A time of giving – 10 million specimens

The Fish collection has undergone a dramatic growth spurt, more than doubling in size, through the gift of a collection of fishes held by Dr. Tom Simon. Our colleague served as an expert in fish and crayfish biodiversity for Indiana and taught courses on larval fish biology at OSU’s Stone Lab. The transfer of specimens was planned with Tom upon his retirement, but happened more quickly because of his sad, sudden passing.

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The relocation of the collection was spearheaded by Division of Fishes Curator Marc Kibbey, who served as logistics coordinator  and chief box mover for our three trips to the Bloomington facility where the material had been stored. Like so much of what we do, this move depended on the help of our students, volunteers, and colleagues, who showed up over several weekends to help us move thousands of boxes of specimens.

boxes organized for pick up

The students and friends helping in Bloomington organized boxes in advance of our arrival.

The Simon collection includes a synoptic collection of Indiana fish diversity plus extensive holdings of larval freshwater fish from across the US. It also contains historical collections that had been “orphaned” when institutions closed or experts retired. Unpacking and integrating the more than 10 million specimens we have acquired through this gift will occupy us for years to come. The tasks of accessioning, rehousing, and databasing the specimens are leavened by the opportunity to see so many fish, and to find some real gems within the collection.


About the Author: OSU Professor Meg Daly

Dr. Meg Daly is the Director of the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity, Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology and manages the Lab of Marine Invertebrate Diversity.



What it takes to be a successful Invader

Invasive species have received a lot of bad press, but let’s face it, some of these alien species really have what it takes to make it!  One example of a highly successful invasive species is the Round Goby, a native to central Eurasia including the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Male Round Goby in black spawning coloration

Male Round Goby in black spawning coloration

Identifying an alien

Recently a graduate student in Michigan sent a request for identification of a fish skull.  When I saw the skull on a photo that the student attached to the inquiry my first thought was that this is a species I haven’t seen before.  I was thinking to myself, “in my mind I’ve got a fairly good catalog of all the native species that are found in the Great Lakes, so this one is probably exotic”.  Furthermore, I examined the teeth and the rest of the skull picture, and found features that are similar to the marine blennies and gobies that I’m familiar with; quite possibly a Round Goby.

OSUM 104701, Neogobius melanostomus skull

OSUM 104701, Neogobius melanostomus skull

When one observes the teeth of a Round Goby skull, it becomes readily apparent that they are eminently suited to catching prey: numerous, closely packed and somewhat curved teeth. Once the fangs are sunk into the prey’s body it would be difficult to wriggle out of the goby’s maw.  Speaking of the “maw”, the width of the Round Goby’s head and mouth are somewhat disproportionately large in comparison to the size of the body.  This aspect of the anatomy amplifies the capacity of the fish to suck in its prey.  By opening the mouth quickly a vacuum is created, which when combined with the sudden forward lunge that the goby employs toward the prey, improves the likelihood of successful capture.

Neogobius melanostomus are extremely aggressive and will challenge fishes larger than themselves, outcompeting native fish for preferred habitat as well as preying on other fish’s eggs and young.

What makes the Round Goby so successful?

Round Gobies are found primarily in the benthic zone of the water body, from the bottom of shallow areas down to 70 feet in depth.  They prefer areas where there is plenty of cover such as around rocks, sticks and logs.  The species has been found to tolerate polluted conditions, which enables it to occupy areas that less tolerant species cannot live in. This increases their opportunities to grow into a large population that aids in overcoming the other species in less polluted areas.  Another aspect of their biology that enhances their prowess is a highly developed lateralis system, a fishes’ sensory system conveying environmental information to the brain and making them an effective competitor and predator in dark, murky conditions as well as in clear daylight.

High productivity is a hallmark of an effective invader.  A mature Round Goby female is able to produce over 3,000 eggs, the older the female the more eggs they produce.  The male uses posturing and coloration (see the photo above) to attract females to its nest, often mating with more than one female.  The females spawn up to six times in a season, which lasts all summer long from April through September. Let’s do the math: a female could produce 18,000 young in just one year, that’s a lot of Round Gobies!

