Well for one, when it comes to benthic marine samples, animals smaller than 2.5 mm make up most of the catch according to Anders Warén, and coming from a man who’s been on countless research cruises and participated in over a thousand dredge hauls, I’m inclined to take what he says quite seriously. The sad thing is that most researchers throw out this precious (and almost always partially unknown) diversity with their salty bathwater after picking out the specimens you can see with the naked eye. As someone who chose to work on a small sized group of animals for my dissertation because of the fascinating way in which they have adapted to live their lives, I already appreciated them to some degree. But even after only a few days of sorting through samples in the company of one of the world’s experts on small molluscs, my appreciation has grown immensely for the care, attention to detail, and love of the natural world’s tiny curiosities that is required to learn all that we can from these little beasts.
side note: the above was written last June (yes June 2012, over a year ago…) while I was visiting Anders Warén at the natural history museum in Stockholm for a week. That week I had the privilege of being a snail apprentice and learning just a fraction of the techniques that are best for studying tiny shelly things and we had wonderful conversations about snail teeth (radulae) and how to image them among other things like our cats (I hadn’t seen mine for 3 months at this point so it was also nice to talk to a fellow cat and snail person). I also have to say that I think Stockholm is the most beautiful of the european cities I’ve visited, maybe it has something to do with all the water and the fact that it looked like sunset from when I left the museum until it actually got dark around 11pm.
Anyway, I never thought I would end up being very excited over tiny limpets, but here I am getting excited by good images of snail teeth (I started grad school excited about the deep sea of course, but as far as taxa I was more into fish and didn’t know a thing about molluscs). But really I find that with most things, if you look a little closer and dig a little deeper, things that once seemed boring or uninteresting will have more meaning and become fascinating once you understand them a little more. This is also why I often like to just stay in one spot and look closely for awhile when I’m diving especially, but even if I’m just outside somewhere. For example, recently I was in the Azores for a conference (more on this in a later post) and after wards I was exploring the island with a couple friends and I noticed the moss on a rock and decided to take some pictures of it for some of the bryologists (people who study moss) back home. Since I was focusing on the tiny plants, I actually ended up seeing a tiny slug, which then led to a slug photo shoot (on my iphone, so no macro lens, but still) . Anyway, the point is, that since I slowed down to pay attention to the small things I ended up seeing a cool animal I probably never would have seen otherwise! The thing is though, if I hadn’t already been shown by several mentors in different situations what you can see by looking closer, I don’t know if I would have the same level of curiosity that leads to look closer on my own. So, I hope that next time you are out and about, even if it’s just your walk to the bus stop, that you stop and observe the small parts of nature. It’s probably easier to find where most of us live than big things like bears or something anyway, but that’s kind of the point, the small stuff is cool too, not to mention more diverse!