Edinboro professor discovers new species of lobster

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 at 6:08 PM
Edinboro professor discovers new species of lobster by Peter Brady
Graphic: Britton Rozzelle

If you don’t know Dr. Dale Tshudy, he’s a paleontologist who joined the Edinboro family in 1992, teaching geology and oceanography courses. His recent discovery is not simply something he stumbled on; the process was arduous. It took 27 years of accumulated knowledge, collaboration across continents, hours of research, and over 100 references.

Those of you who do know Tshudy have probably experienced his passion for lobsters and witnessed it spill out into his lectures. His research specialty is crustacean — mainly the clawed lobster — and evolution and taxonomy as interpreted by both morphologic and molecular methods. If that last sentence totally blew your mind, let’s just say this: Type “Lobster” into Wikipedia. His name can be found on the page multiple times.

The new species of lobster, Homarus hungaricus

So, you find a new species of lobster — what next? Do you plant a small, but tasteful, flag adorned with your likeness into the creature? No — those are strictly planet/moon/mountain-peak rules. First, you have to prove it’s a new species. Here are the steps to lobster discovery:

1. Finding the fossil with the available material: I was surprised to learn that many fossils waiting to be discovered have already been dug up, and occasionally, the available material can be misclassified. Tshudy said, “We hope to contribute in a meaningful way, because we spend time in the trenches.” As I came to understand it, operating in “the trenches” sometimes required amending the mistakes scientists made in the past. While searching for new discoveries, you stumble on non- existent or mislabeled species that need to be corrected in order to continue. “The trenches” sound like they might require a shovel, chisel, and two perfectly working knees, but the rows and rows of fossils at the Smithsonian — locked away in crates that haven’t been opened for decades — are right there, waiting to be opened. Tshudy is no stranger to that. In this case, it wasn’t that complicated — the fossil was sent to him unsolicited from a colleague in Austria, Hungary.

2. Preparing the specimen for examination: Probably what most of us imagine when we think (if you’ve ever thought), “paleontologist-at-work.” By using what can be described as a mini jackhammer/tattoo gun, the excess sand and rock is chiseled away to expose the specimen. This is arguably the most stressful part — making sure the integrity of the fossil survives the mini-dig. Let’s just say, if you notice a small chip on a fossil — somewhere on earth there is a paleontologist who is infuriated by their big mistake.

3. Photographing the specimen: Much like makeup applied to a model, a white powder is applied to the new fossil, ammonium chloride. This eliminates any color and brings out the impressions made by the specimen over millions of years — making step four much easier.

4. Describing the specimen: Much more complicated than me describing the steps of lobster discovery. The phrase “describing the specimen” doesn’t do the process justice. Not without the words “exhaustive detail.” Making sure every portion of the fossil — spines, tail, grooves, claws, etc. are journaled and accounted for.

5. Compare the specimen: So, you just compare the fossil to one or two other fossils? Wrong. You compare the fossil to EVERY known species living and dead. As you can imagine, this takes a long time. However, it would take you or me much longer than Tshudy. If no matches are found you move on to step six.

6. Name the new species: Using the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, paleontologists Latinize the specimen’s distinctive feature or locality to create its name. This fossil was found in Hungary, so Tshudy went with: Homarus — the genus of lobsters, hungaricus or “Hungary” Latinized. Occasionally lobsters are named to honor someone. There is a type of lobster named after Tshudy, but it wasn’t his doing. He made it clear that naming a discovery after yourself was very tacky — which has me confident there’s a good chance Amerigo Vespucci was pretentious.

7. It is officially a new species: After it is published in a widely circulated peer-reviewed journal...it’s official. After years of work, painstaking hours preparing, describing, comparing and collaborating with other scientists around the world, you can say you found a new species.

So here we are years later — with a brand-new species of lobster. Are you still not amazed?

Before we started talking about lobsters, we spoke briefly about music. He mentioned his new Les Paul, Eddy Van Halen style emulation and how much simpler our autodidactic approaches to the guitar were with access to YouTube.

Over the summer, “The Defiant Ones” aired on HBO. In short, it tells the story of the friendship between music legends Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. To show his scope of influence, Iovine produced “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Under a Blood Red Sky” by U2, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga and was the first person to sign rapper Tupac Shakur to a record contract. For the past 30 years, he revolutionized music from behind the scenes. Thinking about this for a fleeting a moment while talking to Tshudy, you admit music and lobsters have no correlation, except maybe the song “Rock Lobster.”

But as Tshudy spoke, you begin to understand how Iovine must approach music. He doesn’t hear it the way we do. A song plays and in many cases, Iovine found the artist through arduous research. He had to rummage through 1,000s of tape decks, comprised of mislabed artists long forgotten in basements, to find the next big name. As he gained notoriety, superstars were sometimes delivered to his office by colleagues. Then, while collaborating with the engineer, he would prepare the soundboard, knob by knob, level by level, to substantiate the artists’ unique sound.

During a recording session, Iovine probably pores over every song with excruciating detail: Every fill on every drum line, every measure — 6/8 or 4/4 time signature — making sure the staccato kicks in at the right moment so that the hook resonates with the listener; using old music from the ‘40s and ‘50s to reinvent music today. After tireless hours in the studio, he can finally say he found a new species. Something the world hasn’t heard before.

Jimmy Iovine and Dale Tshudy found unbridled passion and success in dissecting and truly analyzing something we simply “enjoy the beat of ” or “will have with melted butter and preferably cheesy potatoes.” You may never meet Jimmy Iovine — the man who brought us an entire generation of music from behind the scenes — you may only watch a documentary on TV.

But if you want to talk lobsters, go to the 2nd floor in Cooper Hall.

Peter Brady can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com. 

Tags: voices, opinion

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