Cataloguing is like an onion, it has many layers

About two weeks ago, Tom arrived. Tom is a grad student in the geology department at Stanford and he’s collaborating with us on the invertebrate metabolism project. While Leanne is using the project to better understand Long Island Sound ecology, Tom is using the project to better understand the Ediacaran oceanic environment. The Ediacaran Period (635 to 542 million years ago), culminating in the Cambrian Explosion, contains some of the first multicellular animals. The characteristic Ediacaran fauna is extinct, however, by studying similar extant species, i.e. scale worms and anemones, we might be able to understand the link between oxygen levels and physiology in the Ediacaran.

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Hi Tom

With Tom came a second oxygen logger — now, we can run eight trials at once. This means more specimen-collecting trips (my favorite!). And also a lot of cataloguing. Each specimen we monitor is entered into the Peabody’s Invertebrate Zoology collection. First, every critter receives a catalogue number, site number, and all the attached information through a computer program called EMu.

The catalogue number is linked to a description of the species, the determiner of the species, where it is stored in the collection and the preservation procedure. The site number links it to the exact location it was found at, the collector, and date. Do you know the part in the first Harry Potter book when Harry’s Hogwarts letter was addressed to the cupboard under the stairs? That’s the kind of specificity the collection locations are described with. An example: Atlantic Ocean, North America, USA, Rhode Island, Newport County, Newport, between two culverts under Ocean Avenue between Cherry Neck and Goose Neck. With similar precision, each specimen is placed in a tiny glass vial with its catalogue number, inside a small glass vial with more thorough labels, which nests inside a half pint jar with members of its own species. The system is an OCD scientist’s fantasy.

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Two of the layers of organization
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Our collection site in Newport

As long as the process is, I don’t mind it. One upside is hearing the stories from Eric in Invertebrate Zoology. He knows a lot. Just today, I was examining a scale worm and having trouble identifying it so Eric pulled out the type specimen (meaning the specimen used to describe the species) for Lepidonotus sublevis collected by Alexander Verrill in 1873. So cool! Even cooler, Eric told me all about Verrill’s under-celebrated assistant, Katherine Bush — brilliant marine invertebrate taxonomist and first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences from Yale.


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