Seashells of Eastern Arabia

by Donald T. Bosch, S. Peter Dance, Robert G. Moolenbeek and P. Graham Oliver. Edited by S. Peter Dance. Motivate Publishing, Dubai, U.A.E. 9.5" X 12.5" Hardbound. 296 pages. Many color and b/w photos, drawings, diagrams. map. $85 U.S.
Eagerly awaited by collectors worldwide, this lavishly and lovingly illustrated new regional guide, Seashells of Eastern Arabia, created by a quartet of highly respected workers in conchology and malacology, is a joy to behold. The bright white cover and jacket are bedecked with familiar shells of the region -- Lambis truncata sebae, Haliotis mariae, the immensely variable Umbonium vestiarium and Chlamys noduliferus (oddly, a species not illustrated in the book and only briefly touched upon in the text) -- while the back cover carries that lovely eastern Arabian classic, Acteon eloiseae, named for the senior author's wife, and locally known as "The Eloise."

Between these covers, photos and illustrations eagerly spill over themselves in a successful bid to show the glories of the region's malacofauna. Well over 1,000 of them are in color, from full page glamour shots for large species to postage-stamp size for the wee ones. And the photography and cropping are excellent, almost invariably showing important distinguishing characteristics of the species they depict. Multiple views of many species, live animals, habitat illustrations, drawings, SEM photos, and even pictures of the authors engaged in the research and development of the book are imaginatively arranged throughout the text. In fact, the varied and well-designed page layouts make merely leafing through it a pleasant adventure.

The book opens with a forward giving a bit of history of the project, and acknowledgments of patrons, including six Omani sheiks and Petroleum Development Oman. A varied introductory section follows with the genesis of the book and its purpose -- to address the needs of amateurs and professionals alike -- and its genesis, a history of shell collecting and malacology in eastern Arabia, and factors influencing the fauna of the region. There follows a list of place names important in the text, useful because most of us are so unfamiliar with the geography. One wishes all names in the list were on the accompanying map.

The gastropod section of the treatment of species opens with the fine drawings of Mathilde Duffy, illustrating the parts of the gastropod shell, but with scant further introduction -- not a book for the novice. Species treatments include description, distribution and habitat, where the words "beached" and "offshore" appear much too often for our satisfaction...much exploration of the fauna remains to be done by SCUBA, and it appears too little is really known about habitat for this book to be the final word. But considering this lack of information, an amazing number of species are treated -- well over a thousand mollusks are known and included, many of them minute. There is no indication of rarity and distribution outside the area is not mentioned. Nor is a size range indicated.

Other omissions appear on closer scrutiny. There is an introduction to the Archaeogastropoda, but the transition to the Caenogastropoda is not marked. Subclass Opisthobranchia is handled so similarly to the families and superfamilies that the reader must hunt this transition with diligence. And there is little in the way of comparison of similar species or subspecies to species. Collectors would have appreciated seeing more opercs, particularly those of the Naticidae, and the trochids and turbos. McLean's work on the latter group also appears to have been ignored.

However, the authors have tackled a huge body of information; this was a massive undertaking, so some unevenness is to be expected. That full-page plate of life-size Festilyria festiva variations is an incredible sight, forgiving much. And the 7-page introductory section on the Bivalvia more than makes up for any gastropod lapses. P. Graham Oliver, curator of mollusks at the National Museum of Wales, has done an extensive and fine introduction to this group of oft-slighted mollusks. Muscle scars, hinges and valve orientation are interestingly treated, and the shell shape and sculpture discussion and diagrams are helpful and enlightening. John Baxter did the text for the brief but good chiton section, and Scaphopoda and shelled Cephalopoda come in for more attention than usual. An excellent glossary, an extensive and valuable reference section and index conclude this bible of eastern Arabian mollusks.

All considered, this is an immensely valuable work. To a large extent it is groundbreaking work as well, and weaknesses are bound to exist. The authors are to be congratulated on a beautiful and amazingly complete work brought to fruition. This reviewer points to its lapses not to detract, but to encourage future work. American Seashells, even in its massive second edition, had many weak spots. But it was so full of strengths that it remains the American shell bible to this day. "Bosch, Dance, Moolenbeek and Oliver" is more of a mouthful than "Abbott," but "Bosch et al." will certainly be every bit as much of a classic.