Mollusk Department

The Museum’s mollusk collection consists of more than 2 million specimens, making it the tenth largest collection in North America. The 250,000 lots, of which 220,000 are catalogued, represent more than 18,000 species.

Worldwide in scope and covering all seven living classes of mollusks, our holdings comprise marine Gastropoda (50%), land and freshwater Gastropoda (25%), marine Bivalvia (15%), and freshwater Bivalvia (5%).


sea + land snails

The largest and most diverse group of mollusks is gastropoda, or slugs and snails. They are also great indicators as to the health of an ecosystem, as they are the most susceptible to changing environmental pressures.


clams, mussels, oysters

Possibly the most important group to our own region in terms of economics and the health of our aquatic ecosystems. As efforts are underway around the region to restore the fisheries and waterways, the Museum’s historic records of the bivalves that occurred in the area provide conservationists a glimpse of the fauna once found in the state’s streams, bays, and coastline.


octopods + squid

This is a group that contains some of the largest, most mobile, and most intelligent members of the mollusks. They also have a long fossil history and include the belemnite, the Delaware state fossil.





These mollusks are tooth or tusk shaped. They live in sediment offshore.


These tiny single shell animals were only known as fossils until 1952 when a live monoplacophoran was discovered more than 11,000 feet deep off the coast of Costa Rica.


shell-less mollusks

Known as the naked mollusks, they lack shells, and can be found in oceans all over the world in very deep water.

The Museum’s mollusk collection is primarily dry shells, with some alcohol preserved cephalopod specimens. Most specimens are recent; however, there is some Cenozoic fossil material. Our type collection contains more than 1,200 lots. Type catalogs listing all molluscan type specimens (except Pulmonata) are available in Nemouria issues 36 and 41.

The collection continues to grow through research activities of staff and donations of scientifically significant specimens.

For further information about our holdings, please contact Mollusks Collection Manager Alex Kittle.

Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.Curator of Mollusks
Alex Kittle
Alex KittleMollusks Collection Manager

The du Pont Trophy

The Mollusk department sponsors the du Pont Trophy which is awarded to the overall best exhibit at participating North American shell shows. The du Pont trophy was re-imagined and updated in 2012 to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Museum and is now a framed, signed, limited edition print of an original artwork based on a shell in our collection. The shell show name and year are engraved onto attached brass plaques.

If you would like to request a du Pont Trophy for your shell show, please contact Mollusks Collection Manager Alex Kittle at least one month prior to the shell show date.

News from the Mollusk Department


Learn about the Mollusk Collection from Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D., the museum’s curator of mollusks. Videography and editing by Aaron Bond. Music: Bensound.

From Science Friday: Deep below the sea surface, giant squid fight off predatory sperm whales–stirring legendary tales of epic battles. Yet for all it’s infamy, discovering how many of these enormous cephalopods are lurking in the ocean has remained impossible…until now. Using simple arithmetic, Elizabeth Shea, Curator of Mollusks at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, along with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution try to solve the mystery – with unfathomable results! Produced by Luke Groskin.

Dr. Shea speaking at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

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