Neal Woodman, Ph.D.
Neal Woodman is a U.S. Geological Survey Research Zoologist and Curator of Mammals stationed with the Biological Survey Unit in the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. His research focuses on morphology, diversity, taxonomy, and evolutionary relationships of mammals, with a particular emphasis on the Soricidae (shrews) and Tupaiidae (tree shrews), although his portfolio also includes work with rodents, bats, proboscideans (elephants and their relatives), and North American, Neotropical, and Asian faunas.
Science and Products
Scientists and staff of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center stationed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) do research on the systematics and conservation of vertebrate species and curate and manage the North American collections of Amphibian, Reptile, Bird, and Mammal specimens and associated records.
The Challenge: Ancient Egyptians mummified animals for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was as votive offerings to certain deities. Among the six species of shrews that have been identified as mummies, one is now extinct, one is no longer occurs in Egypt, and the remaining four have more restricted distributions in the country. One of the latter species also exhibits significantly decreased body size.
The Challenge: The postcranial skeletons of mammals exhibit tremendous variation in form that partly relates to phylogeny (who a particular species is related to) and partly to locomotory function (how that species moves through its environment). Understanding the contributions of these two factors is important because phylogenetic characters assist in working out evolutionary relationships, whereas locomotory adaptations help to determine how a species interacts with its environment.
The Challenge: Taxonomic nomenclature relies, in part, upon an accurate taxonomic history in order to establish the correct name for a taxon. Constantine S. Rafinesque (1783–1840), was a knowledgeable North American natural historian who was is responsible for describing and naming such iconic American mammals as the mule deer [Odocoileus hemionus (Rafinesque, 1817)] and the white-footed mouse [Peromyscus leucopus (Rafinesque, 1818)], among others. Yet, many of his names have been lost or forgotten, leaving a gap in our historical perspective of the early development of science in the post-colonial United States.
The Challenge: It has been generally considered that a severe injury to a wild mammal that seemingly limits its ability to forage for food or escape predators will almost certainly lead to that individual’s demise. Inspection of skeletons of wild caught small mammals, however, has revealed a surprising number of individuals with healed fractures of the skeletal bones―including the primary supporting bones of the limbs―that indicate survival of these animals well beyond the date of the injury.
The Challenge: Treeshrews (order Scandentia) are small-bodied mammals endemic to South and Southeast Asia. Since it was first described in 1820, the Common Treeshrew (Tupaia glis) has had a complex taxonomic history that has led to widely variable estimates of diversity, misidentification of populations, and general confusion regarding it and closely related species. One result is that T. glis has been treated as a poorly defined “wastebasket” taxon encompassing as many as 27 named forms.
The Challenge: Despite more than a century and a half of study, accurate understanding of the diversity North American mammalian species and the distribution of those species remains unrefined. Yet this understanding is essential for determining the conservation status of species, for mapping out potential disease reservoirs, and for understanding the response of species to habitat perturbation and climate change.
Rafinesque's Sicilian whale, Balena gastrytis
In 1815, the naturalist Constantine S. Rafinesque described a new species of cetacean, Balena gastrytis, from Sicily, based on a whale that stranded on Carini beach near Palermo. In comparing the characteristics of his new whale with known species, Rafinesque also took the opportunity to name a new genus, Cetoptera, to replace Balaenoptera...Woodman, Neal; Mead, James G.
A new species of small-eared shrew in the Cryptotis thomasi species group from Costa Rica (Mammalia: Eulipotyphla: Soricidae)
We describe a new species of small-eared shrew, genus Cryptotis Pomel, 1848 (Eulipotyphla: Soricidae), from near the community of Monteverde in the Tilarán highlands of northwestern Costa Rica. The new species is immediately distinguished from all other Costa Rican shrews its large size and long tail. Morphologically, it belongs to the Cryptotis...Woodman, Neal; Timm, Robert M.
Identification and distribution of the Olympic Shrew (Eulipotyphla: Soricidae), Sorex rohweri Rausch et al., 2007 in Oregon and Washington, based on USNM specimens
Review of specimens of long-tailed shrews (Mammalia, Soricidae, Sorex) from the northwestern United States in the National Museum of Natural History (USNM), Washington, DC, has revealed the presence of the Olympic Shrew, Sorex rohweri Rausch et al., 2007, in the Coastal Range west of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This determination nearly...Woodman, Neal; Fisher, Robert D.
