Posted by: genghisprawn | April 18, 2009

USOs at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

For most of yesterday, I was at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) and its associated labs to speak with faculty and students in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.  Many thanks to Robert Woollacott, Jonathan Losos, Gonzalo Giribet, and Adam Baldinger for their time and interest.  I will be looking forward to joining their community as part of the Class of 2013!

Before finding the right building, I wandered through the MCZ and a few exhibits of the Harvard Museum of Natural History.  Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice the unidentified swimming objects (USOs) gracing two of the jars.

These shrimp were in a glass case highlighting Louis Agassiz’s explorations in Brazil.  “Caridea” they are — to be more specific, they represent at least one (probably multiple) species of Palaemonid shrimp in the genus Macrobrachium.

Immediately behind their jar was a red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor constrictor), and to the right of that a peacock bass (Cichla ocellaris), a native of the Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata basins (Schroder & Zaret, 1979) that has also become established in the Panama Canal Zone (Zaret & Paine, 1973) and in southern Florida (Schafland, 1996).

Though the orientation of the container made it difficult to read the locality description, these coordinates place it in the present-day state of Ceará, Brazil.

A closer look at the shrimp themselves.

Further along were yet more preserved organisms in an exhibit exploring the breadth of invertebrate diversity.  Beside a Panulirid spiny lobster and a Brachyuran crab was an admittedly lobster-like shrimp.

The locality left no doubt as to the identity of this “Macrobrachium sp.” — M. carcinus.

The doorway of the MCZ proper, to the left of the HMNH entrance.

Prior to my departure, Dr. Giribet and I also made the rounds of the MCZ’s crustacean collections and the Ernst Mayr Library, where we hunted down an early copy of Huxley’s Crayfish and saw a “secret room” filled with pre-1850 books, artworks, and field journals by the likes of Linnaeus, Buffon, Cuvier, and Darwin.

A parting shot of the museum itself.

All in all, a very worthwhile trip.


Shafland, P. L. (1996). Exotic Fishes of Florida-1994. Reviews in Fisheries Science 4(2):101-122.

Schroder, S.L., & T.M. Zaret. (1979). The adaptive significance of color patterns in Cichla ocellaris. Copeia 1979(1):43-47.

Zaret, T. M., & Paine, R. T. (1973). Species Introduction in a Tropical Lake: A newly introduced piscivore can produce population changes in a wide range of trophic levels. Science, 182(4111), 449-455.


  1. Thanks for the post. Any chance you could hotlink your mention of the Harvard Museum of Natural History to the museum’s website at We’d love those curious to know the museum’s 12,000 specimens are available for all to 9-5 daily, 361 days/year. Thanks.

  2. way ak o ne la

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