs.  Tardigrades are incredible creatures because they can survive in some of the most extreme environments, including temperatures ranging just above absolute zero to over 100° Celsius. These tough creatures are often called “water bears”, and many scientists will tell you they look similar to a hippopotamus- although on a much smaller scale. Tardigrades also can survive for over 10 years without food or water. When they go into these long periods of not eating or drinking, called desiccated states, their water contents can drop below 1% of normal. They are able to do this because of their high trehalose levels. Trehalose is a disaccharide sugar, which protects their cell membranes. This state is known as a cryptobiotic state. Tardigrades in this state are known as Tuns. Tuns have been sent to space; the European Space Agency once conducted an experiment in which they sent Tuns to space and exposed them to harsh solar radiation as well as the vacuum of space- two thirds of the tuns survived the conditions. The new species of tardigrade was found near Allen Island in Maine. It is named the Echiniscoides Wyethi, named after the artist Andrew Wyeth and his family, who own the island. The species measures about one-sixteenth of an inch, and has been described as looking like a “gummy bear” under a microscope. Delicious, however, due to its size, it can’t be too filling! Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.08.28 PMImage from Wikipedia

 

Additional Articles:

The Tardigrade: Practically invisible, Indestructible ‘Water Bears’

Researches Discover New Tiny Organism, Name it for Wyeths

New Species Related to Humans Uncovered

On September 10th, 2015, the University of Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society, the Department of Science and the National Research Foundation of South Africa announced the discovery of a new species of human relative, Homo naledi. With more than 1,500 numbered fossil elements, this discovery is the largest fossil hominin find ever made on the continent of Africa. Not only does this finding shed light on the origins and diversity of our genus, but it appears that this new species intentionally deposited the bodies of its dead in a remote cave, an action previously conceived limited to humans.

Homo_naledi_hand

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Homo_naledi_hand.jpg

The species was initially discovered in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 km northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The fossils were laid in a chamber about 90 meters from the cave’s entrance, which was accessible only through a narrow chute which required a special team of very skinny individuals to retrieve them. Up and till now the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species. Lee Berger, research professor at Wits University and leader of the expeditions that recovered the fossils said, “With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage.”

Homo naledi has surprisingly human-like features, enough to place it in the genus Homo. It has a tiny brain, about the size of an orange (about 500 cubic centimeters), on top of a very slender body. The research shows that on average H. naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) tall and weighed about 45 kilograms (almost 100 pounds). Homo naledi‘s teeth are described as similar to those of the earliest-known members of our genus, such as Homo habilis, as are most features of the skull. The shoulders, however, are more similar to those of apes. The hands also suggest tool-using capabilities. It has extremely curved fingers, more curved than almost any other species of early hominin, which clearly demonstrates possible climbing capabilities.

The most remarkable part of the find is that it has led the researchers to conclude that this primitive-looking hominin may have practiced a form of behavior previously thought to be unique to humanism, intentional body disposal. The space in which the fossils were discovered was so remote that out of more than 1,550 fossil elements recovered, only about a dozen are not hominin, and the few that were not are isolated mouse and bird remains, meaning that the chamber attracted few accidental visitors.

The researchers explored every alternative scenario, including mass death, an unknown carnivore, water transport from another location, or accidental death in a death trap. After examining every other option, they were left to accept intentional body disposal by Homo naledi as the most plausible scenario.

There is still much to be discovered in the Rising Star cave. “This chamber has not given up all of its secrets.” There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of remains of Homo naledi still down there waiting to get uncovered. 

Original Article:  http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2015/09/10/new_species_of_human_relative_discovered_in_sa_cave.html

For more information, check out:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150910-human-evolution-change/

New Species Discovered in a Famously Sexual Animal Family

The Antechinus family of rodents has one of the most peculiar sex lives in the animal kingdom, and just recently another species was discovered. These small  dasyurid marsupial are carnivores who live in Australia and New Guinea. The most extraordinary aspect of the Antechinus family is their sexual cycle. Most males live only long enough to breed, being born in November and reaching sexual maturity around August of the following year. By the time the males are old enough, they cease to function except for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The shrews stop eating and sleeping and begin to shut down bodily functions deemed ‘unnecessary’ so as to save energy for finding a mate and passing on genetic material. This ‘sacrifice’ of bodily functions goes so far as to shut down the immune system and strips the body of vital proteins. As a result of these sacrifices, the males do not long outlive their first sexual experience, which can last about 12 hours. The females live slightly longer, lasting the entire mating season and storing all of the semen within their bodies until ovulation at the end of the season, producing liters with children from various fathers. Although some females manage to survive up to 3 seasons, most die after their first litter.

A relative of the new species from the genus Antechinus

The new species, the black-tailed antechinus, was previously thought to be part of the dusky antechinuses species which is significant in that males are larger and commonly live for multiple mating seasons. It is unknown at this point whether the black-tailed antechinus shares that advantage or if the males simply die after their first season like most of the members of their genus. Other than their peculiar mating habits, the fact that a previously unknown species was discovered in Australia is remarkable, because new mammal species are extremely rare. However finds such as this of new species demonstrate how many new and interesting species of mammals and other organisms may still be out there.

Brand New Species of Butterfly Discovered

Abstract Butterfly Vector Graphic

A new species of butterfly has been discovered in Texas, earlier this spring. Named after it’s founder’s wife, the Vicroy’s Ministreak (it’s scientific name is Ministrymon Janevicroy), went unnoticed as a “new” breed because it was mistaken for the Gray Ministreak, due to the similarity of appearance between the two butterfly species. The trademark difference of the Vicroy’s Ministreak, however, is it’s olive green eye. The Gray Ministreak is known for having a dark brown to black eye coloring. Other differences between he two species include the patterns on their wings as well as differences in genital structures. Some of these differences were noticed when both butterflies were examined when dead. The founder, Jeffrey Glassberg, mostly used a new method of study to differentiate between the two Vicroy and Gray Ministreaks; he used cameras and binoculars, instead of the standard net.

The Vicroy’s Ministreak can be found in greater population in southern America and even reaching down to Central America, in “dry deciduous forest and scrub.” They have also been spotted in fewer population some of the northern South American countries. This new species is thought to be among the last that will be discovered in North America.

For additional information about this new breed of butterfly, please check out the following websites:

http://www.pensoft.net/journals/zookeys/article/5081/abstract/a-butterfly-with-olive-green-eyes-discovered-in-the-united-states-and-the-neotropics-lepidoptera-lycaenidae-eumaeini-

and

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/valley/article_ec43e8c4-c8cf-11e2-9218-001a4bcf6878.html.

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