IFLScience Meets: Curator Of Marine Mollusks Andreia Salvador On Her Book "Interesting Shells"


Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockFeb 24 2022, 14:40 UTC
interesting shells

A dazzling new release from the Natural History Museum takes you on a tour of the world’s most fascinating and impressive shells. In her book “Interesting Shells” senior curator for the Natural History Museum, Andreia Salvador, proves that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the structure of marine mollusks, and there’s some serious construction going on among our ocean’s smallest residents.

Here, she reveals some highlights from the book, her career, and what’s it like working towards your dream role in a prominent museum.


What do you do?

I am the Senior Curator of Marine Molluscs for the London Natural History Museum.

What did it take to get here?


I have a biology degree from the University of Evora in Portugal. Right after finishing my degree, I worked for nine months at the Museum of Centro Portugues de Actividades Subquaticas (C.P.A.S.) in Lisbon. After that it was a struggle 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 it would be the best place to learn more about curation and collections, to get more experience and to improve my CV. In 2011, after many temporary jobs in different sections at the Museum, I moved to the Mollusca Section, the place where I always wanted to work and where I started originally as a volunteer.

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

How did you first become interested in shells?


I have been interested in shells 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 you can find on the sand.

I used to take them home, where I would clean and catalogue them. Even before I realised, I was already curating my private shell collection. Unsurprisingly when I had to choose the subject of my thesis at university, molluscs were the obvious choice.

interesting shells
Precious wentletrap, Epitonium scalare, is held together with white varices that make gaps 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 old favorites that I usually mentioned during talks, tours or other museum events, and others that were completely new to me.

I selected shells that I associate with my family, my country, my friends, or my colleagues, but my favorite shell is the carrier shell, genus Xenophora. This marine snail collects and attaches objects to the edge of its shell, resulting in a mini collection that they carry with them all the time.

interesting shells
A carrier shell with its foraged spoils. Image credit: James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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


I wrote stories that you can expect from a shell book, like shell biology, the ecology and behaviour of molluscs, but I also wrote lesser-known stories of collectors and collections. Also, of the importance of molluscs in food, fashion, architecture, art, religion and sport.

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

interesting shells
Green tree snail, Papustyla pulcherrima, is one of only a small number of mollusks with a vivid leaf-green shell. Images courtesy of Andreia Salvador

Any advice for aspiring shell enthusiasts and collectors?


Spotting shells is very easy, and it is very tempting to bring them home as mementos of your lovely holidays. However, be mindful of the legislation as you might need a permit to collect the shells, but also export and import licenses or you’ll be in trouble. My advice is this: keep it simple, take a beautiful picture and leave the shell behind.

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

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