Although the deleterious effects of this intruder are considerable in scope, as some research here at OSU has shown, one must nonetheless admire their capabilities.  But we should keep in mind that without our assistance it is doubtful that Round Gobies would have spread so far and certainly not so quickly.  Their ability to tolerate euryhaline conditions, a wide range of salinities, facilitates their natural spread under normal conditions over a much longer time. It has allowed them to survive in the ballast waters of vessels and occupy new areas when the ballast is flushed.

Although they are best known from the Great Lakes they are now found in the lower reaches of larger rivers and have been captured in the Illinois River drainage, presaging their invasion of other Mississippi River tributaries.

map of Round Goby invasion in Great lakes regionBut thus far the most dramatic spread of the Round Goby has occurred in the Great Lakes of North America where a lack of effective competitors facilitated their occupation of new territories.

Northern Europe, too, has suffered from a Round Goby Invasion as shown in these maps and the potential for their spread in Europe is estimated to be much greater. You can follow them on AquaMaps, enter genus “Neogobius” and species “melanostomus” to obtain a map showing their predicted spread.

map of Round Goby invasion in Europe


Because they are not tasty to humans it is hard to truly appreciate this fish from any perspective other than that of their successes as invaders. But to a larger, piscine predator they must indeed be tasty as they have become a substantial part of native gamefishes’ diet.  And for Lake Erie water snakes, as well as aquatic birds like gulls and cormorants, Round Gobies are a major new item on the menu.  Indeed, Round Gobies are so abundant in Lake Erie that frustrated anglers often complain that the pesky little perciforms are the only thing they can catch.

The Round Goby is here to stay, and changes wrought by their incursion will reverberate for decades across the Great Lakes at least. Have you caught one yet?


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Freshwater Mussels Vs. The World

Did learning the difference between the lifestyle of the freshwater vs. saltwater mussels whet your appetite? Are you curious whose cousin you are consuming when slurping scallops or opening oysters?  Do you catch yourself wondering at night if sea slugs are really related to land slugs? Is your superpower talking to octopuses and you want to know what other animals you may be able to communicate with? We have got you covered.

This time, we are going to discuss the relationships between all these molluscs, so you can learn just how distinct these organisms really are.  You will finally be able to join the club* of polite pedantic people standing with on the borderlines between clades reminding anyone who will listen that these organisms are distinct! Among our allies are those who pipe up whenever someone calls a spider monkey an ape and folks who visibly wince whenever anyone implies that a spider is a bug. This is the kind of knowledge you can brag about. You’ll never need something to talk about on a date again. Those long thanksgiving dinners with extended family will be a breeze! Shells are easy to carry around as props so you can always be prepared!

*there is no club


(Those of you who already know the difference are also invited to read on but are given explicit permission to feel slightly smug while doing it. It’s a win either way.)

Continue reading

Sucker Bridgework

Comparative anatomies of skeletons stored at the OSU Museum Fish Division can be studied to reveal information on the sort of ecological niches a particular species occupies.  One example is the feeding niche that various sucker fish species exploit.  Based on structures of their throat teeth and the type of prey items retrieved from their digestive tract it would appear that buffalo and carpsucker species use their fine, comblike teeth for sieving their prey, while suckers with larger teeth (most redhorses, hogsuckers, spotted suckers) are said to “masticate” their soft prey, and finally those with the sturdiest teeth are able to shatter the hard shells of molluscs.

The photo below shows the anterior portion of a Silver Redhorse skeleton (OSUM 101341), with an arrow pointing to the pharyngeal tooth arch (position indicted by arrow) located at the rear of the gill basket.


There are  16 extant species of sucker fishes in Ohio’s waters.  Images of four of those species with pharyngeal tooth arches removed from some of our skeletons are shown below.

