24 August 2009

Who discovered that pulmonate snails and slugs are hermaphrodites?

This is one of those burning questions that's been occupying the minds of the most esteemed historians since I asked it way back in 2005 in this post. In the same post, I also asked, rather naively, if Lamarck had been the first person to find out that pulmonates were hermaphrodites.

Now I know that the hermaphroditism of pulmonates had been determined long before Lamarck was active in the early 19th century. For example, James Barbut wrote in his 1783 book The genera Vermium exemplified by various specimens of the animals contained in the orders of the Intestina et Mollusca Linnaei that the slug Arion ater "is an [sic] hermaphrodite, both sexes being in each individual, and both in the coitus impregnate, and are impregnated, at the same time."

In fact, the historical discovery appears to have taken place more than a hundred years earlier sometime around 1670. I have narrowed the responsible person down to 3 names: the Swiss Johann Jacob Harder, the Dutch Jan Swammerdam and the English John Ray. Within a period of less than 20 years, each man figured it out, probably independently, that pulmonate gastropods were hermaphrodites.

But who was the 1st one to publish his results? You may have to wait a while before I figure that out and reveal it here.

3 comments:

xoggoth said...

Come on, it was obviously the English chap.

EcoRover said...

As an historian of science, it's nice to see the humble snail getting a little attention...

Bema Self said...

Great blog. Recently found myself more interested in slugs and their natural purpose in this life. I was actually looking for the reason behind the name "slug" itself, and came upon your short blurb, which certainly wasn't a bad thing ;)