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The Explorers Club at the Beach: Sunset Speaker Series with Mark Siddall

Bioluminescence, Sex & Synchrony
with Mark Siddall, Curator and Professor Invertebrates
American Museum of Natural History

Hosted by Ryan Chadwick at The Grey Lady, in Montauk Long Island

Marine bioluminescence has fascinated researchers since Pliny used jellyfish slime on his walking stick as a make-shift torch two-thousand years ago. Minute sparks and brief glints of light, like those seen seasonally around Long Island Sound, last only 100 milliseconds each. The displays caused missionaries to suggest that the sun “impregnated and filled the sea during the day with an infinity of fiery and luminous spirits.” But it was Benjamin Franklin who in 1753 correctly concluded that “it is indeed very possible, that an extremely small animalcule, too small to be visible even by the best glasses, may yet give a visible light.”

From Edie Widder, this year’s recipient of The Explorers Club Citation of Merit award, we know that for most of the local Long Island light-loaded, luminescence is about defense -- for others, it’s about sex. Solving the problem of finding a mate in the vast expanse of the oceans is a daunting task for sea life; especially for the smallest. Animals can go to awe-inspiring lengths to attract the opposite sex, some produce alluring sounds, intoxicating scents, or display brilliant colors. Successful solicitations are more likely to produce offspring that inherit their parents’ alluring ways. But dancing like no one is watching doesn’t work for marine invertebrates, which must also solve the problem of timing.

On the Great Barrier Reef corals coordinate reproduction with dozens of different species spawning in unison. In the Bermuda fireworm, these strategies combine in what Siddall declares to be “by far the most beautiful biological display I have ever witnessed”. First documented in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and his crew just in advance of their historic landfall in the Americas, a new study Siddall looks at the genes that are be behind this incredible marine bioluminescent display made by reproductive swarms of Bermuda fireworms and the tight timing of their ritual twenty-two minutes after sunset beginning on the third night after the summer and autumnal full moons."

Dr. Mark Siddall's career has been devoted to uncovering biodiversity and evolutionary histories for the most successful animal life-history strategy of all time: parasitism. His research has encompassed protistan parasites from giardiasis and malaria to commercially significant shellfish pathogens, helminths, and even blood-feeding ectoparasites from bed bugs to leeches. Along with his position at AMNH, he presently serves as president-elect of the American Society of Parasitologists and as treasurer of the Willi Hennig Society.

Anchored in a deep a tradition of fieldwork that spans the globe, Siddall has been central to the Sackler Institute of Comparative Genomics adopting and leveraging emergent DNA sequencing technologies to advance biodiversity sciences. The core of this mission is a broadly comparative understanding of genomic evolution comprising a fuller architecture of life than model organism studies allow.

Siddall is a defender of the need to conserve neglected organisms such as leeches. He is also an outspoken advocate for pressing eradicable human parasites to extinction while capturing knowledge about their life-cycles, ecology and genomics as they are decidedly extirpated.


Date: Thursday, August 16

Time: Doors open at 5:00 pm

Location: Grey Lady Montauk, 440 W Lake Dr, Montauk, NY 11954

Reservation Notes:

Click here to register online

This event is FREE of charge, with no door charge for admission or the presentation. Guests are welcome to purchase food and drinks from the Grey Lady directly. We encourage guests to register online, but walk-ins are welcome. For questions, email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call us at 212.628.8383.

Beer provided by Montauk Brewing Company.

The Explorers Club at the Beach: Sunset Speaker Series will be running through August, every Thursday evening at the Grey Lady in Montauk on Long Island.

Aug 2: “Tales from the Open Ocean, Adventures at Sea”
     Gaelin Rosenwaks, Duke University -  @GaelinGOExplore

Aug 9: “The Secret Lives of Sharks”
     Oliver Shipley, Stony Brook University -  @ollieshipley27

Aug 16:  “Bioluminescence, Sex & Synchrony”
     Mark Siddall, American Museum of Natural History -  @amnh

Aug 23:  “The Smartfin”
     Andy Stern, M.D. & Colleen Henn, Surfrider Foundation -  @surfrider

Aug 30:  “Invasive Species and Citizen Science”
     Ryan Chadwick, Norman’s Lionfish -  @normanslionfish

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste