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Dispatches from Clear Lake, part 1

UCMP's Cindy Looy is leading a project to collect 130,000 years worth of sediment data from Clear Lake in order to better understand how life has adapted to climate change. Along the way, members of her team will report back to us with all the progress and drama from the field. Here's our first set of dispatches.


Assembling the barge

From Ivo Duijnstee:

Thu, April 26

First mud
It has begun. Except for some minor delays, the Clear Lake drilling expedition had a relatively smooth start. When our seven-headed UC Berkeley team arrived on site in Lakeport California, six members of the not-for-profit drilling company DOSECC had already assembled the large drilling barge to the point that it was almost good to go. Not much later, three sediment core curators of the National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) arrived; completing the drill team in charge of the first days of this enterprise.

Fri, April 27

Today, a boat pushed the barge to its first drilling position in the southeastern part of the northern branch of the lake. This is in a part of the lake with a thick continuous sediment package. The deeper layers date back at least to the warm part of the previous interglacial (~130,000 years ago), a period we are very much interested in, as it may provide an analog for the current climate change in California.

Sat, April 28

From our Rocky Point base camp on the other side of the water, we can barely make out the barge’s position, as the sizeable drilling barge is reduced to a mere speck on the horizon. The inconspicuousness changes dramatically when night falls and the needle in the haystack turns into a beacon of light, as soon as the flood lights on the barge are switched on.

Tonight, the night crew (on the barge everyone works in two 12-hour shifts) made their way to the barge in the former county fire boat. This boat was made available for the crews’ semidiurnal commute by our collaborators of the Lake County Water Resources Department. Around 11PM, word reached base camp that the DOSECC drillers hoisted the first sediment core up on deck.

The barge has been moved out to the drill site.

Sun, April 29

This morning the night crew brought the uppermost 28 meter (93 ft) of sediment cores ashore, so the Holocene is taken care of. Let’s dig deeper into the Pleistocene!

Cindy Looy with the first core sample.

We have some cores!

So far, things are going smoothly on the drill platform. The day crew is off to their 12 hour shift, and the night crew is heading to bed. At the house in Rocky Point — our base camp — we are starting our pile of sediment-filled transparent tubes in the garage.

Mon, April 30

It’s media day!

Almost all day, camera crews, radio journalists, newspaper photographers and reporters were buzzing around, interviewing UCB/UCMP’s Cindy Looy and Liam Reidy, DOSECC Director of Operations Chris Delahunty and LacCore scientist Ryan O’Grady as they made visits to our floating drill site. We’ve had so much attention already, and the UCB press release is yet to come!

Chris Delahunty being interviewed for KQED radio.

The timing of the media is perfect: just like the weather, everyone in the team is in a sunny mood since the team has reached a greater depth than the USGS did at the same location during its 1973 Clear Lake drilling program. That means that the teams first target (115 m, or 377 ft) has been reached, and there is more to come.


At about 140 m (460 ft) into the sediment, it’s over with the monotonously greenish grey playdough that has filled the plastic core linings so far. In the dark, the night crew has struck gravel, making it impossible to get anything out of the lake bed. Fortunately, the drillers have some tricks up their coverall sleeves. For now they are mixing a special kind of mud that the day shift will use to get through the gravel layer. They will pump the muddy mixture into the borehole so that the gaps between the chunks of gravel will be filled with sticky goo; enabling the drillers to get the loose gravel out.

Tue, May 1

Alas, despite the fact the DOSECC team successfully crossed the gravel layer, things are not going well. Beyond the gravel layer there is sand and more gravel. Now things are going this slow, we decide that it is better to stop drilling at this site, and get started on a second hole nearby. As the two drillers prepare the drilling equipment for the move to the next hole, the scientific part of the night shift gets to spend an unexpected night in the house, where it is warm and couches are comfy... perhaps a bit to comfy when you are trying to stick to the nocturnal routine of the graveyard shift...


Renske with an armload of cores.

From Renske Kirchholtes:

Wed, May 2

*S*  hifts are 12 hours long and days start incredibly early

*C*  ores are covered in mud and so are we

*I*  ncessant noise of the generators, shrouding the barge in heavy diesel fumes

*E*  very day starts at 5.45am

*N*  o matter what happens, the entire crew is always in great spirits

*C*  lear Lake is a neat location and the weather is close to perfect

*E*  asily one of the coolest projects I have ever been part of!

