Field of Science

Platybunus: the Wide-Eyed Harvestmen of Europe

The western Palaearctic region (that is, Europe and the immediately adjacent parts of Asia and northern Africa) is home to a diverse and distinctive fauna of harvestmen. Among the various genera unique to this part of the world are the forest- and mountain-dwellers of the genus Platybunus.

Platybunus pinetorum, copyright Donald Hobern.


Platybunus species are moderate-sized long-legged harvestmen of the family Phalangiidae, the central body in larger individuals being about eight millimetres long (Martens 1978). Their most characteristic feature is a relatively large eye-mound, distinctly wider than long and occupying a large section of the anterior carapace. As with other European phalangiids, they eye-mound is ornamented with a row of denticles each side though the body lacks denticles over the remainder of the dorsum. The body is often comparatively slender, tapering towards the rear (particularly in males), and is marked on the dorsum by a darker median band. The pedipalps have a pair of well-developed setose apophyses on the inner distal ends of the patella and tibia, and a series of long spine-like tubercles on the underside of the femur. These tubercles presumably function in the capture of prey, forming a basket that can be closed around the harvestman's victims. External sexual dimorphism in Platybunus is fairly minimal though females are overall larger and fatter. The penis is notably long and slender with a relatively small glans, offset from the shaft by a more or less marked constriction.

Platybunus bucephalus, copyright Adrian Tync.


Martens (1978) recognises four species of Platybunus found in higher altitude regions of central Europe with the species P. bucephalus and P. pinetorum occupying much of the genus' range. Platybunus bucephalus may be distinguished from P. pinetorum by, among other features, its relatively shorter legs. Platybunus pallidus is endemic to the Carpathians, and the tiny P. alpinorelictus inhabits the Garda Mountains of northern Italy. Another species, P. anatolicus, was described from Turkey by Roewer (1956)*. In general, Platybunus species inhabit alpine and subalpine forests, being found among the herbaceous undergrowth, under bark or on rock faces. Where their ranges overlap, P. bucephalus is more accustomed to extending beyond the forest margins than P. pinetorum and may be found above the tree-line. In recent years, the range of P. pinetorum has extended northwards, being first recorded from the UK in 2010 and Sweden in 2015 (Fritzén et al. 2015). At least some populations of P. pinetorum are capable of reproducing parthenogenetically and this may have played a part in its spread.

*Platybunus mirus was described by Loman (1892) on the basis of two male specimens that supposedly came from Sumatra. Though the identity of this species has never been resolved (Loman's illustration of the penis is at least suggestive of a true Platybunus), the claimed locality seems almost certain to be an error of some kind.

The internal classification of the Phalangiidae remains in need of further investigation. Platybunus has been recognised by some authors as forming a subfamily Platybuninae with a cluster of other western Palaearctic genera bearing similar ventrally spined pedipalps (Zhang & Zhang 2012). However, other authors have not separated this group from the subfamily Phalangiinae. The platybunines may represent a phylogenetically coherent grouping, or their shared features may reflect adaptations to a similar life style. The genital morphology of Platybunus is recognisably distinct from that of other platybunines which may argue against any relationship (Martens 1978). On the other hand, platybunines might possibly be distinguished from phalangiines by the chemical composition of their repugnatorial gland secretions (Raspotnig et al. 2015). A formal analysis of the family's evolution would be a welcome advance.

REFERENCES

Fritzén, N. R., V. Rinne, M. Sunhede, A. Uddström, S. Van de Poel & P. De Smedt. 2015. Platybunus pinetorum (Arachnida, Opiliones) new to Sweden. Memoranda Soc. Fauna Flora Fennica 91: 37–40.

Loman, J. C. C. 1892. Opilioniden von Sumatra, Java und Flores. In: M. Weber (ed.) Zoologische Ergebnisse einer Reise in Niederländisch Ost-Indien vol. 3 pp. 1–26, pl. 1. E. J. Brill: Leiden.

Martens, J. 1978. Spinnentiere, Arachnida: Weberknechte, Opiliones. Gustav Fischer Verlag: Jena.

Raspotnig, G., M. Schaider, P. Föttinger, V. Leutgeb & C. Komposch. 2015. Benzoquinones from scent glands of phalangiid harvestmen (Arachnida, Opiliones, Eupnoi): a lesson from Rilaena triangularis. Chemoecology 25: 63–72.

Roewer, C. F. 1956. Über Phalangiinae (Phalangiidae, Opiliones Palpatores). (Weitere Weberknechte XIX). Senckenbergiana Biologica 37 (3–4): 247–318.

Zhang, C., & F. Zhang. 2012. On the subfamilial assignment of Platybunoides (Opiliones: Eupnoi: Phalangiidae), with the description of a new species from China. Zootaxa 3190: 47–55.