Monthly Archives: September 2011

An annotated copy of Gassies

Trying to look up some data on Placostylus species described by Gassies, I visited today the Artis Library of the University Amsterdam. Indeed I found there his papers entitled “Faune conchyliologique terrestre et fluvio-lacustre de la Nouvelle-Cal??donie”, which appeared in the Actes de la Soci??t?? Linn??enne de Bordeaux in 1863, 1871 and 1880. Only not as journal publications, but as separate books.

The 1863 copy contained several handwritten annotations by Gassies, partly text for additions that were published later in his 1871 paper, and partly excerpts of data from letters and field observations by R.P. Lambert and X. Montrouzier. All copies bear the signature of Gassies on the title page. Some photographs of Gassies’ handwriting are given here as they are of biohistorical interest.

The three copies have been described by Moolenbeek & van der Bijl (2009) and presumably once belonged to Gassies himself. They arrived in Amsterdam through the legacy of the Dutch malacologist Louis Butot. With the closure of the Zo??logisch Museum Amsterdam the books have been transferred to Artis Library.

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Reference:
Moolenbeek, R.G. & van der Bijl, A.N., 2009. A remarkable set of books in the library of Louis J.M. Butot (1918-2008) written and once owned by Jean-Baptiste Gassies (1816-1883). – Miscellania Malacologica 3: 101-110.

Recent and fossil Stephadiscus

Recently, a paper appeared on micromolluscs from Chile and Peru (Miquel & Ram??rez, 2011). It deals with species of the genus Stephadiscus Hylton Scott, 1981, originally described for several taxa from Argentina and Chile (Patagonia and Falkland Islands-Islas Malvinas).

In this paper a new species is described, Stephadiscus madrediosensis Miquel & Ram??rez. The type locality is Peru, Dept. Madre de Dios, Prov. Manu. Los Amigos Biological Station, 268 m. Holotype in Museo de Historia Natural, Lima (MUSM 4238a).

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Additionally, this paper gives the first fossil records of this genus for Chile. Stephadiscus is distributed on both sides of the Andes, south of 36 degree latitude. It is currently placed in the Charopidae, although the first author expressed some doubts about the familiar classification (Miquel, pers. comm.).
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Reference:
Miquel, S.E. & Ram??rez, R., 2011. First records of actual and fossil Stephadiscus outside Patagonia, and description of a new Amazonian species. Archiv f??r Molluskenkunde 140: 49-56.

Network for Neotropical Biogeography

Still in its infancies, a Network for Neotropical Biogeography is being formed now to stimulate scientific interaction and promote inter-disciplinary cooperation (among other aims).

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Although so far the network seems to consist mainly of botanists, I hope it will reach its goal to stimulate contact between different fields of interest. Publications and images can be easily exchanged between interested scientists and probably lots of potential just need further to develop.

Good initiatives always need to be plugged, so here it goes.

Therrrr Backkkk

This was the heading Harry Lee gave some days ago to his post on the Conch-L site to announce the return of Lissachatina fulica in Florida. Some religious zealot had used these snails to have his disciples swallow their juices, causing that many of them had to go to hospital for treatment.

When the media started to cover this issue, the hype began. See http://n.pr/ovmPPW. Some people now even think that all land snails are banned because they are harmful to man… One cannot be careful enough in choosing the wording of your press releases.

Today, Harry posted the following re-assuring message:

Transmission of the nematode parasite,/ Angiostrongylus cantonensis/, to
man is rare, and disease (most conspicuously eosinophilic
meningoencephalitis) even rarer. Human infection typically involves*
ingestion* of one (or more) un- or under-cooked snail. The parasite
exercises very little if any selectivity as to which amphibious or
terrestrial snail in infects in the course of its somewhat unusual life
cycle. The prominence of /Achatina fulica/ in human transmission is
essentially a function of its size and human cultural preferences. It is
likely that hundreds of snail species are naturally-infected. Among them
are /Bradybaena similaris <http://www.jaxshells.org/gallery2.htm>/ and
subulinids, e.g., <http://www.jaxshells.org/octona.htm>, which have been
introduced into the SE USA like the Giant African Snail but have spread
widely.  If it were customary for people to consume these little fellows
in areas where the parasite was present, these pulmonates would be the
culprits, and they would qualify for vilification by the Fourth Estate.

Someone, somewhere, once wrote that a person touching the mucus of an
infected snail (e.g., /Achatina fulica/) and then touching his mouth or
another mucous membrane, could allow the infective larva(e) of this
roundworm to infect him. That oft-repeated anecdote is the basis for the
rubber glove caveat. While I don’t advocate slathering uncooked snail
slime on your lips, conjunctivae, etc. in geographic areas when this
parasite occurs, reason indicates that this scenario is rank hyperbole.

A discussion of the medical geography of this parasite and the evolution
of human disease in relation to another host, apple snails, is archived
at
<http://www.listserv.uga.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0608D&L=conch-l&P=R490>.
Comments on the virulence of the disease and its treatment are included.

Anyway, S.O.S. Save Our Snails. Don’t let GAS indirectly threaten native snails.

A finding with implications

Fossil shells in the Neotropics are scarce, but very interesting as they can give us a clue about distributions (and possibly habitats) in the past. A study of fossils from the Itaborai basin in eastern Brazil (Salvador et al., 2011), now has lead to the conclusion that Brasilennea species have been wrongly assigned to the Streptaxidae. Instead, they should be placed within the Cerionidae. This family is now occurring in the Caribbean region, and this re-classification sheds a new light on the past distribution of this group. The type species of this genus, B. arethusae Maury, has several characteristics that are more in accordance with cerionids than streptaxids.

