Four new bee species described in Australia – many more remain unidentified

By Miroslav Djuric, DVM, CAB International, Wallingford, UK.

Bee specialists from South Australia have described four new native bees. Three of these bee species have been described as  having narrow faces and very long mouths, allowing them to feed on slender flowers found on the emu bush, a hardy native of the Australian desert environment, and to collect the nectar through a narrow constriction at the base of the emu bush flowers. Based on the authors' description, the way these bees have adapted to feed on emu bush flowers is an excellent example of evolution. The fourth species belongs to a different group and has a more commonly observed round-shaped head.

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The four new species belong to the genus Euhesma. Their description is based on evaluation of DNA ‘barcoding’ and morphological comparison of the bees with museum specimens.

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Cats versus dogs… and an insight for Oxford pet owners!

John Bradshaw

Idolised in Ancient Egypt, then vilified in Medieval
Europe, the domestication of cats has taken them on an interesting route from
uninvited guests chasing mice in our grain stores to the moggies we cuddle
today. At John Bradshaw’s talk at Blackwell’s
in Oxford last month, evidence of their interesting history was just around the
corner at the Pitt Rivers Museum, where mummified cats are
part of its unusual collection. Dogs, on the other hand, have a long history of
being companions to humans, bred into many shapes and sizes to make them capable
of a number of tasks that have played a key role both in human and canine
evolution.

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Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Over 200,000 people have paid the ultimate 21st century homage to Charles Darwin by signing up on social networking site facebook to wish him a happy birthday. Facebook itself is celebrating its fifth birthday and appears to be winning the struggle for survival of the fittest (or coolest, or most addictive) against other social networking sites such as Bebo and myspace.

So what does it mean – is Darwin just a poster child for people who want to look intelligent? Is signing up to the facebook group just a bit like having an unread copy of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” on your shelf? I felt compelled to sign up, even though I do have to admit I didn't quite make to the end of "On the Origin of Species". 

Darwin is not the only genetics figure with a facebook presence – Gregor Mendel has 780 fans and Barbara McClintock, discoverer of transposable elements, has 81 fans. Some facebookers have signed up to somewhat eclectic statements about their genetics heroes such as "Mendel, Watson, and Crick are my Home-boys!" (45 members), or "Watson and Crick ripped off Rosalind Franklin, and you know it" (813 members).

There is even a group called facebook Darwinism with the guiding principle “Each week de-friend someone. Soon you should have a strong lean group of friends!” However, a contributor has challenged the principle as more like the teachings of Herbert Spencer, a forerunner of Darwin, saying that "biodiversity is always a good thing. Culling friends diminishes the gene pool, eradicating any possible beneficial" Some might argue that those who spend a lot of time on facebook are unlikely to be contributing to the gene pool at all.

There are several anti-evolution on facebook. The “wish Darwin a happy birthday” site organisers make the point that “This is a forum for paying tribute to a great scientist NOT for religious debate” However, Darwin himself might have been encouraged to see that the group “1 Million People for Creationism” is struggling somewhat with 569 members.