Tag Archives: varia

Morelet and the Neotropics

Arthur Morelet (1809-1892) was a French amateur malacologist who has contributed much to malacology (nearly 100 publications, describing more than 700 taxa). He was one of the first malacologists who personally went on expedition to the Neotropics; a trip lasting more than a year during 1846-1848 which yielded nearly 150 new species collected on Cuba, and in Mexico and Guatemala. A few of these are illustrated below (scale: 5 mm).

The advantage of collecting in an unexplored area is indeed the reward to find many species new to science. But the legend above also shows one of the problems (possibly one of the least!) which Morelet faced: there was no Zoological Record or BHL mid-19th century, so there was a chance of introducing a name already used by someone else. Nevertheless, about 2/3 of the species described by Morelet from this expedition are still bearing his author name today.

In the 19th century not every author was able to give precise type localities; often they had to rely on information given by field collectors. So another advantage of collecting your own material: you knew where it had be found. Morelet, in many cases, gave (relatively) good locality data, but still described a number of species with a (relatively) imprecise locality; like “sylvis provinciae Vera-Paz”, a huge area.

As I had come across Morelet and his material for quite some years, I decided it was time to make an in-depth study of this man and his contributions to malacology. Since much of his type material has ended up in the London museum, Jonathan Ablett was willing to join me in this effort. And after more than 200 letters of Morelet became available, Cédric Audibert (Lyon) joined in as well. Together we are busy preparing a bio-bibliography with a list of taxa, illustrated with type material of as much taxa as possible. The transcription and translation of his correspondence will make it possible for the reader to get a much better idea of the life of a malacologist during the late 19th century. Currently we have located about 80% of his type material in several European and some American museums. The remaining taxa will be illustrated with reporductions from the original figures if these are available. Since Morelet started his career as a draftsman, he always paid special attention to the illustration of his papers.

To my surprise nobody has made an attempt to reconstruct the expedition of Morelet to the Neotropics, which brought him not only to the three countries mentioned above but also in Belize. Morelet was not only gifted with a special interest in malacology, but also in history and literature; his library had many travel accounts on its shelves. As Central America was largely unexplored in the 1840s, he published a few years after his taxonomic descriptions also a travel account of his own journey, aimed to a larger public, with many details on the geography and history of the areas visited. These two books allowed me, with some close reading, to reconstruct his trip.

One of the interesting things I discovered was the description of some species from areas, e.g. from eastern Cuba, which he apparently never visited. González Guillén (2014: 147) assumed that Morelet had confused the habours where his ship landed in eastern Cuba. However, from Morelet’s travel account it is clear that he never visited eastern Cuba. He must therefore have received the material from this area, on which he based his descriptions, from another person.

Our monograph is scheduled to appear during Spring 2018 as a book published by the Netherlands Malacological Society. The figures have been taken from a preliminary study which was just published (Breure, 2017).

References:
Breure, A.S.H., 2017. Een expeditie naar de Neotropen: reconstructie van Arthur Morelet’s reis naar Centraal Amerika, 1846-1848. – Spirula, 411: 4-11.[Dutch]
González Guillén, A., 2014. Polymita, the most beautiful land snail of the world. – [Miami]: Estévez & Associates, 359 pp.

Biosecurity officers alert!

On the “Mollusca” listserver the following newsitem was posted:

May I add another experience to it?

When Valentín Mogollón and I described a new species last year in our paper Synopsis…, viz. Thaumastus sumaqwayqu, I returned the three specimens (shells only) which served as paratypes to Peru.

Our museum staff, very well experienced in shipments of biological material, sent the material with registered mail addressed to Mogollón. And indeed, we were “very upset” when shortly after the package had been shipped, we learned that quarantaine officers in Lima had seized the package as there was a (new) form missing from the accompanying papers.

Not being able to import the type material into the country, we requested to have it returned. But to our astonishment this appeared impossible. For the return shipment too the same form about the ‘health’ of the material (shells only!) was needed…

A truly Catch-22 situation.

After some deliberation only one conclusion was possible: there was no way out and the specimens had to be destroyed. What indeed happened.

Two papers on CCP snails

Two papers were published, one very recently and one today, related to the material collected by the ‘Comisión Científica del Pacífico’ (CCP). This material was collected during an expedition that lasted from late 1862 to  early 1866 through several Neotropical counties. The material has been deposited in the Madrid museum and was originally studied by Hidalgo (terrestrial molluscs, marine gastropods) and Martínez (marine bivalves).

The terrestrial material has been restudied during a SYNTHESYS project last year, and has resulted in two papers. One dealing with the CCP material and the history of the expedition (Breure & Araujo, 2017), and one dealing with the publication date of Hidalgo’s main paper on the CCP material and related correspondence from him with Crosse in Paris (Breure & Backhuys, 2017).

The link to the first paper is here.

Update:
Due to an unfortunate coincidence at the proof stage (we unexpectedly received only one proof), the following corrections were not made in the published version:
Fig. 3 in the text (page 4) correspond to Fig. 2B
Fig. 4 in the text (page 5) correspond to Fig. 3A
Fig. 5 in the text (page 6) correspond to Fig. 3B
Fig. 6 in the text (page 6) correspond to Fig. 4A
Fig. 7 in the text (page 7) correspond to Fig. 4B
Fig. 8 in the text (page 9) correspond to Fig. 5A
Fig. 9 in the text (page 10) correspond to Fig. 5B
Fig. 10 in the text (page 12) correspond to Fig. 6A
Fig. 11 in the text (page 12) correspond to Fig. 6B
Then, after Fig. 11 in the text, appear Figs. 7A-7B (page 17) that actually correspond to the Figures 7A and 7B; later (page 17) appears Fig. 8G-8H that correspond to Fig. 8.
Finally, Fig. 27H does not depict Bostryx rouaulti as the wrong shell was photographed.

