Partula tree snails and the Euglandina threat
Partula snails Partula conservation Euglandina

The first Partula

The first Partula snail to be brought to public attention was a specimen of Partula faba collected on one of Captain Cook's expeditions. The Royal Navy had been sending expeditionary vessels to far sees for many years, especially mapping expeditions. Cook's 1767 expedition broke the pattern when a charming, rich young naturalist talked his way onto the ship's company. Joseph Banks thus became the first official naturalist on a British ship. Banks missed being the world's first official naturalist by just a year, that honour going to the French captain Bougainville's naturalist Philippe Commercon.

Among the shells collected on that expedition was the first Partula to be described. This Partula faba was illustrated in Thomas Martyn's 'Universal Conchologist' in 1784, still the most striking shell book ever produced. What happened to this shell is a mystery, all we know of it was that it was collected on a Cook expedition and was in Martyn's personal collection. Sadly it then vanishes from history.

Martyn's book was followed a few years later by another classic shell collector's publication: Johann Chemnitz's 'Conchylien Cabinet' in 1786. This time Partula faba and Partula otaheitana were illustrated, both from shells that had been collected on Cook's first voyage, in 1769. Chemnitz recorded the fact that the Partula faba had been collected by the Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander. Solander was a leading biologist of his generation and the adopted son of Linnaeus, the founder of the scientific naming system. He had been sent to England to introduce the new system to Britain and had accompanied his close friend Joseph Banks on the 1768-71 expedition.

Chemnitz's collection was auctioned after his death in 1800 and the Partula faba specimen was thought to have been lost during the sale. In fact it had been picked out as worth including in the private collection belonging to Prince Christian (later King Christian VI) of Denmark. This formed the basis of the Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen's collection, where the specimen remained overlooked for 200 years. The specimen was recognised as being the basis for the Chemnitz illustration in 2014. Unfortunately Martyn's is still missing.

Full details of all notable shells and collections, and the fate of Partula faba, are published in Partula - icons of evolution.

Martyn's 'Limax faba' (top left), Chemnitz's illustration (top right) and the same specimen today (bottom)

Compiled by Justin Gerlach: contact

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