Variety in a museum collection

While working in the collection or giving tours, I often find myself quoting Disney’s The Little Mermaid:

“Look at this stuff!
Isn’t it neat!
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?”

We have thousands of specimens, many of them multiples of the same species.  You may wonder what the value of having hundreds of examples of the same species is. What can we learn from multiple American Robins (Turdus migratorius) or Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) that can’t be learned from just one?

To help answer this question let’s think of the collection as a library. And each species is a single book on a shelf. Each specimen represents an individual page within that book telling it’s own story of the what, when, who, where and why it lived it’s life. As a species begins to change over time we can show that process through the multiple individuals of a species in our collections. Our collections may never be complete but as you examine trays of species you learn the story of what makes that species unique.

Now when you look at the examples of our multiple specimen species trays, try to see if you can see how we get generic descriptions or illustrations of species. Also look at how different each individual looks when compared to others on the tray.

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Stephanie Malinich, collection manager Tetrapods

About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Tetrapod Collection Manager at the Museum of Biological Diversity and research assistant in Dr. Andreas Chavez’ lab.

 

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Local duets

Not only tropical birds duet with their mate, if you listen closely you can hear some of our local birds duetting, too. Or at least you may notice that female songbirds are not as silent as we often assume. Carolina Wrens Thryothorus ludovicianus and Northern Cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis are two species in which the female often joins her mate’s songs.

Carolina Wren, photo by Rich Bradley

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus, photo by Rich Bradley

Listen to this excerpt of many hours of recordings of one pair of Carolina Wrens captured by Barbara Simpson in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill on November 3, 1981 (BLB43057):

The female does not respond with the typical male-like “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song, but with a buzzy, rather high-pitched trill. The coordination is not as precise as in the neotropical wrens, rather in many cases the female overlaps the song of her mate. Still she communicates her presence on the territory to any listeners in the neighborhood, be it male or female Carolina Wrens.

Note the fainter song of another male Carolina Wren in-between the focal male’s songs.

Can you hear when the male switches to a different song type (not shown in spectrogram)?

spectrogram of Carolina Wrens duetting

Carolina Wrens “duetting”, the female chatter (red bar) overlaps the second song of the male (blue bar) and alternates with the third song

 

You may say that maybe a better example of a duetting species in our area is the Northern Cardinal.

In this common backyard species the female has a song as elaborate as that of her mate and she is often accompanied by her mate’s song. A female Northern Cardinal is easily distinguished from the male by her more subtle, brown plumage, allowing us to tell the sexes apart and notice whether a male or female is singing (In the monomorphic Carolina Wren we would have to color-mark the female to be sure that she does not also sing like her mate). Take a close look at the next Northern Cardinal that sings in your backyard, it may be a female. They are just as virtuous as the males of this species:

spectrogram of male and female Northern Cardinal duetting

Male and female Northern Cardinal duetting; note song (an accelerating trill) of the Field Sparrow in-between

Familiarize yourself with the song of the female and male Northern Cardinal in the duet above.

spectrogram of female and male Northern Cardinal song

Female (red) and male (blue) Northern Cardinal duetting

Rich Bradley recorded this pair of Northern Cardinal at the Delaware Wildlife Area on April 13, 1994 (BLB41331).

I challenge you to get outside early one morning (Sunrise in the Columbus area is around 7:30am, so depending on cloud cover birds may start singing just after 7am). Listen to the dawn chorus of birds in your neighborhood, find your closest Northern Cardinal and listen to his song – or is it a female you are listening to? If you record the song on your phone, share the recording with us!

 

References:

Shuler, J. B. (1965). Duet singing in the Carolina wren. The Wilson Bulletin, 405-405.
Ritchison, G. (1986). The singing behavior of female northern cardinals. Condor, 156-159.

All bird photos by Richard A Bradley – thank you Rich!

 

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor for the OSU Ohio Birds class each spring.

 

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Can we call it love song?

The early risers among us may have noticed that songbirds are singing again. For Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens in our gardens spring has started with the change in day length on December 21. One can really notice now that the mornings get light earlier with every day and the males of our local songbird species are getting ready for the next breeding season. They set up territory and woo females. But more about our local birds on Friday, let’s travel to the tropics!

In the tropics, birds barely take a break from singing. If conditions allow it, they will breed year-round and thus most of them keep their territory and mate. Such long-term relations call for special communications: males and females of many neo-tropical wrens sing very precisely coordinated duets. For the untrained listener it may sound like one song, that’s how closely the phrases are linked. Researchers, however, have shown that both male and female contribute to this continuous song, thus performing a duet.

Can you hear whether these are two birds singing or one?

Sandy Gaunt, curator emerita from the Borror lab and longtime volunteer, recorded these Stripe-breasted Wrens Cantorchilus thoracicus in the dense undergrowth of the tropical lowland wet forest in Costa Rica on no other day than February 14 in 1992. Sandy found these birds near the Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve, southwest of Puerto Limon in Costa Rica, a rugged and undeveloped park with abundant wildlife.

The song of a close relative to the Stripe-breasted Wren, the Plain Wren Cantorchilus modestus zeledoni, has been studied in some detail by Karla Rivera-Cáceres from the University of Miami, Florida. These wrens perform precisely coordinated duets as you can see for yourself in the spectrogram below – a visual representation of sound with frequency or perceived pitch over time. Both males and females adjust their song and pauses between songs to coordinate with their partner. Red bars indicate the female’s contribution, bluish bars the male’s.

Spectrogram of highly coordinated Plain Wren duet

Highly coordinated duet of male and female Plain Wrens (Fig.1 in Rivera-Caceres et al 2016)

Listen to these male and female Plain Wrens duetting as recorded by Jacob R. Saucier. The recording is archived with Xeno-canto, an online collection of bird songs from around the world (XC319021).

spectrogram of Plain Wren duet (XC319021)

Duet of male and female Plain Wren as recorded by Jacob R. Saucier (XC319021).

So, shall we call this a love song? There are many hypotheses for why birds duet, one suggests that the level of coordination may signal pair bond strength, the level of commitment a mated male and female have of cooperating with one another. Other hypotheses suggest that duetting may help mates to stay in contact in dense habitat, or two singing birds may be more intimidating and thus more effective when defending a territory. Future research will show which of these hypothesis is most likely for the Stripe-breasted Wren.

 

Reference:

Rivera-Cáceres, K. D., Quirós-Guerrero, E., Araya-Salas, M., & Searcy, W. A. (2016, November). Neotropical wrens learn new duet rules as adults. In Proc. R. Soc. B (Vol. 283, No. 1843). The Royal Society.

 

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor for the OSU Ohio Birds class each spring.

 

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A newcomer to the OSUM Fish Division

We have several voucher specimens belonging to the order Salmoniformes, ray-finned fish like salmon, trout, chars, in our holdings, including the Lake Whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis. While common across most of their range, some are considered of special concern or vulnerable in the State of Ohio, for example, the Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush. Another Coregonus species, the Cisco, is critically imperiled in Ohio, and Bloaters Coregonus hoyi (the hero of Monday’s post) were never found in Lake Erie due to the lake’s shallowness. Bloaters were extirpated from deeper Lake Ontario where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now reintroducing them. The specimens from the Tom Simon collection are the first Bloater vouchers (e.g. OSUM 117265) that we have for the OSUM fish collection.

By the way, a voucher specimen is a preserved specimen of an identified taxon permanently stored in our collection and retained as a reference. It has a unique identifier (e.g. OSUM 117265) and can be retrieved and used in scientific studies.

When moving the specimens, we needed many helping hands. Here Kai Raab, husband of OSUM Director Meg Daly, assisted with accession of some of the Tom Simon collection.

All Bloater specimens from the Tom Simon collection were trawled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) during their surveys and have inflated gas bladders due to being brought from depths quickly.

The Bloater’s specific epithet, C. hoyi, is derived from the name of the man who originally discovered it while dredging in Lake Michigan, Dr. P. R Hoy. Dr. Hoy engaged ichthyologist Dr. James P. Milner to describe the species.