See more text, audio, and video coverage of the Clear Lake drilling project here.

Erin's Adventures in Marine Conservation: A quick introduction to a snail's tale

Follow Erin Meyer as she takes us on a journey through the Caribbean, on the tail of an important snail she hopes to conserve. To learn more about her seasonal trips, visit her blog - "Adventures in Snail Conservation."

Field work during a mass extinction

Imagine that a “time machine” allowed you to go back in time — back exactly 64,999,995 years ago, just five years before the crash of the meteor that marked the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. You have just enough time to do your field work, analyze your data, and write your Ph.D. dissertation. Your field work starts in the closest emerged land to the Chicxulub impact site. In no time at all you begin discovering new species of dinosaurs that are unknown from the fossil record, and you diligently test dozens of hypotheses about the behavior and physiology of these Mesozoic giants.

Mauna Kea vegetationFor three years you have that chance to explore a completely different world to the one where you grew up. Australia is still connected to a temperate Antarctica and India is on its way to cross the equatorial line. Continental seas cover extensive regions of North America, Europe, Asia and in South America, east of the rising Andes.

During your last year of field work, a series of small meteorites begin to impact the Earth. These events become more and more frequent and some of them have local effects similar to the volcanic explosion of the island of Krakatau in 1883. Your advisor and dissertation committee recommend that you come back, but you refuse to do so. You still want to do field work for your last chapter concerning the ecology of Titanosaurus in South America. It is literally the last chance to study these sauropods before they become extinct. However, communications with your family and friends make you change your mind. After carefully packing up all your samples, including Ornithuromorpha feathers, Nymphaeaceae flowers and pollinator insects, you come back to the present. The Cretaceous world is not a safe place anymore ….

Our reality today is in some ways not too far from this fictional story. Based in Laupāhoehoe on the Big Island of Hawai’i this past January, I took part in field work on the slopes of Mauna Kea and witnessed how the environment is changing in a precipitous way. I had the chance to do an altitudinal transect with climate change researchers from the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa. Starting at 1,116 meters we were surrounded by an amazingly beautiful native forest. Huge o’hia and koa trees dominated the canopy, while the understory was full of a variety of endemic plants, including the hapu’u fern, ‘ōlapa tree, ‘ōhelo berries and more than 15 other endemic species. Flying and singing amongst the vegetation, different species of native birds, (i’iwi, apapane, ‘oma’o, ‘amakihi) accompanied us. The bark and leaves of the trees hosted an abundant community of terrestrial invertebrates. Dozens of species of Drosophila, giant Leptogryllus crickets, colorful Tetragnatha spiders and, of course, the curious Hawaiian happy face spider, were part of this unique world.

However, as we descended, the increase of invasive species, like strawberry guava, clidemia and Kāhili ginger, became obvious. At 934 meters, most of the strawberry guavas were juvenile — they were the advancing front of an invasion. By 800 meters, the strawberry guava trees were older and the diversity of endemic plants had declined dramatically. Toward the end of the transect, we were in a pure strawberry guava forest. Most of the native plants were gone and many of the animals appeared to be absent as well. It became obvious to me that I was witnessing the potential future for the higher elevation areas.

Today, the disappearance of "critically endangered," "endangered" and "vulnerable" species could lead us further down a path toward what might be the planet's sixth mass extinction. Indeed, it is likely that many more organisms will go extinct in our lifetime. The clock is ticking for many species worldwide and we have a limited time to discover and document our existing biological diversity. Unlike the K/T extinction, we can use our knowledge of contemporary species distribution and abundance to prevent these extinctions. However, for this to occur, human society must undergo fundamental yet attainable changes. If we fail to learn the lessons from the past, there might not be a future from which to escape once the Earth ceases to be a safe place ….

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Scott Laursen for suggestions for the text and for letting me join the research team to visit Laupāhoehoe.

Relicts of the Bug-men

What are bug-men and how did their existence benefit UCMP? Watch and listen to this slideshow about an obscure link recently discovered by UCMP micropaleontologist Ken Finger.

Click cover page below to download the full article.


