Monthly Archives: October 2013

Checking names

Acronyms. In many cases they are helpful for the topic they might cover. But IRMNG? Perhaps a new institution? No for that we just have GRBio – Global Registry of Biological Repositories (, “offering the community a single, integrated and comprehensive information resource on taxonomic collections. GRBio is a merger of Index Herbariorum (IH), Biodiversity Collections Index (BCI) and and contains more than 14,000 records for biorepository institutions, their collections, and staff members. All the data, web services and capabilities that were offered by these three database portals have been incorporated into GRBio”. Well, if you’re linked to an institution, you might wish to check their record.But again, IRMNG? Never heard of it, but appears to be a relatively new addition to the so-called ‘taxonomic infrastructure’; it stands for Interim Register of Marine and Nonmarine Genera.

The IRMNG ( “is a provisional compilation of genus names (plus species in many cases) covering both living and extinct biota into a single system to support taxonomic and other queries. Taxonomic names in IRMNG are arranged into a single “management hierarchy” and are assigned flags to distinguish between marine vs. nonmarine, and extant vs. fossil, status, thus providing a filtering capability for systems such as OBIS and others to discriminate records on that basis. For a subset of IRMNG names, taxonomic status is also held i.e. whether or not a name is a known synonym of another name in the system. Fuzzy matching is also supported (using “Taxamatch”) so that a misspelled name can in most instances be reconciled to a correctly held name at genus or species rank, where this is held. As at July 2013, IRMNG contains over 469,000 genus names (out of perhaps 500,000 ever published) and over 1.9 million species names (of perhaps 5 million+ published combinations), plus over 21,000 family names, from all taxonomic groups (i.e. animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria, archaea and viruses)”.

Just did a test drive of this Australian initiative with some arbitrarily chosen (well, not entirely) examples, with intentionally made typos. Some mixed but still interesting results.

First it has to be noted that any database is as good as the quality of its content (remind the ‘garbage in-garbage out’ a.k.a. GIGO principle). Currently IRMNG heavily borrows from e.g. the 2006(!) version of the Catalogue of Life. It is no surprise to see that several families are not ‘up-to-date’ and most genera don’t have species associated with them. The fuzzy search that can spot typos only works at higher taxonomic levels. Yet, if you need some names to be quickly checked (the site also allows input of multiple items) this database can be a helpful, but “provisional”, tool.

Biodiversity and endemism in Megalobulimus and Systrophia

Peruvian land snails are relatively well known, but nevertheless there remains a lot studies to be done to further our knowledge. One study dealing with two different genera appeared some time ago (Ramírez et al. 2012), dealing with the genera Megalobulimus (here considered as part of the Strophocheilidae, but often as Megalobulimidae) and Systrophia (Scolodontidae).

In this work we performed a biogeographic study of two genera of Amazonian land snails, Megalobulimus (Strophocheilidae) and Systrophia (Scolodontidae). We used samples from different regions of the Peruvian Amazon, as well as bibliographic information. We analyzed both nuclear (5.8S-ITS2-28S rRNA) and mitochondrial (16S rRNA) genes to re construct phylogenies and obtain hypotheses concerning the evolutionary relationships among Amazonian genera and other species with global distribution. The nuclear phylogeny allowed us to determine the evolutionary position of both genera, and the mitochondrial phylogeny permitted the differentiation of species at the intrageneric level. We found that Megalobulimus clustered with the non-achatinoid clade within Stylommatophora, as expected, but its relationship to family Acavidae could not be demonstrated. Systrophia did not cluster with any of the two established clades, but formed a basal one within Stylommatophora. The mitochondrial gene 16S rRNA allowed us to differentiate Megalobulimus species, and performed well for DNA barcoding of these edible snails. Biogeographical analysis revealed several endemic species in the Peruvian Amazon within both genera, highlighting the Chanchamayo and Inambari biogeographic units.

