A team of scientists – led by a geosciences professor from the University of Edinboro – have completed a major reclassification of a group of lobster and clawed shrimp species.
The group is characterized by very unusual claws with long, slender fingers bearing needle-like denticles.
Paleontologist Dr. Dale Tshudy has joined forces with European crustacean paleontologists Matúš Hyžný (Slovakia), Martina Kočová Veselská (Czech Republic) and John WM Jagt (Netherlands) and recently published a taxonomic revision of the extinct lobster genus with claws. Oncopared – and many other unrelated species.
“My research over 37 years has yielded several interesting findings and a number of firsts,” said Tshudy, who has taught at Edinboro since 1992. as contributions are made.”
Tshudy began the reclassification process in 1987 as part of his doctorate. dissertation on lobster evolution – first-hand examination of all known species.
He then spent three weeks visiting European museum collections and borrowing specimens from around the world. Over the next few years, researchers found links that were missing when discovering and classifying fossils dating back to the 19th century.
It was a train stop in Brussels, Belgium that sparked this current study.
In a dust-covered box in the basement of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Tshudy found what would be the core of his research for the next three decades. What was supposed to be a quick visit to compare a published description from 1849 with the museum’s holotype specimens – a unique type specimen on which the description and name of a new species is based – turned out to only confuse Tshudy .
Something was wrong. Tshudy had the entire collection shipped to Kent State University in Ohio for further examination.
After weeks of study, he discovered that the fossil species of lobster described and illustrated in 1849 as Oncoparée bredai was – in fact – an accidental mixture of two very different species of lobster. As Tshudy describes it – “like the head of a deer and the back of a cow”.
“And this ‘species’ was unverified and unconfirmed, and then perpetuated itself in the literature for the next 150 years – creating a convoluted mess, a taxonomic nightmare,” Tshudy explained.
The confusion has been compounded by what scientists call “convergent evolution” – the process by which distant organisms independently develop similar traits to fit similar necessities – in the clutches of these crustaceans. These unrelated species were often mistakenly thought to be related due to their nearly identical claws.
Tshudy has worked on this group from 1990 to the present, collaborating with marine biologists and paleontologists in Europe and Asia and publishing part-solutions along the way. In 2016 he recruited Hyžný, Veselská and Jagt to help him complete a comprehensive revision of this group, reclassifying the original specimen and many others.
The team presented their findings in 2018 at the 9th International Crustacean Congress in Washington, D.C. In April 2022, their manuscript was accepted for publication.
The original species was based on specimens found in dinosaur age fossils from Western Europe. Related and very similar species of lobster are known today from the ocean depths. Related fossil specimens are also known in dinosaur age rocks around the world.
Tshudy’s work on crustaceans did not end with the scientific paper. In the fall of 2021, he was invited to co-author a segment of “Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology”, which Tshudy describes as “every palaeontologist’s desktop reference”.
Tshudy has now published 28 peer-reviewed articles in international journals and books.
Photo: The corrected illustration of Oncoparée bredaicompleted by Dr. Dale Tshudy and his European counterparts.