Saturday, February 21, 2004
Noticing shell ridges, grooves key to classifying species
By PATRICK WRIGHT | News-Journal Staff Writer
MARINELAND — Jose Leal wants to change the way people look at seashells.
As director of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, Leal wants people to notice groves and ridges along with shapes and colors.
He told more than 200 people at the Whitney Laboratory on Thursday that noticing such differences is how his museum grew to catalog 20,000 shell types covering 210 species of mollusks and other sea creatures.
“I hope by next year I will be able to publish a field guide with 300 shallow water species,” Leal said.
Leal´s talk was the latest in the “Evenings at Whitney” lecture series. The lab, a University of Florida research facility here, conducts the lectures monthly to educate residents about research involving marine-based creatures or the University of Florida. The talks have dealt with everything from avoiding shark attacks to the benefits of estuaries, where ocean saltwater meets river freshwater.
Leal serves as scientific director as well as director of the Sanibel Island museum near Fort Myers Beach. He is the president of the American Malacological Society, a group dedicated to the study and conservation of mollusks, and got his doctoral degree in marine biology and fisheries from the University of Miami.
Seashells are the exoskeletons of mollusks. They are created when substances secreted from a mollusk or other sea creature mixes with the salt in seawater. The animals start making the shell in a small area and eventually it covers the animal, he said.
He said his interest in seashells began when he would walk the beach as a child.
“You find one shell and you wonder what the next one will look like,” Leal said. “It becomes an addiction.”
On the net:
Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
American Malacological Society
University of Miami