Friday, 28 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Mandelia mirocornata

Mandelia mirocornata (head view)

Taxon of the Day returns to Mollusca to pay tribute to one of the greatest peacemakers of our time. Mandela's nudibranch or Mandelia mirocornata Valdés & Gosliner, 1999 is a species of  sea slug in the monotypic family Mandeliidae. The family was named in honour of Mandela by the marine biologists, Angel Vlades and Terry Gosliner who discovered it. The species is so far thought to be endemic to South Africa as it has only been found around the southern African coast from the Cape Peninsula to Port Elizabeth.

Mandela mirocornata as the common names suggests is part of the order Nudibranchia, a large group of soft-bodied, marine gastropod molluscs referred to commonly as nudibranchs. Nudibranchs are then divided into further sub-groups, one being the dorid nudibranch, of which this species belongs. Dorid nudibranch are recognised in part by the plume-like gills surrounding the anus on the upper side of the body.

This species has an oval, white to brown-coloured body with its upper side covered in rounded nodules and large black spots with white edges.  Whereas younger specimens are uniformly white. The gills and rhinophores (nose type things you can see in the top picture) are large with the later being orange with a white top.   The anus is central to the dorsal side (see picture below) and is surrounded by the aforementioned plume-like gills. The species can be up to 7cm in length and reportedly feed on spongesHowever, like some other nudibranchs but not all, the Mandelia has no tongue (referred to as the radular in gastropods) and as a result these animals have adapted anatomically to sucking as a feeding mechanism for consuming the sponges.

Mandelia mirocornata (dorsal view)

The etymology of nudibranch is from the Latin nudus, naked, and the Greek brankhia meaning gills. The specific epithet is taken from the Latin word mirus (meaning odd) and cornus (meaning horn), in reference to the shape of the rhinophores of this species.

Taxon of the Day likes the symbolic act of naming a family with light and dark colouring after the person that led the struggle for a multi-racial South Africa.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

CoL Annual Checklist: Mandelia mirocornata
CoL contributor: World Marine Mollusca database
Image copyright: Seascapeza (both) 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Cylindropuntia bigelovii

Cylindropuntia bigelovii 

Today's Taxon of the Day celebrates the arrival of a new global species checklist for Cactaceae to the Catalogue of Life Dynamic Checklist. With over 15,000 species the Angiosperm Phylogeny Website ranks it as the 41st largest plant family in the world.

Teddy Bear Cholla or Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Engelm.) F.M. Knuth is a cuddly looking plant hence the common name, but anyone with an affectionate urge is best advised to reconsider. Native to California, Arizona, Nevada and northwestern Mexico, this plant's soft, fuzzy and cuddly appearance at a distance is due to its dense covering of yellowy-silverish spines. Plants grow up to 1.5m tall and have cylindrical branches coming off of an erect trunk-like stem. The spines are very sharp, barbed and grow up to 2.5cm long. Branches at the top of a trunk are nearly horizontal and lower branches mostly fall off leaving the trunk to darken with age. Yellow-green flowers appear in spring (May to June) but they produce few viable seeds, instead most reproduction occurs from dropped stems rooting and growing.

This group of cactus were previously treated as a subgenus of Opuntia but were separated into Cylindropuntia due to both their cylindrical stems (Opuntia have flattened ones) and the presence of papery sheaths on their spines.

This picture was taken in the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park where a dense mass of plants (or 'forrest') are packed together forming quite an incredible sight.

Taxon of the Day provides links to instructions on the two things everyone should know about a Cholla cactus:

1. How to remove a spine from your skin,  and 
CoL contributor: ITIS Global
Image copyright: R L F Matthias

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Spongillidae

River sponge or Ephydatia fluviatilis 

Some interesting species live in our neighbourhoods and remain unnoticed just because their habitats are not very convenient to look at. This can be any place we pass-by every day. Stopping for a few minutes in these familiar spaces and taking a second look from a different perspective may lead to small discoveries. Freshwater sponges are a case in point as today’s Taxon of the Day species were observed from a small bridge over the River Thames in Reading, UK.  Spongilla lacustris (Linnaeus, 1759) or Lake sponge and Ephydatia fluviatilis (Linnaeus, 1759) or River sponge, are the two most reported freshwater sponge species in the UK, although some foreign references suggest a possible 4-6 species could inhabit rivers and lakes of the United Kingdom.

