Museum researcher discoverers remarkable new true crab-like hermit

December 13th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

The dorsal view of Patagurus rex, a new species of hermit crab found off the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia, shows a broad, hardened body—similar to the hardened bodies of true crabs. Photo credit by Arthur Anker

The dorsal view of Patagurus rex, a new species of hermit crab found off the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia, shows a broad, hardened body—similar to the hardened bodies of true crabs.
Photo by Arthur Anker

There are countless known species on the planet, but a new hermit crab found by a University of Florida researcher proves some interesting creatures remain to be discovered.

Dredged from the deep sea near the island of Moorea in French Polynesia in 2009, the species exemplifies the rarely documented process of carcinization, in which hermit crabs move out of their shells and harden their bodies to resemble true crabs. The new species, Patagurus rex, has a broad, armored body with pointy spines and long legs connected to large claws—making it one of the most distinctive hermit crabs discovered in decades, said Gustav Paulay, invertebrate curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. Paulay and Florida Museum post-doctoral researcher Arthur Anker describe the species in the journal Zootaxa in October 2013.

“Out of all the animals we collected in Moorea, probably the most interesting for me was this species of hermit crab,” Paulay said. “While dredging at 400 meters off the coast, up came a tiny little thing that at first looked like a crab, but (more…)

New Museum study describes world’s oldest known grape fossils found in India

November 15th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

This specimen of Indovitis chitaleyae from India contains 66-million-year-old raisin and characteristic grape seeds.   Photo by Steven Machester

This specimen of Indovitis chitaleyae from India contains 66-million-year-old raisin and characteristic grape seeds.
Photo by Steven Machester

Mysterious unidentified fossilized seeds from India, donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2005 and stored among the museum’s botany collections, were recently described by a Florida Museum of Natural History researcher as the world’s oldest-known grape species.

Described in the September 2013 issue of the American Journal of Botany, Indovitis chitaleyae pushes the record of the Vitaceae (grape) family into the Late Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago. Researchers have long believed the grape originated during the Cretaceous, though they lacked fossil evidence, said lead author Steven Manchester, Florida Museum curator of paleobotany.

“Visiting the Cleveland Museum collections while working on an unrelated project, I happened across the specimens and was able to recognize the distinctive grape seed outlines within the preserved fruit fossils,” Manchester said. “This helps to solve a mystery about the missing early fossil record of the grape family. DNA evidence suggests that the grapes diverged from the rest of the Rosid family tree, a major group of flowering plants including (more…)

Fossil record shows crustaceans vulnerable as modern coral reefs decline

October 9th, 2013

By Stephenie Livingston

Adiel Klompmaker, a University of Florida postdoctoral researcher,  is lead author of a new study available online and scheduled to appear in the November issue of Geology suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.  Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Nearly 150 million years ago, many ancient crustaceans went extinct following a massive collapse of reefs across the planet, and new Florida Museum of Natural History research suggests modern species living in rapidly declining reef habitats may now be at risk.

Available online and scheduled to appear in the November 2013 issue of Geology, the study shows a direct correlation between the amount of prehistoric reefs and the number of decapod crustaceans, a group that includes shrimp, crab and lobster. The decline of modern reefs due to natural and human-influenced changes also could be detrimental, causing a probable decrease in the biodiversity of crustaceans, which serve as a vital food source for humans and marine animals such as fish, said lead author Adiël Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum on the University of Florida campus who started the study at Kent State University.

“We estimate that earth’s decapod crustacean species biodiversity plummeted by more than 50 percent during a sharp decline of reefs, which was marked by the extinction of 80 percent of (more…)

Study shows different exotic plants affect native moth’s size, life cycle

July 16th, 2013

By Danielle Torrent

IMG_5957-Logan-1600px

Museum volunteer Logan Locascio collects plants from the genus Crotalaria outside the Florida Museum on Hull Road near 34th Street.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Andrei Sourakov

Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Andrei Sourakov has a soft spot for small, winged creatures, and an extraordinary commitment to sharing his passion with younger generations.

His latest study published online in the June 2013 issue of Florida Entomologist is co-authored by Museum volunteer Logan Locascio, a student who graduated from Lincoln Middle School this year. Their experiments show ornate bella moths feeding on some plant species cause the insects to develop faster than those feeding on others. For Locascio, the experiments resulted in a project that earned third place in zoology in the junior division at the state’s science and engineering fair and a special award for the second-best agriculturally oriented project.

“It was a good project for a middle school student,” said Sourakov, collections coordinator at the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and (more…)

Museum scientist helps classify sea cucumbers, a threatened gourmet delicacy

June 14th, 2013

By Danielle Torrent

This sea cucumber, Bohadschia argus, was photographed off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. Florida Museum photo by Gustav Paulay

This sea cucumber, Bohadschia argus, was photographed off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.
Florida Museum photo by Gustav Paulay

Sea cucumbers are among the most abundant animals on the planet, occupying waters from the tropical reefs to the Antarctic and dominating the greatest habitat – the deep sea floor. But their diversity and ecological roles are poorly understood.

