Zerotula hedleyi, copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Belongs within: Littorinina.
Contains: Cyclostoma, Littorininae, Lacuninae, Annulariinae.

Hey, Abbottella!
Published 16 August 2023

Among the world’s many biogeographical curiosities, particular note should be made of the island of Hispaniola. The islands of the West Indies began forming, probably during the early Cenozoic, as the Caribbean tectonic plate was squeezed between the approaching North American and South American plates (Hedges 1996). They have always been separate from the adjoining land masses and, as a result, seem to punch above their weight in the endemism game. Many remarkable animals can be found today in the West Indies and nowhere else—todies, solenodons, hutias—and Hispaniola seems particularly rich in such curiosities. Among the fauna specific to this island are the snails of the genus Abbottella.

Abbottella domingoensis, copyright Marcos Rodríguez Bobadilla.

Abbotella is a genus of the Annulariidae, a family of land-living snails unique to the Caribbean and adjoining regions of Central America. Rather than belonging to the Stylommatophora clade that includes the majority of terrestrial snails, annulariids belong to a different branch of the gastropods, the Caenogastropoda, and are closer relatives of the marine periwinkles of the Littorinidae. Unlike stylommatophorans, annulariids retain a calcareous operculum that may be used to close the aperture of the shell. Abbottella are small snails, at most 15 mm in diameter, with low-spired, widely umbilicate shells. The aperture in mature snails flares out into a broad, more or less undulating skirt. The shell is criss-crossed by axial lamellae and spiral cords that are more or less raised at their intersections into sharp cusps (Watters et al. 2020).

Abbottella and other annulariids are strict calciphiles, almost entirely restricted in their distribution to limestone outcrops. As a result of this specialisation, species often have very restricted ranges. On Hispaniola, annulariids are all but absent from the central mountain ranges which are primarily composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Individuals may suspend themselves from mucus threads when at rest. They are also commonly found in mated pairs; Watters et al. (2020) remarked that, “These snails spend an inordinate amount of time making more snails”.

Abbottella crataegus, copyright Claude & Amandine Evanno.

The majority of Abbottella species are found in the eastern part of Hispaniola, in the Dominican Republic. Interestingly, they are not found on the Samaná Peninsula in the island’s northeastern part, though they are found on the facing southern shore of Samaná Bay. Other annulariid genera found on this peninsula were historically included in Abbottella but were treated as distinct by Watters et al. (2020), albeit within the same subfamily Abbottellinae. The absence of Abbottella sensu stricto from this landmass may be due to the Samaná Peninsula being a separate island until quite recently, the dividing channel only silting closed some time during the 1800s. A single species A. haitensis has been recorded far removed from other Abbottella species in Haiti, near the town of Tomazeau. However, this species has seemingly not been recorded since the collection of the holotype in 1920. Watters et al. (2020) remarked that its location might be considered questionable were it not collected by the naturalist William Abbott (after whom the genus was presumably named), whose records were usually reliable and who was known to have been in the right place at the right time. Conversely, A. haitensis is distinct enough from other species in the genus that future studies might lead to its placement elsewhere.

Topographic image of Hispaniola, from NASA. Note the lowlands separating Samaná Peninsula in the northeast and Tiburon Peninsula in the southwest.

One part of Hispaniola in which neither Abbottella nor any other member of the Abbottellinae is found is the Tiburon Peninsula in southern Haiti (Watters 2013). Instead, this region is inhabited by a distinct assemblage of annulariids belonging to a different subfamily. The closest relatives of the Hispaniolan abbottellines lie not among the Tiburon genera but among genera found on Cuba. The Tiburon Peninsula is tectonically distinct from the remainder of Hispaniola, having formed as a separate island before the two collided during the Oligocene. Meanwhile, Cuba and northern Hispaniola would have been connected by a land bridge during this time. Annulariids would have been able to readily disperse across the latter but would have been prevented from crossing between northern Hispaniola and the Tiburon, first by the intervening ocean and then by the inhospitable landscape of the Cordillera Central. Millions of years later, these slow-moving gastropods still demonstrate the influence of ancient boundaries.

