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Can you say Strongylocentrotus or Paralauterborniella?

October 3, 2013

by Todd Folsom

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” What’s in one particular name is 32 letters! The green sea urchin’s Latin species name is Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. It is one of the longest scientific names for a species. If you come into the Naturalist Center on the second floor of the Nature Research Center, you can open the drawer containing sea urchin specimens and examine some Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis.  Green sea urchins prefer to live in cold water so they occur in oceans located in the northern hemisphere.  In this photograph, you can see the urchin’s spines and the longer flexible tube feet.

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (green sea urchin)

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (green sea urchin)

As tough as it is to handle a name with 32 letters, there is at least one more species with a longer name! This less well-known species with a 33 character name, Paralauterborniella nigrohalterale,  is a freshwater midge. These midges are flies in the family Chironomidae, so are commonly known as chironomids. The larval and pupal stages live on the bottoms of streams and lakes. When the pupae are ready to emerge as winged adults, the pupae rise to the surface so the adult midge can exit the pupal exoskeleton, expand its wings and legs, then fly off to mate. If you observe a cloud of small insects swarming over a pond or stream, chances are that’s a mating cloud of chironomids.

Paralauterborniella nigrohalterale (freshwater midge)

Paralauterborniella nigrohalterale (freshwater midge)

It is easy to find  Paralauterborniella nigrohalterale  in samples taken  from the bottom of freshwaters in North Carolina if you have a good microscope, good taxonomic keys and good knowledge of insect morphology. You would need all of that to understand why the image shown in this photo is the head of P. nigrohalterale  and not the head of some other species!

But it is even easier to find lots of other cool creatures in the Naturalist Center, and who knows? … you might find a specimen with an even longer scientific name.  If you do, be sure to let us know!

Todd Folsom has been a museum volunteer since 2000 and now splits his time between the Naturalist Center and the Micro World Investigate Lab (both located in the Nature Research Center).  After obtaining graduate degrees in freshwater ecology, Dr. Folsom worked for Duke Energy’s environmental services section which is based on Lake Norman. The job took him to many interesting monitoring sites on lakes and rivers in the Piedmont Carolinas as well as in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and inside nuclear reactors!) He also became an expert in SAS software while analyzing environmental data so eventually moved to Cary for work as a software developer at SAS.


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