Monday, May 2, 2011

Identification please...

From the desk of Kelly Sendall, Manager of Natural History at the Royal BC Museum

The Natural History Section at the museum conducts about 30 research projects each year. Some of them take many years and others only span one year. But almost all result in an improvement in the representation the collections have of the province's biodiversity. As BC is Canada's most biodiverse province by a long shot, it's also a challenge to properly identify what we've already got! With the help of taxonomic experts from all over the world we are constantly doing this. Either they come to visit the collection or we loan specimens to experts at other museums. Recently, we have initiated a new project to develop online identification keys for the plants and animals of BC. These are slowly growing in number as students, volunteers, staff, research associates and others develop and contribute one or more keys to the list. So far there are keys to:

Chitons of BC
These are marine molluscs clinging to rocks in the intertidal and sub tidal habitats. The one pictured here is Tonicella insignis also known as the White-lined Chiton.

This key is still in development but will cover the glass sponges found commonly in BC waters. The one pictured on the right is a species of Staurocalyptus, of which there are 3 species in the marine waters of BC.

This is a general key to the groups of echinoderms (seastars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittlestars/basketstars, sea lilies/feather stars) in BC waters.

This key is still in development but covers very strange echinoderms also referred to as sea lillies or featherstars. The one pictured on the right is a common featherstar in BC (Florometra).

BC Echinoids
This key includes the sea urchins and sand dollars. The species pictured on the right is the Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus).

Also known as sea squirts, the tunicates are very diverse in BC marine waters and often rather difficult to identify. The species to the right is our 'sea peach' (Halocynthis aurantium).

These are ancient marine animals resembling molluscs but they are only distantly related to them. Some members of this group are commonly called lamp shells. The picture on the right is of the California Lamp Shell (Laqueus californianus), one of a few species common to BC.

We're looking for help in adding more keys to the list. Contributors so far have been students, staff, researchers or amateurs with an expertise in a particular group. If you think you can help, please contact me so we can talk about it. These keys are definitely a step up from the paper field guides in your pack that quickly become outdated or soaking wet! If you would like to try one of the keys, click on any of the key headings above.

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