Systematics of Littorinoidea
Littorinoidea [Pomatiasoidea]BR17
|--Bohaispira Youluo 1978BR05 [BohaispiridaeBR17]
| `--*B. granulata Youluo 1978BR17
|--Leviathania Pchelintsev 1927 [Leviathaniidae]BR17
| `--*L. leviathan (Pictet & Campiche 1863) [=Natica leviathan]BR17
|--Tripartella Gründel 1998BR05 [TripartellidaeBR17]
| |--*T. compacta Gründel 1998BR17
| `--T. procera Gründel 2001G01
|--Purpuroidea Lycett 1848NE02 [PurpuroideidaeBR17]
| |--*P. nodulata (Young & Bird 1828) [=Murex nodulatus]BR17
| |--P. minioi Leonardi 1935NE02
| `--P. moreausia (Buvignier 1843) [=Purpura moreausia]BR17
| |--Skeneopsis Iredale 1915BR05
| | |--*S. planorbis (Fabricius 1780) [=Turbo planorbis]BR17
| | `--S. alaskana Dall 1919O27
| `--Starkeyna Iredale 1930W93
| |--*S. starkeyae [=Teinostoma starkeyae]P61
| `--S. maoria Powell 1937P61
|--Pomatiidae (see below for synonymy)BR17
| |--CyclostomaBR05
| |--Anapomatias astrongylum Hrubesch 1965TTE93
| |--Tropidophora ancepsPB27
| |--Cyclotopsis Blanford 1864 [Cyclotopsinae]BR05
| | `--*C. semistriatus (Sowerby 1843) [=Cyclostoma semistriatum]BR17
| |--Pomatias Studer 1789BR05 [=Cyclostoma Draparnaud 1801 non Lamarck 1799BR17, Ericia Partiot 1848BR17]
| | |--*P. elegans (Müller 1774)BR05, BM88 (see below for synonymy)
| | |--P. conicusE99
| | `--P. septemspiraleS79
| `--TudorellaWSS20
| |--T. baudoniE99
| |--T. draparnaudiE99
| | |--T. d. draparnaudiE99
| | `--T. d. minorE99
| |--T. ferruginea (Lamarck 1822)WSS20
| `--T. sulcata (Draparnaud 1805)WSS20
|--Zerotula Finlay 1926BR05 [ZerotulidaeBR17]
| |--*Z. hedleyi (Mestayer 1916) [=Discohelix hedleyi]P61
| |--Z. ammonitoides Powell 1940P61
| |--Z. bicarinata (Suter 1908)P61 [=Omalogyra bicarinataF26]
| |--Z. crenulata Powell 1937P61
| |--Z. nautiliformis Powell 1927P61
| |--Z. neozelanica (Suter 1908)P61
| |--Z. nummaria Powell 1940P61
| |--Z. ramosa Powell 1940P61
| `--Z. triangulata Powell 1937P61
| | i. s.: Procancellaria Wilckens 1922PH90
| | `--*P. parkiana Wilckens 1922PH90
| | Zelaxitas Finlay 1927P61
| | |--*Z. cystophora (Finlay 1924) [=Laevilitorina cystophora]P61
| | |--Z. alta Powell 1940P61
| | |--Z. fiordlandica Fleming 1948P61
| | |--Z. iredalei (Brookes 1926)P61 [=Laevilittorina iredaleiF26]
| | |--Z. micra (Finlay 1924)P61 [=Laevilittorina micraF26]
| | `--Z. rissoaformis Powell 1939P61
| | EchinolittorinaPD14
| | |--E. austrotrochoides Reid 2007WBS-S15
| | |--E. millegrana (Philippi 1848)WBS-S15
| | `--E. reticulata (Anton 1838)WBS-S15
| | AfrolittorinaJB12
| | Pseudogibbula Dautzenberg 1890PB27, BC01
| | |--*P. duponti Dautzenberg 1891PB27
| | `--P. cara (Pilsbry & Bequaert 1927) [=Cleopatra cara]BC01
| |--LittorininaeR89
| |--LacuninaeR89
| `--Laevilitorina Pfeffer 1886BR17 [LaevilitorininaeBR05]
| |--*L. caliginosa (Gould 1849) [=Littorina caliginosa]P61
| |--L. antipoda (Filhol 1880)P61
| |--L. bifasciata Suter 1913P61
| |--L. johnstoni (Cotton 1945)W93
| `--L. mariae (Tenison Woods 1876)W93
| i. s.: Chondropometes (Chondropometes) torrei Bartsch 1937BC01
| ChondrothyriumBC01
| | i. s.: C. violaceumBC01
| | |--C. v. violaceumBC01
| | |--C. v. jaumei Alcalde 1943BC01
| | `--C. v. serranum Torre & Bartsch 1938BC01
| `--C. (Plicathyrium Jaume & Fuentes 1943)BC01
| `--C. (*P.) alcaldei Jaume & Fuentes 1943BC01
| Eutudora limbiferaBC01
| |--E. l. limbiferaBC01
| `--E. l. britoi Jaume & Fuentes 1943BC01
| Rhytidothyra Henderson & Bartsch 1920BC01, J64
| |--R. bilabiataJ64
| `--R. jacobsoni Alcalde 1946BC01
| Lugarenia Torre & Bartsch 1941WSS20
| Halotudora sumichrasti (Crosse & Fischer 1874)WSS20
|--Rhytidopominae [Rhytidopomateae, Rhytidopomatinae, Rhytidopomatini]WSS20
| |--Ctenopoma Pfeiffer 1856 [=Rhytidopoma Sykes 1901]BR17
| | `--*C. rugulosa (Pfeiffer 1839) [=Cyclostoma rugulosum, *Rhytidopoma rugulosa]BR17
| |--Ramsdenia Preston 1913WSS20
| `--Cubadamsiella Torre & Bartsch 1941WSS20
|--Tudora Gray 1850BR17
| |--*T. similis (Sowerby 1843)BR17 [=Cyclostoma simileBR17, Paludina similisG40]
| `--T. megacheilaG79
`--Licina Gray 1847BR17, BR05 [Licinidae]
|--*L. labeo (Müller 1774) [=Nerita labeo]BR17
`--L. bronnii (Adams 1845) [=Cyclostoma bronnii]BC01

Pomatiidae [Cyclostomatacea, Cyclostomatidae, Cyclostomea, Cyclostomiatae, Cyclostominae, Ericiidae, Pomatiacea, Pomatiaina, Pomatiasidae, Pomatiinae, Pomatioidea]

*Pomatias elegans (Müller 1774)BR05, BM88 [=Nerita elegansBR05, Cyclostoma elegansBR05, Cyclostomus elegansG40, *Ericia elegansBR17, Turbo elegansG40; incl. Cyclostoma marmoratumG40, T. striatusG40, T. tumidusG40]

*Type species of generic name indicated


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[NE02] Nützel, A., & D. H. Erwin. 2002. Battenizyga, a new Early Triassic gastropod genus with a discussion of the caenogastropod evolution at the Permian/Triassic boundary. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 76 (1): 21–27.

[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).

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

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