Recently Retired Professor Has Part in Significant Biological Discovery

Schuster photo

Dr. Guenter Schuster, recently retired Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University, is making international headlines for his part in an important biological discovery.

According to Reuters news service, "A new species of giant crayfish literally crawled out from under a rock in Tennessee, proving that large new species of animals can be found in highly populated and well-explored places.”

Schuster and fellow researcher Christopher Taylor from the University of Illinois reveal their discovery in the latest issue of the Proceeding of the Biological Society of Washington. The Barbicambarus simmonsi is about 5 inches long — double the length of most crayfish in the region.

After learning in 2009 about the possibility that a new species had been spotted in southern Tennessee by a Tennessee Valley Authority scientist, the researchers headed to the area in October of that year. According to the University of Illinois News Bureau, Taylor and Schuster, along with two other biologists, searched for hours without finding anything unusual.

“'We had worked so hard and long that we were ready to give up and find another site,” Schuster told the Bureau. “And we saw this big flat boulder underneath a bridge and so we said, ‘OK. Let's flip this rock, just for the heck of it; this will be our last one.’ And sure enough, that's where we got the first specimen.”

The find was about twice the size of any other crayfish they had seen that day.

According to National Public Radio, the scientists proved the value of their discovery with DNA tests and after studying a ridge and unique spine between the creatures' eyes that the other species in the genus do not have.

Most North American crayfish live no more than three or four years and occasionally grow to 4 or 4 ½ inches long (from the tip of the body to the tip of the tail). The two discovered in 2009, it is estimated, were four or five years old and could be part of the largest species of crayfish in North America.

Schuster joined the EKU faculty in 1979 and retired last year, but not before earning many honors, including recognition in 1999 from the Kentucky Academy of Science as the outstanding teacher at the college or university level in the Commonwealth. He was recognized a year later as an EKU Foundation Professor, the University’s highest honor for teaching excellence. Much of his research while at the University centered on the water quality of Kentucky’s creeks and streams.

Published on January 21, 2011