It may seem like scuds are the lowest creatures on earth.
And that’s because they are – literally – the lowest.
Scuds are bottom dwellers at the bottom of the food chain. They suck up nutrients in the muddy depths of lakes, rivers, streams, marsh and ocean—only to become food for larger aquatic invertebrates and fish.
About 10,000 different species of these shrimp-like creatures are known to exist.
Now one more’s been added to the list.
Georgia College Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristine White and junior environmental science major Sally Sir of Duluth have discovered an amphipod never before identified by anyone else. They found it in a collection of about 7,000 amphipods White collected in the mid-2000s as a post-doctoral student in Okinawa, Japan. They dissected the little ivory-colored scud—about 4 mm in size (imagine a stack of four dimes). They took 3D images of it with a DSLR camera on a stacked imaging system. They described and drew it. Most importantly, they gave it a name and sent the information off to the international journal, Zootaxa, where several peer reviewers will determine once-and-for-all whether it’s a new species. They should hear the news by August.
Until then, the organism’s new Latin name – bestowed by White for its hairy appearance – cannot be disclosed.
“I’m very excited. I was even more excited to have a student here to work on it. It was a group effort. We both decided together that this was a new species,” White said. “It feels really nice to be teaching a new taxonomist how to do this. This is a really great example of the undergraduate research that we do here and a really nice way to show that students really are involved in research, and they’re not just washing dishes in the lab.”
Using connected microscopes, White and Sir simultaneously saw their unique specimen. It was notable for its feathery setae—or hairy bristles—which were more numerous than usual. It also had a leg without serrated or jagged edges. Scuds – microscopic in length to as large as five inches – swim here and there unnoticed by most people. But they are vitally important. Their sudden disappearance from an area can be an environmental indicator of trouble – a new predator, toxin or pollutant in waters that could eventually affect the fish we eat.
“Amphipods are especially sensitive to toxins and pollutants in the environment. So, if there is some type of new pollution,” White said, “they would show it, usually by dwindling numbers.”
This fascinates Sir as an environmental science major. Someday, she may want to be an amphipod taxonomist and keep an eye on the health of marine ecosystems. She feels “incredibly lucky” to be at Georgia College, where undergraduate research—as early as freshman year—is encouraged.
“It really kind of clicked,” Sir said. “I really love the learning and, every time I came in, I was just learning so much.”