Spotted Sucker1 from Wolf Creek (Kankakee River) IN 07 01 07 by BZ

Spotted Sucker, Minytrema Melanops.  Photo by Brian Zimmerman.


The Spotted Sucker has been reported to feed on organic fragments, diatoms, copepods, cladocerans, and midge larvae.


Smallmouth Buffalo, Ictiobus bubalus.


Smallmouth Buffalo suckers with their relatively delicate teeth feed on diatoms, dipteran larvae, copepods, cladocerans, ostracods, bryozoans, and incidental algae attached to bottom substrates.


Shorthead Redhorse, Moxostoma macrolepidotum.  Photo by Ben Cantrell.


Shorthead Redhorse stomach contents have revealed their diet to consist primarily of midge, mayfly and caddisfly larvae.

River Rehorse from the Duck River at Shelbyville TN by Uland Thomas

River Redhorse Moxostoma carinatum.  Photo by Uland Thomas.


The River Redhorse has the sturdiest teeth of the four sucker species’ teeth shown here, so much so that they are capable of cracking the shells of bivalve molluscs and snails.

For comparison, inserted below is a photo of the molariform pharyngeal teeth from a Freshwater Drum.  The drum is primarily a carnivore, its diet comprised more extensively of bivalve mollusc and gastropod shells, while the omnivorous sucker fishes find most of their food by grazing the bottom of streams and lakes, sifting sand and gravel to find their little morsels.

drum pharyngeals downsized


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Assistant Curator of the OSUM Fish Division.

Dead Clams Walking – Part II


In our previous blog we talked about the nearly extinct genus of freshwater mussels, Epioblasma. Here we present a sobering/depressing gallery of most of its species. Specimens are female individuals.

White Catspaw Maumee River system Probably extinct

Purple Catspaw
Upper Ohio River system
Federally endangered

Southern Combshell Tombigbee River system Federally endangered

Cumberlandian Combshell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Oyster Shell Tennessee River system Federally endangered

Oyster Shell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Leafshell Ohio River system Extinct

Ohio River system

Northern Riffleshell Ohio River-Great Lakes Federally endangered

Northern Riffleshell
Ohio River-Great Lakes
Federally endangered

Southern Combshell Mobile River system Federally endangered

Southern Combshell
Mobile River system
Federally endangered

Duck River Oystershell Duck River Federally endangered

Duck River Oystershell
Duck River
Federally endangered

Yellow Blossom Tennessee River system Extinct

Yellow Blossom
Tennessee River system

Acornshell Tennessee River system Extinct

Tennessee River system

Round Combshell Ohio River system Extinct

Round Combshell
Ohio River system

White Catspaw Maumee River system Probably extinct

White Catspaw
Maumee River system
Probably extinct

Ahlstedt's Oystershell Tennessee River system Federally endangered

Ahlstedt’s Oystershell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Curtis Pearlymussel Black River system Possibly extinct

Curtis Pearlymussel
Black River system
Possibly extinct

Forkshell Ohio River system Extinct

Ohio River system

Sugarspoon Tennessee River system Extinct

Tennessee River system

Snuffbox Ohio River - Great Lakes Federally endangered

Ohio River – Great Lakes
Federally endangered

Southern Acornshell Coosa River system Possibly extinct

Southern Acornshell
Coosa River system
Possibly extinct

Tubercled Blossom Ohio River system Extinct

Tubercled Blossom
Ohio River system

Cumberland Leafshell Tennessee River system Extinct

Cumberland Leafshell
Tennessee River system

Turgid Blossom Duck River Extinct

Turgid Blossom
Duck River

Upland Combshell Coosa River system Federally endangered

Upland Combshell
Coosa River system
Federally endangered

Tan Riffleshell Duck River Federally endangered

Tan Riffleshell
Duck River
Federally endangered


About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.




















































































































Dead clams walking – Part I


Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled animals in North America according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Habitat destruction, pollution, dams, and a litany of other problems have driven many to the verge of extinction. Alas, many are already there. Perhaps the poster children of extinct or soon-to-be-extinct mussels are members of the genus Epioblasma. Once widespread in eastern North America, perhaps no other group has been so decimated by the activities of mankind. And “decimated” is an understatement. Technically, “decimated” means to kill every tenth member of something. For Epioblasma, every species is either extinct or endangered to the point of becoming extinct. And we, mankind, did this to them.

