Sunday, October 18, 2009

More on Shell Collecting

Guam, about 1972.

One evening while sitting down to dinner, we heard a knock on the door. We opened it to greet a group of people we had never seen before in our lives. They were Howard and Sharlene McCord and family from the hamlet of Meadow Vista, just a few miles east of Auburn, the wide spot in the road we called home before moving to Guam. Howard was a meteorologist sent to the Naval Station to do whatever it was meteorologists did out there. Sharlene was a primary school teacher. They had heard of us, somehow, back in the States and resolved to look us up when they arrived on the island.

We invited them in for ice cream. While they took no ice cream they did accept our offer to show them around the beach and do some snorkeling. They loved snorkeling and soon set out to complete their shell collection.

However, instead of bringing home living animals to kill them so their shells could be attractive paperweights, Howard set up a salt water aquarium where the mussels lived together in harmony. I remember sitting by the aquarium one for a half hour watching Howard’s snails. They had their personalities. Some were energetic and moved rapidly, for snails. Some snails were jerks who seemed to take delight in bothering the others, and some were, well, sluglike. Watching the snails play for a half hour was epiphanous. I learned that I really needed to get a life.

One day Howard noticed that some of his cowries were dead. The only symptom was a small hole drilled in an empty shell. Then he learned that the miter shells we found all over the reef were carnivores. They didn’t devour green algae like the cowries and conchs. They wanted flesh, snail flesh. Their MO was to drill a hole in their prey’s shell, kill them (venom? I don’t know) and eat them, leaving only the empty shell. Howard quickly evicted his antisocial tenant and restored harmony to his aquarium. Attention shell collectors: you don’t have to kill your specimens if members of your own collection are willing to do it for you.

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