Student Spotlight: Jenna Judge travels to Japan in search of deep sea snails

Congratulation to UCMP's Jenna Judge who was awarded a spot in the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) last spring. NSF EAPSI provides funding for a graduate student to spend a summer in an East Asian or Pacific country to conduct scientific research as well as engage in societal and cultural practices. Jenna spent her summer in Japan, studying  the evolutionary history and ecology of a group of limpets that live in a variety of habitats in the deep sea! Check out her adventures on her personal blog - the eclectic limpet.

One fossil locality, eight days, 513 rocks, 757 photographs and thousands of plant fossils

Figure 1: Bolzano covers the floor of intersecting alpine valleys defined by stunning dolomite peaks (upper left). Check out the local GAP for the latest in dirndl fashion (lower left). Cin and Ivo inspect a big slab with Late Permian conifer branches (right).

This summer we headed to the Italian Alps to work on fossils from a newly discovered Late Permian plant locality in the incredibly scenic Bletterbach gorge. This research is part of a larger project, which tries to quantify the hits that the terrestrial ecosystem took during the end-Permian world-wide biotic crisis. Back in those days Europe and North America were connected and part of one and the same floral realm, not surprisingly called Euramerica. Euramerica was tropical and semi-arid, and its floras were characterized by conifers and seedferns. Floral remains from this area and time interval are few and far between and notoriously incomprehensive, and thus also is our understanding of the floras. The discovery in the north Italian Dolomites of a specimen (as well as taxon-rich macrofossil flora some years ago) therefore means a big leap forward. Last year a multidisciplinary team was assembled to make an inventory and study the various plant groups and reptilian ichnofossils collected at the site. We were there to study and photograph the conifer remains and sample them for preserved leaf cuticles.

Truckloads of fossiliferous material had already been collected by volunteers over the last few years and were ready to be worked on. As a result, the field part of our expedition was reduced to sampling cuticle bearing sediment layers - sitting right on top of the Butterloch waterfall in Geoparc Bletterbach. The remaining time was spent digging the museum collection.

The collection is housed in the natural history gem Naturmuseum Südtirol in Bolzano - or Bozen as the German speaking South Tyroleans call it. The museum in turn is housed in a beautiful respectfully converted historic building from the latest 1400s in the “Bozner Altstadt”. So - just like last year - we spent the hottest part of the European summer up on the attic of yet another natural history museum.

Our counterpart, curator Dr. Evelyn Kustatcher, turned out to be a fabulous cook as well as a wonderful host. That, together with daily macchiatos and apiretivos on café terraces, and the stunning natural beauty of the area made Bolzano a particularly difficult place to leave.

We will be back...

Figure 2: Sampling the cuticle-rich layer close to the waterfall (upper left). Our host Evelyn Kustatcher (red shirt) explains geo-tourist spectators what we are doing (lower left). A look into the Butterloch-Bletterbach Gorge from above (right).

Student Spotlight: Joey Pakes 2010 Diving Expedition for Remipedes in the Yucatan

Imagine what it would be like: swimming in the dark, deep underwater, in an enclosed space, “armed” with only a flashlight and a tank of air. For UCMP graduate student Joey Pakes, that is a typical day of research in the subterranean caves in Mexico. Check out her video which describes her 2010 expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula as part of her ongoing investigations into underwater cave systems. Meet some of the people and animals that make her research so special.

Student Spotlight: Emily Lindsey and the late Pleistocene megafauna in South America

This post's text is also available in Spanish.

Emily Lindsey fossil hunting at her site in Ecuador.

Congratulations to graduate student Emily Lindsey, this year's recipient of the George D. Louderback Award! Emily has been hard at work the past few years investigating the timing, dynamics, and key players behind the late Pleistocene extinction of megafauna in South America.

Like the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, Emily's excavation site on the Santa Elena Peninsula in Ecuador is an asphalt seep preserving the remains of a wide array of organisms. However, unlike the Tar Pits in California, the Ecuador site doesn't appear to be a tableau depicting the tragic demise of animals stuck in tar. Instead, it is likely the final resting place of remains transported by running water and then covered by nearby asphalt.

A. Setting up camp at Emily's site on the Santa Elena Peninsula. B. Close up of one of the excavated walls. C. Panoramic view of the entire site during the fossil dig.

