Curiouser and Curiouser: Our Discoveries in 2013

by Mark Graham and Lory Beaudoin

Have you made any discoveries lately? If you answer “yes” to that question, it is in keeping with one of our most dependable features as a species: our immense curiosity. We are surrounded by an ever-developing, complex world with lots of moving parts, so there are endless possibilities to discover what things are, how they work, and where and when to find them.

At the Canadian Museum of Nature, our stock-in-trade is all about discovery—species discovery. Across the broad landscape of “-ologies” that reside with our scientific experts, and throughout the 150+ years of research and collection development at the museum, we have an impressive record of finding and describing plants, animals, fossils and minerals.

Two Liropus minusculus specimens.

Cave-dwelling skeleton shrimp of the species Liropus minusculus. The identification of this species is one of the top 10 discoveries in the world for 2013, according to the Institute for Species Exploration. Above, the smaller specimen is female and the larger one is male. Image: SINC (Information and Scientific News Service; http://www.agenciasinc.es) and J.M. Guerras-García, used under licence (Creative Commons BY 3.0)

The year 2013 was no exception, with 12 new discoveries! The defining achievement of these discoveries is a thorough description of the new species, presented to and accepted by the scientific community in a publication. (A full list of our publications is compiled each year in our annual report).

More specifically, in 2013 our museum scientists and their collaborators discovered five new mineral species, five new animal species and two new plant species. Bob Anderson’s work in Central America and the Caribbean uncovered three new species of weevils, like Metamasius planatus, which is found amongst the fallen palm fronds of Dominica.

Dorsal and lateral views of a weevil.

The weevil Metamasius planatus. Image: François Génier © Canadian Museum of Nature

In the case of Ed Hendrycks, his two discoveries were crustaceans from California, U.S.A., and Korea. One is a cave-dwelling skeleton shrimp, Liropus minusculus, that is also counted amongst the top 10 discoveries in the world for 2013 by the Institute for Species Exploration. These interesting creatures are like the baseball outfielders of the ocean, standing up tall, waving their arms to catch passing morsels of food. (Watch a video of shrimp feeding).

A diatom.

A valve of the new epiphytic marine diatom, Mastogloia stellae, seen in electron microscopy. The scale bar is 5 microns long. Image: Chiara Pennesi, Università Politecnica delle Marche (photo has been modified)

Michel Poulin teamed up with his European colleagues to discover two new species of diatoms (microscopic plants) from the Red Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, including Mastogloia stellae, which is found on eelgrass near Egypt.

Joel Grice was busy describing new minerals from Canada, Norway, Russia and Bolivia, such as bussyite-(Y) from the famous quarries at Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec.

The discovery of new species is really a starting point in science: being able to find and designate something allows for a huge range of dependable, carefully referenced inquiries and the sharing of information. We keep careful records of our discoveries because each one involves a piece of evidence, an object that becomes a part of the collection (you can rummage through our digital collection holdings at any time, or you can visit the collection in person during one of our open houses in autumn 2014).

Regular and detail views of a specimen of bussyite-(Y).

Bussyite-(Y) from the famous quarries at Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. Image: Glenn Poirier © Canadian Museum of Nature

We keep these objects because the science community continues to use them in other research, over and over again. We not only share our discoveries with the scientific and professional communities, we tell our stories to the public too. Check out our latest blog posts and videos on nature.ca, visit Creatures of Light at the museum, and find out about one of our travelling exhibitions coming to a town near you.

One of the most insightful things about our discoveries, and about museum collections in general, is brilliantly stated in the Many Minds Principle: “The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else” (attributed to Rufus Pollock, Open Knowledge okfn.org).

Be curious, keep discovering and pass on the buzz.

Scientific Discoveries at the Museum in 2013
Diatoms: Mastogloia matthaei, Mastogloia stellae
Weevils: Archicorynus kuscheli, Melchus jessae, Metamasius planatus
Crustaceans: Liropus minusculus, Socarnes tongyeongensis
Minerals: bussyite-(Y), chromo-alumino-povondraite, ferrivauxite, ferrochiavennite, veblenite

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