New species discovered using museum’s online collection data

Introducing Bourciera ovata

In the summer of 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — a team of European scientists began compiling a checklist of known terrestrial and fresh water mollusks of mainland Ecuador. The effort included occurrences recorded in past scientific reports or literature, museum datasets available online, and verified observations from citizen science projects like iNaturalist.

In reviewing our records, one of the scientists, Marijn Roosen of the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam, noticed some unusual records of a unique land snail in the Andes Mountains. Marijn requested more information about the snails and photographs to confirm their identifications. It turned out that some of the specimens from Puyo, Ecuador represented species previously unknown to researchers, including the newly-named Bourciera ovata.

With high resolution photographs of different aspects of the snail’s shell, Marijn was able to describe it as a new species, demonstrating a greater diversity of Ecuadorian land snails and the importance of having museum collection data accessible, as surely there are many more new species to be discovered. The research was published in September in the journal Folia Malacologica.

DMNH 151926, formerly thought to be Bourciera fraseri, is now the type specimen for the newly-discovered species Bourciera ovata. A type specimen is the specific specimen on which a new species is based. The museum’s mollusk collection already included around 1,200 type specimens. Photos by Alex Kittle.

Roosen, M. and Dorado, C. Revision of the genus Bourciera Pfeiffer, 1852 (Gastropoda: Helicinidae), with the description of six new species from Ecuador and Peru. Folia Malacologica, 30(3), 155–167. https://doi.org/10.12657/folmal.030.018

Taxonomy changes reflected in new specimen organization

The introduction of Bourciera ovata is just one example of how what scientists know about species and their taxonomy continues to develop. While working from home during the pandemic in 2020, Collections Manager Alex Kittle began reorganizing the mollusk collection based on updated information and species names, and later moved the actual specimens to reflect these changes. Information about our entire mollusk collection is now publicly available on the Symbiota portal, InvertEBase. Our collection profile shows 233,603 records are available online, representing 500 families and 15,658 species; 32% are georeferenced to specific locations.

Collection Manager of Mollusks Alex Kittle in the DelMNS scientific collections.

Mobilizing millions of marine mollusks

The museum has teamed up with scientists at several major museums and universities for a $2.3 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to digitize data for more than 4.5 million marine mollusk specimens such as mussels, oysters, clams, and snails collected along the Eastern seaboard from the U.S.-Canada border to U.S.-Mexico border.

The project, Mobilizing Millions of Marine Mollusks of the Eastern Seaboard, will have a world-wide impact on biodiversity documentation and study by making data from these ecologically and commercially important species available through online portals. Previous digitization projects have focused on freshwater and land mollusks; this is the first major project of this type for marine mollusks.

The Field Museum of Natural History is the lead (principal investigator) for the project. Other collaborating institutions include the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, University of Florida, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and North Carolina State Museum.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 2001510, 2001290, 2001507, 2001515, 2001523, 2001528, 2001536, 2001546, 2001570, 2001600. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.