Malacology is the science dealing with the study of molluscs (phylum Mollusca). Molluscs are a highly diverse group of invertebrate animals and with probably about 150.000 living species they are the second in size to the Arthropoda (insects, crustaceans etc.).
The phylum Mollusca is divided into several classes such as the gastropods (snails and slugs), bivalves (cockles, mussels, oysters etc.), cephalopods (cuttlefish, squids, octopuses etc.), scaphopods (tusk shells), Polyplacophora (chitons), Monoplacophora and Aplacophora (worm molluscs). Most species of molluscs carry a calcareous shell covering the soft-bodied animal but some groups do not have a shell (terrestrial and marine slugs, most cephalopods, aplacophorans).
Molluscs are inhabiting marine, land and freshwater habitats and they are important members of nearly every ecosystem and its food chain . In many parts of the world molluscs are also a significant food source for humans and their shells are used in many ways for jewellery and arts and crafts. Many species serve as ecological indicators for the condition of habitats. Fossil shells are used for age determination of rocks and can serve for reconstruction of past ecosystems. Some species are vectors of parasites which cause severe human diseases.
However, because of pollution and destruction of their often restricted habitats many species especially of terrestrial gastropods and freshwater bivalves are in danger of extinction and need conservation measures. Their varied and colorful shells are searched after by many shell collectors all over the world. Some attractive seashells like the giant Tridacna clams may not be traded under the law of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
Their ecological importance, economic value and excellent fossil record make molluscs and their shells an interesting and fascinating field of research with many applied aspects.
The Section of Molluscs of the Senckenberg Reserach Institute Frankfurt am Main belongs to the Department of Marine Zoology. The research of its members focusses on systematics and taxonomy.
The malacological section was established already in 1823 and thus belongs to the oldest divisions of the Senckenberg Research Institute. Very early in its history it received scientifically very important material, especially from the Red Sea, from collections of E. Rüppell. In the 1840s the famous English collector H. Cuming exchanged a lot of valuable material with many syntypes for doublets of Rüppell’s material. When in 1868 the German Malacological Society (Deutsche Malakozoologische Gesellschaft) was founded the collection gained international importance by the activities of volunteer curators like Wilhelm Kobelt, Oskar Boettger and Otto von Moellendorff. Traditionally the collection’s strength is on land and freshwater molluscs and this was consequently maintained under the curatorships of Fritz Haas (1910-1036) and Adolf Zilch (1936-1976). By the journal Archiv für Molluskenkunde, founded in 1868 and edited by the Head of the mollusc section, much important voucher material of therein published papers came and still comes into the collection. At present special attention is given to work on and complete the collection of both Recent marine and fossil Tertiary molluscs.