Ramirez, R., Borda, V., Romero, P., Ramirez, J., Congrains, C., Chirinos, J., Ramirez, P., Elena Velasquez, L. & Mejia, K. (2012). Biodiversidad y endemismo de los caracoles terrestres Megalobulimus y Systrophia en la Amazonia occidental [Biodiversity and endemism of the western Amazonia land snails Megalobulimus and Systrophia]. — Revista Peruana de Biologia 19 (1): 59–74. Available at

Early snail pictures

Those of you who think that historical snail pictures are ‘cool’ (or maybe just funny), even if they are not of Neotropical species, might be interested in this post. It was provoked by a link that David Robinson sent me (thanks again!). This covers a quite different scientific discipline, i.e. medieval manuscript research.

In a number of medieval manuscripts, illuminations have been found of a (stylized) land snail opposing a knight (see e.g., Pyrdum 2009, Biggs 2013). Randall (1962) has noted that the motif of a man combatting a snail originated in northern France around 1300, and later spread to Flemish and English manuscripts. However, this motif has also been noted in folklore studies of traditional rhymes from several other countries and regions (see Grosskopf 2013, especially notes on entries 15, 512 in his database).

All snails are not recognisable at species level, but there is little doubt that they are land snails. The most precise illumination is found in the Macclesfield Psalter, a manuscript from ca. 1330 which was made in East Anglia, U.K. While it will always remain a guess, one is tempted to suppose that e.g. Cornu aspersum served as model.

For the moment, alternative hypotheses and suggestions on the origin and meaning of this motif of ‘knight versus snail’ remain in debate. An interesting contribution is given by an anonymous Norwegian medievalist (blogging as ‘Steffen’), whose conclusion is that the snail stands for humility (Anonymous 2013a, b). Anyhow, the framework seems to be a religious context.

When I wrote to Giovanni Grosskopf about his research, he answered: “In my view, two interpretations are possible for those pictures, according to each case. Following the first interpretation, they picture in a parodic and mocking way the clash between the Christians (the warrior) and the Pagans (the Snail, representing a strong and still well-known set of beliefs linked to the prehistoric rhymes and rituals about the snails, still surviving). Following another different interpretation, those pictures are teasing scornfully those who were still believing in the prehistoric rituals about snails (often described as ‘Lombards’ or ‘Tailors’, who wear armours and bear weapons because they are afraid of the ‘magic’ power of the animal), that is those who were still believing in the ‘magic’ strong (ritual) power of these small animals, and were still telling rhymes and traditions about its ritual importance“.

Different points of view on this remarkable topic, of which I doubt we will ascertain its origin. Anyway, this topic attracted my attention because of a study-in-progress on land snails in 16th/17th century still-life paintings. A side-track, but an interesting one. Maybe continued…

Anonymous, 2013a. The humility of snails, part 1. The problem with gastropods. Available at
Anonymous, 2013b. The humility of snails, part 2. The snail and the knight. Available at

Biggs, S.J., 2013. Knight v. snail. Available at
Grosskopf, G., 2013. The horns and the spiral. Distribution, structure, functions and origin of a Eurasian children’s rhyme about the snails. Available at
Pyrdum, C., 2009. What’s so funny about knights and snails? Available at
Randall, L.M.C., 1962. The snail in Gothic marginal warfare. — Speculum, 37: 358–367.

Scutalus versicolor

Broderip described in 1832 Bulinus versicolor from “in montibus Peruviae (Mongon, near Casma)”. This undoubtedly refers to Cerro Mongón, near the village Casma on the coast of northern Peru.

During work in the London museum I found two lots, one of which is considered possible type material. These shows some variation, but on photographs recently taken from material collected at the type locality, it may be seen that this variation is considerable, both in shape of the shell and aperture.

The type locality is a ‘lomas’ on a hill south of Casma, and the irregular, very scarse precipitation may play an important role in the development of these snails. However, no other data are known on the biology of this species.

