Biodiversity and Systematic Biology


British Molluscs

Mollusca is the collective name given to the molluscs, one of the largest groups of animals existing today.

Molluscs live in nearly all terrestrial and aquatic environments worldwide, and have a fossil record dating from the Paleozoic (some 500 million years ago). Most have some form of shell that encloses or supports the soft body, but the range of form is enormous. Snails and slugs (and their aquatic counterparts), clams, mussels, oysters, tusk shells, chitons, squid and octopuses are all molluscs. There are at least 80,000 recognised species, with many remaining to be described.

Many molluscs are of social, medical, and economic importance. As in historical times, different groups provide food, pearls, jewellery, dye, calcium and even cloth, and have been used as currency. Some snails transmit disease-causing parasites while others produce venoms now used in medicine. Many mollusc species are on the edge of extinction, while others are notorious pests. These aspects are demonstrated in our exhibitions, education and research projects.

The study of molluscs is known as malacology, in reference to the soft body, but also as conchology, in reference to the shell. BioSyB’s Mollusca Section conducts research connecting both, based on our dry, fluid-preserved, and frozen collections and extensive library. The Museum has a long history of such research, dating back to its first Director, Dr W. E. Hoyle, who worked on British and worldwide cephalopods (squids and octopuses). In this tradition we continue research in classical taxonomy, modern systematics, biogeography, and the biology of molluscs that are of conservation concern. Our outputs include peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals as well as monographs in the in-house series BioMôr / BioTir. We also work on the history of malacology, design taxonomic tools and run training courses to help others identify and study molluscs.