Because so many species of Epioblasma are extinct, the habits of very few have ever been studied. But those that have been investigated reveal a unique (if perhaps somewhat shocking) lifestyle. Like most freshwater mussels, members of Epioblasma have a parasitic larval stage, the glochidium, that uses fishes as hosts. Most mussels have evolved some means of efficiently putting their babies on the proper host. This usually entails luring the host to the mussel to be parasitized. But Epioblasma goes one step further – they actually catch the fish and hold onto it until it has been covered with thousands of parasitic larvae. Mama mussel then releases the host. If all goes as planned, several weeks later the larvae will transform on the fish, fall to the bottom and start their life as juvenile mussels. For the few species for which the hosts are known, the victims are darters and sculpins. The fishes have no one but themselves to blame – they are caught by the mussel when they get too nosy and stick their heads in the mussel to investigate.

Below are some images of the federally endangered Northern Riffleshell and its unfortunate host. Members of the Division of Molluscs have been moving this rare species from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania to Big Darby Creek in Ohio. The Allegheny population is the only reproducing one on earth but it is doing very well, with probably 100s of thousands of individuals. In partnership with the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium and Columbus Metro Parks, we have been relocating this species for nearly seven years with the permission and funding of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the ODNR Division of Wildlife, and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. To date nearly 10,000 individuals have been moved. In order to monitor these mussels, every one has been affixed with a $4 Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag. All have been released into several of the Metro Parks on Big Darby where they can be protected and monitored. The goal is to start a reproducing population there with the ultimate hope of delisting the species as endangered. This is the largest introduction/augmentation of an endangered species in the history of Ohio.

Next time we will present a gallery of Epioblasma.

A female Northern Riffleshell, Epioblasma torulosa rangian

A female Northern Riffleshell, Epioblasma torulosa rangiana

A male Northern Riffleshell

A male Northern Riffleshell

A female Riffleshell awaiting a nosy darter

A female Riffleshell awaiting a nosy darter

A darter has been caught by the mussel's shells and held for parasitization

A darter has been caught by the mussel’s shells and held for parasitization

This darter did not survive the ordeal. Note the larval mussels attached to the fish's opercles and eyes.

This darter did not survive the ordeal. Note the larval mussels attached to the fish’s opercles and eyes.

PIT tags, about the size of a large grain of rice

PIT tags, about the size of a large grain of rice

PIT tags are glued to the outside of the shell with an underwater epoxy

PIT tags are glued to the outside of the shell with an underwater epoxy

Release of tagged individuals to a site on Big Darby Creek

Release of tagged individuals to a site on Big Darby Creek

Dr. Ieva Roznere (OSU) monitoring the mussels with a PIT tag reader

Dr. Ieva Roznere (OSU) monitoring the mussels with a PIT tag reader

A pair of recovered individuals

A pair of recovered individuals





About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

On the accessibility of collections

“Natural history collections are virtually inaccessible to everyone.”

This statement, in one form or another, can be found in many recent publications, online articles, opinion pieces, blog posts, and many comments on other social media outlets. To be absolutely honest, this irritates me greatly and there’s no better place to vent frustration than in a blog post!

Up until the late 1990’s the term ‘accessibility’ as applied to natural history collections, and insect collections in particular, had two basic components:

  • Collection organization – with millions of specimens and many thousands of species, the material must be carefully organized, labeled, and catalogued so it is accessible when there is a request for information or for a loan.
  • Services to scientists – scientists can access the specimens for the purpose of study, either through loans (upon request our staff selects, packages and ships specimens to scientists for study) or by visiting the collection.

