Research Spotlight

FWRI Catalogs the Hutton Collection

By Paul Larson

In the early 1960s, Robert F. Hutton (1921-1994) and Franklin Sogandares-Bernal (1931-2016) published a series of papers on parasites from a wide variety of animals collected around Florida. From 1955 to 1962, Dr. Hutton was the head biologist and parasitologist for FWRI (then called the Florida State Board of Conservation Marine Laboratory) and from 1957-1958 Dr. Sogandares-Bernal worked with him as a marine parasitologist.

The host animals include various species of worms, oysters, birds, fish, crabs, shrimp, and mammals, while their parasites included nematodes, flatworms, arthropods, and even some non-animal groups like fungi and single-celled eukaryotes. While the disposition of the host animals is unknown, roughly 1100 prepared microscope slides of the parasites survived, having been in storage in the Florida Biodiversity Collections here at FWRI. Until now, these slides have been uncataloged, unsearchable, and completely invisible to the research community.

New labels are printed and pasted to the bottom of the slide. Old labels will be photographed because they contain additional markings and numbers that can’t be unambiguously placed into database fields.

With the help of volunteer Brooke Longval, who has spent hours examining the available data, correcting obvious errors, and formatting them for ingestion into the database, we have selected 667 slides with the highest quality data to be cataloged, labeled, and digitized. We prioritized specimens where the host species was recorded, the parasite was identified, and collecting locality information was preserved. Many of the remaining uncataloged slides are only missing one of these components and thus still have strong potential as research or reference material.

The next steps are in-progress and they include using archival glues and papers to attach new labels to the slides, photograph the slides to preserve original hand-written label data (which are deteriorating over time due to suboptimal materials), and to select representatives of the specimens themselves to be captured in photomicrographs that will be available online and associated with specimen records in the database. All newly assigned catalog numbers all start with the collection code FSBC, which identifies the collection to which they belong, and hearkens back to the earlier days of the agency when It was called the Florida State Board of Conservation.

A tray of slides with original labels. The cormorant host was collected right outside FWRI.

With so many parasites identified to genus and species by an expert in the field (Dr. Hutton has described many new species of parasite) these slides are a valuable reference source and a tool for investigating novel research questions. The host-parasite relationship is illustrative of the fact that specimens are much more than simply a time-and-place record for one species. Specimens contain a trove of ecological and environmental data that can be accessed for as long as the specimen exists, including the parasite load at the time of collection. Sometimes the parasites are obvious, as in the case of Bopyrid isopods under a crab carapace, but in the case of an Apicomplexan from the gut of a pink shrimp, one must dig a little deeper to find it.