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New Exhibition, Mollusks: Shelled Masters of the Marine Realm to open February 18 at Harvard Museum of Natural History

Opening Saturday, February 18, 2012, Mollusks: Shelled Masters of the Marine Realm will explore the amazing diversity and history of mollusks—snails, clams, squid and other invertebrates that comprise almost a quarter of all known marine species. Visitors will see hundreds of shells from the collections in the Department of Malacology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, many of which have never before been on public display. The University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology contains the largest and most diverse private collection of mollusks in the world, with close to 10 million specimens.

Did you know that some snails are miniscule--smaller than a grain of sand, and that the largest is almost two feet long? In the new exhibition, visitors will see some of the largest specimens, and use magnifiers to examine some of the tiniest.

Featuring recent discoveries about mollusks’ evolutionary history and ongoing research by Professor Gonzalo Giribet, colleagues and students in the Giribet Laboratory at Harvard University, the Mollusks exhibition will engage the general public in mollusk evolution, ecology, and the many ways in which their lives intersect with ours.

Visitors will learn about the ecology of local bivalves such as oysters or clams that are deliciously edible to humans. They can examine the diversity of snails of the genus Conus, which are some of the most beautiful, but also some of the most deadly. These carnivorous snails make a powerful neurotoxin they use to paralyze their prey. Scientists are using cone snail venom to make new, equally powerful medicines to control chronic and severe pain.

Professor Gonzalo Giribet, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, will present the exhibition opening lecture, entitled The Biology and Evolution of Mollusks, on Thursday February 16, at 6 pm. He will discuss how scientists are decoding the Mollusca genetic family tree to learn how they’ve adapted, survived, and thrived since the pre-Cambrian era. He will also explore the potential benefits of mollusks from medicine to human health, and other fields. The lecture is free and open to the public. Free parking for the lectures is available in the 52 Oxford Street garage

The lecture will be followed by an exhibition preview and reception for Harvard Museum of Natural History members. (Membership is $35 seniors; $50 adults; $85 Household). Preregistration for the reception is required. 

Visitors to Mollusks also will have the opportunity to see a special limited selection of newly-restored glass models of an octopus and other mollusks created in the mid to late 19th century by Bohemian glass artists, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, the makers of Harvard’s famed “Glass Flowers.”

Mollusks will be on display through February 2014. The exhibition is funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

About the Harvard Museum of Natural History
With a mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, the Harvard Museum of Natural History draws on the University’s collections and research to present a historic and interdisciplinary exploration of science and nature. More than190,000 visitors annually make it the University’s most-visited museum.

Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge. For general information, please see the website at, or call 617.495.3045.

Photos available on request: 
Caption for photo of Giant Clam: The largest bivalve is the giant clam, Tridacna gigas, which gets some of its nutrition from symbiotic algae growing on its body. In the Harvard Museum of Natural History Mollusks exhibition, you touch a giant clam and see the shell of another 3 feet long! Photo courtesy: Gonzalo Giribet

The press release is available for download in pdf format.