Zeradina corrugata, from Hedley (1904).

Belongs within: Cerithiimorpha.

The Fossarinae are a group of small marine snails whose shells usually have a large body whorl, open umbilicus and strong spiral sculpture.

In which I am defeated by shells
Published 12 January 2009
The tiny Mediterranean marine snail Fossarus ambiguus. Photo by A. Piras.

I knew this day was coming. Every Monday I assign myself a random taxon to write a post on, and so far I’ve generally been pretty successful. But I always knew that some day I’d assign myself a target that would prove hopeless. That day has come.

The Fossarinae are a group of marine gastropods belonging to the superfamily Cerithioidea that also includes the famous gastropod radiation of Lake Tanganyika in Africa (which, now I think about it, would have probably been a much more promising post subject). As a rule, fossarines are pretty tiny—the best-known species, the Mediterranean Fossarus ambiguus, is only three to five millimetres in size—and they are usually short, squat shells with fairly prominent ribbing. Older references place the fossarines in their own family Fossaridae but they were placed in the Planaxidae as a subfamily by Kowalke (1998) (which I haven’t read). Fossarines and other Planaxidae (Planaxinae) are fairly distinct in appearance (planaxines are longer and more turret-shaped) but they have similar protoconch morphologies and are both larval brooders. After fertilisation, the female does not lay eggs but incubates her embryos in a pouch behind the head, eventually releasing them as free veliger larvae. One individual of the possible (see later) fossarine Larinopsis turbinata held as many as 400 embryos in its brood pouch.

And that is pretty much it, as far as I’ve been able to find. And to be honest, most of that I lifted off one webpage. Research-wise, Fossarinae seem to have been almost criminally ignored. They don’t seem to be particularly rare, and seem to be found pretty much worldwide, so I can only ascribe this to their small size and unassuming natures. Also, as a result of this lack of study, there seems to be an underlying implication that the subfamily is poorly defined and many of the taxa currently regarded as “fossarines” may not be so.

One of these doubtful fossarines is this rather neat little shell, Larinopsis ostensus (photo from here). The shell in the photo is the holotype of this species, collected off Jervis Bay in New South Wales, and still the only known specimen. Larinopsis is big for a fossarine (more than three times the size of Fossarus ambiguus) and lacks the prominent ribbing of most fossarines. It also has that very neat loosely coiled shell, so thin that you can see right through it.

Completely unrelated postscript: While looking stuff up for this, I made the mistake of looking into Finlay (1927). Why are old taxonomic works on molluscs always so horrendously painful to read? There seems to have been this great conspiracy among malacologist prior to, say, 1950 to only ever present the most turbid of prose, to never be explicit when they could possibly be obscure, and to never present explanatory details. For instance, they might state that “Species A is so obviously distinct from species B that I am creating a new genus C” without (a) giving any actual detailed description of these “obvious” differences, or even (b) stating whether it is species A or B that is to belong to this new genus. Take this all-too-typical example from Finlay (1927):

Phasianella huttoni Pilsbry, 1888

As already noted, Thiele includes Prisogaster in his subfamily Phasianellinae (which is better regarded as a family), with two other genera, Phasianella and Tricolia. For the latter, Humphrey’s name Eutropia must be used, and the family name would become Eutropiidae, but the Neozelanic species does not belong to the genus Eutropia. Pilsbry has pointed out that the small Australian species have a radula of the Phasianellid style, not of the Tricolia (=Eutropia) form. Consequently one may propose for the Neozelanic species the new generic name, Pellax, associating with it the Australian rosea Angas, virgo, Angas, etc.

And that is all Finlay has to say about that particular genus. He continues in this manner for 159 pages (excluding references), establishing no less than 177 new taxa in the process. In some places, even a single page is enough to inspire thoughts of suicide in the suffering reader.

