The Big L

Every community has its legends. If you are the literary type, Shakespeare and Chaucer are elevated to superhuman status. To the military folk, Alexander the Great is usually cited as the greatest commander of all time. And as for biologists, the top of the mountain is usually occupied by Charles Darwin. But there is a man whose contributions were integral to Darwin’s discoveries. I am talking about the grandfather of all taxonomists: Carl Linnaeus.

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Calappa hepatica (Linnaeus, 1758), from Hoga, Indonesia

The man behind the classification scheme we still use today, Linnaeus was the first person to describe species the way we do now. And because of that, he started on the far left of the collector’s curve. Imagine a reality where literally everything was a new species? I don’t know if I would be more ecstatic or overwhelmed.

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Mantis religiosa (Linnaeus, 1758), from Davis, California

Linnaeus described over 13,000 species, of which about two thirds were plants. It’s amazing to think of the breadth of organisms that Linnaeus studied. I remember a few weeks ago remarking to a friend how impressive Brian Kensley’s contributions to both eucarid and peracarid crustaceans were. To compare to the big L, you would have to scale that from the difference between superorders to the difference between kingdoms!

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Dromia dormia (Linnaeus, 1763), from Maui, Hawai’i

Of course it is unfair to compare the contributions of modern taxonomists to Linnaeus, as the detail expected of modern descriptions far exceeds many of his. Also, Linnaeus gobbled the lowest hanging fruit. Many of the species he described are conspicuous, widespread, or seemingly omnipresent. Among these are the dog (Canis familiaris), the horse (Equus ferus caballus), the housefly (Musca domestica) and the human (Homo sapiens).

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Gasteracantha cancriformis (Linnaeus, 1758), from Fort Meyers, Florida

While it is important to see his contributions in context, even that context does little to reduce the magnitude of his accomplishments. In addition to being the father of taxonomy, he also was the first to use a thermometer in the modern style as well as the first to successfully grow bananas in Europe. And Linnaeus himself was aware of his prolific stature, saying once “God creates, Linnaeus arranges.”

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Adventures in Mexico

It’s been a long time since I last wrote on TGAS, which was certainly not intentional but it has been an interesting few months. Firstly, I attended the Alejandro Villalobos national meeting in Merida, Mexico, back in late October. While I was there I also attended a Caridean shrimp taxonomy workshop. It was an absolute blast and I met a ton of cool crustacean biologists and made many great friends. Shortly after returning, my country elected a madman to the presidency and I went through a few weeks of not wanting to leave my apartment. I’ve been working a bunch on my dissertation and haven’t taken too many photos, but I wanted to share a few from the Mexico trip before the year ended. Next week I will be presenting at the society of integrative and comparative biologists (SICB) meeting in New Orleans. If you will be there, it would be a pleasure to meet you!

Without further ado, some images from the Yucatan:

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Triacanthoneus sp., a rare and unusual alpheid shrimp from the reefs off of Sisal, Mexico

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Chalcolepidius rugatus, a cool click beetle (Elaterid) from the Yucatan

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Me in the Caridean taxonomy course with many new friends

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Milestones

I started taking photos seriously in 2011, but I never organized my photos beyond date, often operating under the assumption that in some time in the future I would actually go through and organize them and therefore have some kind of personal life list. It took a while, but about a year ago I finally began this process by creating a database for my observations. Since then, I have been going through my backlog of photos, organizing them, uploading those that I had not already posted to iNaturalist, and keeping track of identifications. Recently, I completed this project, with a final total of 1,384 arthropods photographed between 2006-2016 (largely between 2010-2016). Here is a look at some of my metadata:

ID Level

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Completely by chance, a perfectly symmetrical pattern emerged in my identification levels. Looking at specimens I have identified to species, to genus but not species, and not even to genus- I have the exact same number (585) identified down to species as I do to not even genus. This means, if you were to score a genus level ID as 1 point and a species level ID as 2 points (as I like to do), at the time I generated this chart I had scored exactly half of the possible points (cue Bon Jovi). Furthermore, having this framework with which I can create reports of photos without ID by taxonomic grouping, I should be able to be more efficient in putting names on all of my photos.

Country/State of Observation

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Not many surprises here- a huge chunk of my photos came from a summer internship in Indonesia in 2011 (by far my most productive year). Otherwise largely what I expected, mostly US with some additions from my time in Japan in 2010 (when I was sadly not taking a ton of photos) and my trip to Belize last year. I am glad to report I will be shortly adding Mexico to this list as I am heading down there for a conference and shrimp taxonomy workshop next month.

Photo Type

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Again, this result is not surprising as I only began taking white box photos somewhat recently. However, I am pleased to see that I have white box photos of over 10% of my observations, which is nice.

Year of Observation

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This one saddens me a bit- nearly two thirds of my photos were taken in 2011-12. I did make long distance relocations in both 2013 and 2014, but I don’t really have an excuse for the last few years. It is with this thought that I would like to make a bold proclaimation- between the ages of 17-27, I observed and photographed 1,380 arthropods, but by the time I am 37, that number will be at least 5,000. This will effectively mean tripling my efforts and observation rate, not an easy task by any means. However, I am determined, and also now that I have a database system in place I will have a way to monitor my progress and hopefully stay on my path to 5,000.

