Summer BioBlitz Turns Up the Common and the Unexpected

After spending 24 hours combing the woods, rivers and beaches of Stratford, Connecticut, and finding a record 977 species, Yale volunteers who took part in the latest BioBlitz have again made some unusual findings.

After spending 24 hours combing the woods, rivers and beaches of Stratford, Connecticut, and finding a record 977 species, Yale volunteers who took part in the latest BioBlitz have again made some unusual findings.

A rare insect, a shrimp-like crustacean and a small drum fish usually found in deep water were among those gathered during the annual survey, says Yale BioBlitz coordinator Gregory Watkins-Colwell, senior museum assistant in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which co-sponsored the survey with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo.

The BioBlitz Summer ‘09 survey was conducted July 31-Aug. 1 by scientists from the museum and zoo, as well as from the Connecticut Audubon Society, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society.

During a BioBlitz, scientists, students and volunteers take a detailed inventory of living things in a specific area, looking for as many mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants and fungi as they can find. Some specimens are gathered and brought back to the lab for observation and further study. Many, including birds and mammals, are merely recorded due to the unrealistic or illegal nature of capturing them. BioBlitzes have become popular learning tools around the world. In Connecticut, they are conducted by land trusts, conservation groups and universities.

“Stratford is good for us since it has riverfront, beachfront, hardwood forest and bog,” says Watkins-Colwell. “With this summertime Blitz, we have now done three seasons. We would like to return to Stratford one more time for an Autumn 2010 Blitz. It’s good to see how a town has such interesting species in their parks and open spaces, at least before they start building condos.”

The unusual creatures discovered during BioBlitz ‘09 were all found in the sand and salt water by Long Island Sound around Stratford Point. While sweeping vegetation with nets, a team of students from the Peabody’s Division of Entomology collected a two-inch-long antlion that resembles a dragonfly. Raymond Pupedis, senior collections manager in entomology at the Pea­body, subsequently identified the curious specimen as Brachynemurus abdominalis.

“I knew it was rare by its longer-than-usual abdomen,” Pupedis said. “It doesn’t show up commonly in collections. Call it a species that may be common but is rarely caught. Not that much is known about it, such as whether it really does come from a sandy area. Until we find larvae, we’re not sure where it might develop. But we can now say this is a true resident of Connecticut.”

Eric Lazo-Wasem, senior collections manager in the Peabody’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, was excited to find a smooth body form of a quarter-inch-long crustacean in the salt water off Stratford Point. He identified it as a marine gammaridean amphipod, or Gammarus mucronatus.

“This shrimp-like crustacean is characterized by strong dorsal projections, but it occasionally is seen in a smooth body form,” he says. “In 30 years since I began collecting amphipods in Long Island Sound, I have never encountered the smooth body form of this species, making the discovery quite interesting and certainly a reason to return to Stratford Point for a more thorough search for additional specimens.”

Watkins-Colwell found a fingernail-sized drum fish in chest-deep water. “It was a very small specimen, so we didn’t know what we really had until going over our specimens again in late September,” he says. “This fish is usually found in deeper water, though the larval forms can be found closer to shore. It could have been washed in by a storm. The fish was in a very early life stage. In fact, the only way we could tell what it was for certain was by comparing DNA sequences from it with known sequences.

“Just about every BioBlitz has turned up something unexpected,” Watkins-Colwell notes. “We expect to do a full re­port once the Autumn 2010 study is done, and we have all four seasons.” The three seasons already covered include Spring 2008, Winter 2008 and Summer 2009.

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