A Great Shell Milestone: Malacology Dept reaches 500K cataloged specimens 

The Academy’s Malacology Collection is truly unstoppable. 

On June 4, 2024, the collection officially crossed the phenomenal half-million mark with the cataloging of ANSP 500,000, a tiny but elegant terrestrial snail specimen. But let’s backtrack: how did we get here? 

The Academy’s Conchological Section, now known as the Malacology Department, opened its first ledger book for the mollusk collection in late 1889, when it already contained more than 50,000 trays. The existing material was cataloged over the ensuing years, with new acquisitions added as they arrived. The particular snail specimen in the spotlight for this achievement is in the genus Hungerfordia, family Diplommatinidae, from Ngemelis Island in the Republic of Palau. Fittingly, it has no species name yet; and this is not unusual.  

“Perhaps more than half of the world’s mollusks have yet to be described,” notes Collection Manager Paul Callomon. “Climate change and habitat destruction mean that many species may never find their way into the books, unless they are preserved in accessible collections such as the Academy’s.” 

Collected by J. William Ōtani in 2017, the special 500K specimen was gifted to Kenji Ōhara, a renowned Japanese molluscan scientist and museum director who built a large collection of mostly land snails from Japan and many places in southeast and central Asia. 

Following his death, the Academy’s Malacology Department collaborated with the Osaka Museum of Natural History to catalog, digitize and house his collection, with the non-Japanese material coming to Philadelphia. 

A tiny snail shell (Diplommatina sp.) on the center’s special vacuum mount. This allows very small objects to be safely held and positioned for photography.

Cataloging and digitizing a specimen includes getting up close and personal. The Academy’s Malacology Department Imaging Center has developed several camera rigs in-house specifically for photographing very small objects in high resolution and true color. The super-macro camera features a Distamax K2S long-distance microscope with interchangeable objectives — a science lens made in the U.S. that can resolve to small fractions of a millimeter. 

So, who was the lucky cataloger? After the flip of an 1892 British penny, the honor of pressing the button on lot 500,000 went to a Drexel University co-op student from the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Amarize Finley. 

Drexel co-op students Lindsey Livingston (L) and Amarize Finley (R) at work in the Malacology Imaging Center. They are using the super-macro camera to photograph snails from the Kenji Ohara collection, recently donated to the Academy by trustee I. Wistar Morris III.  

“Cataloging the 500K lot was quite literally a coin toss,” she laughs, “so I was surprised and really honored to be doing during this, especially in my first co-op.” 

A lot is one “collecting event” — same species, collector, place and date — and can contain one specimen or many. Invertebrate collections usually catalog by lot, but some vertebrate collections, like birds, will give a separate catalog number to each specimen. 

Finley, together with fellow student Lindsey Livingston, has already begun the important work of cataloging the Ōhara collection, which was donated to the Academy by trustee I. Wistar Morris III in 2023. They have so far entered about 3,200 of its roughly 12,000 lots into the Malacology database. 

“These collections are huge parts of natural history and evolution that we are privileged enough to be a part of and learn from,” Finley says. “I think it is really important.” 

Ultimately, this single, tiny snail specimen in the Academy’s Malacology Collection is connected to many different people located across the world and throughout time — all sharing in that simple yet profound fascination with the natural world. 

Malacology Department staff gathered for the magic moment. Left to right: Pilsbry Chair of Malacology Gary Rosenberg, PhD; Curatorial Assistant Kasey Seizova; Co-op students Lindsey Livingston and Amarize Finley; Collection Manager Paul Callomon.  

Featured image: Three views of the tiny Diplommatina snail, taken by the co-ops. These snails live in limestone areas across Southeast Asia and are rather small. 

You can support the Academy’s continued research by becoming a member or donating to our collections.

One comment

  1. Congratulations on reaching this milestone! A good reminder that we can learn so much more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *