Florida Museum scientists discover new species of blue-green lichen
Moth genitals aren’t something that many people spend a lot of time thinking about, but they are very important to James Hayden.
Hayden is an entomologist in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and a faculty member at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Part of his job is to identify species of moths – and it’s often the genitals that set them apart. Since the museum’s collections include 10 million insects, moths and butterflies, any small gesture can help.
“I’m looking at structural things – is the head blurry, the pattern of the wings? So often I find myself dissecting things to look at the genitals, ”said Hayden. “The genitals are diagnostic for insects. They are a bit like teeth. In humans, the teeth remain. The genitals of insects are a bit the same thing.
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Science is driven by curiosity, and while the motives for spending hours rummaging through trays of pinned insects may vary, the discovery of a new species – insect or otherwise – is a major buzz in and of itself.
FMNH scientists have identified previously unknown species of insects, marine invertebrates, moths and more.
They and their colleagues around the world are in a hurry to identify as many as possible, as biodiversity recedes due to habitat loss, climate change and other factors.
“It’s basically my life’s work. All I do is try to document life on earth, ”Gustav Paulay, curator of the Museum of Invertebrate Zoology. “It’s the most important thing I can do today as a scientist. “
Even if new species are discovered, it may already be too late.
Discoveries from the Florida Museum of Natural History
A blue-green lichen, cora timucua, was recently identified among the museum’s collections, the museum reported.
It was originally misidentified among the 32 species of lichens collected in north and central Florida from 1885 to 1985.
But no one knows if the lichen, named in honor of the indigenous Timucua people, still exists. Researchers scoured the remaining intact pine scrub habitat, including O’Leno State Park, to try to find it.
Other finds come from the museum’s collections, including some at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.
Andrew Warren is his primary collection manager and he and his associates have discovered a previously unknown skipper butterfly among many types of collection skippers.
Scientists here have also helped identify new species from other collections. UF doctoral student Daniel Paluh, for example, performed a scan on a small burrowing snake from the Philippines sent from a collection at the University of Kansas.
The team determined that it was a species that had never been identified as different from other burrowing snakes in the Philippines.
Researchers say the number of unidentified species of plants and animals is huge. This is especially the case for insects and invertebrates, which have not been studied as much as terrestrial mammals and fish.
Distinguishing the known from the unknown is a rigorous process that could involve genetic testing, examining body parts for minute differences, and many other factors.
When scientists think they have a new discovery, long, evidence-filled articles are published for review.
The article written by Paulay and others for the discovery of a species of stocky lobster – which bears no resemblance to the lobsters we commonly know – is 335 pages long. It includes many photos of colorful invertebrates from the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
“In just about everything outside of vertebrates and a few larger insect groups, people haven’t spent the time describing diversity to the extent that they have mammals or fish,” Paulay said. “Most of the things we come across are new. New species are exciting, we are happy when we can put a name on something.
Paulay scuba dived the Earth’s oceans in search of invertebrates, marine life without a backbone. He called the research trips “paradise” and “ecstasy” because of the underwater life he gets to see.
Some of the creatures may look the same, but subtle differences gleaned from testing show that there could be many new species within one genus of animals.
Discovering them is not only great, it can help our species.
Part of Hayden’s job is to identify hitchhiking insects from other states or countries that have been found on merchandise imported into Florida.
If an invasive beetle, moth, or snail takes hold, it can cause costly crop damage, quarantine a nursery, or harm native species.
Several new species of moths, including palm leaf skeletons, were discovered in part because of the damage they caused to plants in Florida.
“Weird stuff is appearing in our state – tropical species of moths that we don’t know where they came from or what they are,” said Hayden. “Sometimes they turn out to be really new species to science.”
Scientists don’t discover new species of insects, moths or butterflies by walking in the woods and spotting them.
Instead, it’s during the hours spent examining collections for a telltale sign that piques the interest in doing the necessary research.
The FMNH has extensive collections. But Hayden said people don’t collect like they used to. Amateur collectors have often donated their specimens to museums.
“The photographs are not enough for the little brown butterflies, which all look alike. You really have to have a real specimen, ”said Hayden. “We are losing this generation of people, of amateur insect collectors. The younger generation is just not in it. We need to find a way to motivate a few good people who are interested in doing it. “
Paulay, meanwhile, said the knowledge gained from discovering new species can benefit humans in many ways.
People are a part of life on earth and are impacted by it. Finding a new species with unique qualities could, for example, lead to cures for diseases.
“Life has experienced life in the biosphere for four billion years and invented an immense amount of things represented by all species on the planet in their bodies, genomes, chemistry, behavior and way of life.” , Paulay said. “This is what we use for our food, our medicine. Understanding this has enormous benefits for humans. The biosphere is an integral part of us.