Coregonus is a diverse genus of fish with at least 68 described species. Some are easier to tell apart by morphology than others. Lake Whitefish, Coregonus clupeaformis, are separable from the Cisco and Bloater in the field by observing the mouth position: subterminal versus terminal, respectively. Note the terminal mouth, pointing forward, in the Cisco on the right.

Other species are quite similar in appearance and hard to separate in the field. For example, the Cisco and the Nipigon Cisco C. nipigon, as well as the Bloater and the Kiyi C. kiyi look very similar and occur sympatrically in some water bodies. For these and other species in the genus one must count the gill rakers to separate them. Gill rakers are the bony comb-like structure that serve to sieve food as the fish expels water through its gills while it is eating. The gill rakers are shown under the gill cover in the images below, to the left of the gill filaments that function to transfer oxygen from the water to capillaries. Once the food particles are caught on the rakers the fish can swallow them.

Cisco were found to have gill raker counts from 36 to 50, with a mean of 43 in Lake Saganaga and adjacent Minnesota border lakes. While gill raker counts for the Nipigon Cisco range between 45 to 70 with a higher mean than for the Cisco at 56.

Here are some additional species in the genus Coregonus; some are easy to tell apart by their location of occurrence.

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Reference:

Etnier, David A., and Christopher E. Skelton (2003). Analysis of Three Cisco Forms (Coregonus, Samonidae) from Lake Saganaga and Adjacent Lakes near the Minnesota/Ontario Border. Copeia, Vol. 4, 739-749.

 

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

 

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The Bloater: A Complicated Story

You may recall from my last post that I mentioned a fish species from the recent Tom Simon Fish Collection acquisition, the “Bloater” Coregonus hoyi.  This is a species that in the recent past has been considered endangered, indeed it was known to be extirpated from some of the Great Lakes and thought to perhaps be on its way to extinction across the rest of its distribution.  Herein I’ll detail some of the reasons for which the bloater came to be in such peril.  But for now, allow me to follow a rabbitfish trail (ahem):

Perhaps you have wondered why this fish is named so cruelly?  Perhaps, one might think, the name was given in less politically correct days when short shrift was given to a fish’s feelings, but that is simply not the case.  No, the name actually describes the propensity of the species’ swim bladder to expand and make it look fat when it is trawled from the deep, colder waters that it prefers.  So you see it actually does have to do with the poor fish having a tendency to be gassy.

OSUM 117265 Coregonus hoyi "bloater"

Yes, that bladder does make you look fat! OSUM 117265 Coregonus hoyi 195mm SL 1 of 18 specimens from jar 1 of 3

The rapid ascent from the fairly extreme depths, down to almost 700 feet where the fish resides, and consequent distension of the bladder does cause more than just discomfort for the fish. The complexity of the connection to the gas bladder in the bloaters renders them unable to quickly discharge the air and liable to bursting upon fast ascent from depths.  In many species of fish the swim bladder is directly connected to the gut and the fish can use this connection to directly control the amount of gas in the bladder. This physostomous swim bladder occurs mainly in fish living in shallow waters and swallow air that is passed into the gut and forced into the swim bladder. Not so in the Bloater. Fish in the order Salmoniformes, such as the Bloater, share a character with other advanced fishes: the physoclistous swim bladder. This gas bladder has no direct connection to the alimentary canal but some areas of the membrane separating gut and bladder are very thin and well supplied with capillaries that allow rapid gas exchange. This gas gland secretes oxygen into the swim bladder through the rete mirabile, literally “a wonderful net” of capillaries.

Diagram of the arterial/venous transfer to the gas bladder via the rete mirabile

The Bloater is one of several  “whitefish” species that have become rare and imperiled, some to the point of extinction. Bloaters are invertivores – you guessed right, feed on invertebrates – at all stages of their lives and formerly fed in open water (Many other fish species are invertivores at immature stages and shift their diets to larger prey including vertebrates as adults).  It has been documented that bloaters (and some other fish species) have changed their feeding habits in response to competition from the invasive Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus to feed on benthic invertebrates.  Happily for the bloaters they seem to have benefited, in the long run, from the Alewife invasion.

