Who’s Minding the Malacology Collection?

One in the series “Who’s Minding the Collection?”

By Christine Sellers

The Academy’s Malacology Collection is the second largest in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. It contains about 10 million specimens representing some 50,000 species and 16,000 type specimens. A type is the specimen on which the description and name of a new species of animal or plant is based.

The collection encompasses all mollusk groups including gastropods, bivalves, and cephalopods. These specimens have been collected almost everywhere on Earth.

In order to learn more about the science of malacology, the collection, and its shining moment during the Philadelphia Shell Show each year, I spoke with Malacology Collection Manager Paul Callomon.

Paul Callomon looks dwarfed among the thousands of shells contained in the cabinets of just a small portion of the collection. Yet he knows how to locate almost every specimen in the place. Photo by Jeff Fusco

Malacology is… the study of mollusks, or snails, clams, squids, and octopuses. Mollusks are one of the biggest groups of animals. They leave great fossils and are particularly useful in studying biology.

My job as collection manager involves… digitizing our specimens and coordinating the dissemination of information beyond geographical limitations. I also do the more traditional stuff like maintain and re-house specimens and attend collection manager meetings.

I realized I was interested in malacology when… I had a shell collection as a child. There weren’t a lot of interesting shells where I lived in England, so I had to settle for buying them from other places. I also collected shells on a trip to Australia and Fiji when I was 13. After that, my interest in shells lay dormant for a while.

I was able to revive my interest in malacology when… I knew that Japan was a famous place for marine shells, so I joined a shell club there at age 29. The fellow hobbyists were very hospitable and accommodating, and shell collecting became a social component of my life.

Callomon’s passion for shells grew when he joined a shell club in Japan. Here’s an image he took of Tridacna squamosa.

The annual Philadelphia Shell Show at the Academy is valuable to shell enthusiasts, because… it enables people to get together and engage in the social aspect of science, rather than simply subscribe to shell forums or buy shells online.

I discover new shells… all the time. Just the other day a collaborator and I published a paper describing nine new species from California.

In the future, I see the Malacology Collection headed… bigger and deeper, in terms of both geographical coverage and time coverage. The Academy is very obliging in absorbing material from other collections that need new homes, particularly specimens with historical significance.

Among Callomon’s duties as collection manager is preparing for the Philadelphia Shell Show, an annual festival held at the Academy. Here’s an up close shot of a unique shell called Murex pecten.

If I wasn’t the collection manager, I would be… in a field that required the same versatility. In the past, I’ve worked as a designer, a carpenter, and a language teacher.

When I’m not working, I… work. Most of my colleagues and I don’t consider our jobs to be separate from the other parts of our lives.

For information about the Malacology Collection, visit our website. If you would like to support malacology research and the collection, contact Monica Cawvey Gallagher, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at gallagher@ansp.org. Better yet, donate now by clicking the blue box above.

To read previous posts in this series, visit:

Who’s Minding the Ornithology Collection?

Who’s Minding the Ichthyology Collection?

Who’s Minding the Botany Collection?


  1. Wow i am very impressed to see various species of shell in the cabinet, each species of molluscs archive carefully. Firstly, i would to introduce my self i am saedul bukhari currently i am studying in taxonomic assessment of abundant species of mollusc along the coast of Pakistan this is my M.Phil/ PhD research work during my study i was face so many confusion to understand the taxonomic features of shell as well as not proper available of literature especially in my region.

  2. Just Wondering!.. If you have so many repeated specimens in bulk why don’t you open another seashells museum in the Maldive Islands ( Coral Reef Islands), would be a Tourist Hot Spot too..
    I love Conchology too.. – Bolihovaa Ahmed Ibn Faseeh

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