Nowadays, we receive weekly requests that go more or less like this:

  • Can I have the specimen data and images for each species of all your (name of insect group here)?
  • Can you please take photos of the following (30 species) of (name of group here) for my (book, thesis, website, publication, database, etc.)?

Collections have quickly taken advantage of new computer and imaging technologies to provide new services to our user base, but with the advent of the Internet, browsers, most notably Google, and now mobile technology, collections are facing new, and I argue sometimes very unrealistic, expectations of services by our existing users, new users, and even funding agencies.

Augochlorella pomoniella OSUC 128046

Augochlorella pomoniella OSUC 128046

There is a strong and fast-growing demand for high resolution images of specimens and of specimen label data that can be easily plugged into studies of global climate change, evolutionary biology, conservation, etc. Please don’t get me wrong! This is awesome! We have been saying for many years that collections are an enormous resource of precious information and we stand by it! However, this relatively recent demand did not come with funds to support much needed basic collection curation or for hiring and training of permanent curatorial staff.

Accessibility‘ today goes way beyond old-fashioned physical access to specimens or even online catalogs. It includes the expectation (and demand really!) of having all the specimen level data captured and remotely accessible now. Collections continue to incorporate new technologies into our curatorial protocols to provide the best service we can to our users. But what is reasonable? What’s possible, particularly with the reality on the ground?

Collection curation (= maintenance and improvement) takes 1) people, 2) time, and 3) money. Maybe one day technology will eliminate the need for humans handling collection specimens, but that does not look very likely in the near future. In the meantime most collections are chronically underfunded. In our case, we do not have a centrally supplied operating budget.

In university settings, most of our work force are undergraduate students and, as a consequence, highly temporary in nature. No matter how smart and dedicated our undergraduate students are, they usually have no prior curatorial experience and must be trained from scratch. The constant training and management of part-time workers is very time-consuming and stressful for the few permanent staff.

Extra-mural funding options for collections are limited to donations, and, on occasion, grants for special projects. Our day-to-day operations (specimen preparation, loan-related activities, visitor support and infrastructure, and much more) are basically self-funded and therefore done if and when we have money, personnel and time to do it.

We at the Triplehorn Insect Collection continue to be committed to making collection information available online. We were one of the first insect collections in the world to make specimen data remotely available: our website has been on-line since 1994, and dynamic access to specimen data since 1997.  Our state-of-the-art web interface serves all but one of the collections here at the Museum of Biological Diversity as well as various partner institutions across the country and abroad.


Our level of commitment, however, is running up against the limits of our resources. We’re trying to think of new and productive ways to generate financial support, and as much as we dislike it, everything is on the table. Some museums charge “bench fees” to visitors (we don’t yet); perhaps we should consider a virtual bench fee. Can the data and images that we create be monetized in other ways as well, particularly for commercial purposes? So far all our data have been made freely available online, and we like it that way. But how long will we be able to afford it? This is all very complicated and made more difficult by the fact that we work within the context of a taxpayer-supported public university.

Speaking of taxpayers, the general public can help collections by supporting our efforts. Volunteers, donations (our Friends of the Triplehorn Insect Collection fund is 100% used for the care of the collection), and just word-of-mouth are all critical to the cause.

More information about the Triplehorn Insect Collection is available on our (soon to be revamped) website. The collection Facebook page brings recent updates & fun stories. Also, check out our collection blog, Pinning Block, for a view of the collection, our people and the work we do.


About the Authors: Dr. Luciana Musetti is Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at Ohio State University.  Dr. Norman F. Johnson is Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection and Moser Chair in Arthropod Systematics and Biological Diversity in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, & Organismal Biology and Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University.

Follow us, @osuc_curator@baeus2 on Twitter for our more personal views & commentary.