But there are several other reasons for the drastic declines seen among the bloater populations during the mid-1900’s:  Whitefish provide table fare for many piscivorous people, the fish-eaters among you.  The major upswing of humans in the Midwest region caused concordant increases in demand for food sources, and people began to realize that the Great Lakes could provide fish aplenty to help meet that need.  The lakes and rivers of the Midwest states at one time “teemed with fish”, according to several historians that wrote during that era of expansion and discovery. It seemed that the bounty was inexhaustible, and fishermen quickly capitalized on the surging market, filling their trawl nets to capacity for several decades.

Until, at varying points depending on the species being taken, the catches began to dwindle.  Before long the fishermen began to realize that conservationists were correct in their assessment that the boom wasn’t going to last, and regulations were put in place to husband the resources. However, other influences began to make themselves known, some with alarming results. Compounding the effects of overfishing was the connection of Lake Ontario to Lake Erie via the Welland Canal ca. 1830 that enabled incursion of several invasive fish species:  First to make an impact was the Alewife, a relatively small fish species in the herring family Clupeidae. Alewives compete with coregonids and other fish species for planktonic prey, to the point where diets for some forms shifted from zooplankton to benthic foods, feeding at the lowest level of the water body. Those species that couldn’t adapt their diets disappeared, became smaller or declined in numbers.  The next invader to have a significant impact on bloaters was the Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus. Sea Lampreys are piscivorous parasites (or is that parasitic piscivores?) for approximately a year of their several years’ long life cycle.  The invasive lamprey arrived in the Great Lakes in the early 1900’s and by the mid 1900’s had decimated populations of several salmoniform species. It is thought that one reason fish species like Lake Trout, and Lake Whitefish and other coregonids, fared so poorly with the Sea Lampreys is that they tend to inhabit deeper, colder areas of the Great Lakes where the lampreys prefer to feed.  For example, bloaters are most commonly found at a depth of 90 – 680 feet in water temperatures between 34-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to the monumental efforts of our conservation agencies the Sea Lamprey populations are under reasonably good control to the point where Great Lakes fishes are much safer!

 

Reference:

McDonald, M. E., Crowder, L. B., & Brandt, S. B. (1990). Changes in Mysis and Pontoporeia populations in southeastern Lake Michigan: a response to shifts in the fish community. Limnology and Oceanography, 35(1), 220-227.

 

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

 

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More about the biology of a parasitoid mite

Following Monday’s blog post, we continue to explore the life of  Macrodinychus mites that parasitize an invasive ant species in Mexico, the Longhorn crazy ant. Today Dr. Hans Klompen shares some of the details of the mite’s life cycle that he has discovered with us.

Here is an image of two Macrodinychus larvae that were found attached to an ant pupa. We had to magnify the ant 400 times to make the mites visible. The larvae are tiny, even in mite-standards, while the adults are large, 1 mm or more in length.

What do the larvae and nymphs look like?

 

Tell us a little bit more about the biology of these mites, e.g. how does the female give birth to young?

 

How do the mites disperse to new hosts?

 

Why is this research important?

 

What do you think?  Can/should these mites be used to control invasive ant species?
We would like to hear from you – please leave a comment.

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Reference:

Image of mite larvae on appendages and gravid female from
Krantz, G. W., Gómez, L. A., González, V. E., & Morales-Malacara, J. B. (2007). Parasitism in the Uropodina: a case history from Colombia. In Acarology XI: Proceedings of the International Congress (pp. 29-38).

other images from
Lachaud, J. P., Klompen, H., & Pérez-Lachaud, G. (2016). Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association. Scientific Reports, 6.
Dr. Hans Klompen, Professor EEOBiology at OSUAbout the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.

Mites as parasitoids of invasive ants

Another post in our series Explaining Science – bringing scientific discoveries focused around biodiversity to your living room.


