Archive for November 11th, 2016

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Modern vermetid snails, a slipper shell, and an oyster

November 11th, 2016

crepidula-vermetidaeNot actually fossils this week, but cool nonetheless. This complex specimen is in our Invertebrate Paleontology teaching collection with no label giving its original location. In the foreground is the underside of a slipper shell gastropod identified as Crepidula fornicata. The tangled mass of tubes encrusting it is a vermetid gastropod. A small round hole drilled by a predatory gastropod is visible in the slipper shell.

vermetidae-oysterTurning the specimen over we see a left valve of the oyster Ostrea encrusting the exterior of the slipper shell, along with another view of the vermetid tubes and gastropod boring.

rafinesque-constantine-1783-1840The twisty gastropod Family Vermetidae was named in 1815 by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz (1783 – 1840).Rafinesque was a character. His name is immediately recognizable to paleontologists of the Ordovician because Hall and Clarke named the common brachiopod Rafinesquina after him in 1892. Rafinesque was born of a French merchant father (Rafinesque) and German mother (Schmaltz) near Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire. He was self-educated, learning classical languages before his teens and sorting through rocks, minerals, plants, animals and fossils at a prodigious rate. He began to write numerous articles and books on anthropology, botany, zoology, geology, paleontology, history, and linguistics. The naturalist and philosophical establishment rejected him, for the most part, so he was little praised in his life. Most scholars agree now that he was ahead of his time on many topics, including evolution.

In 1819, Rafinesque was appointed professor of Botany at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He apparently attracted considerable trouble during his years in Kentucky. In 1826 he was either fired by the university president or he walked out in a huff. Legend is that he left an angry curse on the school! He died in Philadelphia in 1840 of stomach cancer, to which some attributed to his own homemade medications.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-49-57-amThe cover page of Rafinesque’s 1815 work in which he attempted to classify just about everything in the universe. Note the subheading: “Nature is my guide, and Linnaeus is my master.”

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-49-32-amA suitably grand frontispiece for the 1815 book.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-10-37-25-amThis is the extent of establishing a new family in the early 19th century (Rafinesque, 1815, p. 144). No wonder Rafinesque could name, by his own count, over 6700 taxa.


Hall, J. and Clarke, J.M. 1892. An introduction to the study of the genera of Palaeozoic Brachiopoda. Part I. Geological Survey of the State of New York, Paleontology 8, p. 1-367.

Rafinesque, C.S. 1815. Analyse de la nature: ou tableau de l’univers et des corps organisés. J. Barravecchia: Palermo. 224 pages.