14-year-old finds rare tropical shell – a first N.C. appearance – on Shackleford Island

CorrespondentMarch 3, 2013 

On a recent seashell hunt with the N.C. Shell Club, one 14-year-old girl made North Carolina wildlife history by unearthing an ocean’s rare treasure. Anne Fogleman, a ninth-grader who lives in Swepsonville, in Alamance County, found what appeared to be the state’s 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 Island’s 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 shell’s saw-toothed mouth, similar to the folds of a cock’s comb, made it stick out like a sore thumb.

“We had never seen one like it before,” said Anne’s 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, Anne’s shell was an amazing and unlikely find,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe and Anne Fogleman collaborated with Art Bogan, N.C. Museum of Natural Science’s 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 Bogan’s lab in Raleigh, where my shell’s DNA was analyzed.”

North Carolina’s 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 Anne’s finding will spur more research. “Right now, we know very little about this shell’s 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 they’re prepared when the moment strikes. “Get a book, start to learn the information, and call the museum when you have questions,” he said.

Anne’s own collection of shell guides helped her realize this shell was worth a second look. “I would recommend a good field guide like Hugh Porter’s ‘Seashells of North Carolina,’ ” she said. “Collect shells on the beach and try to identify them at home using the guides.”

Anne Fogleman isn’t 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 University’s School of Ants project found an ant species previously unknown to North Carolina, said Holly Menninger, the director of public science for NCSU’s Your Wild Life program, which works closely with Bogan’s Museum of Natural Sciences. “We’re 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 don’t have to go around the world to see something new; it could be in your backyard right now.”

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