IFLScience Meets: Marine Mollusc Curator Andreia Salvador on Her Book “Interesting Seashells”

A dazzling new version of the Natural History Museum takes you on a tour of the world’s most fascinating and impressive seashells. In his book “Interesting shells” chief curator of the Natural History Museum, Andreia Salvadorproves that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the structure of marine molluscs, and that there is serious construction going on among the smallest residents of our oceans.

Here, she reveals some highlights from the book, her career, and what it’s like to work for her dream role at a top museum.

What are you doing?

I’m the senior curator of marine molluscs for the Natural History Museum in London.

What did it take to get here?

I have a degree in biology from the University of Evora in Portugal. Right after graduating, I worked for nine months at the Centro Portugues de Actividades Subquaticas (CPAS) Museum in Lisbon. After that I struggled to find a job in a Portuguese museum, so in 2004 I decided to move to London to volunteer at the Natural History Museum.

I thought this would be the best place to learn more about conservation and collections, to gain more experience and to improve my CV. In 2011, after many temporary jobs in different sections of the Museum, I moved to the Mollusca section, the place where I always wanted to work and where I originally started as a volunteer.

South African turban, Turbo sarmaticus, after acid or abrasion treatment. Images courtesy of Andreia Salvador

How did you first become interested in seashells?

I have been interested in seashells since I was a child. I have very fond memories of my family, during our holidays in Portugal, collecting cockles and clams by the sea for lunch. And we also collected the beautiful shells that can be found on the sand.

I used to take them home, where I cleaned and cataloged them. Before I even realized it, I already had my private collection of seashells. Not surprisingly, when I had to choose the subject of my thesis at university, molluscs were the obvious choice.

interesting seashells
Precious Goletrap, Epitonium scalare, is held together with white varicose veins that gap in its whorls. Images courtesy of Andreia Salvador

Do you have a personal favorite from the book?

I wrote 121 stories in the book, some of my old favorites that I usually mentioned during lectures, tours or other museum events, and some that were completely new to me.

I have selected seashells that I associate with my family, my country, my friends, or my colleagues, but my favorite shell is the carrying shell, like Xenophore. This marine snail collects and attaches objects to the edge of its shell, resulting in a mini collection that it carries with it all the time.

interesting seashells
A carrier shell with its fodder loot. Image credit: James St. John, DC BY 2.0via Wikimedia Commons

What do you hope people will take away from reading it?

I’ve written stories you’d expect from a shell book, such as shell biology, mollusc ecology and behavior, but I’ve also written lesser-known stories from collectors and collections . Also, the importance of molluscs in food, fashion, architecture, art, religion and sport.

My stories are as diverse as the beautiful seashells illustrated in this book, so I hope the reader will be surprised and learn a new fact (or two).

interesting seashells
The green tree snail, Papustyla pulcherrima, is one of the few molluscs with a bright leaf-green shell. Images courtesy of Andreia Salvador

Any advice for budding seashell enthusiasts and collectors?

It is very easy to spot seashells and it is very tempting to bring them home as a souvenir of your beautiful vacation. However, be aware of the legislation as you might need a permit to collect the shells, but also export and import licenses or you will be in trouble. My advice is: keep it simple, take a great shot, and leave the shell behind.

You can read more about the book and get your copy here.

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