Tag Archives: varia

Forming a species name

While this is food for few, the subject may be interesting enough for those who find it cumbersome to dig through the rules of the ICZN Code when they need to name a new taxon. Vendetti & Garland has just published a practical guide, stating “The formation of scientific names for species may be challenging for modern systematists without a background in Latin or familiarity with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Therefore, presented here are 10 pragmatic and simplified strategies for creating zoological species names. They are intended to demystify the derivation and construction of species names and facilitate the process of naming species for a broad audience of zoologists working in systematics”.

Their 10 strategies are the following:
1. As a Latin singular or plural noun in the genitive case;
2. As a Latin singular present participle active (PPA) in the nominative case;
3. As a Latin singular noun in the nominative case used in apposition;
4. As a non-Latin singular noun used in apposition;
5. Named after a person or persons, as a Latin singular or plural noun in the genitive case;
6. As a Latin singular adjective in the nominative case;
7. As a Latin singular perfect passive participle (PPP) in the nominative case;
8. For a geographic name, as a Latin singular adjective in the nominative case;
9. As compound word composed of Latin + Latin, Greek + Latin, or Greek + Greek word elements;
10. As an arbitrary combination of letters, singular or plural.

For each strategy they provide a clear explanation with examples from different phyla, and a practical application. In several cases with further examples, like this:

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Although it requires some sensitivity for linguistics, the overall impression is that with this paper naming a new taxon is do-able, even for those who did not have classes Latin and Greek at school. In this context I also like to draw attention to the paper ‘A name is a  name is a name’ by Peter Dance, who offers 19 additional viewpoints to naming a species.

Dance, S.P., 2009. A name is a name is a name: some thoughts and personal opinions about molluscan scientific names. Zoologische Mededelingen Leiden 83(7): 565-576.
Vendetti, J.E. & Garland, R., 2020. Species name formation for zoologists: a pragmatic approach, Journal of Natural History 53(47-48): 2999-3018.


Internet trade and conservation

In the just published number of Tentacle, one of the interesting articles is about shell trade via the internet. It is to be applauded that Chinese authors have taken this hot topic to the open as shell trade is definitely a threat to molluscan diversity. The normal reaction from traders will be that they trade shells they found empty, but this has in most cases to be considered incorrect (as the perfect state of shells on offer tells otherwise). Unfortunately, even professional malacologists fall sometimes for the temptation of describing new species from material collected by traders, thereby reinforcing this questionable practice of dealers and their collectors.

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As the article shows a picture of Neotropical shells taken from a nature reserve in Florida, this is clearly a practice not limited to eastern Asia.

Zhang, G. & Wu, M., 2020. Internet trade, a new threat to malacodiversity. – Tentacle, 28: 12-14.

The global museum

A recent review paper gives an overview of the current state and some thoughts about the future of natural history museums. Something a bit different than Neotropical land snails as such, but still containing interesting information and thoughts.

“Natural history museums are unique spaces for interdisciplinary research and educational innovation. Through extensive exhibits and public programming and by hosting rich communities of amateurs, students, and researchers at all stages of their careers, they can provide a place-based window to focus on integration of science and discovery, as well as a locus for community engagement. At the same time, like a synthesis radio telescope, when joined together through emerging digital resources, the global community of museums (the ‘Global Museum’) is more than the sum of its parts, allowing insights and answers to diverse biological, environmental, and societal questions at the global scale, across eons of time, and spanning vast diversity across the Tree of Life. We argue that, whereas natural history collections and museums began with a focus on describing the diversity and peculiarities of species on Earth, they are now increasingly leveraged in new ways that significantly expand their impact and relevance. These new directions include the possibility to ask new, often interdisciplinary questions in basic and applied science, such as in biomimetic design, and by contributing to solutions to climate change, global health and food security challenges. As institutions, they have long been incubators for cutting-edge research in biology while simultaneously providing core infrastructure for research on present and future societal needs. Here we explore how the intersection between pressing issues in environmental and human health and rapid technological innovation have reinforced the relevance of museum collections. We do this by providing examples as food for thought for both the broader academic community and museum scientists on the evolving role of museums. We also identify challenges to the realization of the full potential of natural history collections and the Global Museum to science and society and discuss the critical need to grow these collections. We then focus on mapping and modelling of museum data (including place-based approaches and discovery), and explore the main projects, platforms and databases enabling this growth. Finally, we aim to improve relevant protocols for the long-term storage of specimens and tissues, ensuring proper connection with tomorrow’s technologies and hence further increasing the relevance of natural history museums.”

global museum

This review highlights the following topics: collections and types of museums, with examples of civic science; distribution, redundancy and digitisation of collections; the value and diversity of biological specimens; specimens versus observations in digital collections; the need for continued and comprehensive collection; place-based discovery and education; increasing the relevance of museums and public perception; and,  integrated analysis of museum specimens for evolutionary biology.