The Rock Shells

Today’s blog is a gallery of some of the most exquisite lowly snails in the world – the rock snails of the family Muricidae. This marine group occurs from the high tide line to nearly abyssal depths and is found the world over. It is believed that they are predators on other molluscs and barnacles, scavengers, and ectoparasites on cnidarians – but we really don’t know very much about them. They can be pests of valuable commercial shellfish beds and some nuisance species have been accidentally moved around the globe. A few Mediterranean species were the source of Royal Tyrian Dye, supporting an industry that dates back millennia. The dye was the product of a compound in the saliva of the snails that turned a deep purple when treated correctly. The dye was so expensive to make that only royalty and clergy could afford to wear it – the purple in Catholic robes and sashes was originally made this way.

The muricids are popular with collectors, with some specimens selling for thousands of dollars. There are perhaps 1,700 species and more are described all the time. Current “hot spots” for new muricid species are New Caledonia, Somalia, and Indonesia.


Trochia cingulata (Linnaeus, 1758) South Africa

Trochia cingulata (Linnaeus, 1758)
South Africa

Rapana venosa (Valenciennes, 1846) Italy (introduced)

Rapana venosa (Valenciennes, 1846)
Italy (introduced)











Pteropurpura falcata (Sowerby, 1834) Japan

Pteropurpura falcata (Sowerby, 1834)


Murexiella hidalgoi (Crosse, 1869) Florida










Pteropurpura debruini (Lorenz, 1989) South Africa

Pteropurpura debruini (Lorenz, 1989)
South Africa

Poirieria zelandica (Quoy & Gaimard, 1833) New Zealand

Poirieria zelandica (Quoy & Gaimard, 1833)
New Zealand










Chicopinnatus loebbeckei (Kobelt, 1979) Philippines

Chicopinnatus loebbeckei (Kobelt, 1979)

Haustellum haustellum (Linnaeus, 1758) Philippines

Haustellum haustellum (Linnaeus, 1758)











Murex ternispina Lamarck, 1822 Philippines

Murex ternispina Lamarck, 1822

Homalocantha zamboi Burch & Burch, 1960 Philippines

Homalocantha zamboi Burch & Burch, 1960











Drupa grossularia Roding, 1798 French Polynesia

Drupa grossularia Roding, 1798
French Polynesia

Murexiella bojadorensis (Locard, 1897) Senegal

Murexiella bojadorensis (Locard, 1897)










Mancinella armigera (Link, 1807) Kiribati

Mancinella armigera (Link, 1807)

Vokesimurex bellus (Reeve, 1845) Venezuela

Vokesimurex bellus (Reeve, 1845)












Morula ambrosia (Houart, 1994) Marshall Islands

Morula ambrosia (Houart, 1994)
Marshall Islands

Chicoreus setionoi Houart, 2001 Indonesia

Chicoreus setionoi Houart, 2001











Eupleura pectinata (Hinds, 1844) Panama West

Eupleura pectinata (Hinds, 1844) Panama West

Siratus alabaster (Reeve, 1845) Philippines

Siratus alabaster (Reeve, 1845)











Chicoreus strigatus (Reeve, 1849) Philippines

Chicoreus strigatus (Reeve, 1849)

Chicoreus corrugatus (Sowerby, 1840) Israel

Chicoreus corrugatus (Sowerby, 1840)











Chicoreus rossiteri (Crosse, 1872) Philippines

Chicoreus rossiteri (Crosse, 1872)

Chicoreus cervicornis (Lamarck, 1822) Australia

Chicoreus cervicornis (Lamarck, 1822)










Chicopinnatus celinamarumai (Kosuge, 1980) Philippines

Chicopinnatus celinamarumai (Kosuge, 1980)

Ceratostoma burnetti (Adams & Reeve, 1849) Korea

Ceratostoma burnetti (Adams & Reeve, 1849)










Boreotrophon avalonensis (Dall, 1902) California

Boreotrophon avalonensis (Dall, 1902)

