On a shoe string budget, aquatic biologists Christopher Taylor from the University of Illinois and Guenter Schuster from Eastern Kentucky University discovered a new species of crawfish in Shoal Creek, a steam in southern Tennessee. As Taylor described it, \the crayfish is recognizably unique the moment you set eyes on it because of features in its morphology.\" The crayfish, named Barbicambarus simmonsi, is unusually large and has bearded antennae, meaning that the antennae are covered with sensory enhancing setae, which resemble tiny bristles. It is only the second known species in the genus Barbicambarus.
Biologists have been surveying Shoal Creek for years, so it's surprising that the giant crayfish has stayed hidden. Taylor attributes the crayfish's unknown status to two factors. In his words, \"first, the crayfish likes to reside underneath particularly large rocks in water that's chest deep, making it difficult to collect. Second, the crayfish might also be relatively rare in occurrence."
Taylor and Schuster's work highlights the biodiversity in our own country and reminds us that there are species still waiting to be discovered. There's often a lack of funding for biologists to investigate domestic environments. While it can seem more glamorous and exciting to track down new organisms in the abundant biodiversity of the tropics, we shouldn't overlook our own backyard for study and conservation.
Perhaps even more importantly, the discovery of this new crayfish brings attention to the often underrated role of standard taxonomy, a field that is losing footing to the advent of molecular biology. While molecular biology has greatly enhanced the classification of organisms, it doesn't present a complete picture. Taylor summed it up best by stating that "If we can't even describe and indentify the morphology of a new species, then how can we further study it or record the information for future generations? We need a complete picture, so molecular biology is certainly important, but it's not everything. Traditional taxonomy is necessary, too."
- Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington: Monotypic no more, a description of a new crayfish of the genus Barbicambarus Hobbs, 1969 (Decapoda: Cambaridae) from the Tennessee River drainage using morphology and molecules