29 July 2011

Reminiscences of the AMS meeting

The American Malacological Society's 77th annual meeting took place in Pittsburgh the City of Bridges with the participation of an ever-dwindling number of about 70 malacologists. Most of them were American with a handful of Europeans. So where were all the other mollusc workers?

It seemed to me that most presentations were about terrestrial or freshwater molluscs. Which is fine with me, but it nevertheless made me wonder why there are so few scientists in the U.S. working with marine molluscs.

There was a nice session on the history of malacology. If I'm not mistaken this was the only such session at least since 2003 when I 1st started attending these meetings. I've been told that a history of malacology session will be held also at the next year's meeting.

The meeting logo had been inspired by the well-known prints of the Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol.

My major complaint about the meeting is that the opening reception took place on Saturday night before the meeting had actually started. I certainly had no intention of arriving in Pittsburgh a day early (and paying for the hotel for an extra night) just to attend a reception. A much sensible spot for the reception was the Sunday night.

The meeting room was also too cold.

I had 2 presentations at the meeting both of which, I think, went well. Here is a short film clip of me during my presentation on Assiminea succinea.


The next year's meeting will be in Philadelphia.

Following the meeting on Thursday we had a fun field trip. I will write about that in a few days.

26 July 2011

Andy Warhol would want you to stop thinking (but to keep on buying)

Today was our 2nd full day in Pittsburgh. I took a break from the American Malacological Society meeting and visited the Andy Warhol Museum with my wife.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and the museum dedicated to him is the place to learn about him and his art.

Besides Warhol's original artwork, the museum also shows the movies he made, including Sleep, the almost 5.5-hour long film of his lover John Giorno sleeping. I could only watch about a minute of it. But Mario Banana was quite amusing.

According to a display in the museum, Warhol once said "Buying is much more American than thinking, and I'm as American as they come."

Although I may not care for much of what Warhol did or believed in, his museum was fun to visit. And we did buy some reprints of his work.

25 July 2011

Monongahela from Duquesne

I am in Pittsburgh this week for the American Malacological Society's annual meeting. The meeting is taking place in Duquesne University.

Duquesne is on a hill overlooking the Monongahela River. This is the view of the river from the very back of the university.

22 July 2011

Archaeo+Malacology Group Newsletter No. 19

The AMG Newsletter No. 19 is available here.

An interesting article by Claire Perrette in this issue is about the ornaments made from marine shells that were found at a neolithic site in the Fijian Archipelago. A nice photograph shows the different types of ornaments.

In 3 articles Henk Mienis writes about various mollusk finds at archaeological sites in Israel.

There are also the usual abtsracts of relevant papers from the literature as well as information on past and future conferences.

20 July 2011

A variety of penises

One of the 2 talks I will be presenting at the American Malacological Society meeting next week in Pittsburgh will be about the semi-terrestrial snail Assiminea succinea.

To learn more about the anatomy of Assiminea, I dissected one snail last weekend. It was a male, because it had a penis. To get a good picture of the penis, I removed it from the snail. Here it is.

The picture on the left shows the penis as it was curved while attached to the snail's body. During copulation the penis would be straightened and would look more like the way it does in the picture on the right.

The shell of the snail was 2.31 mm long. So its penis was about half the length of its shell. Talk about a long member.

Then I went thru my papers and found drawings of the penises of several species of Assiminea in a paper by Abbott*. Here they are.

Penis anatomy would definitely be a useful characteristic in a future revision of Assiminea systematics. But, no I don't intend to do that.

*Abbott, R. T. 1958. The gastropod genus Assiminea in the Philippines. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 110:213-278.

18 July 2011

An unusual Eobania vermiculata

Most individuals of our favorite land snail Eobania vermiculata have shells with 5 bands, although some of which may be fused into wider bands.

One may occasionally come across shells that are devoid of bands. In the picture below the shell on the left is the usual variety, while the one on the right is "bandless".

Presumably, the bandless shells form when all the bands merge to create one diffuse pattern. Here is another example.

16 July 2011

What happens when you poke a grasshopper?

This is what happens.


14 July 2011

Osilinus turbinatus in its habitat

Many snail species that live in the transition zone between the sea and the land blur the boundary between aquatic and terrestrial species. They usually spend most of their lives outside of the sea. Yet, they cannot move far from it, because in one way or other, their livelihoods are tied to the sea.

One such snail is Osilinus turbinatus (Vetigastropoda: Trochidae). This species is very common on rocky coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Here is one individual at its usual habitat that I filmed in Turkey back in June (yes, the snail is that thing near the center of the screen).


Osilinus turbinatus has traditionally been considered a marine snail. But it seems more comfortable outside the sea than in it as long as it is within reach of occasional waves.

I will write more about Osilinus turbinatus in the future.

12 July 2011

Luciferase and sex: fryflies mating #1

Fireflies seem quite abundant this year and their evening attempts at procreation have not ebbed yet. Here is a pair mating (see this post for a similar picture).

This is the position in which mating pairs may be seen most often. But, how do they get into this position? Surely, males and females can't be crawling backwards until they bump into each other. Remember that prospective firefly mates locate each other using light signals. Males fly around flashing their lights at species-specific intervals and the females waiting on the ground respond with their own species-specific flashes.

