02 October 2009

Don’t store your specimens in your mouth!

In his autobiography Charles Darwin told the story of how he once during a collection trip had picked up a beetle in each hand and and put the 3rd one in his mouth and how the latter had responded by releasing an “intensely acrid fluid” burning his mouth.

Here is a similar story by Henry Pilsbry from an 1892 paper of his. In this case, the unidentified “rare specimen” was undoubtedly a snail.

It may be remarked that the custom of holding specimens between the lips is not so rare with field naturalists as fastidious persons might suppose. I confess to having once swallowed a small and very rare specimen while holding it for a moment. The creature was, alas! not my own property, and its outraged owner has not yet forgiven me.
I don’t think I’ve ever put a specimen, snail or otherwise, in my mouth for safekeeping, but I do remember witnessing a friend cleaning the mud off of tiny shells by putting them on his tongue and then rubbing them against the top of his mouth.


Anonymous said...

Not a safe practice where Angiostrongylus occurs.


Snail said...

I was thinking exactly the same thing as CCC!

Anonymous said...

I do sometimes put a small (empty) marine shell from the beach drift into my mouth, usually to wet it in order to see the color, or the color patterning, better. So far I have never swallowed one! Michael Humfrey, the author of a book on Jamaican shells, said that his family attributed his interest in shells to what happened at a birthday party on the beach when he was turning 4. Apparently he picked up and swallowed a worn shell of Stramonita rustica. He says that he had finished his slice of birthday cake and was still hungry!

Susan J. Hewitt


I too have licked seashells for the same purpose. If the beach is clean, I don't see any harm in doing that.

The incident I mentioned about a friend mouthing land snail shells to clean them took place in Turkey. They were old, empty shells unlikely to harbor parasitic nematodes.

Anonymous said...

When collecting mussels, if I am in an area where the mussels are small and sparse, I often don't have a bag or pocket so holding a little Toxolasma or Villosa in my mouth always seemed like a good alternative.