New Crab Species Named In Honor Of Its Discoverer
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Imagine the surprise if you learned that a new species had been named after you. That’s exactly what happened to Dr. Christopher Tudge of American University recently as he was reading a copy of the journal, Zootaxa. Finding out after-the-fact is fairly standard practice in the highly formalized naming ritual of new species, it seems.
The new species, Aeropaguristes tudgei, is a type of hermit crab that Tudge recently discovered on the barrier reef off the coast of Belize.
Tudge has had a lifelong interest in biology, spanning from boyhood trips to the beach collecting crustaceans in Australia, to his college work in zoology and biology at the University of Queensland. Tudge has collected specimens worldwide, from North America to South America to Europe and Australia. He has never had a species named for him before, however.
Rafael Lemaitre of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (SI NMNH) and Darryl L. Felder of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Department of Biology Laboratory for Crustacean Research are the two crustacean taxonomy experts who named the species after Tudge. They have known him since he first came to Washington in 1995 as a postdoc research fellow at the Smithsonian.
For decades, Lemaitre and Felder have been collecting specimens on the tiny Belizean island and, for the last ten years, they have been trying to convince Tudge to join them. Tudge specializes in the structures of crustacean reproduction and how they relate to the animals’ evolutionary history. Tudge finally agreed and joined them in February 2010.
The island, which is covered by hundreds of species of crustaceans, is crab heaven for a group of scientists like this.
“So you can take 40 steps off the island and you’re on the edge of the reef, and then the back part of the reef is what they call the lagoon,” Tudge recalled. “You slowly walk out into ever-increasing depths of water and it’s a mixture of sand and sea grass and bits of coral, and then there’s some channels. There’s lots of different habitats there. Some islands are covered by mangroves. So we would visit all the different habitats that were there.”
“We would collect on the reef crest, go and turn over coral boulders on the reef flat, snorkel over the sea grass beds. We pumped sand and mud to get things out of the ground. We walked into the mangroves and collected crustaceans from under the mangrove roots. We even snorkeled in the channels in the mangrove islands,” he explained.
The find was much less complicated. Tudge saw 50 or so tiny crabs scrambling around after he turned over a coral boulder in an intertidal area. He scooped a dozen or so into a bottle and went on about his work. Only later, under a laboratory microscope, was it determined that this little group of isolated hermit crabs might be unique.
“Given this cryptic habitat and the relatively minute size of the specimens (shield length range = 1.0-3.0 mm), it is not surprising that these populations have gone unnoticed during extensive sampling programs that have previously taken place along the Barrier Reef of Belize,” said Lemaitre and Felder.
Tudge only recently became aware that the tiny hermit crab – differentiated from others in its genus by characteristics such as hairs growing on some of its appendages – had joined the list of about 3 million known species.
Lemaitre emailed him a PDF copy of the finished article with a note that said only, “Here’s a new species. What do you think?” along with a smiley face emoticon.
Tudge’s colleague, biology professor Daniel Fong, says that’s the way it works. Fong has had species named after him, and has discovered new ones as well, and he says that one day you just find out. There’s no warning, really.
“You go through several emotions when a species has been named after you,” Fong said. “It is truly an honor, in the most formal sense of the term, that your colleagues have thought of naming a species after you. It is a very special type of recognition of your contribution to your research field by your colleagues.”
The journal article, complete with drawings and photographs of Areopaguristes tudgei, and an exhaustive taxonomic description, explains why the authors chose this name.
“This species is named after our colleague Christopher C. Tudge (American University) who first noticed and collected populations of this diminutive hermit crab living under large dead coral boulders during joint field work in Carrie Bow Cay. The name also acknowledges his unique contributions to knowledge of the reproductive biology of hermit crabs.”