Monday, June 24, 2013

How to identify snails from a rather short distance

I'm into the heart of species identification with the snail survey project. As I'm going along, my collaborators Kathryn Perez and Jeff Nekola have put together a great key to upper Mississippi Valley gastropods, but I'm still finding it difficult to key out various species of Vertigo with the key and the accompanying photographs.

So, I did what any good taxonomist would do - look very closely at the snails I have, look closely at the pictures and then make a new key tuned to the characteristics that I can see. In this case, shells of Vertigo are very small - less than 2 mm. And while the overall shape of the shells and the sculpture on the whorls is very important, I find the arrangement of the "teeth" in the aperture most helpful in narrowing down the field. So using Nekola's photographs, I've started to sketch my own images of just the apertures - drawings that emphasize the relative size, shape and placement of these teeth. It's just a draft, and these sketches don't account for all of the variation in some of the different species, but just the exercise of drawing each shell aperture has helped me get a feeling for a more reasonable "gestalt" for each species.

The drawings above represent the 15 species most likely to be found living in Wisconsin - I've found V. modesta and V. oughtoni as Pleistocene fossils in west-central Wisconsin, but no live records exist. I don't think V. meramecensis has been reported in Wisconsin yet either, but it is found in northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, so I can't imagine one couldn't find it if you looked in the right places (which we're trying to accomplish with this survey).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Put on your 3D glasses now!

Things are in full swing here in the Dirt Lab. We're wrapping up the sample processing - most of the snails are picked out of the litter and we've been counting and identifying lots of snails. Along with data entry, we're taking pictures of some of the snails. The problem with pictures is that they're "flat." It's hard to get an idea of the shape or sculpture of the shells - so I tried taking pictures through the right and left eyepieces. Overlay the two images, line them up and add a little blending adjustment... and voila!

The snails are in three dee! Provided you have the red/blue glasses, of course.

Anguispira altnernata

Discus catskillensis

How many species are here?

Strobilops labyrinthicus

Vallonia costata