By FUMI YADA/ Staff Writer
July 2, 2022 at 07:00 JST
When biologist Satoshi Shimano saw a post about a new mite species on Twitter, he couldn't have known that the repeated resharing of the image would lead to the discovery of another.
In honor of the unique way it was discovered, the newest variant of mite has been named “Ameronothrus retweet.”
“Determining a species’ name to describe its characteristics with just two words is a task that requires exquisite taste,” said Shimano. “I want the name using the phrase ‘retweet’ to help many people become interested in taxonomy and the registration of new varieties.”
The finding, along with the characteristics of the mite, which is from the genus called “hamabedani” in Japan, was reported by Shimano’s research team in May in the International Journal of Acarology.
The newly identified species had been spotted on a reef in Tottori.
The saga of mite discoveries through Twitter began in March last year. Shimano, a professor at Tokyo’s Hosei University, had found a previously unknown hamabedani mite variety by chance in an image shared on Twitter by a company employee in Chiba Prefecture.
The species was given the scientific name Ameronothrus twitter, and the finding was presented in an academic article.
“The word ‘twitter’ was included in the species’ name, reflecting our high expectations for the possibility of social networking sites bringing about further advances in science in the future,” Shimano said.
After the discovery of the new mite started to draw considerable attention, Yuito Obae, 23, a second-year student in a master’s course at Tottori University’s graduate school, came across it on Twitter.
The species’ appearance in a photo attached to the paper looked familiar to him. It closely resembled a mite he found a year earlier while looking for a different creature along a coast in Tottori Prefecture.
“Is this the same variant as the much-talked-about hamabedani?” Obae asked, a day after the publication of the thesis about Ameronothrus twitter. He posted the message on Twitter with a photo he snapped of the mite. “The photo was taken in Tottori Prefecture,” he added.
Shimano soon came across Obae’s tweet.
No hamabedani mites had ever been located on the Sea of Japan side of the Japanese archipelago during his investigations. That meant this one “must be an unknown species” or that it “inhabits an unconfirmed region,” Shimano said when he contacted Obae.
Obae, who is involved in zoology, quickly figured out the importance of his findings. He collected mites and sent them to Shimano.
Genetic analysis of the samples showed they are different from Ameronothrus twitter. Seeing that, Shimano concluded that they are from an unidentified hamabedani variety.
Ameronothrus retweet, called “iwado hamabedani” in Japanese, is less than 1 millimeter long and consumes seaweed growing on rocks.
While the discovery was not technically made through a retweet, it was named Ameronothrus retweet in the spirit of retweets, as it was discovered through a chain of Twitter posts that echoed and disseminated the information.
“More than one advantage of social media, such as the speed and breadth of dissemination of information, worked simultaneously in an ideal fashion,” said Obae, praising the accomplishment. “I would be pleased if the speed of discoveries accelerates and more people show an interest in living creatures.”
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