Thursday, 22 July 2010

New hemipteran species from New Caledonia

In the same issue of Zootaxa describing the manuka scale insect, another hemipteran was described. Teabooma secunda is the second species of the genus (which is endemic to New Caledonia) to be described. It is in the family Cydnidae which are common and widespread. They are frequently mistaken for beetles, and it is usually only a careful look with some magnification that will reveal the mistake. It's a poorly known family, but they are thought to feed on roots, seeds and fallen branches. None are known for their economic importance.

A mystery... scale insects on European manuka

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is native to New Zealand and southeast Australia. It is common throughout New Zealand and is well known for being the source of manuka honey which is sought after for its healing properties, and for being a good source of firewood (particularly for smoking fish). Its trait of having numerous white flowers has also ensured that it is fairly commonly grown as a garden plant, and so has been exported around the world for this purpose.

So when a scale insect that apparently is specific to the plant is found in Italy and Corsica in 2004 and 2006, one would imagine that it came from New Zealand or Australia right?

Acanthococcus mariannae was described yesterday in a Zootaxa paper by Giuseppina Pellizzari and Jean-François Germain. The 30 or so specimens that went into the description were all collected from manuka from Italy and France. Surprisingly though, despite the author's (reasonable) assumption that the insect was introduced to these countries on the plants, this species has not (yet?) been found in either New Zealand or Australia. Moreover, specialists familiar with scale insects in these countries had not noticed it before. While it is likely that further searching will reveal it on manuka in NZ or Australia. However there is the lingering question: if it's not, where did it come from and how has it started attacking manuka?

Scale insects aren't glamorous. They are little more than a bag of fluid that get sap pumped into them. But they are important in a properly functioning ecosystem; and when they get out of control the consequences can be severe. This can be illustrated by an example that also involves manuka: the incidence of manuka blight in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1960s.

Manuka naturally harbours large numbers of the scale insect Coelostomidia wairoensis which produces a lot of honeydew. This in turn provides a food source for the sooty mould Capnodium walteri which covers the branches of manuka forming thick, black deposits.

In the late 1930s manuka in Canterbury (South Island of New Zealand) started to grow sick and die. By the late 1940s it was reported that it was hard to find living manuka in the region. Farmers assisted in the spread by moving infected manuka around the country to control what they viewed as a weed. The culprits were found to be two species of Eriococcus scale insect that presumably had been introduced from Australia. The effect on the plant appears to be due to nutrient stress from having large numbers of scale insects sucking on it as opposed to being a disease transmitted by the insects.

In 1957 it was discovered that a fungus was killing E. orariensis, the species that damaged manuka most severely. Subsequently, the numbers of this scale insect declined dramatically with a corresponding increase in manuka numbers. Manuka has also seen a rise in popularity and is no longer viewed as being as significant a weed.


Monday, 19 July 2010

PNG Entomology Textbook

Michael Schneider was a lecturer at the Bulolo University College in Morobe Provence, PNG from 1994 to 1999. As a result, he has produced both a key to the Insect Pects of PNG, and an entomology textbook for students and forestry. This last work is a particularly impressive effort, being a clear, informative and thorough textbook with a strong emphasis on the insect fauna of Papua New Guinea. For anyone with a developing interest in insects, it's well worth checking out. For those of us who are particularly fascinated with the insects of Melanesia though, it's a must-see.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Blood parasites in Melanesian White-eyes

The white-eyes are a group of small birds in the genus Zosterops with an interest out of all proportion to their size. As a genus, they range from Africa, through Asia and Australia to many islands in the Pacific where they are fairly common. In the islands they have diversified to the extent that most archipelagos have at least one endemic species present. This is most impressive in the New Georgia group of the Solomon Islands, where six species are present over six different islands---many of which are separated only by a few kilometres of ocean. Additionally, one particular species, the silver-eye (Zosterops lateralis) has a wide range across Australia and into the central Pacific As such, there are many different questions regarding their dispersal, rate of speciation and the relationships between the different species.

In a paper by Farah Ishtiaq and coauthors, the birds themselves are not so much of interest. Rather, it's the prevalence of parasites in the blood of the birds found in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. More specifically, they look at the protozoans Plasmodium (more commonly known as avian malaria) and Haemoproteus that are spread from bird to bird by blood-sucking flies and mosquitoes. They took blood samples from a number of specimens, comprehensively sampling five different species of white-eye from Vanuatu (13 islands represented), mainland New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands. Within these, they found seven different lineages of Haemoproteus and 14 lineages of Plasmodium. Most lineages were fairly scarce, with one lineage of each parasite genus being the most common and widespread.