So what mysterious late Pleistocene megafauna did she uncover in the seep? Mainly giant ground sloths (Eremotherium laurillardi) ranging from juveniles to adults, along with gomphotheres (elephant-like relatives of mastodons), giant armadillos and prehistoric horse. In general, Emily’s site had rather reduced biodiversity compared to other notable tar seeps. In fact only herbivores were found, unlike La Brea, which included the infamous and carnivorous sabertoothed cat and dire wolf.

All photos demonstrate the excavation process in the field by Emily's many international collaborators. B. Close up of bones being exposed.

Emily couldn’t do all this work without some help. For the excavation, she brought together a slew of collaborators from across continents to uncover (zing!) and understand the mysteries surrounding the late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions. The Universidad Estatal Peninsula de Santa Elena (UPSE) sponsored the excavation and kept the fossil finds at the Museo Paleontologico Megaterio (MPM). Members of the Page Museum in California also flew down to Ecuador, bringing their expertise on the La Brea Tar Pits and asphalt seeps. And, several U.C. Berkeley students and alumni have volunteered their time on the dig. Several international articles were written about Emily’s exciting work, including one from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and the Universidad Nacional de Piura (UNP).

A. An area of deposited bones after they've been excavated. B. and C. The exposed fossils are plastered to protect them for transport to the museum.

Emily’s collaboration with UNP members in Peru was part of her goal to compare asphalt seeps from different locales. “I think the Talara tar seeps in Peru are pretty similar to La Brea, geologically & taxonomically, just my site in Ecuador is distinct from them,” says Emily. “This isn’t necessarily true of other asphalt sites here on the Santa Elena Peninsula, which may represent more traditional “tar pit” scenarios.”  Emily presented her results in a lecture at UNP last year.

Another large focus of Emily's work has been to tease apart the roles of climate change and habitat degradation from the arrival of humans on the disappearance of large mammals.  Several of the fossils uncovered at her site in Ecuador were found with cut marks. Though this might suggest that humans played a hand in overharvesting and subsequently pushing these mammals to extinction, there is no further evidence of human activity at her site. “It is also possible that the marks are ‘taphonomic’ features, caused when the bones were swept down a river or rubbed against other bones and rocks in the tar pit,” says Emily. Likely both climate change and human activities led to the downfall of these South American megafauna. The question is, how much did each factor contribute.

Other important tasks to do at the site include A. mapping out the location of the bones, B. measuring the stratigraphic layers, and C. sifting for microfauna.

With a much deserved award under her belt, we look forward to hearing more about Emily’s discoveries in the future!

A display of a giant ground sloth at the Museo Paleontologico Megaterio (MPM).

En Español:

Felicitaciones a la estudiante de doctorado Emily Lindsey, ganadora este año del Premio George D. Lauderback. Emily ha estado trabajando los últimos años investigando la cronología, los patrones y los actores principales en la extinción de la megafauna sudamericana al fin del Pleistoceno.

Tal como el famoso sitio Rancho La Brea en Los Ángeles, California, USA, el sitio que Emily está excavando en la Península de Santa Elena en Ecuador es un charco de asfalto que preserva los restos de una gran variedad de organismos. Sin embargo, a diferencia de los charcos de brea en Los Ángeles, el sitio en Ecuador no parece que fue una trampa donde varios animales murieron atrapados en brea, sino la ultima morada de restos trasladados por agua corriente y luego enterrados en el asfalto.

¿Y cual megafauna misteriosa ha encontrado Emily en los charcos de Santa Elena? Principalmente perezosos gigantes (Eremotherium laurillardi), desde críos hasta adultos, junto con gonfoterios (un pariente de los mastodontes parecidos a elefantes), armadillos gigantes, y caballos prehistóricos. En total, el sitio tiene menos biodiversidad en comparación con otros conocidos fosilíferos charcos de brea. De hecho, hasta ahora solo han encontrado herbívoros, a diferencia de Rancho La Brea, donde los fósiles más encontrados incluyen los famosos – y carnívoros – tigres dientes de sable y Canis dirus.