Bakker, F.T. et al., 2020. The Global Museum: natural history collections and the future of evolutionary science and public education. PeerJ 8:e8225.

Some mollusc drawings

A paper not about Neotropical molluscs but still relevant as it contains some information about the Australasian family of the Orthalicoidea, is the small paper by Topley about the illustrator Guy Wilkins.

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One of the figures is reproduced here showing the drawing and the actual shell of one of Tom Pain’s types of Placostylus. It is a variety that has meanwhile been put in synonymy. The paper has other examples, both of Placostylus specimens as well as some other genera, and is a nice tidbit which tells some anecdotical news that adds colour to the history of malacology.

Topley, P., 2019. Some mollusc drawings by Guy Wilkins. – Mollusc World, 51: 21-23.

Season’s greetings

Holiday season starts early this year… I wish all the readers of this post a healthy and prosperous 2020, with many interesting snail findings.


For those who have closely followed my posts, the shells will be familiar (for others, see post of 12 December)…

Shells and bones

Found by serendipity: a forensic medicine study on the association of terrestrial shells with a buried skeleton (Galvão et al., 2015). As this is the first report of such an association and the crime case was in Brazil, it seems apt to report here.

The abstract reads as follows: “Little is known regarding the scavenger fauna associated with buried human corpses, particularly in clandestine burials. We report the presence of 20 shells of the terrestrial snail Allopeas micra, within hollow bones of human remains buried for 5 years, during the process of collecting DNA material. The fact that a large number of shells of A. micra had been found in the corpse and in the crime scene supports the assumption that there was no attempt to remove the corpse from the area where the crime occurred. Despite this, our observations cannot be used to estimate the postmortem interval because there is no precise knowledge about the development of this species. This is the first record of a terrestrial snail associated with a human corpse and its role in this forensic medicine case“.

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One of the co-authors was Luiz Simone, who also made the identification of the shells. Earlier studies on forensic malacology were focussed on marine species, and so this was an interesting case.

Galvão M. et al., 2015. Shells and bones: A forensic medicine study of the association of terrestrial snail Allopeas micra with buried human remains in Brazil. – Journal of Forensic Sciences 60: 1369-1372.

Rediscovered Bermuda species

When we consider Bermuda on the outskirts of the Neotropics, this information might be relevant:

Bermuda land snail: An animal ‘back from the dead’

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Thousands of critically endangered snails have been released into the wild after being rescued from the edge of extinction, with a little help from a British zoo.

The greater Bermuda land snail was thought to have disappeared for many years until an empty shell turned up in the territory’s capital city, Hamilton.

Live snails were then found among litter in a nearby alleyway.

Some were flown to Chester Zoo for a unique breeding programme.

More than 4,000 snails raised at the zoo have now been taken back to the island and released.

Many more captive snails will soon be returned to their homeland to help give the species a new lease of life.

Mark Outerbridge, a wildlife ecologist for the Bermuda government, said the snail was a “Lazarus species”, which was considered extinct not so long ago.

Then, in 2014, a man walked into his office in the capital, Hamilton, holding a fresh snail shell.


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“It turned out that, yes, this was in fact the greater Bermuda land snail, a species that we thought had gone extinct 40 years earlier,” he said.

“He came back the next day with a fresh one, a live one in his hand, and that’s how I was thrust into this conservation project.”

A small but thriving population of land snails was discovered behind a restaurant. The gastropods were living among litter – specifically inside thrown-away plastic bags – in a “dank wet alley”, surrounded by four-storey buildings.

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Water dripping from air conditioning units had created an environment where the animals could survive unnoticed.

“It turned out that the plastic bags were one of the favourite places for these snails to hang out, because of course it retained the moisture the best – and the snails are very vulnerable to drying out,” said Dr Outerbridge.

“And when we started picking up these plastic bags and unfolding them – literally they contained hundreds of juveniles and hatchling-sized snails.”

Some of the hatchlings were taken into captivity for breeding. Their offspring were later sent to Chester Zoo and the Zoological Society of London, where scientists were able to establish colonies.

It turns out that the snails are prolific breeders in captivity, with thousands of snails bred in a matter of years.