Systematics of Fossarinae
<==Fossarinae [Fossaridae]
    |--Carinorbis dalli (Whitfield 1894)P12
    |--Iselica Dall 1918 [=Isapis Adams 1853 non Westwood 1851]O27
    |    |--*I. anomala [=Fossarus anomala, Isapis anomala]O27
    |    |--I. fenestrata (Carpenter 1864) [=Isapis fenestrata]O27
    |    |--I. obtusa Carpenter 1864O27 [=Isapis obtusaC64]
    |    |    |--I. o. obtusaO27
    |    |    `--I. o. laxa Dall 1919O27
    |    `--‘Isapis’ ovoideaC64
    |--Fossarus Philippi 1841 [=Fossar Gray 1847]BR05
    |    |--*F. adansoni Philippi 1841BR17
    |    |--F. ambiguus (Linnaeus 1758) [incl. F. orbignyi var. tridentata Usticke 1959]BC01
    |    |--F. angiolus Dall 1919O27
    |    |--F. aupouria Powell 1937P61
    |    |--F. brumalis Hedley 1907H09
    |    |--F. cereus Watson 1880H09
    |    |--F. costatusO27
    |    |--F. maoria Powell 1937P61
    |    |--F. multicostatus (Pease 1861) [=Fossar multicostatus, Fossarus multicostata]K65
    |    |--F. parcipictusC64
    |    `--F. purusC64
    `--Zeradina Finlay 1927P61
         |  i. s.: Z. obliquicostata (Marshall & Murdoch 1920)TTE93
         |--Z. (Zeradina)P61
         |    |--*Z. (Z.) ovata (Odhner 1924) [=Fossarus ovatus]P61
         |    |--Z. (Z.) concinna (Marshall & Murdoch 1921) [=Couthouyia concinna]F27
         |    |--Z. (Z.) costellata (Hutton 1885) [=Aclis costellata]F27
         |    |--Z. (Z.) exilis (Murdoch 1900) [=Lacuna exilis]F27
         |    |--Z. (Z.) odhneri Powell 1927P61
         |    `--Z. (Z.) producta (Odhner 1924)P61 [=Fossarus productusF27]
         `--Z. (Radinista Finlay 1927)P61
              |--Z. (*R.) corrugata (Hedley 1904) [=Couthouyia corrugata]P61
              `--Z. (R.) scalarina Powell 1940P61

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BR05] Bouchet, P., & J.-P. Rocroi. 2005. Classification and nomenclator of gastropod families. Malacologia 47 (1–2): 1–397.

[BR17] Bouchet, P., J.-P. Rocroi, B. Hausdorf, A. Kaim, Y. Kano, A. Nützel, P. Parkhaev, M. Schrödl & E. E. Strong. 2017. Revised classification, nomenclator and typification of gastropod and monoplacophoran families. Malacologia 61 (1–2): 1–526.

[BC01] Boyko, C. B., & J. R. Cordeiro. 2001. Catalog of Recent type specimens in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History. V. Mollusca, part 2 (class Gastropoda [exclusive of Opisthobranchia and Pulmonata], with supplements to Gastropoda [Opisthobranchia], and Bivalvia). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 262: 1–170.

[C64] Carpenter, P. P. 1864. Supplementary report on the present state of our knowledge with regard to the Mollusca of the west coast of North America. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 33: 517–686.

[F27] Finlay, H. J. 1927. A further commentary on New Zealand molluscan systematics. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 57: 320–485.

[H09] Hedley, C. 1909. The Marine Fauna of Queensland: Address by the President of Section D. Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science: Brisbane.

[K65] Kay, E. A. 1965. Marine molluscs in the Cuming collection, British Museum (Natural History) described by William Harper Pease. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History): Zoology Supplement 1: 1–96, 14 pls.

Kowalke, T. 1998. Bewertung protoconchmorphologischer Daten basaler Caenogastropoda (Cerithiimorpha und Littorinimorpha) hinsichtlich ihrer Systematik und Evolution von der Kreide bis rezent. Berliner geowiss. Abh. E, 27: 1–121, 11 Taf., 13 Abb.

[O27] Oldroyd, I. S. 1927. The Marine Shells of the West Coast of North America vol. 2 pt 3. Stanford University Press: Stanford University (California).

[P12] Petuch, E. J. 2012. Miocene asteroid impacts: proposed effects on the biogeography and extinction patterns of eastern North American gastropods. In: Talent, J. A. (ed.) Earth and Life: Global biodiversity, extinction intervals and biogeographic perturbations through time pp. 967–981. Springer.

[P61] Powell, A. W. B. 1961. Shells of New Zealand: An illustrated handbook 4th ed. Whitcombe and Tombs Limited: Christchurch.

[RH65] Robertson, R., & T. Habe. 1965. Alexania replaces Habea. Nautilus 78 (4): 140–141.

[TTE93] Tracey, S., J. A. Todd & D. H. Erwin. 1993. Mollusca: Gastropoda. In: Benton, M. J. (ed.) The Fossil Record 2 pp. 131–167. Chapman & Hall: London.

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