Thank you citizen scientists for helping complete the third expedition digitizing over 1000 images of the spectacular underwing moths! During this expedition you saw numerous specimens from Louisiana that were collected over the last 60 years. With this information, researchers can begin to examine their distribution changes, changes in flight times, changes in host plants, and impact of climate change during the last century.
Be on the lookout for one more expedition of underwing moths. After that, we will be switching to a new type of moth, and will begin posting photos of new moth species for future expeditions. Maybe you will notice the differences!
Stacey L. Huber
McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History
We’ve mentioned recently that we’ve been thrilled to see more effort on Notes from Nature in terms of transcriptions. We also wanted to mention that there has been an equally strong uptick on the talk channels. We want to encourage everyone to talk about the objects, connect with like minded folks, etc. We really appreciate the feedback. As extra encouragement, we are now offering two new badges, the “Communicator” badge, for posting one item on “talk” of any sort, and the “Socializer” badge, for 25 posts. Rather than spoil the fun, we are going to keep the badges a surprise for now, but encourage you to get those badges!
A few words from our Senior Curator of Micropalaeontology, Giles Miller, about the Larger Benthic Forams in this collection:
One of my curatorial predecessors Randolf Kirkpatrick (1863-1950) thought that larger benthic foraminifera (LBFs) were so important that he published a theory that they were vital to the formation of all rocks on earth. Our collection of LBFs has received relatively little attention over the 20 years I have been at the Museum, but recently it has been the most viewed part of the microfossil collection.
Traditionally LBFs have been difficult to study but new techniques, particularly CT scanning, are changing this perception. This post “The importance of being the largest microfossils” tells the story of Kirkpatrick and explains how the collection is currently being used for studies in stratigraphy, oil exploration, past climates and biodiversity hot spots.
Larger benthic foraminifera (LBF)
Larger benthic foraminifera are classified as microfossils because they were produced by a single celled organism, but they can reach a size of several centimetres. Their study is difficult because it usually relies on destructive techniques such as thin sectioning to make precise identifications.
My first line manager at the Museum Richard Hodgkinson was an expert at producing these thin sections. He described the technique of cutting the specimens exactly through the centre as an art rather than science.
Sadly there are very few people in the world skilled enough to make these sections, but thankfully the Museum collection is packed with LBF thin sections available for study.
Thank-you for helping to make this possible, by making all of the data in this collection available to research, along with the images of the specimens themselves.
The Cambrian period was a time of some really bizarre looking critters and so many originated at this time (about 540 million years ago) that it is often referred to as the “Cambrian Explosion.” This period of the evolution of life saw some really bizarre body plans that transformed a simple environment dominated by cyanobacterial reefs and microbes into one of very highly ornamented and unusual critters. Douglas Fox describes this landscape of rapidly changing animals in his 2016 Nature article and gives us a good overview of the role that ocean water oxygen levels played in allowing for more complex life forms to develop and flourish.
Trilobites are a very common fossil to be found throughout the Paleozoic, but the Cambrian was where they dominated the seas that covered most of North America for many millions of years. Trilobites are arthropods and frequently molt their exoskeletons in order to grow. Most fossil remains of trilobites that we have today are fossilized exuviae, or the cast off exoskeletons instead of the actual animal itself, as the external shell is discarded to allow for the animal to grow.
Trilobites are an exceptional component of the history of life on our planet; indeed, they are among the most successful animals in the history of our planet. Join us for this second expedition to transcribe labels from Cambrian fossils of western North America. Our last expedition focused on plastotypes (plaster molds of type specimens from around the world) and these fossils here are the real deal. Many of these fossils are trilobites, but keep an eye out for our own Anomalocaris and other bizarre Cambrian fossils!
You may have noticed that there have been a few different expeditions in the past few months focused on swallowtail butterflies. These specimens will be used for a larger project where we are planning to quantitatively look at the variation in wing morphology across and within swallowtail butterfly species. We have amassed approximately 1300 photos of swallowtail specimens from various museum and personal collections with the intention of having at least 10 males and 10 females from every Papilio species. Using morphometric analyses of landmarks on the dorsal and ventral wings, we will test the wing shape variation across species to see if there are correlations with sex, tropicality, geographic range size, and the number of congeners in the species’ range.
