The Accessorizing Mollusk

This weekend, Sunday, Oct. 28 and 29,  is the annual Philadelphia Shell Show,  the largest show of its kind in the Northeast. Museum visitors can see displays of thousands of amazing shells from around the world and even purchase some for their own collection.

Members of the Philadelphia Shell Club and others will compete for prizes and the winners will be announced.

The Academy’s Malacology Collection of 10 million shells is an amazing resource for scientists around the world, including our own researchers, who conduct studies and collaborate with others.

Collection Manager Nasreen Phillips is writing a scientific paper about one of her favorite mollusks. It’s one you probably won’t see at the Shell Show because of its peculiarity. Here she explains her attraction nonetheless.

Xenophora pallicula. You’ve got to love a mollusk that wears ocean debris like jewelry. Collection Manager Nasreen Phillips finds this family of mollusk the most interesting in the Academy’s huge collection.

Xenophora by Nasreen Phillips

Helping to oversee the care of millions of mollusks is a huge task. With so many different species to examine, there are many favorites to choose from.

However, I would have to say that the mollusk family Xenophoridae has my full nomination for the most interesting organisms in our collections. The name Xenophoridae derives from the Greek words xenos, meaning foreign, and phoros, meaning carrier. “Foreign carrier” adequately describes the essential task of these animals.

Xenophorids are a striking group of gastropods that use foreign objects to supplement their shell. This is a rare characteristic and only found in a few other genera.

Xenophora robusta gathers small stones and other shells to adhere to its body.

Xenophorid behaviors documented in the fossil record reflect that there are advantages to being a carrier shell. It is suggested that Xenophorids adhere foreign objects to their bodies to provide camouflage, tactile support, shell stability, and “snowshoeing,” a phenomenon for which the organism uses the adhered shells as “stilts” to navigate in its environment. This makes it easier for it to feed on algae and detritus.

The result of utilizing an array of other animals to “decorate” its shell structure can result in the most elaborate display!


Come to the Philadelphia Shell Show on Oct. 28 and 29! To purchase museum admission online at a discount, click the button below.

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