Saturday, 5 April 2014

Dysdera crocata; Koch, 1838

This is probably a record - photograph and upload on the same day.

Today, at work, I was pleasantly surprised by an unexpected guest.

Several of my co-workers were not-so-pleasantly surprised, and wanted to squish the guest. I not-so-delicately reminded them that arachnophobia is in no way the fault - or the problem - of the spider, and took her outside, where she rewarded me with this:

Female. Photographed in Bosham, West Sussex, UK, in April 2014 (today) using Olympus E-420 DSLR, Zuiko 40-150mm lens and 3 KOOD magnifiers.
That isn't an aggressive pose, by the way, but a defensive pose adopted when I loomed in closer than she liked with the camera. And while it's perhaps not the best way to endear her to an audience which is on the fence, those rather extraordinary chelicerae are relevant, because this is the (recently cosmopolitan) European Woodlouse Spider,

Dysdera crocata
Koch, 1838
  
As you might have guessed, she feeds upon woodlice and other comparably crusty creatures. Those formidable fangs are what allow her to bite through the calcium carbonate coating of the average woodlouse, or the chitin of a millipede or even - if you were so incautious as to poke her in the face - the somewhat softer keratin of human skin.

If you do - as quite a few people have - find yourself inciting a woodlouse spider to bite, don't panic  - the recorded effects on humans are in the region of nettle and honeybee stings (see the Natural History Museum's bite records here). 


With that, then, let's explore her taxonomy: 
- Dysderinae         
-  Dysderidae          
- Dysderoidea           
- Haplogynae             
- Neocribellatae           
- Araneomorphae           
- Opisthothelae                
- Araneae                         
- Megoperculata                  
- Micrura                              
- Arachnida                             
- Chelicerata                            
- Arthropoda                            
See also Ligia oceanica, Eremoides bicristatus, Hagenomyia tristis, Dichtha inflata, Oedemera nobilis, Otiorhynchus atroapterus,Malachius bipustulatus , Phyllobius pomaceus, Cheilomenes lunata, Melolontha melolontha, Neojulodis vittipennis, Demetrias atricapillusAnthia fornasinii, Lophyra cf. differens, Synagris proserpina, Vespula germanica, Astata tropicalis, Anthophora furcata, Andrena nigroaenea, Zebronia phenice, Crambus pascuella, Nemophora degeerella, Sphinx ligustri, Laelia robusta, Acada biseriata, Metisella willemi, Anthocharis cardamines, Papilio demodocus, Panorpa germanica, Chloromyia formosa, Senaspis haemorrhoa, Helophilus pendulus, Episyrphus balteatus, Metadon inermis, Diasemopsis meigeniiDolichotachina caudata, Megistocera filipes, Pephricus, Grypocoris stysiRanatra, Anoplocnemis curvipes, Idolomantis dentifrons, Sibylla pretiosa, Tettigonia viridissima, Stictogryllacris punctata, Enyaliopsis, Humbe tenuicornis, Lobosceliana loboscelis, Cyathosternum prehensile, Heteropternis thoracica, Pseudothericles jallae, Enallagma cyathigerum, Pseudagrion hageni, Lestinogomphus angustus and Rhyothemis semihyalina
- Ecdysozoa                               
- Protostomia                              
See also Burtoa nilotica.
- Nephrozoa                                  
- Bilateralia                                     
- Eumetazoa                                     
- Animalia                                          
- Eukaryota                                         

There are two species of Dysdera present in the UK, both of which can occasionally be found indoors - much more frequently in the case of today's distinctly synanthropic (does well near humans) guest. They're not too readily distinguished, as colour characters are often unreliable, but the presence of one external character can readily rule out Dysdera erythrina [although its absence cannot, unfortunately for the spiders, rule out D. crocata, and so dissection is sometimes necessary if perfect identification is vital to the survival of the human race]. Behold;

Although not at their most visible in this shot, our lovely lady has a couple (three, actually, on the circled thigh - two is usual) of small, black bristles on the dorsal surface (top side) of her fourth femur (thigh bit). So - despite having colouring suggestive of D. erythrina, and being in a region where both are known, we've got a known specimen.

Which is nice, don't you think?


And with that, that really is all, folks.


An excellent starting point for UK spiders is the Spider (and harvestman) Recording Scheme - link in name. With pictures of probably a majority of species, maps of known records, and absolutely stunning graphs and pie-charts (I love statistics. I didn't always. But now I do. Thank you, Dr. Tom Reader, for showing me the light. If I'd only realised my love before I handed in my dissertation three years ago...). 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Eremoides bicristatus (Banks, 1924); or, Here be Dragons...

This was going to be a post about a fly (order Diptera, I mean), as I've rather neglected them. But as I doodled around, looking for a key to Afrotropical Promachus, I remembered something significantly more bizarre.