¡Emily no podría hacer todo este trabajo sin ayuda! Para las excavaciones, unió a un grupo de colaboradores de distintos continentes a des-cubrir (:)) y entender los misterios sobre la extinción de la megafauna Pleistocena sudamericana. La Universidad Estatal Península de Santa Elena (UPSE) apoyó la excavación y guardó los fósiles excavados en el Museo Paleontológico Megaterio (MPM). Personal del Museo de Historia Natural en Los Ángeles, California, también vino a ayudar con las excavaciones, contribuyendo con su alta experiencia y conocimiento sobre los charcos de brea. Además, varios alumnos y exalumnos de la Universidad de California en Berkeley han llegado como voluntarios a ayudar con los excavaciones. Algunos artículos internacionales han sido escritos sobre el trabajo emocionante de Emily, incluyendo uno del Museo de Historia Natural en Los Ángeles, y otro del Universidad Nacional de Piura (UNP) en Perú.

La colaboración de Emily con el personal del UNP fue en conexión con su proyecto de comparar charcos de brea de distintos lugares. "Yo creo que los charcos de brea en Talara, Peru son bien parecidos, geológicamente y taxonómicamente, con los de Rancho La Brea en Los Ángeles; solo el sitio que yo tengo es distinto," dijo Emily. "Esto no necesariamente es el caso con los otros sitios de asfalto que encontramos aquí en la Península de Santa Elena, los cuales podrían representar escenarios mas tradicionales de "trampas de brea."

Otro gran enfoque del trabajo de Emily ha sido diferenciar las contribuciones de cambios climáticos y degradación de hábitats y la llegada de los primeros humanos a Sudamérica, como causantes de la desaparición de mamíferos gigantes del continente. Algunos de los fósiles descubiertos en su sitio en Ecuador fueron encontrados con marcas parecidos a las hechas con cuchillos. Aunque esto podría sugerir que los humanos tenían un papel en la sobrecaza de estos animales y su eventual extinción, no hay mas evidencia de acciones humanos en el sitio. "También es posible que las marcas sean características 'tafonómicas,' producidas cuando los huesos fueron arrastrado por un río o cuando se frotaban unos contra otros o contra piedras en el charco de brea," dice Emily. Probablemente, ambos procesos – cambios climáticos y acciones de humanos – contribuyeron a la extinción de la megafauna Sudamericana. La pregunta es, ¿cuánto contribuyó cada factor?

Ya con un premio bien merecido, ¡esperaremos escuchar mas sobre los descubrimientos de Emily en el futuro!

Molly Wright's Trip to the Smithsonian Collection

National Museum of Natural History

DAY 1 (5/17/2011): I work with Professor Roy Caldwell to study the evolution of the behaviors and morphology of mantis shrimps – pugnacious crustaceans that are distant cousins to lobsters, true shrimps, and crabs. Mantis shrimps use fearsome raptorial appendages to smash or spear their prey. Even more surprisingly, some mantis shrimps live in male-female pairs in sandy burrows, with both sexes caring for the young and sharing food. Social monogamy, when a single male and female live as a pair for an extended period of time, is very rare among crustaceans, so I’m naturally interested in how it arose.

Molly Wright and her husband, Tim Dulac, at the airport.

In particular,  I’m really curious to find out whether lifestyle traits, such as living in sandy burrows or ambush hunting, may have opened the door for the evolution of social monogamy.  To try to answer my questions, I will be looking at some of the thousands of mantis shrimp specimens housed at the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Museum Support Center. By looking at the morphologies and behaviors of different mantis shrimp species and considering their evolutionary histories, I hope to figure out whether the evolution of morphological traits like the relative size and shape of eyes, raptorial appendages, and body shape, is correlated with the evolution of social monogamy, ambush hunting, and burrow-living.

I’ll be updating this blog while I am in Washington D.C. with more about my research and lots of tasty tidbits about mantis shrimp biology.  So stay tuned!




Just a few of the many mantis shrimp specimens at the National Museum of Natural History.

DAY 2 (5/19/2011): My first day in Washington D.C. started off with a 6am wakeup call, followed by a rushed morning of picking up a rental car at Dulles International Airport, driving to the nearest metro station to take a train into Washington D.C., and literally running to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to make my 9:30am appointment to obtain a visitors badge. Then, before I could even catch my breath, I was on the Smithsonian Employee shuttle and off to the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Maryland.

