Common West Indian Chiton

Associated Smithsonian Expert: M. G. (Jerry) Harasewych, Ph.D.

Dr. Jerry Harasewych showing drawer of marine mollusk specimens

Photo by Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Jerry Harasewych is a Research Zoologist and Curator of Marine Mollusks at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. His research specialties include the systematics and biogeography of several groups of deep-sea snails. He conducts field work using a variety of research submersibles to sample and observe these animals. Other areas of research include Antarctic mollusks and a highly diverse group of land snails endemic to the tropical western Atlantic. Harasewych first started to work with shells at the age of ten, when he began as a volunteer at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He was an active member and officer of the Philadelphia Shell Club while pursuing an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Drexel University in Philadelphia. After completing his doctorate in Biological Oceanography at the College of Marine Studies of the University of Delaware, he moved to the D.C. area and became a Research Fellow in Clinical Neurogenetics at the National Institute of Mental Health. Harasewych joined the Smithsonian in 1985.

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This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Common Pelican's Foot (Aporrhais pespelecani)
Courtesy of Isidro Martinez, via Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY-NC-SA

About Mollusks (Phylum Mollusca): Body Plan

Mollusks have soft bodies (mollis = soft) with no internal skeleton. They hold their shape by internal water pressure (a hydrostatic skeleton). A muscular skin-like structure called the mantle covers the back of a mollusk, protecting its mass of internal body organs (viscera). Most mollusks also have a hard shell or at least some hard plates over the mantle. Shells are made of a protein matrix holding together crystals of calcium carbonate. Under those layers is a calcium-containing third layer that in some species is shiny mother-of-pearl. This layered structure makes for a strong shell that protects the soft parts from predators and provides a site for muscle attachment. Most mollusks move their bodies slowly using a muscular structure called the foot to creep along, stick to, or burrow into surfaces, although some mollusks (e.g. squid and scallops) swim.