On a recent seashell hunt with the N.C. Shell Club, one 14-year-old girl made North Carolina wildlife history by unearthing an oceans rare treasure. Anne Fogleman, a ninth-grader who lives in Swepsonville, in Alamance County, found what appeared to be the states first recorded specimen of Hyotissa mcgintyi, a special tropical cockscomb oyster. Her discovery takes center stage in the most recent issue of the Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science.
Combing Shackleford Islands beach for shells with her mother last May, Fogleman noticed an unusual oyster clinging to a stranded buoy. Creamy white in color with deep rosy-tinged edges, the shells saw-toothed mouth, similar to the folds of a cocks comb, made it stick out like a sore thumb.
We had never seen one like it before, said Annes mother, Jill Fogleman. The two brought the shell to N.C. Shell Club expert Doug Wolfe, who recognized the shell as similar to one he found years before in Puerto Rico.
For me, Annes shell was an amazing and unlikely find, Wolfe said.
Wolfe and Anne Fogleman collaborated with Art Bogan, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences research curator of aquatic invertebrates, to identify it precisely. This is a big deal because nobody has found this shell in North Carolina as beach drift before, Bogan said.
For Anne, taking part in the laboratory setting was the best perk of her discovery: I have really enjoyed being a part of the research process. I was even able to visit Art Bogans lab in Raleigh, where my shells DNA was analyzed.
North Carolinas coastline gathers more than 1,000 native seashell species from the Atlantic Ocean and estuarine waters. While some shells may drift in with storms from distant waters, finding a new, native shell is rare, according to Bogan.
Bogan hopes Annes finding will spur more research. Right now, we know very little about this shells distribution beyond a few specimens along the Atlantic coast of Florida, and it is widespread in the Gulf of Mexico.
To make discoveries
Bogan encourages people who want to make scientific discoveries to read up on what interests them so theyre prepared when the moment strikes. Get a book, start to learn the information, and call the museum when you have questions, he said.
Annes own collection of shell guides helped her realize this shell was worth a second look. I would recommend a good field guide like Hugh Porters Seashells of North Carolina, she said. Collect shells on the beach and try to identify them at home using the guides.
Anne Fogleman isnt the only North Carolina resident making big discoveries for science. Just last year, students at a Winston-Salem nature camp working with N.C. State Universitys School of Ants project found an ant species previously unknown to North Carolina, said Holly Menninger, the director of public science for NCSUs Your Wild Life program, which works closely with Bogans Museum of Natural Sciences. Were always learning something from the citizens observations of our natural world. Sometimes they see things that we would never get to see in the lab.
Bogan encourages North Carolina residents to keep an eye on nature because the state blooms with new discoveries. You dont have to go around the world to see something new; it could be in your backyard right now.