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Mr. and Mrs.

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A male reddish brown stag beetle (Lucanus capreolus)

Humans may think of February as the right time for valentines day, but if you are a stag beetle the right time to find your soulmate is the heat of summer. I found my first reddish stag beetleĀ  (Lucanus capreolus) a few weeks ago, the female pictured here, and within a week I found a male counterpart. This species mates in the summer, after which females oviposit in rotting wood. The larvae feed on the wood until they pupate and the cycle continues.

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A female reddish brown stag beetle (Lucanus capreolus)

The stag beetles (family Lucanidae) is remarkable for their sexual dimorphism: males have large, ornamental mandibles whereas females have smaller ones. This is due to a unique behavior, related to sexual selection. Males engage in ritualistic battles of strength over mates by locking their huge mandibles and trying to lift their opponent like a sumo wrestler. I have never witnessed this behavior in person but I have seen plenty of videos, some enthusiastically narrated by Japanese announcers.

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The enlarged mandibles of male L.capreolus are used in contests for females

 

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Bugstock 2016

A few weekends ago I had the good fortune of attending Bugstock, Louisiana’s premiere entomology gathering. I was able to meet a number of very cool people, and see a great number of cool insects and arachnids. With several black light sheets and over twenty entomophiles scampering about looking for creatures, there was no shortage of cool arthropods to observe and photograph. I am still going through and cleaning up my photos and identifying things I photographed, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to put some up on TGAS, so here are some cool creatures to admire:

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Climaciella brunnea, the wasp mantidfly

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Chrysochus auratus, the dogbane leaf beetle

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Diogmites sp., a robber fly

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Phileurus truncatus, the triceratops beetle

 

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Cool without Claws

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The royal slipper lobster, Arctides regalis, from Maui

One of the coolest things in the world is the mighty claw. Just ask the aliens from Toy Story. But there are some lobsters that make their way in the world without them. The members of the infraorder Achelata (literally meaning “without claws”) are the only major group of decapod crustaceans to entirely lack chelae on any of their pereopods (walking legs). They make up for this with an enlargement of the second antennae in two very distinct ways. These two ways dilineate the two families of extant achelate lobsters: the Scyllaridae and the Palinuridae.

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Parribacus antarcticus, the sculptured slipped lobster, from Maui

The Scyllaridae, or slipper lobsters, have large flattened antennae. They lack the ability to perform the retrograde escape response characteristic of shrimp and lobsters, commonly referred to as the “tail flip.” Instead, their predator avoidance depends on their ability to bury themselves in the substrate. At night, however, they come out and feed on a variety of invertebrates. Scyllarids are among my favorite animals, their unsusual shape and beady eyes are adorable.

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The California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus, from San Clemente Island

The Palinuridae have long, spiny second antennae- hence their common name, spiny lobsters. These include many commercially harvested species. They have a completely novel way of producing sound- by rubbing their plectrum, an extension at the base of each antenna, against a file-shaped region of their carapace. Furthermore, some palinurids seasonally migrate between different depths, and what is especially astounding is they do it in single file!

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The blue spiny lobster, Panulirus versicolor, from Indonesia

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Getting Along Fine

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The thick legged fiddler crab, Uca crassipes, from Kaledupa

I know updates have slowed down a bit on TGAS, which I did not intend to happen, but I have been working diligently on sorting my photos and putting my arthropod observations into a database. Just last night I celebrated reaching the end of 2011 in my photo backlog. One of the best experiences I had in 2011 was going to the site of the highest recorded sympatric diversity of fiddler crabs (genus Uca) in the world. One of them, Uca cryptica, was first described based on museum specimens that lacked locality information. A later study, from this exact site, determined where they actually came from.

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The formerly cryptic Uca cryptica

In Kaledupa, one of the islands of the Indonesian Wakatobi chain, in a small habitat patch between crowded houses live ten (!) species of fiddler crab together in harmony. I was an undergraduate at the time and I was helping a graduate student with her ecological study that examined what factors allowed such a great diversity of similar organisms with similar lifestyles to be able to coexist happily (well, at least they seemed happy). Hint: it involves some sort of niche partitioning. Also, it didn’t hurt that this variable habitat included both mangrove forest and coral reefs, leading to sediments that I imagine are both calcium rich and high in organic material, and fiddler crabs generally feed on particles in sediment.

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The tetragonal fiddler crab, Uca tetragonon

Along with the fiddler crabs live a distant relative, the sentinel crab (Macropthalmus sp.), a member of the same superfamily (Ocypodoidea) but in a separate family than the fiddler and ghost crabs (Macropthalmidae). These crabs lack the dramatically huge chelipeds that characterize male fiddler crabs, but they are still sexually dimorphic, with males having much larger claws than their female counterparts. For whatever stochastic evolutionary reasons, despite their similar lifestyle the sentinel crabs have not diversified as much or colonized nearly as much of the world’s coasts as fiddler crabs.

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A sentinel crab, Macropthalmus sp.

Although I only got to help with this project for a few days, I really enjoyed it and have very fond memories of it. It’s definitely a spot I would love to return to with my newer, better lenses and my improved photography know-how.

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