Mystery Shell / Fossil ??

Data: This "shell" is 95 cm in length, 6.25 cm diameter at large opening and 2.5 cm diameter at small end. Can anyone help me Identify this. I bought it a number of years ago in a shop in Florida, the owner knew nothing of it, just that it came from the ocean, was a shell of some sort. I bought it cause it was an oddity, it had been repaired in tow places where it had broken, so I got it for $10. I have never know what to look under to find the genus and species of organism that lives in this shell. Can not even find an Order that contains shells like this. ( I mean classification order) Have not bothered to search in a long time, just peaked my interest again. HELP HELP... thanks Joe

Send Ideas to: Joe





  • Indeed it is Kuphus polythalamia (Linné, 1767), and the year is not 1758, as I wrote to 'Jim', but as Harry stated, 1767 indeed. Back in the nineteen60's, when I was still employed by the Rotterdam Natural History Museum (Holland), I discovered a complete specimen of this species in the collection, meaning closed at the 'headside' and showing the two small openings at the 'tailside'. When shaking the tube 'something' inside rattled, and after making a small hole close to the 'headside' two almost complete valves and two palettes could be taken out. These, I suppose, are still available in the Rotterdam collection.
    ...Arie J.

  • Vermiculariidae, Serpula polythalamia. Linne' 1767. and the length was 1185 mm overall. At the small end were two tubelets which I assumed to be siphons or ??. The shell came to me by mail from an anonymous donor. ( no return address ) but it was interesting to note that it came shortly after I had been having some correspondence from the desk of Dr Ballard at woods hole. The correspondence was related to his discovery of the fumaroles found at great depth in the ocean. and their surrounding life forms.
    The shell came in four broken sections but the breaks were clean and glued up with no visible trace. ...
    Hope your injuries will heal soon. Don M.

  • Definitely Kuphus polypthalmus, a calcareous tube made by a clam related to shipworms (Family Teredidae). Found in the Philippines (labels often say Cebu, but probably from elsewhere in the islands). Very nice length: they do get to about 200 cm but the ones I've seen for sale recently are more on the range of 70-80 cm. ... Batt R.

  • Mystery shell no. 1 is Kuphus polythalamia (Linné, 1767: 1266; sp. 803). See <>. ... Harry L.

  • There is ample reason for the confusion of these two dates in this case:
    The genus Serpula was introduced by in his Vermes Testacea by Linnaeus (1758: 786; Genus 298) to accommodate animals which constructed a calcareous tubular shell. It has become apparent that this was polyphyletic taxon composed of gastropods (Vermetidae), pelecypods (Clavagellidae and Teredinidae), and tubicolous annelids. Workers seemed to be divided in their treatment of Serpula (annelid vs. mollusk) for many years. Finally, the nominal taxon was assigned to the Annelida by Heppell (1963) [ICZN (1966)], who designated Serpula vermicularis Linnaeus, 1767 as its type species. Since Serpula is the type genus of Serpulidae Johnston, 1865, the implications of this action are rather extensive.

    Of the 17 species of Serpula introduced by the author (Linnaeus, 1758: 786-788; spp. 690-703; Linné, 1767: 1264-167; spp. 791-806), S. arenaria (Linnaeus, 1758: 787; sp. 699) and S. polythalamia (Linné, 1767: 1266; sp. 803), are relevant to the problem at hand. Linnaeus gave three indications for Serpula arenaria: Buonanni (1864: pl. 20 fig. C), Rumph (1705, 1741: pl. 41 fig. E Solen arenarius; see also Beekman, 1999: 175), and Gualtieri (1742: pl. 10, figs L and N). As pointed out by Hanley (1855: 447-448), the co-opting of the species epithet notwithstanding, the Rumph figure can be removed from consideration as it is the only indication for Serpula polythalamia Linné, 1767. There has been general consensus (e.g., Keen, 1971) on the identity of the latter Linnaean taxon [Pelecypoda: Teredinidae: Kuphus Guettard (1770: 139-143; pl. 69, fig. 8)], of which it is the type species (SD Gray, 1847: 188). Nonetheless, Zammit Maempel (1993: 159) argued that Kuphus arenarius (Linnaeus, 1758) is the valid name for the this biologic taxon, stating "Linné (1758, p. 787, paragraph 699) - perhaps considering Kuphus to be a serpulid - referred to the animal as Serpula arenaria, a name which he subsequently (1767, p. 1266) changed to Serpula polythalamia. In 1770, Guettard introduced the genus Kuphus for the worm-like mollusc Solen arenarius of Rumphius, and Kuphus polythalamia became the entrenched name for the living species. However, according to the ICZN rules, the 1758 name is valid despite Linné's own correction in 1767. Hence the animal should be referred to as Kuphus polythalamia (Linné, 1758)." My interpretation of The Code (ICZN, 1999) differs greatly from that of Zammit Maempel (who, BTW, is from Malta) and I consider Kuphus arenarius (Linnaeus, 1758) of authors to be an incorrect generic assignment.

    A second cloud surrounding Serpula arenaria Linnaeus, 1758 is its taxonomic placement at the phylum (Mollusca:Vermetidae vs. Annelida:Polychaeta), generic, and specific level. The two Linnaean indications (Buonanni and Gualtieri) are similar and appear more consistent with a large vermetid than a tubicolous annelid. Of further relevance is the fact that these two citations were listed, among others, as representing Vermetus gigas Bivona Bernardi (1832b: 5; pl. 2 figs. 1, 2) in its original description. In his discussion of V. gigas, Philippi (1836: 170; pl. 19, figs. 18, 18a), also cited these two pre-Linnaean indications along with Linné (1764: 700; sp. 432) and "Serpula arenaria L. Gm. 3743," which latter two entities are nothing more than S. arenaria Linnaeus, 1758, the later one including an expanded discussion and additional figures. Among other early authors, Hanley (1855: 447) considered S. arenaria to be a vermetid and wrote: "a specimen of it is still preserved in the cabinet of Linnaeus (who has recorded his possession of an example of arenaria)." Kathie Way (pers. comm., 7 Sept., 2009): "In a Linnaean tin box containing a variety of unmarked vermetid tubes is one which matches specimens labelled 'Vermetus gigas Bivona, Marseille' in the B.M.Coll. It is unmarked, but Linné has placed a dash by the number of the species in his annot. Ed.12 Syst. Nat. indicating that he possessed the species." Although this revelation does not tie that or any other specimen(s) to the original description, it nonetheless further militates against placement of S. arenaria in the Annelida. Recently Smriglio [1997: 152-153; species 640 a,b, 641, 642 as Serpulorbis arenaria (Linné, 1767); more properly: Serpulorbis arenarius (Linnaeus, 1758)] applied the Linnean name to a large Mediterranean vermetid. Although the format of this work precluded a chresonymy, this taxon is clearly synonymous with the species often referred to Vermetus gigas Bivona Bernardi, 1832b as first noted in the early Nineteenth Century (vide supra). Smriglio's interpretation also follows Gray (1847: 156), Cossmann (1912: 138), and Keen (1961: 190), all of who designated the Linnaean taxon a senior synonym of the type species of Serpulorbis Sassi (1827: 482; Serpulorbis polyphragma Sassi, 1827 by monotypy). Thus the weight of evidence supports the following placement of Serpula arenaria Linnaeus: Mollusca: Vermetidae: Serpulorbis with Serpulorbis polyphragma Sassi, 1827 and Vermetus gigas Bivona Bernardi, 1832 as junior synonyms.

    No room for biblio, Harry L.



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