Registry of World Record Size Shells

by Kim C. Hutsell, Linda L. Hutsell and Donald L. Pisor. Snail's Pace Productions, San Diego. 1997. Spiral bound, 8.5" x 11" iv + 104 pp. $15.00 + $3.00 s/h + tax. Available from Pisor's Marine Shells, 646 N.30th St., San Diego, CA 92102.
It's not often that people line up to review a book, but that has been the case with the new Registry of World Record Size Shells. We offer you here two points of view, the collector-oriented one we requested from "Supersheller" Gene Everson and the excellent perspective Dr. Gary Rosenberg offered from his experience at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. We regret that we do not have space to include more.

This publication is a welcome successor to Wagner & Abbott's list of world records in their Standard Catalogue of Shells, and inherits many entries from that work. However, this is an entirely new work in many ways. The last supplement to Wagner & Abbott's list in 1990 included 2318 entries; the new Registry includes more than 4470. There are several other improvements. 1) The minimum size requirement of one inch has been dropped. 2) Sizes are listed in millimeters instead of centimeters (somehow 100.0 mm is a more appealing goal than 10.00 cm). 3) Species are listed alphabetically by trivial name within families, with families listed alphabetically, instead of within genera with genera alphabetized. This makes it easier to locate species, and prevents duplicate listing of a species in more than one genus. Strangely, bivalves have a separate section, but Dentaliidae, Argonautidae and Nautilidae are alphabetized with the gastropods; a single alphabetic sequence would be preferable. 4) A reference field has been added, which points to description or illustration of species. Updates are planned every few years.

To determine how robust the list is, I checked about one quarter of the entries against the collections here at the Academy of Natural Sciences. I found that for about ten percent of the entries, our collection has a larger specimen than listed (these will be submitted for the second edition). In general, the larger the shell, the harder it is to break the record, so if you want to look for world records in your own collection, the best bets are in the one to four inch range. You might get a certain satisfaction in breaking a record held by Victor Dan or Dan Pisor, with 369 and 325 records respectively in the current edition. A form at the back of the book allows submission of new records and new entries (for species not currently listed).

The Registry suffers from an unusual number of typographical errors, presumably because the authors rushed to have it ready for sale at the 1997 COA convention. There are also a number of cases of species being listed under two synonymous names, e.g., Oliva sericea and its synonym O. textilina are both listed, or under two combinations, e.g., Ancilla lienardi and Eburna lienardi. The authors would have been more likely to catch the latter type of error if they had included the author of the species, although the space limits of one line per entry might preclude this. I also noticed entries where the location is impossible (e.g., Ancilla ventricosa is from East Africa, not West Africa), which casts doubt on the identity of the specimen.

Of greatest concern however is that many of the world records in the Registry are smaller than the maximum size listed for the species in the standard work on the group. For instance, compare maximum sizes in Bratcher & Cernohorsky (1987) on Terebridae to those in the Registry. A particularly striking example is Terebra funiculata, 69 mm vs 32.5 mm. This is important to the collector, because world record size specimens often command a premium price. The premium might not be great for a species like Terebra funiculata, but how about in the Pleurotomariidae? Anseeuw & Goto (1996) cite the largest Perotrochus midas as 127.5 at the American Museum of Natural History, and the holotype as 118.3. The Registry lists the world record P. midas as 77.4 mm. For nine out of sixteen entries for pleurotomariids in the Registry, Anseeuw and Goto list larger specimens (Perotrochus africanus, hirasei, lucaya, midas, pyramus, salmiana, teramachii, vicdani, westralis.)

The Registry would be much more authoritative if it included record sizes from the literature, and I recommend this be done in future editions. The problem with such literature records of course is that often the repository of the largest specimen is not stated; the authors just give a size range for the species. Still, the Registry could have a convention for such cases to state "unknown" for "Repository" and to give the literature citation for the record size under "Reference". Or the Registry could give two listings, one for the literature record, and one for the largest record tied directly to a specimen.

I found that there is quite a bit to be learned from maximum sizes. Maximum sizes are one gauge of the range of variation in a species, and can aid in identification. In several cases I concluded that accepted synonymies were probably not true. Our collection lists Vexillum tumidum Reeve, 1844, as a synonym of Vexillum gruneri Reeve, 1844. We have forty adult specimens of V. gruneri, none bigger than the listed record of 30.0 mm. We have 11 specimens of V. tumidum larger than 30.0 mm and only one adult smaller. This strongly suggests that they are distinct species (which is fortunate, because V. tumidum otherwise has one month priority over V. gruneri.) This points out another feature of the Registry, that subspecies, varieties and forms often have their own entries. I consider this an advantage, as these infraspecific taxa might someday prove to be full species, and maximum sizes might provide evidence as to their status.

Minimum sizes are also informative, and the Registry lists a few minimums for Cypraeidae and Strombidae. This is an area that has been little explored. I would encourage collectors to start submitting minimum size records to the Registry in families where it is possible to tell that a small shell is fully adult. You probably have a better chance of getting your name into the Registry that way too -- less competition!

--Gary Rosenberg

I had an immediate clue that this would be a quality reference because of the good taste required to illustrate Chicoreus eversoni on the cover. But more about that later. There are four main differences between The Registry of World Record Size Shells and its predecessor, Wagner & Abbott's World Size Records in the Standard Catalog of Shells, and all of them are improvements on the Wagner & Abbott work.

