The War of the Snails, Round One: The Home Favourite

Today’s post is by Bryony from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are not experts, but we are people with a passionate interest in the museum and its objects. We each bring our own insight into Manchester Museum and its collections.

For more about zoology and nature at Manchester Museum, please visit the Curator’s blogNature Manchester.

The War of the Snails, Round One: The Home Favourite

Sometimes when it comes to museum objects, it is often the smallest thing that has the biggest backstory. One in particular that deserves to be highlighted is in a cabinet with plenty of other big, spectacular, rare and even extinct specimens, but this is perhaps one of the most tragic, as well as one of the most overlooked.

Partula and Achatinella snails, in ‘Variety Of Life’. Living Worlds, Manchester Museum.

Snails of the genera Partula and Achatinella are from a series of Pacific Islands, and had been studied for years as an example of adaptive radiation – that is, they all had obviously developed from the same sort of snail that had landed on the islands in the beginning, and had developed minute adaptations to the different parts of the environment. This is one of the ways that species evolve into more species, a process also known as divergent evolution. This might sound like complex stuff, but it’s one of the reasons there are so many beautiful creatures in the world today.

A comparison of Partula snails, all slightly different, left, and a plucky Partula hebe, right.

These snails were found everywhere, and were very important to the culture of the islanders, used in the making of necklaces called lei thanks to the many different colours and patterns of their shells. This traditional craft provided a living for many of the women in the villages, so it was also important in the local economy. All was peaceful, and life went on much as it had for many, many years.

A 1920s Tahitian girl with shell lei and haku lei (headband), left, and Tahitian lei containing Partula shells, right.

Then, a new sort of snail came into the ring.

What was it? Find out more in the next instalment…

Bryony Rigby

For more about zoology and nature at Manchester Museum, please visit the Curator’s blogNature Manchester.

Read more by Bryony from the Visitor Team;
A Plethora of Penguins
Halloween Special! Death and the Hawk Moth
Kiwi and Egg Syndrome

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