Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Mollusk Collection

The INHS Mollusk Collection is one of the oldest in North America with specimens dating back to 1861. It was inactive for over 35 years but was "resurrected" about 1985. In March 1998, curation of the mollusk collection of the University of Illinois Museum of Natural History (UIMNH) was transferred to the Illinois Natural History Survey. One of the 15 largest mollusk collections in North America, the combined INHS-UIMNH Mollusk Collection contains over 300,000 cataloged specimens in approximately 65,000 lots. Approximately 300 lots contain type specimens, which are primarily terrestrial and freshwater midwestern gastropods.

The collection is strong in midwestern freshwater bivalves (especially mussels or unionids) and freshwater and terrestrial gastropods, with a secondary emphasis on the bivalves and freshwater gastropods from the southeastern U.S. and Venezuela. The freshwater bivalves number over 80,000 cataloged (>22,000 lots) and approximately 18,000 uncataloged specimens. More than 21,000 soft parts of more than 150 species have been preserved and are available for study. In addition, many marine and non-North American terrestrial and freshwater species are represented but they still need to be inventoried.

Frank Collins Baker (1867-1942) with the UIMNH Mollusk Collection, circa 1935.

Most of the specimens were collected as a result of faunal surveys conducted by zoologists during the late 1800s until the present. The UIMNH collection was largely assembled by Frank Collins Baker and Anson A. Hinkley. Baker was considered by many to be one of the "deans" of malacology (the study of mollusks), and he published over 250 papers based largely on specimens in the collection, including large monographs on the Mollusca of the Chicago area (two volumes 1898, 1902), the Lymnaeidae of North and Middle America (1911), the Mollusca of Wisconsin (two volumes, 1928), a fieldbook of Illinois land snails (1939), and the molluscan family Planorbidae (1945).

Born in Indiana, Anson A. Hinkley lived most of his life in Rockford and DuBois, Illinois, where he died in 1920. Hinkley was a tireless collector and, although he published little, the results of his collecting endeavors can be found in museums throughout the United States. Of particular importance are his turn-of-the-century collections from the southeastern U.S., which helped to document the diverse molluscan fauna of that region. Hinkley is credited with discovering approximately 115 new species (15 of which were named after him), a record of accomplishment that secures his place in the study of North American mollusks.

The collection also contans specimens collected by other early naturalists, including Richard Ellsworth Call and Lorenzo E. Daniels, both of whom worked extensively in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana; John Wesley Powell, pioneer explorer of the Grand Canyon and first curator of zoology of the Illinois Natural History Society; Robert Kennicott, one of Illinois' first naturalists; and Max R. Matteson of the University of Illinois, who conducted a statewide survey of mussels in the 1950s.


Anson A. Hunkley (1857-1920)

The INHS-UIMNH mollusk collection is of great value to the state of Illinois, and one of its most important aspects is its age. Many of the specimens were collected around the turn of the century and represent a "snapshot in time" of the species and conditions that occurred in Illinois and other parts of the country. The collection was instrumental in forming the current list of Illinois threatened or endangered mollusk species. Without the historical perspective the collection provides, it would be difficult to assess the current status of many mollusk species. The geographic scope of the collection will help in providing data for a new North American mussel atlas project aimed at conserving mussels in Illinois and across North America. Many of the species found in the collection are extinct and their shells are all we have to document their former occurrence. For example, the collection contains numerous freshwater snail species now extinct due to changes in the hydrology of the Alabama River system. Much information remains to be "unlocked." By computerizing the data scientists can begin to look at other groups (i.e., land and freshwater snails) to determine the status of those species and protect the biodiversity of Illinois and the U.S. for future generations. All of the INHS cataloged specimens have been computerized and significant progress has been made in computerizing the UIMNH holdings.

Kevin S. Cummings and Christine A. Mayer, Center for Biodiversity

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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