Monday, May 02, 2016

More two-in-one specimens

kw: natural history, natural science, museums, research, collections, photographs

A recent acquisition at the Delaware Museum of Natural History contains loads and loads of fossil mollusk shells and related specimens, presumably of Pliocene age. I am entranced by the species that will grow on a shell. This first image shows a coral that was getting started on the upper spire of a snail shell. The shell is a bit less than 1.5 inches (35 mm or so) across, and the coral polyps were around a quarter inch or less (5-6 mm) across. We can also see at least two small oysters had taken up residence. I suppose they hope that the snail grows faster than they do! But some untoward event killed them all and buried them in fine sand and mud where they remained for several million years.

The next photo is a view of the 3" x 6" box the shell above is in, along with other shells of the same species. All of them had "riders", usually barnacles, though I see one shell to the right with larger oysters upon it.

It is early days for this "collection"; at the moment it is a pile. Sorting is just getting going. Comparing this with photos I've published over the past few weeks, we can answer the question, "What is the difference between a hoard and a collection?" Answer: "The Index". The collection manager and his volunteers are busy sorting like with like, and then he gets to identify them, or in some cases send photos, or the shells themselves, to experts who can identify the harder ones. And there's always the chance that a few shells will stump every expert and possibly lead to the designation and description of a new species!

In addition to mollusk shells, I can see at least one coral specimen and a couple of other items that look suspiciously "non mollusk". Considering that all the natural history museum collections of the world may have, so far, discovered only one-tenth of the existing species…well, this work never ends.

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