Zoology Collections – Malacology
Posted On: 05/05/2017 - 11:51am, Posted By: Heather Farrington, Curator of Zoology
The CMC Zoology Collection includes many types of animals. One of our largest collections is Malacology – our shell collection! We have hundreds of thousands of specimens including shells from fresh water and marine mussels and snails, as well as land snails from around the world. Here are a few of my favorites from the collection.
Cuban Land Snails.
Some of the most attractive shells in the collection are commonly called Cuban land snails (genus Polymita, meaning “many stripes”). These shells are often brightly colored with beautiful stripes. The variety of patterns and colors is amazing. As their common name implies, most of these species are endemic to Cuba. They are found in warm, humid places and feed on mosses, fungi and lichens. The snails were so heavily harvested by collectors in the past that they are now protected species.
Collections Manager, Emily Imhoff, with a Syrinx shell.
Our largest shells in the collection are from the genus Syrinx. These marine snails are found in waters of northern Australia and Indonesia. Although the shell itself is relatively plain, it is popular with collectors because of its size. I recently showed this shell to a group of school children and the first question they asked was “can you hear the ocean in that?” In case you were wondering that yourself, no, you can’t. When you “hear the ocean” in a shell, you are actually hearing echoes of ambient noise inside the shell, which often sounds like white noise or ocean waves. This shell is too big to cover your ear to isolate it from outside noise, so you just hear distorted sounds from the room around you.
“Glory of the Sea” Shell purchased by CMC in 1966
Purchase of the shell made the local news
One of my favorite stories from the malacology collection is that of the “Glory of the Sea” (Conus gloriamaris) shell. If you visited the Museum of Natural History & Science before the current Union Terminal renovations began, you may have seen this shell on exhibit, but likely never heard the story behind it. Most of the specimens in our collection are donated or field collected, but occasionally the Museum purchases specimens that are especially rare or important. In 1966, only a few of these shells had ever been found, and the Museum made headlines when it made this extravagant purchase. However, the rarity of this species was short-lived. With the invention of SCUBA technology, these shells are now easily found and harvested in abundance – still a beauty, but not the rarity it once was.