  • Size. The number of entries has almost doubled, from 2318 to 4470. Bigger is better in this case. Yet the physical size of The Registry is only a fraction of the heavy and bulky Standard Catalog in which the original World Size Records was contained. Also the spiral bound format keeps the page open to where you want it with no hands or bookmark. Smaller is better here.
  • Measurements. The entries are in millimeters to the nearest tenth millimeter. The old World Size Records was in centimeters. Most collectors use millimeters and, while it is no strain to move a decimal, this format is more comfortable and eliminates the mental translation.
  • Classification. The Standard Catalog World Size Records and the Lost Operculum Club List of Champions (size records for marine shells of the Eastern Pacific from Alaska to Chile) both list alphabetically by genus. The new Registry lists alphabetically by family. Example: Conidae. Then abbas, abbotti, etc. The next column lists genera. Two examples show that this is better. Imagine a turrid collector (there are a few) looking for records. This is a family with about 679 genera. Now he can scan a couple of pages in a row instead of looking in 679 different locations. Next imagine a collector who just received a dealer's list and wants to check the sizes against world records. Many dealers list Cassis, Cypraecassis, Semicassis, Phalium, etc. under the genus Cassis for simplicity. And many lump Chicoreus and other muricid genera under Murex. In the Registry you can find the intended species immediately instead of looking in other references first to find what the current genus is. And generic names frequently change but species do not. Maybe half of the species in your collection should have a parentheses around the author and date to indicate that the genus has been changed since it was described. With a little trial and error, I decided on this family and species system for my personal catalog use and, after thirty years, have not found a better way. Perhaps most convincingly, Tucker Abbott had decided to use this system in the next edition of his World Size Records as a part of his intent to make the work more educational, but didn't live to fulfill his plan.
  • References. The last column contains a reference with a page number or a plate and figure number. Many times I have acquired a little known species and searched through a dozen books trying to find an illustration or just to verify a dealer's identification. Now, even if I'm not interested in records, I can use the Registry to identify a reference on the first try. The references used in the Registry can pose questions. Why is Cernohorsky's Marine Shells of the Pacific, Vol. II listed and not volumes I or III? Alison Kay's Hawaiian Marine Shells is listed, but the definitive work on New Zealand shells, New Zealand Mollusca by A.W.B. Powell is not included. Many other landmark works by highly respected malacologists are omitted, while articles in periodicals frequently written by amateurs, such as La Conchliglia and American Conchologist, are. It would seem the included 49 references were just those used by the authors for this edition. Nor do I see anything in the Introduction or the Record Submission & Verification Form that excludes any reference. So it seems obvious that these references will be expanded in future editions as contributors list them on their entries. However, this should be spelled out. We should not have to guess about this. One or two sentences in the next introduction regarding acceptable references should clarify the question. I appreciate the time and effort that it took the editors to include a reference for every species. None of the entries I submitted to the old World Size Records, and I'm sure it's true of most others, included a reference, because none was required or requested in the past. This required a great amount of work.

One question the book did not answer was: "Who has the world's largest shell?" The bivalve winner is Victor Dan with a Kuphus polythalamia measuring 1,532.0 mm. The family name of Teredinidae was misspelled. The American Museum of Natural History has a Tridacna gigas measuring 1,368.7 mm. Finding the largest gastropod was not so easy. I looked for Syrinx aruanus in the Turbinellidae but no Turbinellidae was to be found. Where was Syrinx? Where were Turbinella, and Columbarium, Benthovoluta and the other genera from Turbinellidae? I found Syrinx in Melongenidae and those other genera in Vasidae. This is something else to list in the introduction -- whose system of taxonomy are we following?

Now, back to the cover. I was glad to see my namesake shell identified inside the front cover as "Chicoreus eversoni D'Attilio, Myers & Shasky, 1987," as this is current taxonomy. Originally described in the genus Phyllonotus, which is now considered a subgenus, eversoni was assigned to Chicoreus (Phynllonotus) by Emily Vokes in her most recent interpretation. So, the authors and date should be enclosed in parentheses denoting a genus change, but they aren't. A minor thing. But in the body of the work, the species eversoni is back in the genus Phyllonotus, and other Chicoreus subgenera such as Siratus are still shown as full genera as well. I think this is still a minor point. This book is meant to be a useful, working and evolving tool and should not be nitpicked on details that are not relevant to its purpose. The authors are not producing a treatise on each family with hot-off-the-press reclassifications. I suspect they are following Vaught's classification which has been out for a few years, and is by no means perfect or up-to-date, but is readily available and inexpensive, and thus a good choice. But if so, this standard should be identified in the introduction, so that one knows where to find a shell. Also, typos are found in almost every book, and this is no exception, but they do not lessen the useful information, which is the main reason why we will buy this book. Two thumbs up!

--Gene Everson

Ed. note: The senior author tells us that the next edition of the Registry will attempt to acquire the Lost Operculum Club List of Champions data that has been submitted since the last edition of the publication in 1987, as well as any earlier data that has not been included in the current edition of the Registry. This list includes many species under 1", the lower cut-off limit imposed by Wagner & Abbott.