Ants are fascinating creatures, often living in large colonies. Some of you may be familiar with this behavior as a  nuisance in your home, e.g. with carpenter ants or fire ants. Ant biology and their way of social living fascinates researchers, and some of the ants’ behavior may be quite similar to what we see in our societies. Just recently a study reported how Gene-Modified Ants Shed Light on How Societies Are Organized. But did you know that these small ants can themselves become hosts for even smaller animals? Mites, in particular species in the genus Macrodinychus, have evolved to parasitize ants. They feast on the content of ant pupae, the larval stages of ants, to nourish their own development. “Vampire mites” is what Dr. Hans Klompen, acarologist and Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, calls them. By the way, the ant species these mites parasitize is called Longhorn crazy ant, an invasive ant species with a cool name.

Listen to an interview with Dr. Klompen about his recent publication in Scientific Reports “Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association” and learn about “a bizarre little group of mites”” that he studies.

How does one find out about mites, often microscopical creatures, living on ants, in particular when you are a researcher based in Ohio while the ants live mainly in the tropics?

One needs good collaborators at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Gabriela Perez-Lachaud and Jean-Paul Lachaud, who study ants and noticed mites parasitizing their study subjects.

How did the project of describing a new mite species evolve into more?

 

Macrodinychus multispinosus Sellnick larva

Macrodinychus multispinosus Sellnick larva

How often do these mites attack ants and which species of ants?

Longhorn crazy ant

Longhorn crazy ant, the host
(c) The photographer and www.antweb.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

 

Do the mites attack all different colonies of ants?

 

So what do we know about the life history of this mite whose developmental stages, its nymphs, feast on ant pupae? Find out more results from Dr. Klompen’s research on these mites in Friday’s post!

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Terms you may want to familiarize yourself with:

Mites are small arthropods, closely related spiders and scorpions, with two body regions, no antennae, and four pairs of legs as adults.

The life cycle of these mites is  composed of five active stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult

ventral – the underside of an animal, the belly

dorsal – the upper side of an animal, the back

 

Reference:

Lachaud, J. P., Klompen, H., & Pérez-Lachaud, G. (2016). Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association. Scientific Reports, 6.
Dr. Hans Klompen, Professor EEOBiology at OSUAbout the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.
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The Story of the Ohio Buckeyes

In our previous postwe introduced the story of the Ohio Buckeye, the origin of the term ‘buckeye’, the tree’s scientific name (Aesculus glabra), its relationship with the OSU mascot, Brutus, and how it was introduced to football fans of Ohio in 1987. Here, we continue with the story of the buckeye, but with a different focus. We will show how the Ohio Buckeye is both similar and different from other buckeyes, discuss its habitat, flowers, fruits, and how you can grow your own buckeye in your backyard.

Flower and leaves of the Ohio Buckeye

Flower and leaves of the Ohio Buckeye  (c) John V. Freudenstein

Diversity

Currently, there are 13 species of buckeyes in North America, Europe and Asia. Six species are native to the United States. In Ohio you can find two native and several cultivated species. All buckeyes have large compound leaves made up of 5 to 7 leaflets per leaf that radiate from the same point at the end of a leaf stalk. They range from large trees to shrubs. The native species are the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) and the Yellow or Sweet Buckeye (Aesculus octandra).

Ohio Buckeye leaf, bud, tree and fruit

Ohio Buckeye  (c) http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/

Yellow Buckeye leaf, bud and fruits

Yellow Buckeye (c) http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/

Non-native species cultivated in Ohio include the European Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), and the southeastern US Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia). Most species of buckeyes are bee pollinated; the Red Buckeye is hummingbird pollinated and its flowers are red and tubular.  The hybrid between the Ohio Buckeye and the Sweet Buckeye, called Maryland Buckeye (Aesculus x marylandica), is also cultivated in Ohio.

Horse Chestnut fruits, flower and bark

Horse Chestnut (c) http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/

Enjoy some photos of buckeye specimens in our collection:

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Habitat

All buckeyes are found in woodlands and forests of various types, along riverbanks and floodplains. The introduced species and the hybrid plants make attractive trees in lawns, gardens, parks and on roadsides.