This:

Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in October 2011, using Olympus E-420 DSLR, Zuiko 40-150mm lens and 3 KOOD magnifiers. Note the bizarre little 'wings' projecting from its thorax.

I can't find the Chewa name for this delightful insect, so we'll just launch straight into what it is in English; this is an Owlfly, a family closely related to the Antlions, which you may remember from this post about Hagenomyia tristis.

One of the downsides to this truly awesome group of insects is that there isn't a great deal of information on them, particularly the African groups, online. The most comprehensive I found was the Lacewing Digital Library, from which I was able to glean which species were recorded in the region - one of which had a distinctly promising name, and one unreferenced image on Flickr seemed promising, but wasn't enough to go on.
It occurred to me today that I might have better luck with the Royal Museum for Central Africa's Illustrated Database of Neuroptera, which, in an ambitious and reasonably user-friendly project, does have a surprising number of images of types either hosted or linked to.

But it didn't have images of the species with such a promising name. All it had was the name, a list of museums where specimens are held (which would be useful if I had access to them) and the original citation.

That part is important. You see, although most (all?) prestigious journals require a subscription before their most recent articles can be viewed, a man called Banks submitted an article to the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparitive Zoology at Harvard College back in the 1920s, and, some time after they published it, it was made freely available, with the entire issue it was published in, on the Biodiversity Heritage Library [link].

With that realisation, it didn't take long to find the original description for that teasingly close name. And it fit. And there was a diagram of a particularly distinctive feature of the newly described genus Erophanes, and it was only a few more clicks to discover that Erophanes, under its new name of Eremoides (Erophanes was already taken) has only one species. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:



Eremoides bicristatus
(Banks, 1924)


Same time, same place, but with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 40-150mm lens and no magnifiers.

We'll call it the Two-Crested Owlfly for now, a literal attempt to translate that into Chewa as kawiri-matsumba kadzidzi-mbebe (lit. 'twice-crests owl-fly'), but I'm tempted to use Kadzidzi-Tombolombo instead, meaning owl-dragonfly, as mbebe, unlike the English 'fly', is not all that general, and refers quite specifically to the houseflies and similar insects.The owl-flies live - and look - more like the (quite unrelated) dragonflies, and so it seems a more sensible name.

All that aside, and onwards with the taxonomy:

- Ascalaphini     
- Ascalaphinae    
- Ascalaphidae     
- Myrmeleontoidea
- Myrmeleontiformia
- Neuroptera              
- Neuropterida            
- Endopterygota           
- Eumetabola                  
- Neoptera                        
- Metapterygota                 
- Pterygota                           
- Dicondylia                          
- Insecta                                 
- Hexapoda                             
- Arthropoda                            
- Ecdysozoa                               
- Protostomia                              
See also Burtoa nilotica.
- Nephrozoa                                  
- Bilateralia                                     
- Eumetazoa                                     
- Animalia                                          
- Eukaryota                                         
And here's a rather shoddier picture of a female, just to be leaving you with:
 



And that's all, folks!







Two sites were of particular value in the identification of this species - first, the Lacewing Digital Library, from where I deduced the species with appropriate ranges, and then the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which allows free access to an astounding number of back-issues of major journals. But is currently hiccuping. Which may just be my computer.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Caprimulgus pectoralis, Cuvier, 1816

How about a vertebrate?

Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in December 2012, using Olympus E-420 DSLR and Zuiko 40-150mm lens.
This rather indignant looking bird, as you may have guessed from the rather spectacular case of red-eye, was photographed at night.

The Afrikaans name is Naguil - the brevity of which gives some indication of the ubiquitousness of this species in the southern plains and woodlands; most members of the family receive an extended version of the name for this one (literally night-owl). In Chewa, it is Lumbe - which, unlike naguil, is not species specific - a literal attempt to translate from the English name might be along the (very rough) lines of moto-kholingo lumbe. Possibly.

In English, it's a Fiery-Throated Nightjar; its Linnaean binomial, to cut through this near Babylonian tangle of languages, is

Caprimulgus pectoralis 
Cuvier, 1816

Nightjars, naguils or alumbe, or even Caprimulgids if you'd like to get technical about it, are essentially filter-feeders - their tiny beaks hide the fact that their actual mouths are enormous, and they essentially just fly at night-flying insects with their mouths gaping wide.