Photo of the day (145): Bostryx

Valentín Mogollón sent me some pictures of the Peruvian land snail Bostryx conspersus (Sowerby, 1833). These specimens were found in ‘lomas’ vegatation at Lachay, in the coastal area north of Lima.

Sluggy notes

In the most recent issue of the American Malacological Bulletin two papers appeared with notes on slugs in the Neotropics.

The first paper is by Clarke & Fields, entitled Mating in Veronicella sloanii. It describes observations on the copulation of this pest species on Barbados (W.I.).

The systellommatophoran slug Veronicella sloanii (Cuvier, 1817), is a simultaneous hermaphrodite. This slug is an agricultural and horticultural pest in Barbados and several islands of the Lesser Antilles. Over the period January-July 2006 and June-August 2010, the mating behavior of this species was determined by ad libitum and focal animal sampling of captive slugs collected from six sites on the island of Barbados, supplemented by observations and length measurements of slugs seen mating in the field. Individuals of Veronicella sloanii mated reciprocally in pairs, but also in a multi-partner ring formation involving three individuals. Two stages in the mating process were identified, courtship and copulation. Courtship was short, less than two minutes in mating events that led directly to copulation (mean 1.87 minutes, range 0.25–2, N = 53). Copulation in contrast was long, lasting on average 1.03 hours (range 0.4–2, N = 40). During mating the penial gland of each partner made contact with the foot or the hyponotum of the other partner. Aggressive behavior during mating in this slug was manifested by non-mating individuals pushing themselves between mating pairs resulting in the withdrawal of the penis of the mating pairs and cessation of copulation. A strong size-assortative mating pattern was observed; individuals in mating pairs were of similar size.

The second paper by Gutiérrez et al. is about invasive species in Argentina, of which four are reported as new to the fauna.

This paper reports for the first time the occurrence of four exotic terrestrial slug species in Argentina: Lehmannia valentiana (Férussac, 1823) (Limacidae),Deroceras invadens Reise et al. 2011 (Agriolimacidae), Arion intermediusNormand, 1852 (Arionidae) and Meghimatium pictum (Stolyczka, 1873) (Philomycidae). The study is based on specimens deposited in museums in Argentina. Both the morphologic characteristics and the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I gene sequences were used to identify the exotic species. Phylogenetic analyses were also carried out in order to explore the location of their origins. Lehmannia valentiana had the oldest records and has been widely distributed in Argentina. Deroceras invadens and A. intermedius were found to be restricted to the southern portion of the country. Meghimatium pictum was recorded in the northwest and northeast Argentina, and the DNA sequences analyzed from this species were more closely related to specimens from the west of the Strait of Taiwan. A determination of the origin of the other species was impossible because either the sequences analyzed grouped with samples from different geographical origins or only few sequences were available for comparison. In view of the invasive potential of these slug species, the present work provides new and potentially useful DNA sequence data obtained from morphologically-confirmed specimens. Information provided from these analyses should assist in making a rapid identification of these exotic slugs by nonspecialists and governmental authorities who are responsible for managing and controlling the presence of exotic species.

Although I had expected to find some catchy photographs of these species in the field, the paper is only illustrated with phylogenetic trees. Serving their purpose within the context, maybe a suggestion for a sluggy follow-up paper of some sort that may serve as a field guide?

Clarke, N. & Fields, A., 2013. Mating in Veronicella sloanii (Cuvier, 1817) (Veronicellidae). – American Malacological Bulletin 31: 235-244.
Gutiérrez Gregoric, D.E., Beltramino, A.A., Vogler, R.E., Verónica Nuñez, M.G., Gomes, S.R., Virgillito, M. & Miquel, S.E., 2013. First Records of Four Exotic Slugs in Argentina. – American Malacological Bulletin 31: 245-256.

A new gallery of types

Without much notice, the ANSP malacology section has put the first part of their photographs of type specimens online.

