MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Scuds may not be the most well-known creature on earth, but they are now the center of attention at Georgia College in Milledgeville.
Scuds are bottom dwellers at the bottom of the food chain. They suck up nutrients in the muddy depths of lakes, rivers, streams, marsh and ocean - only to become food for larger aquatic animals and fish.
About 10,000 different species of the shrimp-like creatures are known to exist.
Now one more’s been added to the list.
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Georgia College Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristine White and junior environmental science major Sally Sir of Duluth have discovered an amphipod never before identified by anyone else. They found it in a collection of about 7,000 amphipods White collected in the mid-2000s as a post-doctoral student in Okinawa, Japan.
They dissected the little ivory-colored scud, about 4 millimeters in size. They took 3D images of it, described it and drew it.
Most importantly, they gave it a name and sent the information off to the international journal, Zootaxa, where several peer reviewers will determine once-and-for-all whether it’s a new species.
They should hear the news by August.
Until then, the creature’s new Latin name — created by White for its hairy appearance — cannot yet be disclosed.
“I’m very excited. I was even more excited to have a student here to work on it. It was a group effort. We both decided together that this was a new species,” White said.
“It feels really nice to be teaching a new taxonomist how to do this,” she added. “This is a really great example of the undergraduate research that we do here and a really nice way to show that students really are involved in research, and they’re not just washing dishes in the lab.”
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Scuds are unnoticed by most people. But they are vitally important. Their sudden disappearance from an area can be an environmental indicator of trouble — a new predator, toxin or pollutant in waters that could eventually affect the fish we eat.
“Amphipods are especially sensitive to toxins and pollutants in the environment. So, if there is some type of new pollution,” White said, “they would show it, usually by dwindling numbers.”
The discovery was exciting for Sir. She said someday, she may want to be an amphipod taxonomist and keep an eye on the health of marine ecosystems. She feels “incredibly lucky” to be at Georgia College, where undergraduate research—as early as freshman year—is encouraged.
“It really kind of clicked,” Sir said. “I really love the learning and, every time I came in, I was just learning so much.”
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