River sponge or Spongilla lacustris
There are an estimated 8-10,000 known species of sponges worldwide all classified under the four classes of phylum Porifera: Calcarea, Hexactinellida, Demospongia, and Homoscleromorpha. 

Sponges come in an incredible variety of shapes (eg sheets, mounds, tubes), sizes (1mm to 1m) and colours, and mostly live in a marine environment. However, there are over 150 freshwater species worldwide. All of the freshwater species belong to the class Demospongia, order Haplosclerida. The sponges that can be observed in the Thames are actually cosmopolitan species found all around the world representing family Spongillidae.

Sponges are mostly filter feeders (although a few are also predators) passing large volumes of water through their bodies. Water enters through multiple small pores called ostia, flows through canals to a spacious chamber, and finally exits through large opening called osculum. Sponges have no specialized organs, no nerve system or muscles. It’s no wonder Aristotle and naturalists thought they were plants until the 19th Century when it was proven that they are actually animals.

Etymology: Spongilla lacustris from the Latin lacus meaning lake, and Ephydatia fluviatilis from the Latin fluvius meaning river.

The Catalogue of Life lists 8,401 species of sponge taken from the The World Porifera Database.

CoL Annual Checklist: Spongillidae
CoL contributor: World Porifera database
Image copyright: Viktoras Didziulis
Source text:  Freshwater sponges in the River Thames pg34-40 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Fouquieria splendens

Fouquieria splendens

Monday is plant day on Taxon of the Day and we head to the desert for the magnificent Ocotillo. Fouquieria splendens Engelm. is a species in the genus Fouquieria in the monotypic family Fouquieriaceae. Indigenous to the Sonoran Desert with a range throughout northern Mexico and south west USA it is a distinctive looking woody, drought tolerant, deciduous plant with thorny, multi wand-like stems. It can quickly grow and shed leaves multiple times in a year depending on the levels of rainfall, but the dense tubular bright red flowers that cluster at the top of each stem, typically appear only in spring and early summer. Plants can grow up to 10m high and stem diameters can reach 5cm at the base. Hummingbirds are the most photogenic pollinators of this plant although insects and other birds service them too.

The genus Fouquieria is named after French physician Pierre Fouquier (1776-1850) and splendens means to shine bright. It is reported that Ocotillo derives from the Nahuatl term (the language of the Mexican indigenous Nahau people) Ocote, meaning "torch" which seems very apt when the plant is in full flower. 

The Catalogue of life lists five species in Fouquieria including Fouquieria columnaris aka the famous Boojum tree, although it is widely reported there are up to eleven known species. However, Fouquieria splendens is the only species in the group growing wild outside of Mexico.

CoL Annual Checklist Details page: Fouquieria splendens
CoL contributor: ITIS Regional
Image copyright: R L F Matthias

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Catha edulis

Catha edulis
Today Taxon of the Day demonstrates how one country’s natural high is another country’s controlled substance. Catha edulis (Vahl) Forssk. ex Endl. often referred to as Khat, is the single species in the genus Catha in the plant family Celastraceae.  It is a flowering evergreen shrub to small tree grown as a cash-crop in east Africa (most notably Ethiopia and Kenya) and exported to other parts of the world, thus providing an important source of income for rural communities. It is used by its consumers for its psychoactive properties, where leaves, twigs and shoots (often sold in bundles) are chewed like tobacco and then retained in the cheek for hours releasing a stimulant-like effect. 

Sold in bundles 

Its legal status varies from country to country, banned in North America and in an increasing number of European countries including recently the Netherlands, it is still licit in the UK. An active debate has been going on for years as to its health and social impacts on those communities where usage is high, but the UK government’s official drugs advisory body published a review just this February stating there was still insufficient evidence to support that it was harmful to health.  

It has been suggested that the Etymology of Catha derives from the Arabic common name ‘Khat’ and edulis from Latin Edule- meaning edible. 

CoL Annual Checklist Page: Catha edulis
CoL Contributor: ITIS Regional
Image copyright: Wikicommons public domain

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Biodiversity Informatics Horizons 2013 Conference

Biodiversity Informatics Horizons 2013 (BIH2013) is part of a continuing process to structure and organise the biodiversity informatics community at the European level and beyond.

BIH2013, organised by several EU projects[1], will take place over 3 full days, from lunchtime on Tuesday 3rd September to lunchtime Friday 6th, with workshops and training events on Tuesday Morning and Friday morning. The venue (waiting to be confirmed) will be in central Rome.