With that, then, into the taxonomy:
- Caprimulginae
- Caprimulgidae   
- Caprimulgiformes
- Neoaves                   
- Neognathae                
- Neornithes                    
- Euornithes                      
- Aves                                   
- Maniraptora                      
- Coelurosauria                      
- Tetanurae                               
- Therapoda                                
- Saurischia                                   
- Dinosauria                                    
- Avemetatarsalia                             
- Archosauria                                     
- Archosauromorpha                          
- Sauria                                                  
- Diapsida                                                 
- Romeriida                                                
- Reptilia                                                      
- Amniota                                                       
- Reptiliomorpha                                             
- Tetrapoda                                                        
- Sarcopterygii                                                    
- Osteichthyes                                                       
- Teleostomi                                                             
- Gnathostomata                                                       
- Vertebrata                                                                
- Craniata                                                                     
- Chordata                                                                      
- Deuterostomia                                                               
- Nephrozoa                                                                       
See also Idolomantis dentifrons, Sibylla pretiosa, Tettigonia viridissima, Stictogryllacris punctata, Enyaliopsis, Humbe tenuicornis, Lobosceliana loboscelis, Cyathosternum prehensile, Heteropternis thoracica, Pseudothericles jallae, Dichtha inflata, Oedemera nobilis, Otiorhynchus atroapterus,Malachius bipustulatus , Phyllobius pomaceus, Cheilomenes lunata, Melolontha melolontha, Neojulodis vittipennis, Demetrias atricapillusAnthia fornasinii, Lophyra cf. differens, Synagris proserpina, Vespula germanica, Astata tropicalis, Anthophora furcata, Andrena nigroaenea, Zebronia phenice, Crambus pascuella, Nemophora degeerella, Sphinx ligustri, Laelia robusta, Acada biseriata, Metisella willemi, Anthocharis cardamines, Papilio demodocus, Panorpa germanica, Chloromyia formosa, Senaspis haemorrhoa, Helophilus pendulus, Episyrphus balteatus, Metadon inermis, Diasemopsis meigeniiDolichotachina caudata, Megistocera filipes, Hagenomyia tristis, Pephricus, Grypocoris stysiRanatra, Anoplocnemis curvipes, Enallagma cyathigerum, Pseudagrion hageni, Lestinogomphus angustus, Rhyothemis semihyalina, Phrynarachne rugosa, Hyllus argyrotoxus, Enoplognatha ovataArgiope bruennichi, Pardosa amentata, Alopecosa barbipesDicranopalpus ramosusLigia oceanica and Burtoa nilotica.
- Bilateralia                                                                           
- Eumetazoa                                                                            
- Animalia                                                                                
- Eukaryota                                                                               



And that's all, folks! Happy Earth Hour!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Idolomorpha dentifrons, Saussure & Zehnter, 1895

Here's a game for you.

Tell me what this is.

(Nymph) Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in December 2013, using Olympus E-420 DSLR, 40-150mm Zuiko lens and 3 KOOD magnifiers.

As a hint, the Chewa/Nyanja words include Mdulamphuno, Mdulamphiko and Kalandamfuno, according to my lovely dictionary (Amazon stocks it, click to see) and the Afrikaans is Bidsprinkaan.




A second hint - although the photograph is at its natural angle, you might find the animal easier to make out if you tilt your head ninety degrees to your right...




One final hint - it's featured in a fantastic post by Piotr Naskrecki (blogging God of Entomology that he is), here.



In fairness, that's less a hint than a dead giveaway. It is, in actual fact, a Praying Mantis - specifically:

Idolomorpha dentifrons
Saussure & Zehnter, 1895

And the whole animal looks more like this: 
 
Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in December 2013, using Olympus E-420 DSLR, Zuiko40-150 lens and 1 KOOD magnifier.
 
 

And no, by the way, I haven't forgotten to rotate the image. This late-instar (i.e., nearly adult) nymph spent the bulk of its time walking at right angles to the ground - which would look significantly less awkward if its prothorax wasn't so ridiculously long...

Like most mantises, it's a voracious predator of other small invertebrates, but when you're human sized, it's about as harmless as harmless comes. So fear not the mdulamphuno. 

 With that, we may as well explore the taxonomy: 


- Idolomorphini   
- Empusinae           
- Empusidae             
- Mantodea                 
See also Sibylla.
- Dictyoptera                       
- Anartioptera                         
- Polyneoptera                           
- Neoptera                                       
- Metapterygota                                    
See also Enallagma cyathigerum, Pseudagrion hageni, Lestinogomphus angustus and Rhyothemis semihyalina.
- Pterygota                                               
- Dicondylia                                                
- Insecta                                                        
- Hexapoda                                                     
- Arthropoda                                                     
- Ecdysozoa                                                         
- Protostomia                                                         
See also Burtoa nilotica.
- Nephrozoa                                                              
- Bilateralia                                                                 
- Eumetazoa                                                                   
- Animalia                                                                         
- Eukaryota                                                                           


And that's all, folks!


You may recall that I wax lyrical about the Orthoptera Species File whenever I feature an African grasshopper. Well, it has a baby! It's called the Mantodea Species File, and just at the moment it's still teething, but it's AWESOME!