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The long lost Gemmellaro Collection and its secrets

Posted on 09-11-2017 by Toine Baken

In a recently recovered historical collection, a thus far undescribed specimen appears to be a unique find in the Sicilian region.

Naturalis is the guardian of an extensive and historical collection, consisting of over 42 million specimens! Every now and then, new species or exceptional specimens are discovered in this collection (such as this huge sunfish). This happens in collections all around the world.

In a new, recent publication, researchers (among whom Barry van Bakel from Naturalis) present a specimen of a species new to the Tithonian of Sicily (Italy). This specimen was found in the long lost Gemmellaro Collection. The specimen is a part of the collection, but was not described by Gemmellaro, an Italian palaeontologist, in his original article. The researchers think that he perhaps planned to write a separate article for this specimen, as it belongs to a different group then the other specimens in the collection, but never actually had the time to write it.

Gemmellaro 2

The specimen of G. tuberosus that has been discovered in the Gemmellaro Collection.

They identified the “newly discovered” specimen as Gastrosacus tuberosus, a crustacean of the Anomuran group. It is not a new species, but it was the first time this species had been found in the Tithonian period (152-145 million years ago) of Sicily (Italy). It is therefore a relatively important specimen. Considering that the species was first described officially in 1895 (by Remeš), this species could have been described 26 years earlier! At about the same time of the rediscovery of the Gemmellaro Collection, the same researchers also recovered the holotype (first described specimen of a species, which validates the species’ identity) of G. tuberosus in Prague (Czech Republic). This holotype, which is very important for identifying other specimens of the species, had also been considered lost.

Holotype G. tuberosus

The holotype of G. tuberosus that has been recovered in Prague.

These finds highlight the importance of historical collections. Many collections comprise specimens that have not yet been described and perhaps never even have been looked at. Like the Gemmellaro collection, many historical collections, such as the collection of Naturalis, could include undiscovered, important, unique or special species that may help us unravel the history of life and biodiversity!