Photos show the various stages of Schismatoglottis persistens. — Photos by Peter C Boyce
A new plant
A STRANGE plant has been found along Sungai Pedali – a stream which flows into Sungai Sumpa near Batang Ai.
The plant was located in the upper growing regions of a hill above the high water mark. A search only located a single specimen.
Tissue from the plant was brought back to the lab and it grew well for several years in shady conditions but did not flower.
When the plant was exposed to more light, a flower erupted looking like a long white shaft coming from a hood below it. The leaves holding the flower browned away and the plant was named Schismatoglottis persistens.
The plant comes from a rhizome, which is a stem just under the soil. From this structure, leaves are sent upwards and roots downwards.
From this angle, the plant was originally thought to be a Phymatarum, but the flower proved otherwise. The flower is remarkable because it has both a rhizome and a flower.
‘Studies on Schismatoglottideae (Araceae) of Borneo XXXIX: Schismatoglottis persistens, a new rhizomatous rheophytic species for the Schismatoglottis Multiflora Group’ by Wong Sin Yeng and Peter Boyce, Wildenowia 44-2014.
The saga of the Wedge Beetle
We begin with the collector Dr John Frederick Muir, who had been employed by the Sugarcane Association in 1907 to identify a beetle species to control the sugar cane borer in Hawaii.
His travels took him to China, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
While in Borneo, he sent a specimen of the Wedge Beetle to William D Pierce of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, USA.
Terse notes on the label show how the beetle was forgotten: “Pierce left in 1918”, “Got Swartz to find it”, and “called to the attention of Herbert S Barber but Muir refused to take it back”.
Photos show the Rhipidocyrtus muiri. — Photos by Michael S Engel
Readers might recall that it was Barber, who supposedly found Ali (of Alfred Wallace fame) on Ternate Island, now part of Indonesia, in 1907.
Barber dissected the beetle but the pinned animal and its various slide mounted parts became separated. They would remain separated for 50 years.
In 1996, a PhD student, Zachary H Falin, noticed the parts and discovered nothing in scientific literature. He discovered that a collection of Wedge Beetles had been loaned to John K Bouseman of the Illinois Natural History Survey around 1980.
Needing the material for his dissertation, it was transferred to the University of Kansas. He was struck by the Borneo specimen, but nothing happened for the next 14 years.
Coincidentally, Falin and Dr J Kathirithamby were sitting in the same room at the Smithsonian Institution, while working on different insects. She noted one specimen that she was working on was not Strepsipterans but Ripiphorids. Falin was working on Ripiphorids and instantly recognised them as the long lost parts to the Borneo Beetle. It was thus recognised and named Rhipidocyrtus muiri after the person who found it.
Three years later, the Wedge Beetle received its name after three institutions, five experts and 107 years later.
‘Serendipity at the Smithsonian: The 107-year journey of Rhipidocyrtus muiri Falin & Engel, new genus and species (Ripidiinae, Ripidiini), from jungle beast to valid taxon’ by ZH Falin and MS Engel (2014).
Fossils discovered in China
Twenty-eight fossil orangutan teeth from the Early Pleistocene (1.2 million years ago) have been found in the Chongzuo Ecological Park in Guangxi, southern China.
The teeth are coarser than those of existing orangutan in Sumatra, suggesting a more unrefined diet.
The name given to the organism is Pongo pygmaeus weidenreichi.
Further study needs to be done to determine its place in evolutionary history.
For more go to www.sciencedirect.com.
The fossil orangutan teeth were found in Chongzuo Ecological Park.