A Curator of the Queensland Museum in Australia and marine biologist has discovered a rare new species of carnivorous molluscs. The marine snail species, which has been named Amoria Thorae, is so rare that scientists are yet to find a live specimen of the organism to understand its biology and relationships. The mollusc was named after Thora Whitehead, a marine biologist and extensive collector of shells who donated her collection to the museum, from which John Healy, the museum curator, made the discovery. The findings of the discovery were published in January 2020 in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum Nature. The museum released a statement thanking Whitehead, who lived in Brisbane and died on September 30 at the age of 85 years.
The newly-discovered species belongs to the Amoria genus of gastropods, a group of mollusc species that are found in onshore and offshore waters across the coasts of Australia. The species is so rare that it is known from a handful of specimens, which are just empty shells of the organism, which were collected by Whitehead in the 1970s. According to Healy, the shells were trawled off at 110-metre depth in Cape Moreton, Queensland, in northeast Australia.
“I knew of a possible new species of carnivorous marine snail from the mid-eastern coast of Australia, as I’d seen a shell of this marine snail illustrated in a book, but not officially described,” says Healy in a statement expressing delight that while he was photographing Whitehead’s collection, he found “not one, but two specimens of this potentially new species.”
Whitehead, a shell-collector, taxonomist and author, has seven species named after her. She wrote many books and articles about Australian molluscs.
According to Healy, Whitehead’s extensive collection is “one of the largest and most comprehensive private collections of marine shells in Australia.” The collection has thousands of species, many of which are extremely rare while some are foreign, all of which were collected by Whitehead.
Healy believes that Whitehead’s collection not only expanded the museum’s mollusc collection but will also assist international research in the field.