Flowers

flower of Ohio Buckeye close-up

Flowers of Ohio Buckeye

Flowers of the Red Buckeye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flowers are clustered together forming a cone-shaped panicle, a loosely branched inflorescence. They range in color from white (Horse Chestnut), to pale greenish yellow (Ohio Buckeyes), yellow or reddish (Sweet or Yellow Buckeye) to red (Red Buckeye).

Fruits

Fruit of Ohio Buckeye

Fruit of Ohio Buckeye

The fruits are leathery and open from the top when fully mature. In Ohio Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts, the fruits are prickly due to short spiny outgrowths while in Sweet Buckeye, they are not. Despite similar fruits, Horse Chestnuts can easily be differentiated from Ohio Buckeyes based on the leaflets, which are mostly 7.

Properties

In the past, the seeds of the Ohio Buckeye were used as a source of oil for lamps, as an insecticide and as a paste for book binding. The wood was used in making bowls, spoons, handles and boxes. Since the wood is easy to carve, it was also used in making artificial limbs. Extracts from the bark were also used to dye leather. Today, the seeds are carried by some people as a good luck charm and they are treated in much the same way as a four-leafed clover. Some people also associate curative properties to the seeds, particularly for rheumatism.

Grow your own Buckeye

Buckeyes may be cultivated and propagated and can easily be propagated from seeds. Collect the seeds and do not allow them to dry out. Simply place several, fresh seeds, since not all may germinate, in shallow soil, about an inch deep. Gently press the soil down and keep them moist. Some seedlings will develop the next spring. If several seedlings come up, remove all except one so that this will develop into a tree. The seeds require three or more months of cold treatment (34-40 F) for good sprouting.

According to records, the Ohio Buckeye is not widely cultivated because “nurseries tend to emphasize the showier horse-chestnut, and perhaps also because of its poisonous properties (a few communities have even enacted ordinances prohibiting its cultivation). However, buckeyes make attractive and interesting landscape plants and are not hard to grow. One disadvantage is that the leaves tend to fall a bit earlier than [those of] other trees, especially in a dry summer, and, of course, the fruits and seeds drop to the ground below after they ripen. But they are not particularly difficult to remove from a lawn”.

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References:

Cooperrider, T. S., A. W. Cusick, and J. T. Kartesz, (eds.), 2001. Seventh Catalog of the Vascular Plants of Ohio. Ohio State University Press, Columbus.

Furlow, John J.  1991. What is a Buckeye? The Story of the Ohio Buckeye Tree. The Ohio State University Herbarium. Unpublished ms.

Weishaupt, C. G. 1971. Vascular Plants of Ohio. Ed. 3. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, Iowa.

 

Mesfin Tadesse, curator OSU herbariumAbout the Author: Mesfin Tadesse is Curator of Vascular Plants in the OSU Herbarium.

 

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What is a buckeye?

During the football season, we are accustomed to seeing Brutus Buckeye dancing on the sidelines, shaking his enlarged head, and helping to stimulate enthusiasm for our team on the gridiron. Opposing teams usually have mascots that are more easily recognizable, such as a lion, or badger, or valiant soldier. What, then, is a buckeye?

The term “buckeye” originated from indigenous peoples noticing that European immigrants coming into Ohio had larger eyes, similar to those of the male (buck) deer. The settlers, therefore, were called buckeyes.

Seed of the Ohio buckeye.

Seed of the Ohio buckeye.

One of the native trees in Ohio, which we now call the Ohio buckeye, has large seeds that also resemble large buck eyes, which led to application of the name as the buckeye tree. This common name was applied to the entire tree and any of its parts. Our mascot, Brutus, represents one seed of the Ohio buckeye tree, attached, obviously, to a human body. This is a most unusual mascot. Most institutions use fierce animals or symbols of strength; very few have a plant. A seed in flowering plants is always formed within a fruit, which in the case of the Ohio buckeye is large, leathery, and slightly prickly. One to several seeds are formed inside. The tree can be up to 30 feet tall, and the leaves are divided into segments.