The MSC houses all of the invertebrate collections that are stored in ethanol, as well as many of the Invertebrate Zoology research labs. Museum Specialist Karen Reed met me at the entrance of the building. Karen led me through the labyrinth of hallways in the MSC, set me up at a work bench with all the tools I needed, and oriented me to the Crustacean collections, helping me select some specimens to get started on. The Crustacean collections take up two large rooms in the MSC. Walking through shelves containing thousands of specimens, I was continuously distracted by amazing creatures - giant American lobsters, spiny lobsters, giant isopods, and king crabs, all stored in jars of slightly yellowed ethanol. This place is great!

By the time I collected my specimens, it was time to eat lunch. The entire Invertebrate Zoology staff eats together everyday, which is great for visiting scientists like me because it gives us a chance to get to know everyone. After lunch, I set up my camera and started taking pictures. In half a day, I got through most of the Nannosquilla (a genus of small mantis shrimps) and started up on the Lysiosquillina (a genus of HUGE mantis shrimps), taking more than 100 pictures of animals ranging from 10mm to 30cm!


A. Molly is photographing mantis shrimps at the National Museum of Natural History to better understand how their morphology and behaviors have evolved. B. Lysiosquillina maculata specimens collected from French Polynesia. C. A nannosquilloid mantis shrimp. Nannosquilloids are among the smallest mantis shrimps, while the lysiosquilloid mantis shrimps are among the largest.

After a long, but fruitful, day at the MSC, I finally got to head to the apartment that my husband and I are renting for the next week and a half. It felt great to collapse on the couch and put my feet up. After a quick nap, my husband and I went out for a quick dinner – of course, I had to order the crab cake and shrimp dish because there’s nothing quite like eating the animals you study!

Molly's dinner on her first night in Washington D.C. She enjoyed two different crustaceans, blue crabs and shrimps, as well as some delicious scallops.




A giant mantis shrimp, also known as a zebra mantis shrimp.

DAY 3 (5/20/2011): Today I examined several specimens of the giant mantis shrimp (Lysiosquillina maculata), so named because it can grow more than 30 cm in length. This species is often called the zebra mantis shrimp because of it’s striking black stripes. Although color usually fades when crustaceans are preserved in ethanol, many specimens that I looked at this afternoon still had vibrant yellow bodies with dark stripes.


Giant mantis shrimps and other members of the Lysiosquillina genus have fascinating behaviors.  They are socially monogamous. Heterosexual pairs dig long, U-shaped burrows in the sand. Males in this genus usually do the hunting, waiting at the opening of the burrow for a fish to swim by then grabbing it from the water column with their long, sharp raptorial appendages. Then they share the food they catch with their mate. We have been observing one male Lysiosquillina maculata in our lab in Berkeley for many years.  He always provisions his mate first, coming back a few minutes later for more fish.

Lysiosquillina maculata is also sexually dimorphic – that is, males and females have slightly different body shapes. Males have larger eyes and longer raptorial appendages. We suspect that this might be because they spend more time at the burrow opening, catching food and defending themselves and their mates.

A. The largest giant mantis shrimp in the Smithsonian collection, over a foot long! B. A zebra mantis shrimp with it's raptorial appendages displayed.



Molly is preparing to take a picture of a large California mantis shrimp (Hermisquilla californiensis).

DAY 4 (5/23/2011): Starting my first full week at the Smithsonian this morning, I was excited to take a look at some other socially monogamous mantis shrimps in the Lysiosqulloidea clade.

After waking myself up with a big cup of coffee, I proceeded up to the large crustacean storage room in Pod 5 of the Museum Support Center with Museum Specialist Karen Reed  . I was curious to see Pod 5 for more than just it’s scientific significance because it was prominently featured as the site of the protagonist’s lab in Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol. Unlike its description in the novel, it is filled with jar after jar of specimens preserved in ethanol. Karen helped me navigate through the collections, returning the specimens that I looked at last week and choosing new specimens to examine. Everything is organized with an accession number, much like in a library, otherwise if a specimen were misplaced, it might not be found again for decades or even centuries!

I pulled more than 40 specimens to examine over the next few days from several families of mantis shrimps in the Lysiosquilloidea clade – the Nannosquillidae, the Coronididae, and the Tetrasquillidae. I’m particularly interested in looking at the Nannosquillidae family because it contains both promiscuous and socially monogamous species. I hope that by looking at morphological traits that occur in socially monogamous species but not in promiscuous species, I can better understand howsocial monogamy evolved.


