A Stamp Species Story
Updated: Feb 20, 2021
It's probably not surprising to those who know me that I was a stamp collector when I was little. In addition to being a huge nerd I'm also predisposed to anything involving "gameficiation" ... that includes Strava, geocaching, and even the American Red Cross blood donation app (so close to getting that 1 gallon digital award!!). Stamp collecting was just an early example.
A few months ago a colleague made me aware of a very cool USPS set of coral reef postcard stamps, featuring marine species from southern Florida coral reefs. Each design, created by artist Tyler Lang, features at least one fish species and one coral species. Clockwise from top left, these are:
Elkhorn coral, with both an adult and juvenile French angelfish
Brain coral, with a spotted moray eel
Staghorn coral, with bluestriped grunts
Pillar coral, with a coney grouper and neon gobies
Before I read the official USPS descriptions of the stamps, I was confused -- if these were all supposed to be Eastern Pacific species, why were they illustrating a moray eel from the Eastern Pacific?? The supposed species in the illustration is Gymnothorax moringa. To me, though, it looks far more like one of our overlooked and underappreciated Eastern Pacific species, shown on the right!
The taxonomy, distribution, and biology of moray eels is better described in some places than others. The Eastern Pacific is one region where we know very little about them! For instance, some Eastern Pacific morays have only been recorded a few times, we're still discovering new species, and their known ranges are not well described (keep an eye out for our upcoming paper on Eastern Pacific moray distributions, accepted into Bulletin of Marine Science!).
Why are Eastern Pacific morays so overlooked? For one thing, the Pacific sides of Mexico, Central America, and South America are tough places for diving and snorkeling -- the water is cold, the swells can be large, and tourism infrastructure can be minimal. In addition, scientific expeditions haven't been nearly as common or well-funded as in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico (though that has been changing!).
For now, I'm going to keep thinking that the artist who designed the stamps *secretly* illustrated one of our very cool Eastern Pacific species instead (sorry, Gymnothorax moringa ... you're already popular enough!)
And now, the content you've all been waiting for ... here are some select photos of my old stamp collection (yes, I still have it...) featuring birds, lighthouses, and of course, fish!