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Found among offsite storage

By: Dennis Sargent, Category: Science, Date: 19 Feb 2015

A world record Lotoria armata — one of the rarest shells on earth.

Found among offsite storage

Found among offsite storage
Photographer: Mandy Reid © Australian Museum

As a visitor to the Museum’s Malacology Department from the USA, I wanted to go through old donated material to see if we might fill some of the gaps in the collection.

So last Thursday, Technical Officer Janet Waterhouse took me to the Museum’s warehouse in Lilyfield to look through old boxes of unsorted material donated by various collectors.

On our departure, I made a remark in jest to Mandy Reid (Collection Manager) that ‘I might find a world record Lotoria armata’ — one of the rarest shells on earth. The Australian Museum had only a fragment of a specimen in its main collection.

The first box I looked in contained some excellent specimens of common species. The second box contained common broken shells. About half way through the third box, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I picked out a shell that appeared to be Lotoria armata but was much larger than the two specimens I’d seen previously. Still believing it to be armata, I showed it to Ian Loch (former Collection Manager and now a volunteer) to get his opinion and he immediately agreed, ‘armata!’

From there we gathered as much data as possible. The shell had been donated as part of the Lee Woolacott collection. Ms Woolacott was a Sydney resident who had collected shells throughout Queensland in the 1940s and 50s and whose collection was donated to the Museum in 1970. Lotoria armata has been recorded from north Queensland; therefore, this is most likely an Australian specimen.

The final check was to measure the shell. After repeat measurements, the result was 68.19 mm. The current registered world record is only 51 mm. The holotype (the specimen used when the species was first described and named) in the British Museum of Natural History is larger at 67.5 mm but this specimen is not registered with World Record Shells.

Yes, the Australian Museum now has the world record specimen of Lotoria armata, one of only a handful of specimens known of this rare and beautiful species!