It Took Almost 25 Years, But They Finally Identified (A) Waldo

waldoWhere’s Waldo? The more relevant question here is, what’s a Waldo? Waldo is a genus name, belonging to a group of bivalves that have been found in various spots around the world. Now two scientists working on the Pacific Coast of North America have found a new species — Waldo arthuri — though it took nearly 25 years to figure it all out. The scientists report their findings in Zookeys.

Back in 1989, two scientists found a peculiar tiny mollusk, a type of clam, in locations 1,000 miles apart, off the coasts of Santa Barbara, California and Vancouver Island in Canada. The researchers had met up at a scientific conference and talked clams over one of the breaks, quickly realizing they had each found the same thing. But they couldn’t figure out exactly what they had found.

The bivalves were tiny, only a few millimeters in length, with thin, translucent shells and long tentacles. One of the researchers, Diarmaid Ó Foighil of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology, was able to collect some live specimens. “We were looking closely at sea urchins and noticed something crawling on the fine spines covering the urchin body,” Ó Foighil said in a statement. “We were amazed to see that there were minute clams crawling all over the sea urchin.” (In the image above, the clam can be seen among sea urchin spines.)

Why it took a couple decades to determine that the mollusk was a new species isn’t completely described in the paper, but it seems that W. arthuri looks a lot like other members of its genus. Eventually the researchers turned to DNA sequencing — using the help of another scientist who’s a specialist in clam DNA — to tease out the differences in the bivalves. W. arthuri is indeed a species separate from its closest relative, which lives all the way in the south Atlantic off the coast of Argentina.

The researchers write that finding sister taxa in separate ocean basins isn’t an uncommon phenomenon, but it’s a little odd in this case because all the other known Waldo species live far away in high-latitude southern oceans.

The true range of W. arthuri may be even larger than the stretch from California to Canada. The sea urchin Brisaster latifrons, on which the clam lives, can be found from the Galapagos Islands to the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska. It’s possible, the scientists say, that the new Waldo can be found all along that area as well.

Image by Diarmaid O’Foighil, via EurekAlert

Did This Ant Get Makeup Advice From Johnny Depp?


The German scientists who discovered this new species of ant in the Philippines gave it the name Cardiocondyla pirata because the blackish stripe that crosses the female’s eye is “reminiscent of a pirate’s blindfold,” they write in Zookeys. To me, though, it looks more like the insects took advice from the makeup artists behind Captain Jack Sparrow‘s heavy eyeliner.

The ants are the only ones known in the world to have this coloring, the researchers note in their paper. They discovered the species while searching for another member of the genus in which the males show great diversity of shape and behavior. During their search they came across these other ants “in the cleavage of big stones in a shady streambed,” study coauthor Sabine Frohschammer of Universität Regensburg said in a statement. “Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants, they were nearly invisible. Under bright light and a magnifier we detected the nice stripe across the eyes and therefore always referred to these species as ‘the pirates,'” she said.

The purpose of the stripe is still a mystery. It probably doesn’t serve as a sexual signal to males of the species. Their vision is poor, and they rely more on chemical and tactile cues. And when they hook up, it’s completely dark. It’s more likely, the researchers say, that the stripe and other coloring in the female help to confuse a predator, perhaps giving the impression that the ant is actually two insects (one of the segments closer to the rear is nearly translucent). But until the scientists find a predator that has good enough vision to see the details on this ant, the purpose of the pirate’s eye stripe will remain just a guess.

Image credit: Bernhard Seifert