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Reference:
Salvador, R.B., Rawson, B. & Simone, L.R.L., 2011. Rewriting the fossil history of Cerionidae (Gastropoda, Pulmonata): new family assignment of the Brazilian Palaeocene genus Brasilleannea Maury, 1935. – Journal of Molluscan Studies: 1-3 [published under advance access, doi:10.1093/mollus/eyr021]

eating snails

In my mailbox I found these pictures from a girl eating snails (probably Naesiotus sp.) on a Quito-Otavalo autobus. Adri??n Gonz??lez, who took the pictures, told me that normally at Halloween time in November (Day of the Death); this is a custom in Ecuador. But the people around Otavalo seems to be especially fond of snails, as they are selling (and eating) them all year round.

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Recapturing study

On my last day in Australia, I was taken on a brief excursion to Walyunga National Park by Hugh Morrison. Together with Brian Cleaver and Derek Mead-Hunter he is doing there interesting research on Bothriembryon indutus.

About 8 years ago Hugh accidentally found a spot where B. indutus occurred in great numbers. He decided to study their movements by labelling individual snails and rocks under which he found them. This way he discovered that most snails aestivated each year under the same rock.

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He also started to take measurements of individual snails to track their growth. They don’t grow evenly but in ‘bursts’ when the season is favourable (i.e. rainy); during dry years there is hardly any growth. By extrapolation from the data already obtained, the estimation is that it takes 10 years from hatching to adult stage and the maximum age is estimated at 40 years. When we visited the site, several snails were found depositing their eggs in the ground.

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Another observation was the finding of many shells without the top whorls. Hugh explained that not only empty shells but also living snails are used by young ones as source of calcium. Recycling of calcium in this calcium-poor environment leads thus to a form of cannibalism???

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In Australia in the field

In cooperation with the Western Australian Museum (WAM) and the Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC), my wife and I and have been in Australia on the move for nearly a month. Most of the time we have been touring among the National Parks, Nature Reserves and Conservation Areas of southern Western Australia. It was the first time I was able to see the home country of Bothriembryon, one of the Gondwana members of the Orthalicoidea.

My aim was to get a better understanding of the habitats and distribution of species, and to collect some material for further molecular work. In the WAM I found this map with coloured pins of known localities.

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Besides the number of species with a coastal distribution, it stroke me that some species are sparsely occurring in the inland. From Corey Whisson, Collection Manager  at WAM I learned that Bothriembryon is difficult to collect, even in winter which is the rainy season in Australia. 
Since Australia is a huge country and distances are large (at least to European standards), we decided to concentrate on the South Coast area. Within this large area, several type localities were visited. The first was Serpentine Falls, located within a National Park. Our time was limited due to opening hours of the Park, but we were able to dig some shells of B. serpentinus from the earth under rock-outcrop.

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Our first living snails we found near Dwellingup were B. indutus was found at the base of a granitic wall.

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In the Cape Naturaliste area we found B. naturalistarum near rock-outcrop and decaying wood.

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In the Cape Leeuwin area, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet, the habitat of B. leeuwinensis was in coastal sand dunes. Although this species was quite abundant here, this was quite exceptional for a coastal area. We noticed that at all coastal areas we visited, the exotic Theba pisana thrives and may have out-competed native Bothriembryon. E.g., at the car park overlooking the mouth of the Moore River at Guilderton shells of B. bulla were collected in 1964; now we could only find exotic shells.

In the Walpole area huge Karri and Tinglewood forests occur; these Eucalyptus trees may reach a height of 70 meters and can be hollow at base. In these woods we found B. fuscus in leaf litter under rock-outcrop.

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Near Albany we visited Bald Head, the type locality of B. kingii. We found it aestivating on low shrubs, after night showers.

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The Stirling Range has three peaks reaching elevations of 1000 m and more. We only had time to visit two of these areas, where B. brazieri was located near gullies in leaf litter among rock outcrop.

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We visited Two Peoples Bay area together with Sarah Comer, DEC Ecologist; after some dry days we were unlucky in our snail hunting, but we spotted the noisy scrub-bird which is endemic in this area. Another visit with the help of DEC Ranger Paul Cory to East Mount Barren in Fitzgerald Nat. Park, yielded several live specimens of B. notatus. It is confined to sedges in this area.

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The Great Wheatbelt area that crosses Western Australia from near Esperance in the southeast to around Moora in the northwest, was once densely forested upon the arrival of European settlers. All forests have been cleared and turned into pastures and crop fields. Some tiny remnants of forests are scattered throughout the Belt and one of them near Merredin is the type locality of B. sedgwicki. We found this species buried at the base of an old Eucalyptus tree in a very trashed forest patch.

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This species may have had a more wide-spread distribution when the forests in this area were still intact.

Finally, we walked the Kitty’s Gorge trail across Serpentine National Park. At several spots we collected B. serpentinus, also alive, in leaf litter and always associated with rock-outcrop.

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Although August is the end of the rainy season, I’m sure that selecting this season with its cool days and mostly cold nights was the right choice. If you want to see Bothriembryon alive your best chance is during rain. Only once we found specimens aestivating on bushes, and it was after rain in the night. Another observation was that many species of Bothriembryon are very well camouflaged in their habitat. Only B. kingii was a clear exception. 
Several species are living in fragmented habitats (B. sedgwicki is a clear example); even when their general habitat is more extended (e.g. in a National Park), species are occurring in isolated populations as they seem very specialized.