Marine Zoology


Malacology is the scientific study of molluscs (phylum Mollusca), the most diverse living group of animals. There are around 130,000 living species of molluscs, including forms as diverse as giant squid and tiny pea clams.

The phylum Mollusca is divided into nine taxonomic classes including gastropods (snails and slugs), bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters etc.), cephalopods (cuttlefish, squids, octopuses etc.), scaphopods (tusk shells), Polyplacophora (chitons),  Monoplacophora, two groups of aplacophoran worm-molluscs and the extinct Rostroconchia. Most species of molluscs carry a calcareous shell covering the soft-bodied animal but many groups do not have a shell (terrestrial and marine slugs, most cephalopods, aplacophorans), or have shells or armour with diverse adaptations: dorid nudibranchs or sea lemons have an internal skeletons made of spicules, the scaly-foot snail Chrysomallon squamiferum has scale-armour, or the family Juliidae are tiny green snails with a bivalve-like shell.

Molluscs inhabit marine, land and freshwater habitats and are important members of nearly every ecosystem and food chain. Molluscs  are an increasingly significant global food source for humans. And mollusc shells are used in many ways for jewellery and arts and crafts. Some species are vectors of parasites which cause severe human diseases. Fossil shells are used to determin the stratigraphic age of rocks and to reconstruce of past ecosystems and climate.

Pollution and habitat destruction threaten many mollusc, especially terrestrial gastropods and freshwater bivalves that are in danger of extinction and need conservation measures. Some attractive seashells like the giant Tridacna clams may not be traded under the law of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Work in our section has contributed to recognising species under threat of extinction through the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Malacology @ Senckenberg

The Malacology Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt am Main belongs to the Division of Marine Zoology. The research of our members focusses on systematics and taxonomy. 

Senckenberg also includes two other museums with malacological collections, in other cities in Germany:

Malacology Dresden

Malacology Görlitz


The Malacology Section was established in 1823 and thus we are among the oldest divisions of the Senckenberg Research Institute.

Very early in our history, we received material that is still scientifically very important, especially from the Red Sea, through the collections of E. Rüppell. In the 1840s, the famous English collector H. Cuming donated a lot of valuable material in exchange for many ‘duplicate’ syntypes among Rüppell’s material.

The German Malacological Society (Deutsche Malakozoologische Gesellschaft) was founded here in 1868, and our collection gained further international importance through the activities of volunteer curators like Wilhelm Kobelt, Oskar Boettger and Otto von Moellendorff. The society’s journal, Archiv für Molluskenkunde, was founded in 1868 and edited by the head of the mollusc section. Important voucher from published papers came and still comes into the collection. Traditionally our collections’ main strengths are land and freshwater molluscs, and this was expanded under the curatorships of Fritz Haas (1910-1936) and Adolf Zilch (1936-1976). The work of Ronald Janssen (1976-2017) extended the collections assets in Tertiary fossil material and marine collections. Dr Julia Sigwart took over as Head of Section in 2020 and continues to grow especially the global marine collections.

Stay Connected

Senckenberg hosts the global email listserve for molluscan science, Molluscalist. This is open to all molluscan researchers. The list is managed through the German National Research Network Deutsches Forschungsnetz (DFN), on behalf of Unitas Malacologica. To subscribe, please use this link