This is the first result of a project initiated last year, to photograph all type specimens in their collection. A much to be praised goal, as it will enhance the study of these taxa. Currently 754 taxa have been made available through As Francisco Borrero, project manager of this work, said: “So far we made an arbitrary selection to start with Pilsbry’s taxa”. All taxa are photographed from three sides, plus the accompanying label. The type status has been corrected compared with the data provided by H.B. Baker (1962, 1963).
Since H.A. Pilsbry introduced 5680 names in zoology (Clench & Turner 1962: 1), although not all in Mollusca, there is still a way to go.

This project fits with similar projects undertaken in other museums, and all major museums are either busy with or planning this activity. Unfortunately the latter applies also to my home institution Naturalis, where recently planned capacity for the Malacology section was skipped. For the time being, photographing types can only be a dream.

Baker, H.B., 1962. Type land snails in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Part I. North America north of Mexico. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 114: 1-21.
Baker, H.B., 1963. Type land snails in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Part II. Land Pulmonata, exclusive of North America north of Mexico. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 115: 191-259.
Clench, W.J. & Turner, R.D., 1962. New names introduced by H.A. Pilsbry in the Mollusca and Crustacea. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Special Publication 4: 1-218.

Cerion revisited

Some months ago Jerry Harasewych published a new paper on Cerion (Harasewych, 2012), in which he described a new fossil species and presented a hypothesis about the phylogeography of the family.

Cerion petuchi, new species, the first record of the genus from the Pleistocene of Florida, is described from Loxahatchee, Florida, from deposits of the Loxahatchee Member of the Bermont Formation (Aftonian Pleistocene). This new species is more similar to Cerion agassizii from the Pleistocene of the
Great Bahamas Bank, and to the Recent Cerion incanum saccharimeta, from the Florida Keys, than to either of the species from the Late Oligocene—Early Miocene Ballast Point Silex Beds of Tampa, Florida. Data on the geographic distribution and geological age of all known cerionids is compiled and, together with models of the geologic and tectonic history of the Caribbean region, used to construct a hypothesis of the origins, ages, and relationships among the various lineages within the family since the Upper Cretaceous. The early distribution of the family was governed primarily by overland dispersal and vicariance. It is suggested that the significant proliferation of diversity that began during the Pleistocene is due to the increased prevalence of stochastic dispersal of small propagules (either by rafting or hurricane-born) among the islands of the Cuban and Bahamian archipelagos. Sea level changes caused by Pleistocene glaciations amplified diversity by repeatedly and sequentially recombining / hybridizing and isolating neighboring
populations. Amplification of diversity would have been greatest on the Great Bahama Bank, as it had the highest number of islands that were isolated during interglacial periods and conjoined during glaciations.

This hypothesis may be interesting to work with in families or groups that show a similar distribution in Florida, the Caribbean and Central America, and (northern) South America. However, it must be noted that this model draws heavily on the work of Iturralde-Vinent, and among geologists there is still debate about the different geological hypotheses of the Caribbean region.

Recently, he presented also research on populations of Cerionids in the Florida Keys (Harasewych & Shrestha, 2013). This work is partially underpinning the paper mentioned above, and was used to determine the spatial scale and patterns of genetic diversity across the entire range of Cerion incanum, and to correlate these patterns to the geology and origin of the Florida Keys.

Harasewich, M.G., 2012. The fossil record and phylogeography of the family Cerionidae (Gastropoda: Pulmonata), with the description of a new species from the Pleistocene of Florida. – The Nautilus 126: 119–126.
Harasewich, M.G. & Shrestha, Y., 2013. Patterns of genetic relatedness among populations of the genus Cerion (Cerionidae: Gastropoda: Mollusca) in the Florida Keys. In: Frias Martins, A. de et al. (eds.) World Congress of Malacology 2013. Book of Abstracts: 83.