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“At the last count we’ve got somewhere around 13,000 snails – we’ve probably got more than that, they’ve had a lot of babies since then,” said Amber Flewitt, of Chester Zoo, who cares for the snails.

The secret of breeding success, she said, was nice soil and their favourite foods, which include sweet potato and lettuce.

Thousands of the Chester Zoo snails have now been sent back to Bermuda for release in nature reserves.

The snails are thought to be doing well in their new home.

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Dr Gerardo Garcia of Chester Zoo said that, following three years of intensive work, the zoo was proud to see the snails heading home.

“This is an animal that has been on this planet for a very long time and we simply weren’t prepared to sit back and watch them become lost forever when we knew we might be able to provide a lifeline,” he said.

The greater Bermuda land snail is unique to Bermuda and is part of an ancient lineage of land snail that dates back in time over one million years.

Once abundant on the islands that make up the territory of Bermuda, the population went through a dramatic decline during the 20th Century after being preyed on by invading killer snails.

The snails have been released on a nature reserve on the northern Nonsuch Island, which has snail-friendly habitats and no evidence of the main predators that nearly caused the animal’s demise.

They will join a small wild population, estimated at a few hundred individuals. This makes the species more rare in the wild than the likes of the giant panda or mountain gorilla, according to Chester Zoo.

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Some captive individuals have been fitted with fluorescent tags to monitor their recovery in the wild.

“Not only did they escape the axe of extinction but they have rebounded so well in captivity through breeding that now what we’re doing is we’re identifying islands in Bermuda that don’t have the predators and reintroducing them to those islands, and our expectations are very high that they’ll do well,” said Dr Outerbridge.

In the case of this species, it was a matter of having to look literally under every rock and every log before writing the animal off, he added.

The original article, including some videos, can be found here.

Improving citizen science projects

Citizen sciences projects are becoming more and more popular with scientists to expand their capacity to collect data. Yet, there are ways to further improve this ‘tool’ as Callaghan et al. argue in their just published (open access) paper.

Their abstract reads: “Citizen science is mainstream: millions of people contribute data to a growing array of citizen science projects annually, forming massive datasets that will drive research for years to come. Many citizen science projects implement a “leaderboard” framework, ranking the contributions based on number of records or species, encouraging further participation. But is every data point equally “valuable?” Citizen scientists collect data with distinct spatial and temporal biases, leading to unfortunate gaps and redundancies, which create statistical and informational problems for downstream analyses. Up to this point, the haphazard structure of the data has been seen as an unfortunate but unchangeable aspect of citizen science data. However, we argue here that this issue can actually be addressed: we provide a very simple, tractable framework that could be adapted by broadscale citizen science projects to allow citizen scientists to optimize the marginal value of their efforts, increasing the overall collective knowledge”.


Also in malacology several projects are known that use(d) this tool of citizen science, mostly known in the northern hemisphere. While in the southern hemisphere (Neotropics, Asia, Africa) the lack of sufficient biodiversity data is more prominent and the number of professional researchers is comparatively low, the potential for well-organised citizen projects may be larger. Something to consider for malacologists out there?

Callaghan, C.T. et al., 2019. Improving big citizen science data: Moving beyond haphazard sampling. PLoS Biol 17(6): e3000357. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000357

How ‘lefties’ are initiated

In some snails it occasionally occurs, in others it is more frequent, and in a few families (e.g. Clausiliidae) it is the norm: sinistral shells or ‘lefties’.

Also in the Neotropics this can be found. Clausiliids occur mainly in the Andean countries, and groups with some genera where sinistrality more or less frequent does occur are e.g. Corona and Drymaeus. But the genetic mechanism behind this phenomenon is now slowly unraveled. See the story behind the link below…

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Roeters van Lennep (1820-1879)

Freshly pressed: a new paper on the history of malacology, i.e. about the 19th Century Dutch cabinet collector H.C. Roeters van Lennep.

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H.C. Roeters van Lennep was one of the most famous Dutch shell collectors during the mid-19th century, for whom we here present new and additional biographical information. His collection was auctioned in 1876, but so far only a limited amount of information has been published on this topic. The details of the auction are reconstructed on the basis of his correspondence with H. Crosse. Such new information provides an insight into who buyers were during the auction, which prices were realised, and where parts of the material ended up. There ap- pears to have been a second auction in 1879 where possibly a large part of the remainder of the first auction was sold.

Breure, A.S.H. & Backhuys, W. Herman Christiaan Roeters van Lennep (1820-1879) and the auction of his collection. – Spirula, 418: 10-16.