Friday, 14 November 2014

Phyrella mookiei

Image: Michonneau F, & Paulay G
Good grief! Is that a sea cucumber attempting to be fuzzy AND wuzzy, both? Does it expect a cuddle?

Phyrella mookiei was discovered in 2010 in Guam, a tiny island in the western Pacific surrounded by numerous other tiny islands and miles and miles of ocean.

The discoverers, François Michonneau and Gustav Paulay, knew they had something interesting in their hands. Not just a fuzzy sea cucumber, but probably a new species. So they took it back to the museum for a closer look.

Then, DISASTER struck! Not in the form of an army of fuzzy sea cucumbers marching on the museum, smashing the doors down and demanding the return of their prince. Instead, it was disaster in the form of loads and loads of WORK!


Image: Michonneau F, & Paulay G
They quickly saw that their new sea cucumber belonged to a genus called Phyrella, but they also saw that the genus Phyrella was a mess. It only contained 4 species but one of them shouldn't have been in there. Several other species should have been in there and two other genera should never have been created, all the species should have been placed within Phyrella from the start.

What had begun as a fairly simple matter of identifying and describing a new species turned into a huge project reading old descriptions, examining specimens throughout the world and using DNA analysis where possible. One weird thing they discovered is that Phyrella sea cucumbers don't necessarily have exactly 20 tentacles. Turns out they're variable in that regard, even within the same species. It just took someone to go out and take the time to count them.

The result is a 40 page scientific paper which revises a branch of the sea cucumber family tree.

Throughout all this there was one... "person" who was intimately involved and yet didn't care about any of it. No, it wasn't any of the sea cucumbers.

Image: Michonneau F, & Paulay G
It's Phyrella mookiei's namesake, Mookie! This wheaton terrier is owned by the collection assistant, Mandy Bemis. Can you see the resemblance?

Dear fuzzy sea cucumber, at least someone loves you.


TexWisGirl said...

that made me laugh. yes, a great family resemblance. :)

François Michonneau said...

Thanks for the shout-out! It's a nice write up of our research. Mookie's picture was actually taken by Mandy. cheers!

Crunchy said...

Oh, wow, got a visit from one of the researchers. Ain't that cool?

I don't see what the problem is. Everyone likes hugs. That's why octopi have so many arms.

Also spiders.

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

@TexWisGirl: Haha! Long lost cousins!

@François Michonneau: No problem! Glad you're pleased with the write-up and congratulations on discovering such a fluffy weirdo!

@Crunchy: Very cool! Almost as cool as spider hugs!

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