Monday, October 26, 2020

The Lost Species: Great Expeditions in the Collections of Natural History Museums

Kemp, Christopher. 2017. The Lost Species: Great Expeditions in the Collections of Natural History Museums. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, xxii, 250 p. [ISBN: 9780226386218]

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Great Expeditions in

the Collections of Natural

History Museums 

Publisher description: The tiny, lungless Thorius salamander from southern Mexico, thinner than a match and smaller than a quarter. The lushly white-coated Saki, an arboreal monkey from the Brazilian rainforests. The olinguito, a native of the Andes, which looks part mongoose, part teddy bear. These fantastic species are all new to science—at least newly named and identified; but they weren’t discovered in the wild, instead, they were unearthed in the drawers and cavernous basements of natural history museums. As Christopher Kemp reveals in The Lost Species, hiding in the cabinets and storage units of natural history museums is a treasure trove of discovery waiting to happen.

With Kemp as our guide, we go spelunking into museum basements, dig through specimen trays, and inspect the drawers and jars of collections, scientific detectives on the hunt for new species. We discover king crabs from 1906, unidentified tarantulas, mislabeled Himalayan landsnails, an unknown rove beetle originally collected by Darwin, and an overlooked squeaker frog, among other curiosities. In each case, these specimens sat quietly for decades—sometimes longer than a century—within the collections of museums, before sharp-eyed scientists understood they were new. Each year, scientists continue to encounter new species in museum collections—a stark reminder that we have named only a fraction of the world’s biodiversity. Sadly, some specimens have waited so long to be named that they are gone from the wild before they were identified, victims of climate change and habitat loss. As Kemp shows, these stories showcase the enduring importance of these very collections.

The Lost Species
 vividly tells these stories of discovery—from the latest information on each creature to the people who collected them and the scientists who finally realized what they had unearthed—and will inspire many a museumgoer to want to peek behind the closed doors and rummage through the archives.


Herpetological notes: This book is a tribute to, and argument for, natural history museums. Herpetologically there are three chapters (highlighted below). Chapter 8 discusses Jim Hanken’s work on salamanders of the genus Thorius, beginning in the 1970s when he discovered a new species in a jar full of other Thorius specimens, then proceeded to search other museum collections only to find several more new species of this genus.

Chapter 9 tells the story of David Blackburn’s discovery of Arthroleptis kutogundua in a jar of Arthroleptis frogs collected by Arthur Loveridge in 1930. This chapter also discusses Mark O’Shea’s discovery of Toxicocalamus ernstmayeri, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology collection at Harvard.

Chapter 10 highlights Hinrich Kaiser’s discovery of Cyrtodactylus celatus while going through reptiles collected from Timor in the British Museum’s collection.




The Vertebrates
1. Pushed up a Mountain and into the Clouds: The Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina)
2. Beneath a Color 83 Sky: The Ucucha Mouse (Thomasomys ucucha)
3. Going on a Tapir Hunt: The Little Black Tapir (Tapirus kabomani)
4. A Taxonomic Confusion: The Saki Monkeys (Pithecia genus)
5. Scattered to the Corners of the World: The Arfak Pygmy Bandicoot (Microperoryctes aplini)
6. The One That Got Away for 160 Years: Wallace’s Pike Cichlid (Crenicichla monicae)
7. Here Be Dragons: The Ruby Seadragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea)
8. A Century in a Jar: The
 Thorius Salamanders
9. From a Green Bowl: The Overlooked Squeaker Frog (Arthroleptis kutogundua)
10. A Body and a Disembodied Tail: Smith’s Hidden Gecko (Cyrtodactylus celatus)

The Invertebrates
11. Treasure in the By-Catch: The Gall Wasps (Cynipoidea species)
12. The Biomimic: The Lightning Cockroach (Lucihormetica luckae)
13. Sunk beneath the Surface in a Sea of Beetles: Darwin’s Rove Beetle (Darwinilus sedarisi)
14. The Spoils of a Distant War: The Congo Duskhawker Dragonfly (Gynacantha congolica)
15. A Specimen in Two Halves: Muir’s Wedge-Shaped Beetle (Rhipidocyrtus muiri)
16. Mary Kingsley’s Longhorn Beetle (Pseudictator kingsleyae)
17. The Giant Flies (Gauromydas papavero
 and Gauromydas mateus)
18. It Came from Area 51: The Atomic Tarantula Spider (Aphonopelma atomicum)
19. The Host with the Most: The Nematode Worm (Ohbayashinema aspeira)
20. From a Time Machine on Cromwell Road: Ablett’s Land Snail (Pseudopomatias abletti)
21. In Sight of Land: Payden’s Isopod (Exosphaeroma paydenae)
22. A Ball of Spines: Makarov’s King Crab (Paralomis makarovi)

23. In an Ikea Bag: The Custard Apple Family (Monanthotaxis

The Others
24. Waiting with Their Jackets On: The Fossils (Paleontology Specimens Collected by Elmer Riggs)
25. The First Art: The Earliest Hominin Engraving (a 500,000-Year-Old Shell)

Illustration Captions and Credits

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