Taxon of the Day: Pseudotsuga menziesii

Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pseudotsuga menziesii 
Today’s entry for Taxon of the Day has again been chosen for its prominence on the i4Life homepage. The Catalogue of Life is built on the collective knowledge of taxonomic specialists worldwide. There are still taxon gaps that need to be filled because either there are not the specialists in those areas to fill them, or the specialists that there are, are not creating electronic checklists. However, this is not the case for the group from which today’s entry belongs.

Psuedotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco, is a well known conifer commonly known as Douglas-fir in the UK and US. However, in China you would call it ‘hua qui song’, in Spain ‘pino real colorado’ and elsewhere many other things: The Species Details page of the Catalogue of Life lists 23 different common names. 

Three-pronged bracts
Whatever you choose to call it, it is hard to get confused with any other tree because the cones are full of three-pronged bracts that unmistakably resemble a mouse’s back legs and tail. It is not quite as straight forward in the taxonomic world however – treated as two varieties (coastal and inland) by the Conifer Database that supplies the Catalogue of Life other taxonomists have been known to view it as two sub-species and also previously, separate species. Thanks to the Conifer database and the work of taxonomist Aljos Farjong, the Catalogue of life contains a taxonomic record of all 614 known conifer species including common names, making it a very useful resource for evergreen tree enthusiasts everywhere. 

CoL Annual Checklist Page: Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.)
CoL Contributor: Conifer Database
Image copyright: R L F Matthias (main) MPF (cone) 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Cephalanthera

Cephalanthera damasonium (left) and C.austinia (right)

This week a species of orchid, not previously recorded, was found on the University of Reading campus not far from where the Catalogue of Life is maintained. Cephalanthera damasonium or White Helleborine, was found growing under a Lime tree near the campus library.  The genus Cephalanthera is found mostly in Europe and Asia (with one exception see below) and although the White Helleborine and its relative the Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra) are two of the rarest orchids found in the UK, both are more common elsewhere in their range. It has been suggested that the etymology of Cephalanthera originated from the Greek cephalo- meaning head, and antheros meaning anthers so denoting a group with round anthers. However, Taxon of the Day hasn't yet checked the validity of this assertion.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Loxodonta

Loxodonta cyclotis
Loxodonta cyclotis

We are going as big as possible for today's Taxon of the Day with an entry on the world's largest land mammal. Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797) or African elephant is not only one of the most significant and well know mammals on earth but also until relatively recently, along with the Asian elephant Elephas maximus (Linnaeus, 1758) one of only two recognised elephant species. Then in 2010 a third species of elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis (Matschie,1900) was described. This separation between the smaller African forest elephant and the larger African bush elephant means numbers of Elephant species have significantly increased, although unfortunately, numbers of elephants themselves have not. The difference between the two? Well apart from overall size, the African forest elephants have a long and narrow mandible (jawbone) whereas the African bush elephants have a short, wide one.

Loxodonta along with Elephas, are the only two living genera in the family Elephantidae, which is the only living family in the order Proboscidea. All three species of elephant can be found in the Catalogue of Life supplied by the ITIS database. 

CoL Annual Checklist: Loxodonta
CoL contributor: ITIS Global
Image copyright: Thomas Breuer 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Global Species Database Spotlight: Droseraceae

Alastair Culham showing the difference between Drosera anglica, 
D.rotundifolia and the hybrid D. × obovata

Global Species Database name:

Database owner:
Alastair Culham

Where are you based?
University of Reading, UK

What taxa does your database cover?
All species in the family Droseraceae

Taxon of the Day: Ahaetulla nasuta

Ahaetulla nasuta
Ahaetulla nasuta

Today’s entry for Taxon of the Day has been chosen for its prominence on the i4Life homepage. The i4Life project has been funding the management of the Catalogue of Life since 2009 and is now in its final five months of operation. The i4Life project is enabling a flow of names and taxonomic concepts between the Catalogue of Life, its supporting Global Species Databases and the internationally used data portals such as GBIF and EoL. So whether you are looking for DNA sequences, distribution patterns or conservation status of your chosen species, the shared and interlinked catalogues of organism names in i4Life will help you to find the same plant, animal, fungus or micro-organism under the same name in each data portal. This will be a significant achievement in the world of biodiversity informatics.

