Who among us hasn’t marveled at the diversity & beauty of shells? Or picked one up, held it to our ear, & then gazed in wonder at its shape & hue? Many a lifelong shell collector has cut teeth (& toes) on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, the Outer Banks, or the coasts of Sanibel Island. Some have even dived to the depths of the ocean. But most of us are not familiar with the biological origin of shells, their role in explaining evolutionary history, & the incredible variety of forms in which they come.
Shells are the external skeletons of mollusks, an ancient & diverse phylum of invertebrates that are in the earliest fossil record of multicellular life over 500 million years ago. There are over 100,000 kinds of recorded mollusks, & some estimate that there are over a million more that have yet to be discovered. Some breathe air, others live in fresh water, but most live in the ocean. They range in size from a grain of sand to a beach ball & in weight from a few grams to several hundred pounds. & in this lavishly illustrated volume, they finally get their full due.
The Book of Shells offers a visually stunning & scientifically engaging guide to six hundred of the most intriguing mollusk shells, each chosen to convey the range of shapes & sizes that occur across a range of species. Each shell is reproduced here at its actual size, in full color, & is accompanied by an explanation of the shell’s range, distribution, abundance, habitat, & operculum—the piece that protects the mollusk when it’s in the shell. Brief scientific & historical accounts of each shell & related species include fun-filled facts & anecdotes that broaden its portrait.
The Matchless Cone, for instance, or Conus cedonulli, was one of the rarest shells collected during the eighteenth century. So much so, in fact, that a specimen in 1796 was sold for more than six times as much as a painting by Vermeer at the same auction. But since the advent of scuba diving, this shell has become far more accessible to collectors—though not without certain risks. Some species of Conus produce venom that has caused more than thirty known human deaths.
The Zebra Nerite, the Heart Cockle, the Indian Babylon, the Junonia, the Atlantic Thorny Oyster—shells from habitats spanning the poles & the tropics, from the highest mountains to the ocean’s deepest recesses, are all on display in this definitive work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
M. G. Harasewych is research zoologist & curator of marine mollusks at the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which houses one of the world’s largest mollusk collections. He has discovered & described dozens of new genera & species, written widely for scientific journals & periodicals, & is the author of Shells: Jewels from the Sea.
Fabio Moretzsohn has a doctorate in zoology & is a researcher for the Harte Research Institute in Texas. He has discovered a few new species of mollusks & is a coauthor of the Encyclopedia of Texas Seashells.