Here is the 1st video I ever made of a pair of fireflies locating each other and then initiating copulation.


The firefly seen in the beginning is the female. She is flashing to a male that was initially not visible. He soon appears on the left, flashes once in response and then flies to the leaf the female is on and climbs on her back. The pair spends about 45 seconds in that position. During that period the male can be seen caressing, if I may anthropomorphise a bit, the back of the head of the female. Its antennas are also quite active, while the female, as far as we can tell at this magnification, is quite immobile, although I suppose she is monitoring the male's activity patterns. Are they making one last check to make sure that they are of the same species? Somewhere along the line, the male enters the female and then turns around to assume the typical mating position.

These are probably a species of Photinus, but that's as far as I can go with an identification.

10 July 2011

American Malacological Society meeting coming up

The annual meeting of the American Malacological Society will be held in Pittsburgh, PA from Saturday, July 23rd thru Thursday, July 28th, 2011. More information is available here.

The abstracts and the program are available as a pdf file here.

I will be giving not 1, but 2 presentations. The abstracts of my talks are on pages 60 and 61 of the pdf file. I have never given 2 presentations at a meeting before. I have spent the last 3 weeks working on my talks and I am not finished yet.

Both of my talks are based on topics I have written about on this blog on several occasions. One of my talks is about the semi-terrestrial snail Assiminea succinea. I will present an overview of everything I have so far learned about that little snail.

My 2nd talk is in the History of Malacology Symposium. It will bring together my ideas concerning 3 different subjects: the snail research of Richard Thomas Lowe (1802-1874), mosaic evolution and Hasok Chang's proposal of the practicing of the history of science as a "complementary science" to contribute to the advancement of present day science. Hopefully, my attempted synthesis will make sense.

08 July 2011

Flashing firefly flying for fertilization

The backyard fireflies are still carrying on their annual rite of luciferase, photons and sex. Here is a movie I made of a flying male.


To be continued.

06 July 2011

Turtles of Magnesia

While exploring the ruins of Magnesia on the Maeander for snails last month in Turkey, I noticed a whole bunch of turtles in the nearby creek.

The creek, whose name I haven't bother to look up, was probably a tributary of the River Meander, which was not too far away. The banks of the creek were extremely muddy. The water level in the creek probably fluctuated depending on rainfall or on the amount of water removed for agriculture. These particular turtles apparently like the mud.

We were on a bridge above the creek. Despite the fact that the bridge was quite high, the turtles entered the water as soon as they spotted us peaking down. This was the closest picture of one I could get.

Based on the habitat and range information in the book I have on the amphibians and reptiles of Turkey*, the turtle is probably Mauremys caspica. But when it comes to turtles, I am just a bystander. So I could be quite wrong.

*Ibrahim Baran. Türkiye Amfibi ve Sürüngenleri. Tübitak. 2005.

05 July 2011

Firefly on the window

Fireflies have been coming out in throngs every night around our house. They are always enchanting to watch. This one landed on the kitchen window the other night.

Besides the light producing organ near the end of the abdomen, the eyes are also noteworthy. I didn't know fireflies had such big eyes. This is, however, not surprising; an animal that finds its prospective mates by mutual light signals in the dark would be expected to have evolved large eyes.

03 July 2011

The view from N9

While I was searching for and collecting snails, primarily Albinaria, my wife filmed me and the scenery one day last month in Turkey*.


We were at my station coded N9. N9 is a limestone hill rising from the filled-up delta of the river Küçük Menderes, the ancient Cayster. During the Roman times, this hill was undoubtedly an island before the silt brought by the river filled up the delta. The Aegean Sea is visible in the background in the beginning of the movie.

N9 is the site of an ongoing experiment started back in 2006. That was the subject of this post from a year ago.

*It was a windy day and most of what the camera's microphone recorded was the sound of the wind. So I turned the sound off while editing this clip from the original longer film.

01 July 2011

Happy Evolution Day!

On this day in 1858 Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s independently developed ideas on evolution by natural selection were made public for the first time during a historic session of the the Linnean Society in London.

Darwin had been developing his ideas for 20 years, but before that day he had revealed them only to a few close friends and correspondents, including the American botanist Asa Gray. Wallace, on the other hand, had come up with his version of natural selection, very much similar to that of Darwin's, several months earlier while doing fieldwork in the Malay Archipelago and communicated it to Darwin in a now famous letter*.

The presentation at the Linnean Society was initiated with a letter of introduction by Darwin’s close friends Charles Lyell and Joseph D. Hooker, opening with the words:

My Dear Sir, -- The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace.
This was followed by the reading of extracts from an unpublished essay Darwin had written in 1844, part of his 1857 letter explaining his ideas to Gray and the manuscript Wallace had sent to Darwin.

Why not celebrate this great idea today and everyday? Read a book on evolution, teach someone about evolution, visit a natural history museum or take a hike in the woods or go to a sea shore to witness the products of evolution. And don’t forget to remember Darwin and Wallace, for, after all these years, their idea remains indefatigable.

Hooray to the bearded guys! Pictures of Darwin (left) and Wallace are from the Linnean Society.

*According to the Darwin Correspondence Project, Wallace's letter and unpublished manuscript are missing.