Leaves and fruits of the Ohio buckeye tree.

Leaves and fruits of the Ohio buckeye tree.

One of the attractive aspects of the buckeye tree is the colorful display of yellow flower clusters (inflorescences) that appears in late Spring throughout the state. The buckeye is used by The Ohio State University as part of the University seal, showing a leaf with two fruits (Fig. 3).

A pennant containing the official seal of The Ohio State University.

A pennant containing the official seal of The Ohio State University.

The Ohio buckeye came into the scientific world as a new species, under the name Aesculus glabra, described by Professor Carl Ludwig Willdenow, Director of the Botanical Garden in Berlin, Germany. Seeds were collected about 1803 from some unknown locality in Ohio or neighboring state and sent to Berlin for germination. It grew successfully in the garden, and when the small tree flowered, a specimen was prepared, with Prof. Willdenow describing it as new to science in 1809.  This specimen is called the nomenclatural type (holotype) and is forever associated with its scientific name.  In a certain sense, this can be regarded as the original buckeye.

The original specimen (holotype) of Aesculus glabra Willdenow.

The original specimen (holotype) of Aesculus glabra Willdenow.

Because of the importance of Aesculus glabra to the state of Ohio and The Ohio State University, a campaign was initiated in 1985 to bring the original buckeye to campus. This was not an easy endeavor, because the Berlin Botanical Garden and Museum had never loaned any of the historically important Willdenow specimens to another institution.  After serious negotiations, and in recognition of the help that the United States had made through the Marshall Plan to reconstruction of Germany after World War II, the holotype of the Ohio buckeye was loaned to Ohio State in the summer of 1987 for several months. It was hand carried from Berlin to Columbus. Thanks to financing from the office of the President at OSU, a special mount was made for the specimen, which allowed it to be placed on an easel for display.  Housed in the Herbarium of the University, at that time still in the Botany and Zoology building at 12th and Neil Avenue (now Jennings Hall), it was taken on tour to alumni clubs in the state. Most exciting, however, was the presentation of the holotype on 14 November 1987 on the 50-yard line during the Ohio State-University of Iowa home game to the assembled fans. President Jennings formally received the specimen for the University, assisted by me and Prof. Daniel Crawford, the Chair of the Department of Botany.  Even Brutus had the opportunity to get to know his scientific origins.

Different parts of the buckeye tree are used as memorabilia or symbols. Very popular are necklaces made of actual seeds, which can be worn in the stadium to help cheer on the players. Also popular, especially to folks with a sweet-tooth, are the buckeye candies resembling seeds, with peanut butter centers bathed in chocolate.

Socks bearing Buckeye symbols from a local souvenir shop.

Socks bearing Buckeye symbols from a local souvenir shop.

In addition to these obvious symbols, there are countless items in souvenir shops that have images of buckeye seeds and/or leaves, ranging from socks to hats, and including underwear and toilet seats!  The football players even receive a buckeye leaf on their helmets, a badge of honor, after completing an outstanding play during the game.

The Ohio buckeye, therefore, is an important part of the fiber of life at Ohio State University. It is satisfying that the center of all the attention is a plant. We in the Herbarium are delighted that all members of the university community are continually reminded of the importance of the botanical sciences, especially in the Autumn season during each football game!

 

od Stuessy, professor emeritus at EEOBAbout the Author: Tod F. Stuessy is Professor Emeritus at the OSU Herbarium.

 

 

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Interns on Internship


As we mentioned in our previous post, at the conclusion of the semester we asked our interns to share their impressions of the time they spent with us. We have taken the liberty of using some of their comments (highlighted in italics below) to provide a picture of their experience.

Insects are often thought of as the least appealing members of the taxonomic Kingdom Animalia. Even though most people recognize that they are, by definition, animals, people don’t like them as much as cuddly cats and dapper dolphins. Admittedly, this applies to myself as well.

This kind of impression is widespread and can be heard often. By providing a broad view of entomology we hope the interns developed a new perspective and will now write that last sentence in the past tense!

To our delight, all the interns came out of the internship with a better understanding of (and some experience on) the wide range of skills and knowledge needed in curatorial work.

Multiple tasks were laid before me throughout the semester, slowly building on previous knowledge and skills. … Originally, I had no idea how much time an entomologist may spend simply sitting in front of a computer. A portion of my time was spent databasing specimens, an important task allowing for collections to be easily found and identified. It has been made apparent how important this is when considering that millions of specimens fill the cabinets of the collection.”

“Through performing the … tasks, I was able to increase my knowledge of both the curation profession as well as the study of entomology in general”.

“… the only expectation I really had was that I would leave the internship having gained a lot of insect and museum-related knowledge that I had not had before. … this expectation was fulfilled with flying colors!”.

People have different styles of learning, and “doing” can often be more effective than listening or reading. The interns highlighted the importance of hands-on activities.

“… seeing the physical traits of different orders and families in person helped me to memorize these classifications for the General Entomology course, and gaining experience with pinning and labeling helped me to improve my collection project for the same course.”

“Whereas my entomology class was somewhat hard to grasp at times as a result of its lecture format, I found that hands-on activities (the same kind that are done by REAL curatorial staff in REAL museums) really ingrained a lot of the knowledge into my brain in a more profound way than surface-level memorization ever could.”



It is sometimes interesting to see how people react differently to the same task:

“I was able to further classify/identify the specimens by family using a taxonomic key. This exercise taught me how to use a key and how to look for specific features of insect physiology/morphology.”“Later came the classification by suborder and family, a grueling task using a key much like a personal narrative children’s book only with scientific terms and a lot of microscope adjusting. Though tedious and time consuming, I find it interesting to understand how such small characteristics may differentiate one insect family from another.”

Perhaps the most gratifying, though, was to see that at least a little taste of the fun and excitement that we find working with insects was also experienced by the interns:

“One of my favorite insects that I found while working in the collection was a cuckoo wasp, a very small organism but with brilliant colors that sparkle as if dipped in jewels. Everyway you turn the tiny hymenopteran, the colors seem to shift, ranging from a deep, rich blue to a bright metallic-like green with some splashes of vibrant red or orange. Not only is it beautiful but also to Dr. Musetti’s excitement it is a parasitoid wasp, laying eggs in a host species.”

Ceratochrysis perpulchra, OSUC 96424

Ceratochrysis perpulchra (Cresson), a beautiful cuckoo wasp specimen from the collection. ID# OSUC 96424. This is not the one that Ellen found, but similar. Ellen’s cuckoo wasp is still in the freezer, and will be used for DNA extraction.

Taking on an internship is a pretty serious commitment of time on the part of the student, and we hope that it turned out to be time well invested. We have all learned from the experience, and we will use what we have learned to continue to improve. Even if a professional job as curator is not in the interns’ future, at least we have made a contribution to a future taxpaying citizenry that will understand the whys and wherefores of an insect collection.

“The past ten weeks have been quite the eye opening experience for me. Science is tedious work that I am happy to tackle. I have learned things I did not know I was interested in, as well as things I may not want to spend the rest of my life doing. Not only has this internship helped me to understand what it takes to have a collection, but I also have a compelling experience that may help me stand out from the others when searching for a career in entomology.”

”Overall, I feel that this internship has been very beneficial to me as both a student and a person. It provided me with a better background in entomology, it showed me the importance of curatorial work, and it gave me workplace experience that will benefit me in future careers both inside and outside of entomology.”

”I was able to get a complete picture of what entomology is like in the museum world, which, to me, is the overarching purpose of the (internship) program itself.”


Snapshots of the interns’ lab notebooks:


2016 Interns:

  • Ellen Dunkle
  • Alexandria Ent
  • Hannah McKenzie

About the Authors: Dr. Natalia Munteanu Molotievskiy is an Entomologist and Guest Scholar, Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and Curator, & Dr. Norman Johnson is Professor of Entomology and Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.