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An Invertebrate Detective Reveals the Secrets of Creepy Crawlers in the High Arctic [Slide Show]

Spineless wonders inhabiting a remote Arctic Ocean archipelago may have hitched a ride on the backs of birds

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EASTERN BLOC INVADERS:

After World War II the Soviet Union increased its presence in two mining settlements in Svalbard. (Although the Svalbard archipelago is Norwegian territory, a treaty allows the citizens of any signatory nation to establish settlements there.) The Soviets imported soil from Ukraine to grow greenhouse crops and plant sod throughout the towns, which otherwise would have been too nutrient-poor to support much plant life.....[ More ]

CHEST BURSTER:

Birds are not the only organisms parasitized in Svalbard. Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs on various insect larvae. The eggs hatch, and the larvae burrow in and eat the host from the inside out. This Apamea exulis moth grub became the unwitting host of braconid wasp larvae, which are seen here emerging from the grub’s body.....[ More ]

ROBBING THE CRADLE:

Snow buntings may play temporary host to harmless mite hitchhikers, but other mite species are out for blood. More than 25,000 parasitic mites—such as these Dermanyssus hirundinis specimens, collected from a nest—turn up in some snow bunting nests.....[ More ]

"ON BORROWED WINGS:"

Snow buntings, also called snowflakes, breed in the high arctic, including on Svalbard. Coulson recently discovered that the birds facilitate phoresy, accidental hitchhiking of a nonparasitic organism.....[ More ]

NOTHING WASTED:

Animal carcasses and bones are another source of nutrients for arctic plants and animals. Here, a whale bone on a beach in Svalbard’s far north supports moss and vascular plants that take advantage of nutrients leaching out of the bones.....[ More ]

A FEAST OF GUANO:

Invertebrates live all over the archipelago, including on the surface of glaciers, yet they concentrate in those places with the most nutritional offerings, given the notoriously shallow and nutrient-poor arctic soil.....[ More ]

MAXIMIZING FOR SUMMER:

The endemic aphid, Acyrthosiphon svalbardicum , has evolved a peculiar life cycle among aphids. In temperate latitudes aphids overwinter as eggs, which hatch in the spring as parthenogenetic females, or females that only produce other females asexually.....[ More ]

MAY THE BEST MITE WIN:

As if surviving the long winter were not challenging enough invertebrates then have to deal with predation threats from one another after emerging in summer from their inert lairs. Prostigmatid mites, for example, are voracious but short-lived predators.....[ More ]

SMALL BUT MIGHTY:

When it comes to strength, water bears easily trump polar bears. Around 60 species of these eight-legged creatures—officially known as tardigrades—turn up in Svalbard. Polish researchers recently found two new species, one of which they named after Coulson.....[ More ]

SURVIVING THE POLAR EXTREMES:

Winter blankets the archipelago in darkness and ice for 10 long months, and invertebrates have evolved a number of strategies to circumvent this challenge. Some species overwinter as eggs. Others depress their supercooling point—the process of lowering the temperature at which a liquid freezes—down to –56 degrees Celsius using substances called cryoprotectants, or sugars and alcohols that protect tissues from freezing by penetrating cells and increasing their solute composition.....[ More ]

THE SPECIALIST:

For more than 20 years, arctic ecologist Steve Coulson has kept his eyes to the ground in Svalbard. He studies the archipelago’s invertebrate fauna from his base at The University Center in Svalbard.....[ More ]

SIG THOR’S MYSTERY:

Few people specialize in the esoteric pursuit of studying arctic invertebrates. In the 1930s a Norwegian enthusiast named Sig Thor was the preeminent arctic mite taxonomist. Thor found several new mites in Svalbard, although he had a reputation for being quick to cry “species” before fully verifying his discovery.....[ More ]

DIVERSITY SEEKS DISCOVERY:

Just three terrestrial mammals and 28 species of birds call Svalbard home, but researchers have identified more than 1,100 species of terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates, including insects, springtails, spiders, mites and worms.....[ More ]

COLD SHORES:

Nearly midway between Norway’s northern coast and the North Pole, Svalbard archipelago rises out of the Arctic Ocean. Since hunters and trappers began arriving in the 17th century, this remote destination has been renowned for its wildlife, including walruses, polar bears and whales.....[ More ]

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