Pranked by Audubon: Constantine S. Rafinesque's description of John James Audubon's imaginary Kentucky mammals
The North American naturalist Constantine S. Rafinesque spent much of the year 1818 engaged in a solo journey down the Ohio River Valley to explore parts of what was then the western United States. Along the way, he visited a number of fellow naturalists, and he spent more than a week at the Henderson, Kentucky, home of artist and ornithologist...Woodman, Neal
A new species of Cryptotis (Mammalia, Eulipotyphla, Soricidae) from the Sierra de Perijá, Venezuelan-Colombian Andes
The Sierra de Perijá is the northern extension of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes and includes part of the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The population of small-eared shrews (Mammalia, Eulipotyphla, Soricidae, Cryptotis) inhabiting the Sierra de Perijá previously was known from only a single skull from an individual...Quiroga-Carmona, Marcial; Woodman, Neal
Functional skeletal morphology and its implications for locomotory behavior among three genera of myosoricine shrews (Mammalia: Eulipotyphla: Soricidae)
Myosoricinae is a small clade of shrews (Mammalia, Eulipotyphla, Soricidae) that is currently restricted to the African continent. Individual species have limited distributions that are often associated with higher elevations. Although the majority of species in the subfamily are considered ambulatory in their locomotory behavior, species of the...Woodman, Neal; Stabile, Frank A.
Who invented the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus)? On the authorship of the fraudulent 1812 journal of Charles Le Raye
The captivity journal of Charles Le Raye was first published in 1812 as a chapter in A topographical description of the state of Ohio, Indiana Territory, and Louisiana, a volume authored anonymously by a late officer in the U. S. Army. Le Raye was purported to be a French Canadian fur trader who, as a captive of the Sioux, had travelled across...Woodman, Neal
Variation in the myosoricine hand skeleton and its implications for locomotory behavior (Eulipotyphla: Soricidae)
Substrate use and locomotory behavior of mammals are typically reflected in external characteristics of the forefeet, such as the relative proportions of the digits and claws. Although skeletal anatomy of the forefeet can be more informative than external characters, skeletons remain rare in systematic collections. This is particularly true for...Woodman, Neal; Stabile, Frank A.
Rafinesque’s names for western American mammals, including the earliest scientific name for the coyote (Canis latrans Say, 1822), based on the apocryphal journal of Charles Le Raye
In 1817, the naturalist Constantine S. Rafinesque named nine new species of mammals from the American West, indicating the recently published journal of Charles Le Raye as the primary source for his descriptions. Le Raye was purported to be a French Canadian fur trader who, as a captive of the Sioux, had traveled across broad portions of the...Woodman, Neal
New records of Merriam’s Shrew (Sorex merriami) from western North Dakota
Despite having a broad geographic distribution, Merriam's Shrew (Sorex merriami Dobson 1890) is known from a relatively few, widely-scattered localities. In North Dakota, the species was known from only a single poorly-preserved specimen collected in 1913 near Medora. We recently collected two new specimens of Merriam's Shrew from Billings and...M. J.Shaughnessy Jr.; Woodman, Neal
Shippingport, Kentucky, is the type locality for the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus (Rafinesque, 1818) (Mammalia: Rodentia: Cricetidae)
The white-footed mouse, Musculus leucopus Rafinesque, 1818 (= Peromyscus leucopus), is a common small mammal that is widespread in the eastern and central United States. Its abundance in many habitats renders it ecologically important, and its status as a reservoir for hantavirus and Lyme disease gives the species medical and economic significance...Woodman, Neal
A new species of small-eared shrew (Mammalia, Eulipotyphla, Cryptotis) from the Lacandona rain forest, Mexico
The diversity and distribution of mammals in the American tropics remain incompletely known. We describe a new species of small-eared shrew (Soricidae, Cryptotis) from the Lacandona rain forest, Chiapas, southern Mexico. The new species is distinguished from other species of Cryptotis on the basis of a unique combination of pelage coloration, size...Guevara, Lázaro; Sánchez-Cordero, Víctor; León-Paniagua, Livia; Woodman, Neal
“Think of a lion shrunk to the size of a mouse that needs to eat every 20 minutes or so.” That is a shrew, says Neal Woodman, a U.S. Geological Survey mammalogist who is curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Shrews are predators with very high metabolisms, hence their reputation for fierceness.”
Featuring fake fishes, made-up mammals, and taxonomic tomfoolery
Featuring lost museum specimens & watercolors...
This week's EarthWord, to quote Indiana Jones, belongs in a museum...
Featuring misplaced deer, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and a dishonest fur trader