Gem State Science Teacher Identifies and Names New Species of Shrimp

Who’d guess that the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for marine science research, graduate training, and public service in the world, would contact a teacher right on the Gem State Adventist Academy campus to confirm a possible new species of sea shrimp?

That is just what happened to Robert Wasmer, science professor at Gem State Adventist Academy and a recognized world expert on shrimp taxonomy, the identification and naming of oceanic pelagic shrimps and their parasites.

The new species is described and illustrated in the April 26 issue of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, at the National Museum of Natural History (or Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, D.C.

The shrimp is a member of the genus Parapasiphae and differs from the other three known species of the genus in having two separate corneas of different sizes and orientation on each eye stalk. Thus, the shrimp appears to have two pairs of eyes instead of the usual single pair.

The new species, presently known from only two specimens, was collected by biological oceanographers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., who were studying the near-bottom fauna at a site in the north Pacific Ocean. The specimens were collected at a depth of 4,200 meters (about 2.6 miles) in an opening-closing midwater trawl towed from a surface oceanographic ship. What the new species of shrimp is able to see at that depth is currently unknown.

Wasmer received his Ph.D. in invertebrate zoology, with an emphasis in biological oceanography, from Oregon State University. He has published 12 previous papers dealing with shrimps from oceanographic expeditions conducted in the north and south Pacific Ocean, the south Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Antarctic Ocean. These studies have resulted in the description of five other new species of shrimps and the redescription of two others.

The new species bears the scientific name Parapasiphae Kensleyi and is named in honor of Brian Kensley, who died last year. Kensley, who was also a shrimp taxonomist, worked at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

There are specific rules which govern the scientific naming of organisms. These rules prevent the naming an organism after yourself. You can name it in honor of someone else, or someone can name one for you. Wasmer has named a species of shrimp for a colleague in Russia, another species after the research vessel which collected it, and named one for another shrimp taxonomist. Several of his species have also been named using specific characteristics or features of the shrimps.

Studies such as these indicate that we really have an incomplete understanding of what animals live in the deepest part of the ocean. The ocean environment is larger than any other environment on Earth, and the number of biologists interested in the types of organisms in the global ocean is decreasing every year. And yet, new species continue to be found every year.

Some biological oceanographers estimate that there are up to 10 million undescribed species of organisms in the deep ocean.

Wasmer previously taught for 27 years at colleges in Alabama and Maryland before moving to Idaho to return to teaching at the high school level. He hopes to be able to continue to publish in his chosen field of expertise. He has specimens of two other undescribed species on which to work. Such research gives him the opportunity to communicate with scientists from Russia, France, Japan, and other countries. “I find it intellectually rewarding,” says Wasmer. “It gives me the opportunity to make a contribution to science.”

To find out about the Gem State Adventist Academy science program, including two college-level classes, visit or phone 459-1627.

September 01, 2005 / Idaho Conference