Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New species, new characters

Scaponopselaphus diaspartos
I recently described a new species of Xanthopygina rove beetles in the Biodiversity Data Journal (I will write another post later to talk about that experience). The species is Scaponopselaphus diaspartos from Colombia. This is the second species in the genus, the first (S. mutator) described by Sharp long time ago (1876) in the genus Trigonopselaphus. The genus Scaponopselaphus was erected by Scheerpeltz (1972) when he realized that mutator was not similar to the other species in Trigonopselaphus.

The genus is rather easy to tell apart from other Xanthopygina rove beetles thanks to a unique morphological feature: the first tarsomere of the mesotarsus in males has spatulate setae. This is unheard of in other genera of Xanthopygines and that makes it a nice and easy diagnostic feature.

Mesotibia and mesotarsus of S. mutator. Arrow indicates the location of the
 spatulate tibia on mesotarsus. Scale bar = 0.68 mm. 

Spatulate setae are very common on the protarsi of rove beetles, but not so much on meso- or metatarsi.

The epithet of the new species (diaspartos) means "scattered" and refers to the distribution of the peg setae on the ventral side of the paramere. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What drives your productivity?

I was asked the other day by a colleague why/how I remain productive in this uneasy climate of limited funding/university support. My university would have been more than happy with 1-2 papers every other year instead of the typical 3-4 per year that I produce. One reason for my productivity is that I am really into my study organism (rove beetles) and that helps push things along. But, wait,  there is more: rejections. Somehow they fuel my productivity flame. I am not sure how many scientists are willing to admit this, but I am sure it is rather common. So here is an acknowledgement you will never see me writing in a paper but should be present in all of them: 

I thank the grant agencies, the journals and the institutions that have rejected me over the years. I could not have accomplished half of what I have done without those rejections.

Or as David Hull put it much more elegantly in the book Science as a process: 'Scientists acknowledge that among their motivations are natural curiosity, the love of truth, and the desire to help humanity, but other inducements exist as well, and one of them is to “get that son of a bitch”'.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Copenhagen ZMUC vist

Just came back Denmark where I had a wonderful time visiting several friends and colleagues (Adam Brunke, Mariana Chani, Andrea Schomann and Alexey Solodovnikov) there. The visit was funded by an RCA grant from UTC and it was really great to spend a week just talking/working with rove beetles. I found many specimens that are going to be used in upcoming revisions and I also had the opportunity to examine the Fabricius collection for Xanthopygina rove beetle. Sometimes it is just nice to be able to spend a week looking at specimens without worrying about all the usual office / life things.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lab logo

A glorious new lab logo designed by Ainsley Seago @americanbeetles.

If you want a T-shirt with the same design, these are available for sale here until Jan 31.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Twitter to the rescue

A short story on how twitter (and specifially Lu Musetti ‏@osuc_curator) really helped a lot with a project today, despite my obvious typo on the original tweet.

Head and pronotum of Triacrus dilatus
I have been working on a project to redescribed Triacrus dilatus Nordmann and at the same time we are doing some fancy allometry work with them. These are fascinating beasts because according to the literature they live (and attack) with paper wasps. Wassman (1902) pointed out that they live in the nests of Polybia vicina Sauss. and later Kistner (1982) in his monster chapter (222 pages long!) "The social insects' bestiary" refer to the wasp genus as Stenopolybia.

I have been trying to find out information about that wasp for a long time, but Google was not returning many results -- a clear indication that something was sketchy, but who am I to doubt Kistner, right?

But as shown above, the name Stenopolybia  is typo of the genus name Stelopolybia, which was synonymized by Carpenter (1999) with the genus Agelaia.

So, the correct name of the wasp is Agelaia vicina, a wasp used as a keystone species in southern Brazil and with its own wikipedia page. 

Now, who said again that Twitter is a waste of time for academics?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sabbatical projects

My sabbatical officially starts Monday (first day of classes for the Spring semester), so I decided to put here a list of projects/papers I want to finish by August 1. The main reason for putting these up here, in public, is to try to keep myself honest more than anything else.

So in no particular order:

1. NSF pre proposal submission

This should be straight forward to accomplish, considering that the pre proposal is written. All I have to do is coordinate with the local grants office and get final approvals.

2. Revision of Smilax (not the plant :))

Currently, there are four species in the genus. This is a complicated revision because I have no access to two of the types, for reasons I am not going to address here. But I have accumulated almost all other specimens from museum around the world, and done a lot of the prep work already. Smilax species are myrmecophiles, known to occur in leaf cutter ant nests and there are a lot of bizarre (and potentially belonging to new species) specimens.

3. #365papers

An idea I got online from the twitter feed of Meg Duffy (@duffy_ma) to try to read one (new to me) paper every day. For as much as I am emphasizing the primary literature to my students, it is amazing how many days can go by without reading a paper.

4. Description of a new genus with multiple new species from South America.

This is the taxon listed as "Undescribed" genus in the phylogeny of Chatzimanolis 2014 and potentially the sister group of Isanopus. I have been accumulating materials for three years now and I doubt I could (easily) locate many more specimens without extensive field work. So I am pretty confident that this is the time to describe the taxon.

5. Research trip to Copenhagen

I plan to visit Copenhagen in March to meet many fellow rove beetle systematists. I am really looking forward to this trip because there are a few projects waiting to be finished, several new project/grant ideas to be discussed and cool types in the Fabricius collection to look over. Could I have Skyped in the whole thing? No. One week of one-one interactions is way beyond Skype can offer. Plus, when I travel I tend to focus 100% on the discussion/projects ahead, while staying here does not have the same effect.

6. Review of Phanolinopsis

Currently a monotypic genus but at least two more undescribed species and couple of other species that need to be transferred here from other genera.

7. Allometry in Triacrus?

The question mark here means that I really do not know if this is an actual project. We have taken a lot of measurements and compared males and females but we have not done any statistical analyses yet, so... to be determined I guess. I got the idea for this project when I received a box of ~20 specimens from the Natural History Museum in Vienna with amazing size differences among different males. These are interesting beetles because they are predatory of larvae of wasps and they can only be found in the refuse piles of these wasps.

8. New species in Scaponopselaphus

There are a couple new species in this enigmatic genus from South America. "This should be an easy paper to write". The last time I said that (actually I did not, my graduate advisor did) back in 2000, I ended up describing 17+ new species for a genus I thought there were just one or two more new species to describe.

So here they are, five papers, one research trip and (at least) one grant proposal. Probably overly optimistic. And these are the projects where I am the first author, there are a few others where I have a lesser role and I am not mentioning them here. I will make sure I will report back in August on how I did with all these.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Collection growth

Here is a picture of Gillian adding a few hundred specimens of fully curated and databased beetles to our research collection. One of these days we will make our database accessible through the web but for now we can accommodate any requests for specimens with email.  

UPDATE 12/10/2014: The beetle collection is now online as part of the Symbiota Collection of Arthropods Network and can be searched here