A. One of the larger American lobsters in the Smithsonian's wet collection. B. A giant isopod from the Smithsonian's wet collection. C. A few of the many mantis shrimp specimens that Molly looked at during her trip.



Molly's prep and picture station at the Smithsonian.

DAY 5 (5/25/2011): Today is a rather special day for me – my birthday! And what better way to spend it than at the MSC, looking at mantis shrimps?

In the past two days, I’ve photographed and measured 48 mantis shrimps – not bad, considering it takes me about 20 minutes to process each specimen! First I look up the accession number in the Smithsonian’s online database, which provides  information on when and where it was collected, as well as any notes from collection and later curation. After adding this information to an excel spreadsheet, I use calipers to measure the mantis shrimp’s eyes, antennal scales, legs, and total length. I then mount the specimen in a dissection dish with pins, getting it in just the right position to photograph. I take several shots of each animal from different view points to make sure that I am getting all of the morphological information I need, remounting it each time. I always include a small ruler in the photo so that I have an idea of the size of the animal.

This morning, I searched the wet collections for some of the rarer genera of Lysiosquilloidea. Once I measure and photograph the 13 specimens that I pulled this morning, I will have completed my survey of the Lysiosquilloidea. Of course, I couldn’t look at every lysiosquilloid mantis shrimp in the Smithsonian collection – the museum has over 400 mantis shrimps just in this super-family – but I did manage to examine at least a few examples of each genus!

Tonight my husband and I are going to celebrate both my birthday and my success thus far in the Smithsonian collections with a delicious Italian dinner!

A. The specimens, like this giant mantis shrimp, are kept in large jars with a fixative for preservation. B. Molly's stomatopod of interest, the giant mantis shrimp. C. The antennal scale, antennae, and eyes of a giant mantis shrimp. D. A close up of the giant mantis shrimp, also known as a zebra mantis shrimp.




"Field Notes": Devonian liverworts and Permian conifers

Susan Tremblay (left) and paleobotanist Carol Hotton (right) talking liverworts

Susan Tremblay (left) and paleobotanist Carol Hotton (right) talking liverworts

On a cold Berkeley morning late in March paleobotanist Cindy Looy and grad student Susan Tremblay hopped on a plane to Washington DC. Their goal was not to enjoy the gorgeous spring weather and peaking cherry blossoms, but instead to search for clues to the early evolution of plants in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Devonian liverworts and Permian conifers were on the menu.

Pallaviciniites devonicus, described by Francis Hueber in 1961, is one of the oldest known fossil liverworts. The shale from which the fossils originated, a locality in Eastern New York, has been completely quarried and used for road repairs. Until recently the taxon was thought to exist only in the form of six type slides. However, on a previous visit to the NMNH, Devonian specialist Carol Hotton pointed Cindy to several cabinets with the original shales collected by Hueber. One of our goals was to re-examine the material.

Cindy Looy taking notes on Early Permian conifer branches

Cindy Looy taking notes on Early Permian conifer branches

At first glance the shales don’t seem to contain any fossils at all. But when looked at with a stereo microscope using polarized light a variety of plant fossils, including liverwort thalli, become clearly visible. A selection of this material was shipped to the UCMP, where preparations are being made to free the fossils by dissolving the matrix. P. devonicus and other Paleozoic liverwort taxa have dark cells scattered across their surfaces. These are hypothesized to be homologous to the scattered, oil body containing-cells of some extant liverworts. Susan will use morphometrics and biogeochemical information to test possible homology. This might elucidate the evolution and possible function of these mysterious organelles found only in liverworts, the sister group to the rest of the land plants.

Cin’s quest to reconstruct the early history of the Paleozoic conifers also continued. The earliest conifers are small trees with a growth habit similar to that of extant Norfolk Island Pine. They played a prominent role in the composition of plant communities in the equatorial Euramerican floral realm during the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian. Conifers generally fossilize as leaves or isolated shoots, or fragments thereof. The specimens studied were collected by Cindy and NMNH colleagues and originate from an Early Permian seed-plant-dominated flora from Texas. The presence of complete branch systems provides valuable information about the life history of the plants that produced them. New finds from New Mexico were loaned for further study at the Looylab.