by Gary Rosenberg
Shell collectors are often frustrated
by the inability to establish the correct name for a species.
For the purist there is only one recourse -- diving into libraries
and reaching one's own decisions. The first necessity is access
to primary literature -- the original literature where the species
were first named. Gaining access to primary literature can be
difficult; this column gives some pointers on how to get a foothold.
There are only a few dozen institutions
in the world, and fewer individuals, with natural history libraries
comprehensive enough to answer most questions about mollusks.
Because the catalogues of many major libraries are computerized,
however, it is often possible to track down copies of desired
works from scattered sources. Most research libraries will provide
photocopies for a fee and, by this means, the conchologist can
build up a substantial collection of original descriptions.
If a computer search fails, another valuable resource is the
National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 Imprints, which lists which
research libraries in the United States hold what books. The
NUC is gigantic, running to hundreds of volumes, and itself
is held only by libraries of states, large cities and major
In order to start requesting
photocopies, you must at least have access to three important
indices to the literature: Sherborn's Index Animalium, which
covers 1758 to 1850; Ruhoff's Index to the species of Mollusca
introduced from 1850 to 1870; and the Zoological Record: Mollusca,
which covers 1864 to the present. These works generally tell
only the page on which the description begins, so a request
for photocopies must stress that the entire description is needed,
along with any illustrations. Getting the entire article is
preferable, if it isn't too long, since important information
can appear in the introduction, or in entries for related species.
Also make sure to get copies of the title pages of each book
or journal; they will come in handy for tracking sources.
The first volume of Sherborn's
Index Animalium attempts to list all species and genus names
of animals published between 1758 and 1800, with their original
citation. The next nine volumes cover species and genera from
1801 to 1850. Sherborn is about 95% complete for names of mollusks
introduced between 1758 and 1850, and what he missed tends to
be very obscure, so in practice, 99% of the time, one will find
that Sherborn provides the exact page number in the book or
journal where the species was named. Sherborn lists specific
names in alphabetic order, with adjectives alphabetized in masculine
form. This can be confusing at first, because, for example,
"lata" (broad) will be alphabetized as "latus"
and so come after "lateralis." Sherborn's system has
advantages though, because all the forms of a name are in one
block. For example, look up Cerithiopsis lata in the index of
Abbott's American Seashells (1974); it is under "latum,"
three column inches away from "lata" and can easily
After 1850, matters are more
difficult. Ruhoff lists species names for mollusks introduced
from 1850 and 1870, but her work missed 30 to 40% of the names
in this period and is weak for fossil mollusks. Ruhoff uses
straight alphabetical order instead of taking into account gender
of endings. From 1864 to the present day, the Zoological Record
documents the place of publication of names, but to find a name
requires knowing the year that it was published. Without the
year, one must scan more than 130 volumes one by one, which
is impractical. The last couple of decades of the Zoological
Record are available online and can be searched for a fee. The
Zoological Record is about 80% complete for species names of
mollusks in the period it covers.
What if a name is not found in
one of three works? One possibility is that the name was listed
under a genus other than the one expected. These works list
names under the original genus, which is not always easy to
infer. For example, Röding (1798) named his species of
Conus in the genus Cucullus and his Oliva in Porphyria. Scanning
the list looking for names by the desired author might help.
Zoological Record has an advantage here, because it groups names
by family or superfamily, so it is easier to recognize likely
candidates. Sherborn is most difficult in this regard, since
names from other phyla are mixed in, so there will be lots of
unfamiliar genera. (Sherborn also has additions and corrections
in the last volume, which are often overlooked.)
Another possibility is that the
name is one that these indices missed. The Royal Society Catalogue
of Scientific Papers, 1800-1900, in 16 volumes, can then be
helpful. It provides a list of articles by author, in chronological
order. Often the title of the article flags it as the likely
place where a name appeared.
What if one doesn't know the
date of publication, or even the author? A Listing of Living
Mollusca by Goto & Poppe (1996) is the best source, listing
about 40-50% of valid, living mollusk species, with greatest
strength in marine mollusks. However, it does not list names
thought to be synonyms, and so lists fewer than 25% of available
names for mollusks. Goto & Poppe is essentially an index
to most of the books and major monographs on mollusks published
in the last 30 years, and so points to secondary sources that
might lead one to primary sources.
Many other books and monographs
might be useful for tracking down original descriptions in particular
families or faunas. For example, the bibliography in Keen (1971,
Sea Shells of Tropical West America) lists most of the papers
where the species she treats were described, although without
stating on what page particular species appeared. Vokes (1971,
Bulletins of American Paleontology 61) gives the original citation
for species named in the genus Murex. My own database on Internet
provides citations for more than 6000 names of Western Atlantic
gastropods (URL http://erato.acnatsci.org/).
These pre-existing lists can save months or years of effort.
If there is no list for a particular
taxon, or the existing list is out of date, Sherborn, Ruhoff
and the Zoological Record can be used to create a list. This
is much more productive in the long run than tracking down names
piecemeal as they are encountered in the secondary literature.
Sherborn and Ruhoff both have indices by genera, so one can
get a list of all the names in a particular genus. For example,
a quick count in the index shows that Sherborn list 149 names
of Haliotis. Having compiled a preliminary list of names and
citations in this fashion, one can request photocopies much
more efficiently. It can be quite frustrating to get a photocopy
of an original description and then discover two months later
that there was congeneric species named in the same paper.
Beware in Sherborn, because if
there are two genera with the same name, they are not distinguished
in the index (although they will have separate entries in the
text). For example most names of Chlamys in Sherborn are beetles
of the genus Chlamys Knoch, 1801 rather than scallops of the
genus Chlamys Röding, 1798. (Such non-molluscan names can
safely be ignored. ICZN rules state that homonymy between the
same specific name in homonymous genera is to be disregarded,
so the beetle Chlamys reticulata Klug, 1824 does not preoccupy
the scallop Chlamys reticulata (Reeve, 1853). The beetle genus
was renamed Arthrochlamys.)
Ordering photocopies goes only
so far. There are inevitably citations that cannot be tracked
down and works that cannot be found. Seeing colored illustrations
can be essential for understanding what an author meant. At
this point, it's time to visit one of the major natural history
libraries. With appropriate preparation, more can be accomplished
in a week on site than in a year of correspondence with librarians,
however helpful they may be. Of course, once the literature
is in hand, one must know how to use it to determine the correct
name for species. That will be the subject of September's column.
- Ruhoff, F. A. 1980.
Index to the species of Mollusca introduced from 1850 to 1870.
Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology no. 294, 640 pp.
- Sherborn, C. D. 1902. Index Animalium, 1758-1800. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 1195 pp.
- Sherborn, C. D. 1922-1932. Index Animalium, 1801-1850. 9 vols.
London: British Museum (Natural History). 6357 + 1098 pp.
of Mollusks, Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin
Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1195