To make matters worse, these loaf-like, bottom-dwelling echinoderms have been fished for at least 1,000 years. Dried sea cucumber, or bêche-de-mer, is an Asian delicacy, with some species selling for nearly $120 per pound. Those in the genus Bohadschia have been heavily fished for generations, yet the species within the group have been indistinguishable, said Gustav Paulay, invertebrate zoology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus.

“They’re getting heavily exploited around the world, so knowing who the species are is very important,” Paulay said. “If you can’t tell the species apart, it’s hard to tell if the ones you’re fishing here are the same as the ones they’re fishing there – if you exploit one population, is it a widespread or local one?”

Researchers have traditionally classified sea cucumbers based on differences in their ossicles, tiny bone-like structures within their body wall. But for Bohadschia, it is impossible to differentiate species by their ossicles, Paulay said. In the first comprehensive classification of the group, Paulay and a team of scientists at the University of Guam used a combination of DNA data and field observations to sort the 12 members of the genus, identifying one new species. Their findings were published online in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society April 8 and in the May 2013 print edition. (more…)

Museum researcher describes new 5-million-year-old saber-toothed cat from Florida

May 14th, 2013

By Danielle Torrent

Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologist Richard Hulbert Jr. measures fossil teeth of a saber-toothed cat. In the foreground, the lower jaw of Rhizosmilodon fiteae, is pictured between a modern Florida panther, left, and the famous Smilodon fatalis from about 15,000 years ago. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologist Richard Hulbert Jr. measures fossil teeth of a saber-toothed cat. In the foreground, the lower jaw of Rhizosmilodon fiteae, is pictured between a modern Florida panther, left, and the famous Smilodon fatalis from about 15,000 years ago.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

After being stored in the Florida Museum of Natural History collections for 20 years, researchers have described a new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat from Polk County, Fla., based on additional fossil acquisitions.

When the animal was originally named in the 1980s, the study’s authors believed it was the oldest-known specimen in the genus Megantereon. The publication created controversy because analysis was only based on a partial lower jaw missing some critical features, said Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology collection manager Richard Hulbert Jr.

“It sort of raised some eyebrows from people in Europe and Africa because the species is known from the Old World and it’s actually fairly rare here in North America,” Hulbert said. “There were a number of papers back and forth, but things were not very well-settled.”

After Florida Museum paleontologists discovered more complete specimens from a phosphate mine in Polk County in 1990, Hulbert knew the animal had been incorrectly identified, he said.

“It’s a little odd that we’re publishing it now, 20 years later, but that’s sort of the way things go sometimes,” said Hulbert, who co-authored the study published in PLOS One March 14, 2013. “There are a lot of cool projects that just sit around in the museum cabinets waiting for the right person. These days, most people are pretty specialized and tend not to take the lead on something outside their specialty and so you just sort of wait until you find somebody you can collaborate with.”

Hulbert helped uncover fossils of the new genus and species, Rhizosmilodon fiteae, from the mine and later collaborated with the study’s lead author, Steven Wallace, an associate professor in the department of geosciences and member of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University. (more…)

Jumping spider vs. hairstreak butterfly: Museum scientist puts predator, prey in the ring

April 15th, 2013
The jumping spider, Phidippus pulcherrimus, feeds on prey much larger than itself, including this striped grass looper moth, Mocis latipes.

The jumping spider, Phidippus pulcherrimus, feeds on prey much larger than itself, including this striped grass looper moth, Mocis latipes.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Andrei Sourakov

By Danielle Torrent

Butterflies are among the most vibrant flying insects, with colorful wing patterns sometimes designed to deflect predators. From frogs and lizards to birds and spiders, butterflies have scores of enemies, so thousands of Lepidoptera species have evolved to imitate leaves, eyes, beaks or other insects.

When biologists first started asking questions about butterfly evolution, they looked to the vertebrates for answers. Birds and lizards are known to hunt butterflies, and for the last 150 years, researchers have assumed these vertebrate predators were driving the evolution of wing patterns. New Florida Museum of Natural History research shows that in the case of hairstreak butterflies, evolution may be driven by a much smaller enemy: the jumping spider.

“I think it’s a big step in general and a big leap of faith to realize that a creature as tiny as a jumping spider, whose brain and life span are really small compared to birds, can be partially responsible for the great diversity of patterns that evolved out there among Lepidoptera and other insects,” said Andrei Sourakov, collection manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “These seemingly primitive creatures have a very complex way of hunting, memory, conditioning and problem-solving intelligence.” (more…)

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