Attiliosa nodulifera (Sowerby, 1841) Philippines

Attiliosa nodulifera (Sowerby, 1841)











About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Liggers, snails and the Everglades


Among the most beautiful snails are the Florida Tree Snails of the genus Liguus. Few groups of molluscs have such a storied past. Liguus, or Ligs, are arboreal snails occurring in southern Florida, Cuba, with a single species in western-most Haiti. The number of species involved depends on the people asked and the amount of beer consumed. Most people agree that Cuba, with an abundance of named species, was the ancestral home of the group. It was probably only a short hop for Guantánamo’s snails to the Haitian shore via hurricane-driven foliage. And many, including this writer, believe that Ligs were also the original Cuban refugees to Florida – rafted from Cuba to the Keys and the Gold Coast. And from there, all heck broke loose.

Delicatus form

Delicatus form

The situation is this: the snails live in hammocks, which are islands of trees surrounded by sawgrass and other soggy vegetation. To the tree-hugging snails this intervening area might as well be the ocean. They cannot, by themselves, get from Hammock A to Hammock B unless they are blown there on vegetation during hurricanes or perhaps rafted during floods. It is what happens next that is important. In all likelihood only a very few snails will make it to the next hammock. Should they survive and there are enough individuals to mate (they are hermaphrodites) or they are already pregnant, that next generation, now isolated, will have only a small fraction of the genetic variation of the original populations. The result is an enormous variety in shell coloration where specific patterns only occur in a single hammock or group of hammocks. Fifty-nine patterns have been named.


Barbouri form

Barbouri form

In Florida the Ligs occurred in three general areas: the Keys, the Gold Coast, and the Everglades. Collecting them, particularly in the Everglades, could be an adventure. And those adventurers called themselves Liggers. On foot, on horseback, in Model As, some of America’s most famous malacologists ventured into the chigger-infested, cotton-mouth crawling, gater guarded, sawgrass cutting landscape in the early 1900s. Long before GPS or even decent maps, these intrepid collectors produced hand-drawn maps and named and numbered hundreds of hammocks and cataloged the Ligs they found there. Archie Jones, perhaps the most experienced of the Liggers, once remarked that a Ligger needed two qualities: high stamina and low IQ.



Lignumvitae form

Lignumvitae form

These were not just shell collectors. They were conservationists. They quickly realized that many of the hammocks were being destroyed and others would inevitably be lost as well. The Keys were being cut-over for houses. The Gold Coast was being paved in concrete for posh hotels. The hammocks, and their unique snails, would soon be lost forever. But by 1957 snails were being transplanted out of harm’s way into the newly formed Everglades National Park where they would be protected. Most of the 59 “forms” still exist today but perhaps not in their original location. That’s where the Division of Molluscs comes into the picture.



We have one of the largest collections of Florida Liguus in the world, much of it purchased directly from Archie Jones. We were interested in zoogeographic patterns between the color forms. We used the powerful but complicated mapping software ArcIMS to plot the various distributions. But first we had to georeference the hundreds of Liguus hammocks – whose location you may remember was in the form of hand-drawn maps nearly a hundred years old. With the invaluable aid of several students we found and plotted the hammocks. Using a layer for each color form it was possible to compare distributions with each other and other environmental factors such as land type. The effort is available on line through our Division website. It is the first of its kind to map these snails (and the only one as far as I know). Go here and select “Maps:”


Septentrionalis form

Septentrionalis form

Original range

Original range

Original range under concrete

Original range under concrete

Castaneozonatus form

Castaneozonatus form

Original range

Original range

Besides being beautiful shells the Ligs beg several very interesting ecological and phylogenetic questions. The elephant in the malacological room is: “Are they all the same species, just local variations, the product of a single Cuban introduction?” I suspect not. My pet hypothesis, lacking any data whatsoever, is that our Floridian Ligs are the product of several introductions of several species. “Are they color forms, species, subspecies, or something else?” I suspect something else. I think this is a fantastic opportunity for some student to investigate this complicated problem using emerging phylogenetic methods.