When they looked at the number of parasite lineages on each island, they found that the larger islands had more lineages of Plasmodium than smaller islands. This trend was much less evident in Haemoproteus, being not statistically significant. The pattern of increasing numbers of lineages or species with increasing island area is a very well-known relationship that forms the basis of the Theory of Island Biogeography, first postulated by Robert MacArthur and EO Wilson in the 1960s. It is interesting that these parasites show the pattern also, despite the additional variables of requiring a host and a vector insect to be present.

Why is this of interest? Parasites have a huge effect on their hosts which is often invisible. They are also a part of the natural heritage of this world and so are worthy of study in their own right. These findings share a small glimpse into a world that is usually hidden, and increases our awareness of the biota of the Melanesian region. As with a lot of scientific research, progress is incremental with many small, initially insignificant findings building into a body of knowledge that can be extremely important for health, conservation, or technological impact.

Ishtiaq F, Clegg SM, Phillimore AB, Black RA, Owens PF, Sheldon BC. 2010. Biogeographical patterns of blood parasite lineage diversity in avian hosts from southern Melanesian islands. Journal of Biogeography 37: 120-132.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Australian weevil photos

Despite the legendary efforts of Elwood Zimmerman, our knowledge of the weevil fauna of Australia remains rudimentary. Guides to the identification of most species are non-existent and accordingly, very little is known about the life history of a vast proportion of the fauna. What's also interesting is how few people have become involved in the effort to discover more about them. It's not like they're unattractive either. Peter Lang has a number of photos of weevils, particularly the a number of South Australian representatives of the Belidae (including the unidentified specimen here).

There are also a number of photos of the weevils from Brisbane on this site. Take the identifications with a grain of salt though. The "attelabid" is a broad-nosed weevil of some sort, and the latter two species on the Apionidae page appear to be a cryptorhynchine and an attelabid respectively.

Agriculture in the Pacific

Agriculture in developing countries is an area where a lot of international assistance and aid money goes. A lot of hard work, interesting information and useful resources are the fruits of these activities. Unfortunately though, this information can get easily lost in the morass of information that is the internet. The following is my humble attempt to promote a few of the sites I know that are relevant to Agriculture in the South Pacific, in addition to the ACIAR and SPC Forestry pamphlets I've talked about before.

Terracircle is an NGO that works primarily in Melanesia promoting sustainable agriculture through technical training, publications, consultancy and the provision of small grants for communities.

Working in close association with Terracircle is the Kastom Gaden Association (another website is under construction here) and the Planting Material Network, both based in the Solomon Islands. Both these organisations operate much more on the grass-roots level, connecting farmers within the Solomons to each other and encouraging communication at that level.

The Melanesian Farmer First Network is broader in scope than the two above, supporting farmers throughout PNG, the Solomons and Vanuatu. I liked the Innovations page on their site, though unfortunately it is only very infrequently updated.

OISAT (or the "Online Information Service for Non-Chemical Pest Management in the Tropics" in full) aims to detail control methods for tropical crops and pests. It seems to have more of a focus on Asia, but the information that is here will be of worth in most places with these crops and pests. It is currently fairly incomplete, with few of the insects in the Pest Management strategy having any information beyond a picture. However, there was a note saying the page had been updated in some form a day ago, so there is hope that this will change in the future.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Smithsonian Contributions online

The Smithsonian Institute has published a lot of interesting and important stuff over the years. A lot of it is now available online here.

A miscellany including the beetles of Gibraltar and Libya

In my continual meanderings through the wonders of the world-wide web, I have uncovered the following gems: A list to the beetles of Gibraltar, and a site on the Beetles and Rock Art of Libya which includes a list of the weevils found in that fair country.

If old entomological art is more your thing, this page showcasing the art of Edmund Reitter is both fascianting and beautiful. If you'd prefer to see a beetle walk, there's an animation of it here.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Featured insect: Ceresium tuberculatum (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae)

One of the unfortunate aspects of South Pacific entomology is the lack of Pacific Islanders that are actually involved in the discovery and naming of their biota. Thankfully, there are signs that this situation is beginning to change. Last August on a trip to Fiji I had the immense privilege of meeting a number of young scientists from Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands. One of these was Hilda Waqa, the senior author of this paper describing two new Fijian longhorn beetles, one of which is the beetle pictured, Ceresium tuberculatum.

The Cerambycidae commonly known as the longhorn beetles tend to be wood borers in the larval stages. These larval stages can last for a long time---several years in some species. The larvae of some of the larger species are eaten occasionally and are considered delicacies in some areas. Unfortunately, very little is known about the biology of Ceresium tuberculatum specifically. It has been collected from the Fijian islands of Gau and Viti Levu, and have been collected from primary, undisturbed forest in the heart of Viti Levu as well as secondary, plantation forests in the vicinity of Suva.