References:
Breure, A.S.H. & Araujo, R. The Neotropical land snails (Mollusca, Gastropoda) collected by the ‘Comisión Científica del Pacífico’. — PeerJ 5: e3065 (142 pp.).
Breure, A.S.H. & Backhuys, W. Science networks in action: the collaboration between J.G. Hidalgo and H. Crosse, and the creation of ‘Moluscos del Viaje al Pacifico, Univalvos terrestres’. — Iberus 35: 11–30.

Why photo identifications remain tricky

With the increasing ease for using social media, a larger group of people become interested in putting a name to a shell. Some call this ‘citizen science’ as they think it is a means to involve the interested general public with e.g. taxonomic work. Others see it as a harmless pastime that nobody bothers. I think neither of the two is correct.

Internet can be a great help and for taxonomy it definitely is a great resource. Think alone of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), where a multitude of sources are becoming available and are made accessible for everyone. The means are there but does this mean that everybody can pick up a shell and compare it to literature found on the internet without good knowledge of the group concerned and the relevant area? I have strong doubts.

There are a lot of pictures of snails and shells on the internet with a proper locality. However, a specific locality alone does not qualify for a proper identification. Often characteristics of the species are concealed in the picture and different views are needed to know which species (singular or plural) might be concerned. Many times photos are good enough for making a correct guess of the genus concerned, but inadequate for a correct identification at the species level. Either because the photographer didn’t take the view(s) needed for a good comparison with figures in the literature, or the specimen wasn’t full-grown which prevents from showing the required characteristics needed for a correct identification.

My basic stand is field photographs are unsuitable for identifications, unless 1) full details are available on the locality and habitat, 2) proper care has been taken to photograph the shell (or snail) from such sides that all characteristics for identification are visible. Two caveat are immediately clear here: if the animal is still present it may obscure some of the characteristics needed for identification, and it may need a basic knowledge of the family concerned to know which views are needed to enable a specialist to put a name to a shell.
Thus the baseline is: photo identifications remain tricky, and personally I’m especially wary when it comes to lesser known species or species from lesser known areas.

This having said, today an example from Venezuela. It is taken from the blogpost of Ignacio Agudo-Patron who, if I’m correctly following the links, did not have the shell at hand himself but has put a name to pictures taken by one of his ‘Facebook friends’.

schermafbeelding-2017-02-06-om-08-54-57

On first view this looks reassuring: a rather specific locality (“San Juan”, Dept. Sucre, Venezuela) and specific habitat information (premontane humid forest). There is even a reference to literature (my 2009 paper on the snail fauna of Venezuelan Guayana). Under the pictures in the blogpost is the identification “Plekocheilus (Eudolichotis) sp.”, which seems proper to me. However, the summary page of his post gives as identification “Plekocheilus (Eudolichotis) aff. gibber (Oberwimmer, 1931)”. While these pictures were taken in northern Venezuela at relatively low altitude, Oberwimmer’s taxon lives in southern Venezuela at more than 2000 m. It seems totally implausible to me that these pictures represent this species. Instead I think it is one of the coastal area species (P. (E.) distortus, and its allies) which are currently insufficiently known in their variation, distribution and relationships to allow a quick-and-dirty identification via photographs. After all, despite some scant literature, Venezuela is still one of the lesser-known areas in the Neotropics when it comes to snails.

In memoriam: Fred Thompson

Via the Conch-L site the news reached me that on the 27th December Fred Gilbert Thompson died in his home in Ocala, Florida. He was a renowned specialist on Neotropical snails, collected for many years in Central America but visited also several countries in South America. He was always willing to help and several times put his field notes at my disposal when preparing manuscripts partly based on his material. His recent checklist on Central American land and freshwater molluscs will be a valuable source for everybody working with material from that area.

schermafbeelding-2016-12-28-om-11-19-23

 

Addendum:

In The Shell-O-Gram of the Jacksonville Shell Club the following obituary appeared:

schermafbeelding-2017-01-19-om-14-33-44 schermafbeelding-2017-01-19-om-14-34-03

 

Linking past and present

Each malacologist is part of a network. In this case a known network which is actively maintained (friends and colleagues), and a network – probably more fluent – which is unknown to me: you who read this is among them…

Since I have become more and more interested in the network of malacologists in the past and how this was shaped, I have chosen this topic as theme for my yearly Season’s Greetings card.

kn2016en

Although several faces and handwritings might be familiar to you (if not see here and here for more), my guess is that many of you have little clue. But if you are familiar with some of the history of malacology, you might be able to answer the question “Who is the man whose son can be seen here twice?”… And who is that lady anyway? See here for a little explanation. You might be surprised…

An obituary: Dolf van Bruggen

Together with Edi Gittenberger and Ton de Winter, I published an In memoriam of the late Dutch malacologist Dolf (A.C.) van Bruggen in the latest number of Basteria. It contains his malacological bibliography, his new taxa (additional to those published already in 2009), and an analysis of his work. As said before, although this is not related to strict Neotropical malacology, he was a dear friend and will be very missed.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-18-37-47

Reference:
Breure, A.S.H., Gittenberger, E., Winter, A.J. de, 2016. In memoriam Dr A.C. van Bruggen 1929-2016. – Basteria 80: 161-170.