The Mollusk Collection

Our mollusk collection is the tenth largest in North America with more than 2 million specimens.

The 250,000 lots represent more than 18,000 species. Worldwide in scope and covering all seven living classes of mollusks, our holdings include marine Gastropoda (50%), land and freshwater Gastropoda (25%), marine Bivalvia (15%), and freshwater Bivalvia (5%).

The museum’s mollusk collection is primarily dry shells, with some alcohol preserved cephalopod specimens. Most specimens are recent; however, there is some Cenozoic fossil material. Our type collection contains more than 1,200 lots. Type catalogs listing all molluscan type specimens (except Pulmonata) are available in Nemouria issues 36 and 41. The mollusk collection is digitized on iDigBio and InvertEBase. The collection continues to grow through research activities of staff and donations of scientifically significant specimens.

Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.

Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks

Liz joined the Collections and Research division as Curator of Mollusks in 2006 and was promoted to Director of Collections in 2022. She is interested in all aspects of cephalopod biology, especially their ecology, taxonomy and systematics. 

Alex Kittle

Senior Collections Manager, Mollusks

Alex joined the museum in 2015. His main research interests have focused on the Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic molluscan faunas of the southeast, especially the Oligocene formations of the Suwannee Limestone in north central Florida.

What is a mollusk?

In general, mollusks are soft bodied animals living in many different environments: from the depths of the oceans to the heat of the desert, and from small backyard ponds to the tops of mountains. They are one of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet.

The Phylum Mollusca is estimated to include 100,000 species. The study of mollusks is called malacology which means “the study of animals with soft bodies.”

The du Pont Trophy

On the edge of science, collections and art: the du Pont Trophy paintings, original works by artist Lauren Sweeney, honor outstanding exhibits at shell shows.
The specimens found in natural history collections straddle the edge between art and science. Collectors may be inspired to pick up a shell and put it in their pocket because it strikes them as beautiful. But with the addition of some simple data such as date and location, the shells become a record of biodiversity and an essential scientific resource.

Shells in the research collection are the artistic inspiration for the du Pont Trophy, an award given at shell shows for the overall outstanding exhibit.