The paper is well illustrated with some very clear photos of various characters that are useful for identification. Unfortunately though, there is little in the way of comparison with other species of Ceresium in Fiji and the South Pacific. This makes the paper less useful than it might have been. It remains a valuable addition to the literature, and it is well worth having a look at for the illustrations alone, whether or not you have any further interest in Cerambycidae.

Waqa H, Lingafelter SW. 2009. New Fijian Callidiopini (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae). In: Fiji Arthropods XV. Edited by Neal L. Evenhuis & Daniel J. Bickel. Bishop Museum Occasional
106: 3–15 (2009).

Friday, 9 July 2010


The Bible is an amazing book and one that I recommend to all. Heck, even Richard Dawkins at his recent talk here in Christchurch recommended that people read it. Yet when I came to deciding whether or not I should put a random Bible verse generator on this site, I realised that I was reluctant to do so. Fears that readers may feel that I'm ramming something down their throat, question my objectivity as a scientist, or that it's just plain too cheesy all led me to be somewhat wary of putting it up there.

It's up there though, and this is why. I blog for myself, and am slowly making this site a place that has links to everything that I need. One thing that I need an easy way to read a random bible verse and meditate on it briefly throughout the day. This sort of thing is rooted in a practice followed by Benedictine monks called "statio"; a standing still. I first came across it while reading "Reaching for the Invisible God" by Philip Yancey, but there's an outline of the practise in this article by a doctor. I'm hoping that having this bible verse up here will get me thinking more on Christ and His love and keep my perspective on things that matter.

Fauna Hawaiiensis

I've always been surprised how hard it's been to find information on the beetles of Hawaii. Due to it being a state of the USA and the fascination for many other aspects of the fauna and flora of the islands I would've thought that it would be very easy to find out pretty much anything about the beetles of the area. This expectation for the most part has not been met.

Lately though, I've been having more luck. The other day I found the Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, and today I found the website of Karl Magnacca. He's working on the Drosophila of Hawaii which form a very famous radiation with approximately 600 species found in Hawaii. A big task. He's also taken a number of photos of Hawaiian beetles, and has put online the masterpiece of early Hawaiian biological study: Fauna Hawaiiensis. This ambitious project details the entirety of the animals from Hawaii at that time. Vertebrates, insects, worms, springtails, molluscs: it's all here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society

The Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society is one of the key journals for South Pacific entomology, and now it is freely available online. There's a lot of very cool things in here, including a large number of papers by Elwood Zimmerman on weevils from throughout the South Pacific.

Beetles of Mauritius: Syzygops vinsoni

A Scratchpad to promote the study of the beetles of Mauritius has been set up by Edward Baker. It's a reasonable site, with a number of photos of what look like heritage specimens. It's always good having more sites disseminating more information, particularly of interesting islands like Mauritius. However, I do always find Scratchpads to be fairly clunky and hard to get around and unfortunately this site continues that trend.

As mentioned before though, there are some pretty neat photos including the species pictured here which has the very cool name Syzygops vinsoni. The genus Syzygops is restricted to Mauritius and the nearby island of Réunion and is part of a group (the Ottistrini) that is otherwise found in Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific. These weevils have their eyes situated right on top of the head, and are so narrowly separated that they might as well be joined together. You can see them in this photo if you look carefully---the black things in the middle of its head. These weevils are also very sexually dimorphic. This specimen is a male as evidenced by the very boxy back-end of the creature. Females have the apex of the elytra more rounded and normal-looking. The adults are found commonly on tree ferns throughout the hot season (November-April), but unfortunately the larvae are currently unknown.

Music. Lots of music

The way music has changed in the past century is phenomenal. Where before you had to play it yourself or go to concerts, you now can immerse yourself in the stuff without knowing anything or going anywhere. A while ago I had so much music on my computer that if I wanted I could go for at least a week without hearing the same song twice if I didn't want to. And I'm not as obsessed as some people are. It's a rather massive shift if you ask me, and no doubt in years to come it will provide historians and social scientists with ample fodder for study.

If you want to get still more music and learn about yet more bands, a useful site to keep checking is the Hype Machine, an aggregator of music blogs. Updating frequently, it's a treasure trove of all things musical. If you want to sign up, it promises that you're able to customize what you see, presumably allowing you to keep tabs on the genres that you particularly enjoy. Otherwise, check it frequently to see what people are listening to and what they think of it...

Monday, 5 July 2010

South Pacific insects in a Russian Journal

The Russian Entomological Journal is not the usual outlet for taxonomic research on South Pacific insects. That said, it has published a number of papers over the last few years that are freely available to everyone on their website. For some reason, they all deal with the Hemiptera. So, if you ever wanted to know about Microveliines from Fiji, Maana emeljanovi (Lophopidae) from West Papua, or Nerthra kerzhneri (the first species of the Gelastocoridae found from New Caledonia, pictured), now you know where to look.