Blog about a blob

by Blair
Publish date
24 September 2012
Comments (12)

Under the marine lab microscope today was a curious specimen. It was so curious that everyone passing through the lab stopped to offer their 'expert' opinion to help identify it.

marine organism What is this? The mystery specimen has been cut in half; the left piece was originally on top of the right piece bit.
Image: Blair Patullo
Source: Museum Victoria

Here are some of the comments made by various non-expert 'expert' staff.

"Got no room for guts so it's not a sea cucumber." Followed by: "No longitudinal muscles either."

"Oh, it's not one of those things that squirts out water is it?" I think in reference to a sea squirt or cunjevoi.

"It's got no legs so I can't identify this."

"It's from Antarctica so could be anything. Who knows what stuff we haven't found there yet!"

"I've seen more radial symmetry in a horse than in that thing." Okay, so without radial symmetry it is not an echinoderm.

"Is that a small pink tongue poking out from the base of the tree stump?" Then pointing to the crack in the middle of the tree stump shaped half, "nah, it would need cirri in there." 

Dissected marine organism Half of the animal looked like a little tree stump when it was dissected.
Image: Blair Patullo
Source: Museum Victoria

And then with some promise and authority: "I reckon that's the anus and those are anal tentacles." Now we're getting somewhere.

"But where's the siphon?"

"Looks like a peduncle on the bottom of a goose barnacle." A what on the bottom of a what?

"It's not a mammal." I can also add with some conviction that it is not a whale or a penguin.

"It's marine." Yep, it says so on the label in the specimen bag.

"Pretty sure it's that rare species Toohard basketii."

"It must be a remnant of Cthulu."

"Maybe it's not even an animal, but it doesn't look planty either." So that only leaves mineral. If only one of the museum geologists were around to confirm it... my guess is they would say it is a mini volcano.

"Marine fungus. But I doubt that, it's too soft."

"You'd think it would have a big empty cavity inside."

"That might be its mouth, not its butt." And boom, there we go back to the start again. It's looking like these 'experts' may never resolve a name for this animal!

top of marine organism The top of the mystery organism: mouth, anus or volcano?
Image: Blair Patullo
Source: Museum Victoria

Later I summarised for the work experience student in the lab who overheard the comments. "That's what we do here, get excited about stuff that looks like a blob with tentacles."

"Aha," he said.

These non-expert comments are always fun to hear, but they rarely produce a conclusive identification of a specimen. That process is a meticulously careful one that will extend beyond this afternoon. The animal may be further dissected, examined at different magnifications and possibly sent to associates outside the museum. Keys, descriptions and pictures from various publications may also be consulted.

And now that all the 'experts' have returned to their desks, the real expert Michela can begin her investigation. The end point will be a name written on a label that is placed in the jar alongside this specimen. We'll let you know what it is as soon as she's worked it out!

Comments (12)

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Rohan 24 September, 2012 15:34
It's obviously a larval Kraken.
iseeblobs expert 24 September, 2012 16:27
Looks like a tumorous growth that fell off something animal or vegetable.
Blair 24 September, 2012 17:53
Kraken may well be closer than something from Cthulu ;)
Johnny 25 September, 2012 12:41
You're all barking up the wrong tree, I had one of these during a recent Museum visit, it's a caramel custard pudding from the cafeteria, you just remove the lid and scoop out the caramel centre, must have come up to the labs with a coffee order!
Blair 25 September, 2012 16:47
Johnny, I don't think this one would taste as good as the custard pudding from the cafe!
Neroli 27 September, 2012 13:35
You could always do a comparison taste test to confirm, and get back to us with your results.
Blair 27 September, 2012 13:52
Well I'm happy to try the pudding half from the cafe, but not sure I want to lick this specimen for comparison until I know what it is!
January Jones 27 September, 2012 14:04
This is a great blog!! I cannot wait to read more of your blogs. xoxo <3 :) :P
Johnny 27 September, 2012 15:03
I'm prepared to take one for the team with a taste test comparison, on the condition that I get to wash it down with a nice chianti!
Blair 28 September, 2012 13:03
Thanks for your generosity Johnny - not sure if we have chianti around here, (...looking around...), nope, only 70% Ethanol ;)
Blair 28 September, 2012 13:05
And for the intrigued, we've sent a few pics to a colleague outside the museum so I’ll post an answer when we know... unless anyone else has other ideas before then...
Jac 28 September, 2012 15:56
great blog blair, let us know the result
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.