Ahaetulla nasuta (Lacépède,1789) or Long nosed vine snake photographed in Thailand, is a common species, living in bushes and feeding mainly on lizards. The vine snakes are one of only two genera with horizontal pupils. Together with the elongated snout (hence 'long nosed') and the ridges between eye and tip of the snout, they serve as the perfect mechanism for targeting fast moving organisms.

The provider of today's image is The TIGR Reptile Database which provides information on the classification of all living snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians (worm lizards), tuataras, turtles, and crocodiles. 

CoL Annual Checklist page: Ahaetulla nasuta
CoL contributorTIGR Reptile Database
Image copyright: Gernot Vogel

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Gaga

The Catalogue of Life's Dynamic Checklist is a monthly updated online taxonomic resource supplying existing and new species names as and when they are published by taxonomists and updated by the relevant species database curator. 
An example of the quick turnaround of newly named species was the newsworthy fern genus Gaga, which was first described at the end of 2012 and was in the Dynamic Checklist the very same month. Named after the current queen of pop and the person with only a few more Twitter followers than the Catalogue of Life, the Gaga genus contains 19 species, two new (Gaga germanotta, Gaga monstraparva) and the rest reclassified from another genus. All can be found in the Catalogue of Life supplied by ITIS Database. Why Gaga? Well the video will tell all, but in summary, in addition to the fact that she is a vocal representative of minority groups like fern scientists, it was reported that GAGA was a distinguishing section of the DNA base pairs of the ferns in question. 

CoL Annual Checklist page: Gaga germanotta
CoL contributor: ITIS Regional Database 
Video copyright: Duke University

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Bostrychia hagedash

Bostrychia hagedash
Bostrychia hagedash

Today's Taxon of the Day picture was taken by Alastair Culham on the grounds of the Safari Park Hotel in Kenya, whilst representing i4Life at the IST Africa Conference last month. The Bostrychia hagedash (Latham, 1790) or Hadeda Ibis is a fairly common bird with a large range,  inhabiting nearly all of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of five Bostrychia species found in the family Threskiornithidae.  This particular species has dark brownish-grey feathers with a distinctive bright green iridescence on the wing.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Calliostoma zizyphinum

2013 Annual Checklist DVD

To kick off our new Taxon of the Day series we are featuring the sea snail that adorns the cover of our 2013 Annual Checklist DVD. Calliostoma zizyphinum (Linnaeus, 1758) commonly known as Painted Top Shell, is a marine species found in western Europe, with this particular specimen photographed in NW Galicia, Spain. It is classified in the Catalogue of Life under the phylum Mollusca, which with 100,000 species is the second largest group in Animalia. Within Mollusca it forms part of the class Gastropoda or gastropods which is an extremely diverse group with an estimated 80,000 species, 30,245 of which can be found in the CoL. This group covers what we commonly think of as snails (with shell) and slugs (without). More well known members include terrestrial species like the common garden snail and marine inhabiting British seaside delicacies whelks and winkles. The word ‘gastropod’ is derived from Greek with ‘gastros’ referring to stomach and ‘podos’ foot - so stomach-foot. This is because it was incorrectly thought that snails and slugs crawl on their bellies when in fact they have their stomach in a hump on the upper side of their body. In many gastropods this hump is covered in a shell. Our in-house resident Mollusca expert Dr Kunze comments “Calliostoma zizyphinum’s most interesting feature is its nice tentacles with papillae”, but to the uninitiated the shells are quite nice too.
CoL Annual Checklist page: Calliostoma zizyphinum
CoL contributor: WORMS
Image copyright: Picture was kindly provided by CRBA -UB (Centre de Recursos de Biodiversitat Animal from the University of Barcelona). Copyright is held by CRBA –UB

Friday, 7 June 2013

Welcome to the Catalogue of Life Blog!

We are very excited to launch our brand new blog as part of our new look website. Here you will find lots of information about species, contributing databases and general information about the Catalogue of Life.

The Catalogue of Life has over 1.35m species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms, some 70% of the anticipated total of 1.9m presently known species worldwide. It has achieved this by bringing together global taxonomic expert knowledge through a growing array of supplier databases, and integrating these into a single taxonomic hierarchy and species checklist. This distributed system takes taxonomic knowledge provided and maintained by a community of supplier organisations in the taxonomic profession, combining work by major taxonomic institutions with that of smaller networks and individuals. 

The Catalogue of Life is a unique and scientifically valuable resource. It is used by global biodiversity programmes such as GBIF, Encyclopedia of Life and the IUCN Redlist as well as thousands of users worldwide.