A volunteer at the Durban Natural Science Museum (DNSM) became my heroine after finding the holotype of an ophiuroid that had seemingly vanished.
As with many museums, specimens that are donated by the public and from private collections of marine enthusiasts over many years, eventually became part of a collection that is overlooked. DNSM, known for their entomology, bird and small mammal collections, also have some of those ‘overlooked’ collections, with the echinoderms being one of them (by no fault of the staff at DNSM). Queries on the collections were made but no records of any echinoderm specimens were found and as a result of this, ‘operation: track down AST’ began a search for the missing holotype that was probably shipped to Europe after the war (or so I thought).
A few weeks later, I bumped into Mariana Tomalin (a very vibrant and enthusiastic lady who loves to database!) and mentioned that the latest records (1933) of the whereabouts of the holotype of Asteoschema capensis Mortensen 1925 state that it had been placed in the Durban Museum. She remembered that while she was completing an inventory for funding, she was sure she had seen some echinoderms ‘in a cupboard on a shelf above a stuffed lion’ but she would let me know.
Not even 3 days later, I received a very excited phone call and was told to ‘come look’. I rushed to the museum (thanks to my day-job boss who understands crazy taxonomists) and found to my delight; the holotype (photographed below) was safe and sound in a top drawer in the Entomology department.
Since then, further searches have revealed an additional 27 echinoderms that contain locality data. Frank Rowe (legendary) has assisted with identifications thus far and we hope to publish our findings in the near future.