Monday, February 18, 2013

A Day at the Museum

A typical visit to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco involves checking out the albino alligator, the Indo-Pacific reef exhibit, the living roof of the new green building, and dazzling planetarium.  All well worth a visit!

What a great location!

But for a taxonomist it is a completely different experience.  Behind the scenes museums hold millions of biological and geological specimens.  The fruits of recent biodiversity surveys and environmental impact studies, as well as samples collected from famous and not-so-famous historical expeditions.

Just one row of cabinets
in the Mollusc collection 

In many cases materials donated to museums have not yet been sorted and identified to species.  The shortage of experts and budgetary constraints mean that most museums do not have enough personnel to identify the flood of incoming samples, let alone update the existing collections every time there is some kind name change or taxonomic update.   

So when taxonomists are in town they always spend a few days looking for hidden treasures in the collections.  And of course, helping out the overworked curatorial assistants and collection mangers.

In January I spent a couple of days working on the calyptraeid samples at the CAS.  Check out the draws of unidentified Crepidula.  The Bostrycapulus were pretty easy to sort out.  I just published a revision of the genus.  And the collection team had the labels printed on archival paper in a flash.  

I started with the species 
I've revised most recently.  
There were 3 draws full of un-indetified Crepidula alone! 

Each lot is in a single box. With a label and any
revisions, like my updated species name.
The next day it was all typed up nicely!
Oooops!  Calyptraids from unusual locations - Cook Islands
in this case - often turn out to be imposters.

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