New species discovered at OMSP

Published 11:54 am Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alabaster Mayor David Frings, who is the director of the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center in Oak Mountain State Park, recently became the first to document the clam shrimp species in Alabama. (Contributed)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Alabaster Mayor David Frings, who is the director of the Oak Mountain State Park Interpretive Center, reached down to pick up the small animals swimming around in a puddle at the park, he wasn’t sure what he was holding.

Frings, who is also a professor with the Samford University master’s of environmental management program, was leading a conservation biology class about a year ago when the class came up on the puddle on a dirt service road about a quarter-mile east of the park’s golf course.

“We saw all of them swimming around in the puddle, and we all said ‘This is weird.’ I reached down and picked them up, and they didn’t look like anything I was expecting to pick up,” Frings said.

Frings didn’t know it at the time, but he had just discovered a species of animal undocumented in Alabama.

“They basically look like tiny shrimp in a clamshell, so their common name is actually clam shrimp,” Frings said, noting adult clam shrimp are about a quarter-inch long. “We collected some specimens and looked through some literature and found out nobody had reported finding them in Alabama.”

Sixteen U.S. states and parts of Canada and Mexico have reported finding the species, but Tennessee is the only nearby state where they are documented, Frings said. Although Frings discovered the animals about a year ago, it took he and colleague Kevin Morse several months to determine the species was undocumented in Alabama. The animals are not endangered, Frings said.

Frings will present a report on the new species during the Alabama Academy of Science’s annual meeting on Feb. 23.

The animals live primarily in isolated pools of water, such as those found on dirt roads after it rains.

“They live in vernal pools, because if they lived in a lake, they would be fish food. They are well-adapted to harsh conditions,” Frings said, noting the animals likely only live a few months. “When I told the park superintendent, he said ‘What do I need to do?’

“I told him to just keep doing what they were doing, because if those trucks wouldn’t have been driving on that road, the puddle never would have formed,” he added.

Frings said he was surprised to discover the species had not yet been reported in Alabama.

“They appear to be fairly widespread, but nobody had noticed it before in Alabama. If they did, they didn’t report it,” Frings said. “It’s kind of the luck of the draw.”