03 February 2008

Sexologist of snails

ResearchBlogging.orgKabat , A.R., Petit , R.E. (2007). Glenn Robert Webb (1918-1999), his molluscan taxa, and his journal Gastropodia (1952-1994). Zootaxa, 1589: 1-21.

I never met Glenn R. Webb, but I have an almost complete photocopied set of his self-published malacology journal Gastropodia. His biography by Kabat and Petit finally put a real person behind what had been just a name to me.

Webb, a naturalist from his childhood, appears to have taken up malacology in his late teens when he and his family lived in Indiana. He served in the U.S. Army near the end of World War II. He was allowed to continue to practice malacology while stationed in France, where he kept more than 30 containers of live gastropods under his bed. Upon returning to the States, Webb worked at various jobs, frequently moving around. He didn't receive his Ph.D., from the University of Oklahoma, until he was 42.

Webb's lifelong passion was the study of the mating anatomies of land snails, to which he referred as sexological studies. In 1952, he started publishing Gastropodia; the 1st paper in the 1st issue was titled: "Pulmonata, Xanthonycidae: comparative sexological studies of the North American land-snail, Monadenia fidelis (Gray) – a seeming ally of Mexican helicoids." A total of 13 issues of Gastropodia came out at irregular intervals until 1994. All but about 7 of the articles were written by Webb. One annoying habit of Webb as the editor was his tendency to leave the last paper of an issue incomplete to be continued in the next issue. But because he didn't publish Gastropodia on a regular schedule, sometimes years would pass before a paper would be completed. The layout of the journal was also rather disorganized and his papers frequently compiled notes about many different species, turning indexing into a nightmare. The chronological list of all the papers published in Gastropodia prepared by Kabat and Petit will make life a bit easier.

Webb was a professor at Kutztown University, Pennsylvania between 1963 and 1985. He and his wife moved to Conway, South Carolina in 1996. He was apparently building a private laboratory to continue his studies at age 80 when he died.

Webb's personality and private life, perhaps intentionally, were left out of this biography; there is only a passing reference to his "brash iconoclasm, and lack of interest in confronting to social norms." A little more of the real person wouldn't have hurt.

Webb's legacy will live on for many years. A recent paper by Davison & Mordan* ends with this acknowledgement: "We would like to thank Glenn Webb for making so many observations over so many years. This paper would not have been possible without his contribution."

Unfortunately, the Zootaxa paper is not open access except for the 1st page. After I learned about the paper yesterday, I e-mailed Alan Kabat, who promptly sent me a pdf copy of it. I thank him again.

*Davison, A. & Mordan, P. (2007): A literature database on the mating behavior of stylommatophoran land snails and slugs. American Malacological Bulletin 23:173-181.

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