Scientists shell shocked at rare new species

A donation of an extensive and scientifically important shell collection to Queensland Museum has led to the discovery of a new species of mollusc by a museum curator.

Amoria thorae, a new species of the carnivorous volute family of marine snails, was named in honour of long-time Brisbane resident Mrs Thora Whitehead, whose collection was recently donated to the museum.

I knew of a possible new species of carnivorous marine snail from the mid-eastern coast of Australia, as I’d seen a shell of this marine snail illustrated in a book, but not officially described, so you can imagine my delight when photographing this new collection, I found not one, but two specimens of this potentially new species.

They were trawled off Cape Moreton at 110 metres depth and after further research I discovered a further two specimens catalogued under another species name at the Australian Museum. These four specimens formed the basis for the description of the new species, Amoria thorae.

This species is extremely rare, and my hope is that one day the living animal will be found, photographed and studied so we may better understand its biology and relationships.

The Thora Whitehead Collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive private collections of marine shells in Australia and contains thousands of species, including numerous rarities and foreign species many collected by Thora herself.

It’s been a great honour to have worked with the Whitehead family over the past three years to acquisition these shells into the State Collection.

The Whitehead Collection will contribute not only to the expansion of the museum’s mollusc collection, but also assist the international scientific community with research.

With more than 200,000 specimens in the collection, many of the shells were collected by Thora for more than 50 years from localities around Australia and Queensland coastlines, from habitats as diverse as mangroves, surf beaches, shell beds, rock platforms and coral reefs.

Thora’s collection will continue to provide the basis for public education and future research projects for decades to come and that should always be the yardstick by which any collection of scientific merit (such as this one) is measured.

Thora has been recognised by the scientific community for her contribution to malacology (the study of molluscs) and has co-authored a number of publications on the subject and has close to a dozen species of molluscs named in her honour, including the most recent species from her collection.

The new species was published in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum.

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