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4 Posts tagged with the new_species tag

Two species of wasp have been identified as belonging to a whole new genus endemic to the isolated Atlantic island of St Helena.


St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is home to more than 400 species that can't be found anywhere else. However, the wildlife is under serious threat from development and invasive species.

Napoleon complex

The new wasp genus, named Helenanomalon in honour of its home territory, belongs to a family of parasitoid wasps - those that spend a part of their lifecycle on another organism that they eventually kill. However, little is known about the specific lifestyle of Helenanomalon since only a handful of specimens are known to exist.


One of the new wasps species, Helenanomalon bonapartei


The most recent specimens came to the Museum following a collecting expedition in 2006 that included the former Head of Entomology collections at the Museum, Howard Mendel. On re-examining the specimens, and a couple of others at the Musée de l'Afrique Centrale, Museum hymenoptera curator Dr Gavin Broad assigned them to two different species in the new genus:

These little wasps belong to the family Ichneumonidae, a huge family with over 24,000 described species in the world, but with only six species known to have made it all the way to St Helena. That two of these species form a genus not known anywhere else in the world is remarkable.

One of the new species, Helenanomalon bonapartei, is named after St Helena's most famous exile, whilst Helenanomalon ashmolei is named after Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, who have led recent work in exploring and documenting the fauna of St Helena.

Lost giants

Islands like St Helena often host unique organisms that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. However, these species are also extremely vulnerable to changes such as introduced predators and habitat loss.


St Helena used to be home to the world's largest earwig, the giant earwig, which reached over 8cm long and lived in deep burrows. Only a few specimens of the giant earwig have been recorded, and several scouting trips since the 1960s have failed to find any living examples. It is now considered extinct.


St Helena giant earwig, Labidura herculeana


Says Dr Broad:

The extinction of the giant earwig was a sad reminder of how vulnerable island endemics can be. There is still much work to be done on assessing just how unique the St Helena fauna is, and Philip Ashmole tells me that they have collected other potentially new genera of insects and spiders but the taxonomy of the groups concerned is difficult and there are few people with the expertise.


The native vegetation has been massively reduced by the usual pressures of introduced goats, non-native species, inappropriate agriculture, and so on. Restoring the native vegetation, particularly the seriously denuded forests, is the most important step in conserving the unique invertebrates.


A comprehensive catalogue of the world's bird species, which used thousands of specimens from the Museum's collections, is the new gold standard for the taxonomy and conservation of birds.


The first volume of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, released earlier this summer, defines more than 400 new species of bird.


Species for conservation


The book was authored by Josep del Hoyo and BirdLife International author and Museum scientific associate Nigel Collar. Part of Collar's job at BirdLife is to help feed into the IUCN Red List - a global record of the conservation status of the world's plants and animals.


For this, he needed a robust list of the world's bird species. Whether a bird gets defined as a separate species or not is important for its conservation. If a bird is defined as a subspecies (a variant of a species) many birds will go extinct without ever getting proper conservation attention.


Conversely, if too many birds are defined as species, the concept of a species becomes devalued and the idea of conservation becomes difficult to manage.


Determining differences


In the Illustrated Checklist, birds up for consideration as a new species were scored on a number of characteristics, with particular focus on plumage and voice - the traits important for determining whether breeding can occur between two birds.


The results of the first volume estimate that bird diversity may have been previously underestimated by around 10%, meaning one-in-ten birds have been ignored by conservation efforts.


In addition to 462 new bird species, the criteria also merged 30 existing species into other species, creating new subspecies.



The Bearded Helmetcrest hummingbird is now recognised as four different species - one of which hasn't been seen in nearly 70 years.

© Francesco Veronesi, Flickr Creative Commons.


Camped out in the collections


For the physical characteristics of birds, Collar says that our Museum collections at Tring have been indispensable:

To look carefully at the characteristics of birds you need them right under your nose. The Museum has the best collection in the world with the best reputation. It's utterly invaluable.


He looked at thousands of specimens for the first volume of the book, and is now ‘camped out' at Tring researching for volume two.