What do we mean by “landmarking”? This is an approach called “geometric morphometrics” where we select the same locations on a butterfly image in each image, and then we use some really neat tools that can find the best “fit” to a common “consensus”. For this project, we are using where veins in the butterfly wings meet the edge as our landmarks. Figure 1 shows an example of the ventral wing landmarks using this fitting method. The big black dots are the “consensus” landmarks and the variation around them in shown in the smaller grey ones. You can clearly see that some parts of the wing are much more variable than others. We know the orientation of the image below is a bit odd, but the variable landmark that is at the low point on the y-axis is near where the wing attaches to the body.
Now that all of the Notes from Nature swallowtail expeditions are complete, we will be working all summer to landmark these specimens and add more to our sample size for future analyses. If you are interested in the further ways we analyze morphological variation, give a holler and we can go into further detail. We will send along another update on this work later in summer, and thank you for helping us move forward with this research!
Figure 1. Plot for the x/y coordinates of the ventral wing landmarks for 27 Papilio specimens so far.
blog post by Laura Brenskelle
Austin Mast, Florida State University
Help scientists learn secrets of ancient seas
Today we drove down from the Natural History Museum in London to the jurassic coast of Dorset for the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival – where we are launching our latest crowdsourcing project – Miniature Fossils Magnified – just in time for #FossilFriday!!
The slides feature fossils of single-celled organisms called foraminifera, or forams for short, embedded in slices of rock.
Foraminifera are found in both modern and ancient marine environments and preserve well thanks to shells called tests.
The foraminifera specimens in the Miniature Fossils Magnified project lived in shallow tropical seas from 500 million years ago to the present day.
More than 2,000 microscope slides have been digitally imaged so far. Now the Museum needs as many people as possible to help transcribe the information on the specimen labels – such as the species name, location of where the sample material came from and its geological age – so that the data can be used for scientific research.
Dr Stukins says,
‘These fossilised organisms were very sensitive to their environment, so with this data we can better understand past conditions in the oceans and climate change through time.
‘All of this knowledge can be applied to what is happening now and in the future, giving us a better understanding of how our climate and oceans are changing.‘
Ocean organisms with a tale to tell
Foraminifera are among the most abundant shelled organisms in our oceans. A cubic centimetre of sediment may hold hundreds of living individuals, and many more shells.
Some forams spend their lives floating in the ocean. When they die, they sink to the seafloor and gradually become buried in sediment. Others – benthic foraminifera – live on or near the seafloor. The Miniature Fossils Magnified project features a collection of large benthic foraminifera.
Their sizes range from a few tens of microns in diameter – like a small grain of sand – to several centimetres across.
The material was collected during the mid-twentieth century as part of oil exploration in the Middle East. The scientists involved in dating rocks described many new foraminifera species and the slides were later given to the Museum due to their scientific value.
The data on the slide labels are invaluable. Analysing them can help us to understand how our climate and sea levels have changed, and also tell us the geological history of the area in which they were found.
A record of ancient environments
Foraminifera shells are often divided into chambers and can be quite elaborate, although simple open tube or hollow sphere forms exist.
Because of the abundance and variety of foraminifera, their fossils are extremely important for dating rocks.
They also provide a record of the environment where they’re found. Sea level and temperature changes affect the diversity and population sizes of foraminifera species, as well as the growth of individuals, impacting their size. Studying fossil foraminifera can therefore help scientists to understand past conditions.
Scientists can also study fossils from known periods of change to observe how foraminifera responded to particular climate and ocean conditions. If we then see similar changes to foraminfera living on tropical reefs in the future, this can help scientists to deduce how quickly the changes are happening and predict what may happen.
Dr Miller says,
‘The Museum collection of larger benthic foraminifera is one of the most significant in the world but is little used because much of it remains undigitised.
‘By helping to digitise this collection, you will keep it relevant for scientific studies long into the future.’