As a parting word, the Olde Tyme Liggers were not averse to a little ad hoc experimentation. “I wonder what would happen if we took this snail from Hammock A and this snail from Hammock B and put them in a snail-less Hammock C? Whaddaya think?” Well, they form hybrid color patterns, all dutifully named after colleagues and wives.

About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Do Domestic Breeds have a place in a Museum?

Afroduck in a box

Retrieval of Afroduck, a doemstic white duck from OSU Mirror Lake © Chelsea Hothem

The recent death of a white, domestic duck with curly feathers on its head (lovingly named “Afroduck” by many OSU students) raised an interesting issue: should this specimen be archived in the tetrapods collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity (MBD)? At the MBD, we focus our research on systematic studies of organisms worldwide. Our research includes species discovery and delimitation as well as studies of the evolutionary relationships among species. Does “Afroduck” meet these criteria?

Obviously this duck was not a wild animal even though it seemed to survive on the pond for several years (though it can be questioned whether it truly was the same duck throughout that period). It was a curiosity, and isn’t that what started many natural history collections during the Renaissance? Aristocrats in Europe were proud of their cabinets of curiosities, collections of objects that could be categorized as belonging to among others natural history, geology, or archaeology. Objects that stood out seemed most worthy of collection. Our collection is witness of this based on the number of white aberrant squirrels, American Robins, Northern Cardinals, etc., that we house. These forms clearly do not reflect their natural abundances.

“Afroduck” though is not just a white form (albino or leucistic form) of its wild relative the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). It is a domestic breed, an animal that has been selected for characteristics that we humans like or can benefit from.  In Afroduck’s case it would be the curly feathers on its head. The fact that it was able to survive for some time in the wild though is proof that it still shares some genes and characteristics with its wild ancestor that enable it to find food, seek shelter and who knows maybe even breed?

Domestic species play a large role in the study of evolution. Did you know that Charles Darwin used domestic pigeons to support his theory of evolution? After he wrote the Origin of Species he  wrote  a book about The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. Though he wrote about all types of domestication he suggested that the pigeon was the greatest proof that all domestics of one species descended from one common ancestor. In his own words:

Domestic Pigeon

Domestic Pigeon © Stephanie Malinich

Domestic Pigeon

Domestic Pigeon © Stephanie Malinich

“I have been led to study domestic pigeons with particular care, because the evidence that all the domestic races have descended from one known source is far clearer than with any other anciently domesticated animal.” – Charles Darwin

In his book, he described detailed measurements from study skins of over 120 different domestic breeds. These skins were later donated to the Natural History Museum in London, UK. In 2009, those same study skins received again research attention. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species scientists compared the specimens that Darwin studied to living pigeon breeds today to examine any changes in artificial and natural selection. This study concluded that the same changes continue today due to artificial selection exactly as Darwin saw in his time.

How does this relate to our collections at The Ohio State University?

In the Tetrapod Collection we possess many domestic breeds to represent the evolutionary relationships of their ancestral species. We use these specimens to educate people about Darwin’s research and evolution in general. When you look at a domestic species next to their ancestor you can see the subtle similarities of how they feed, move, and more.

Here is an example of an ancestor and some of its domestic descendants:

Going back to our question, should the domestic white duck from Mirror Lake have a place in the collection? We think it should. During our annual Open House on April 23rd, 2016 you will be able to see it as an example of artificial selection, the Mallard and its domestic descendant “Afroduck”. Even though the White Crested Duck has a tuft of feathers which makes it look quite different, it descended from the Mallard. In fact, almost all domestic breeds of ducks descended from the Mallard with the exception of the Muscovy Duck which is of South American origin. Join us during our  Open House to see the White Crested Duck, “Afroduck,” next to its ancestor the Mallard and observe the similarities for yourself!

About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is the Collection Manager for the Tetrapod Collection.