Thousands of birds


Collar, del Hoyo and their co-authors assessed the species status of around 1,000 birds for the first volume, which covers non-passerines. Passerine birds account for over half of all the world's bird species and are often called ‘perching birds' thanks to the arrangement of their toes.


The authors have another 1,000 birds in the passerines group to consider before they release volume two of the Illustrated Checklist, due out in 2016.



The spotted green pigeon, a mysterious species collected in the 1700s, turns out to have been a flying relative of the dodo that likely lived in the trees of the South Pacific.


Only two specimens of the pigeon were ever described, in 1783, and since then one has gone missing. The location they were collected from was not recorded, but they are associated with South Pacific voyages. The only remaining specimen is held at the World Museum (formerly Liverpool Museum), National Museums Liverpool.


Quest for identity


In its original description, the spotted green pigeon was said to closely resemble the Nicobar pigeon, a bird native to Indonesia that prefers to live on small remote islands. This, and it's obscurity, led some to speculate that the spotted green pigeon was just an unusual variety of the Nicobar pigeon.


Determined to find out once and for all, the World Museum asked our bird expert Hein van Grouw and colleagues in Australia to investigate their specimen. Using detailed morphological analysis and genetic testing, the team identified the spotted green pigeon as a distinctive species in its own right.



The only remaining specimen of the spotted green pigeon.

Photo by Hein van Grouw.


Dodo connections


Preliminary results from the genetic testing reveal the pigeon is in the same family as the dodo and its extinct flightless relative the Rodrigues Solitaire. It's somewhat of a mystery how the specialised flightless dodo got to its isolated island habitat, but finding more relatives can help clarify the picture. The addition of the spotted green pigeon to the lineage may add some evidence to the 'stepping stone hypothesis', which suggests ancestors of the family island-hopped from India or Southeast Asia.


van Grouw is completing his morphological analysis that will help determine what kind of lifestyle the spotted green pigeon had. It was originally described as having short wings, suggesting a ground-dwelling lifestyle like the dodo, but this turns out not to be the case, and it is more likely that it lived in the trees eating fruit and berries.


Gone already


Determining the spotted green pigeon as a separate species has another consequence. Since no others have ever been seen, it can confidently be added to the extinct species list.


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Sub-millimetre-sized wasp discovered in scientist's son's playground.


Museum wasp expert Dr Andrew Polaszek has identified a new species of tiny wasp living inside whiteflies on a tree in his son's playground in Sevenoaks, Kent.


The wasp is a parasitoid. While true parasites depend on other organisms their whole lives, parasitoids just lay their eggs in other organisms. The larvae of newly discovered wasp, named Encarsia harrisoni, are born inside whiteflies and eat their way out.


It was the whiteflies on a maple tree in the playground that alerted Dr Polaszek to the presence of the wasp:


'I noticed some of the whiteflies looked slightly different to the others so I took them to the laboratory. When I saw the wasp inside I knew it looked different to anything I'd seen before.'




Not a tourist


Dr Polaszek made the discovery five years ago, but there was a lot of work to do to define it as a new species. Even more surprising to Dr Polaszek is that the new species is native to the UK.


'I thought it might be a species from Northern Europe that had come over to the UK. I was really surprised when I realised it was native to the UK and was previously unknown. Finding an undiscovered insect in the rainforests of Borneo is relatively easy but the fauna of England is some of the most studied in the world so to find something new here is a real thrill, and makes it even closer to my heart.'


In those five years Dr Polaszek has been regularly collecting the new wasp, but has never found a male, suggesting that females can lay eggs without them. This is similar to other parasitoid wasps, such as the related Encarsia formosa.


What's in a name


The new species is named after local scientist Dr David Harrison, chairman of the Harrison Institute that promotes taxonomic research to support biodiversity studies and conservation. The institute is only a few hundred yards from the trees where Encarsia harrisoni was discovered.


Dr Harrison has a few species named after him, but finds the new wasp especially intriguing:


'I now have a flea, a bug, a sand cat and a wasp named after me, which is obviously quite an honour. Dr Polaszek's wasp is a particularly interesting one - it was found right here in Sevenoaks just a few hundred yards from my home.'