It appears that a major blank inthe evolution of the lobster has fallen into place. A bit of luck and plenty of other data hasgiven us an obvious transition specimen. It is all a reminder that we are living through a golden age for allbranches of biology and the secrets of every major species is now under assault. The next great wave after this will be therestoration of a wide range of extinct species.
That we should know this aboutthe lobster is delightful. That thelobster is well on the way to been a sea food staple through effectivehusbandry is also fitting.
By SEAN MCCRACKEN
Friday, 9:01 PM
The phrase "lobster missing link" might be a little bitmisleading.
What Dale Tshudy's research helped uncover wasn't a small, clawedSasquatch patrolling the Atlantic coast of
, but something even more exciting. Maine
Tshudy, a geosciences professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvaniaand a widely regarded expert in crustacean fossils, has spent the past coupleof years filling in a large blank in the evolution of lobsters.
"It's months of long days," Tshudy said. "But I enjoymaintaining and improving the database we all work from."
By studying roughly 50-million-year-old fossils found off the coast ofSteeple Bay,
,Tshudy believes he has found evidence of an extinct lobster species. England
The new species fills in numerous gaps in what in now known about thelobster genus Thaumastocheles.
This particular group of lobsters isn't what you'd expect to see onyour dinner plate. They reside in the deep waters of places like the Sea ofJapan or the
Caribbean and are rarelyencountered by humans.
Tshudy said they're most easily recognized by their long, slender clawsand a "bulb-shaped" palm, which looks very little like the fat,club-like claws of
It was those unique appendages that helped Tshudy know he was dealingwith something significant when he got an e-mail from an amateur fossilcollector in 2008.
"These are so distinctive," Tshudy said. "They don'tlook like any other lobster. I could tell by a simple black-and-whitephotograph."
That e-mail was from British fossil collector Jeff Saward, who is aworld-renowned expert in mazes and labyrinths.
Saward had found Tshudy by searching his work online, and the two wouldend up spending the next two years e-mailing back and forth about thediscovery.
"It took five minutes to say, 'Wow, this is something that weshould develop,'" Tshudy said. "Everything just fell intoplace."
After the original correspondence, Saward shipped the fossils, whichTshudy said were "exquisitely preserved," to the
Tshudy said the new species fills the gap of the fossil recordvirtually perfectly. It represents a midway point in the physicaltransformation from already discovered extinct ancestors and present-daydescendants.
He was able to discern the new species lived in the time between and ata depth somewhere between its deep-dwelling descendants and shallow-waterancestors.
Tshudy is currently putting the finishing touches on a scholarly paperon the new species that was co-authored by Saward.
Tshudy said it'd be too early to reveal the name of the new species,but he said that naming protocols often use Latin descriptions of distinctivefeatures or where it was found.
In the case of a species studied by some of his former colleagues from
, onecrustacean was named in honor of Tshudy, although he's careful to clarify hehad nothing to do with that name selection. Kent State University
Tshudy said he's classified about 5 or 6 species throughout his career,including some others he's working on right now, and he even worked to definelarger groups like genera and families.
He tries to incorporate his research into his courses, often bringingfossils shipped from overseas or museums like the Smithsonian Institution intoclass.
"If I weren't doing this, I'd get stale in a hurry," Tshudysaid. "I couldn't just teach the same class year after year. I have to beexcited personally about something."