Greater Argonaut

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Michael Vecchione, Ph.D.

Dr. Mike Vecchione holding a dumbo octopus (Cirrothauma magna) brought up from the deep sea.

Photo by Amy Hedger

Dr. Mike Vecchione is a systematic zoologist whose research spans the entire scope of the natural history of cephalopods. His current focus is on deepwater cephalopods of the western North Atlantic, in U.S. waters as well as deep-sea and polar regions. He is also working on the evolutionary relationships of neocoleoids (all living cephalopods other than Nautilus) and uncovering details of their early life histories. Mike spends a lot of time at sea either leading or participating in deep-sea and polar expeditions on U.S. and foreign ships. By using lots of equipment, including submersibles and traditional net sampling, he is able to sample a broad spectrum of biodiversity. For example, he headed a team of researchers from 16 nations to conduct the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project. For six weeks, they surveyed the mid-Atlantic Ridge, halfway between Iceland and Azores, to assess biodiversity, identify new species, and shed light on deep-sea food webs. As Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory, Dr. Vecchione is one of the many scientists from "affiliated agencies" assigned to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He uses the National Collections, libraries and other museum resources for his research and serves as the agency expert on cephalopods. He also provides curatorial support for the cephalopod collections.

Meet our associated expert

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

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Scallops (Patinopecten caurinus) for sale at a market in Japan
Courtesy of Dr. Roger Mann, VIMS, via NOAA's Fisheries Collection, public domain

About Mollusks (Phylum Mollusca): Human Use

Mollusks have been exploited by people around the world for thousands of years. Both shelled (snails, clams, scallops, conchs) and unshelled mollusks (squid and octopus) have been popular food items since prehistoric times. Several early societies used shells such as cowries for money. Today, mollusk shells are often collected and sold. Even mollusk waste products have value. A pearl is just shell layers that the mollusk uses to cover debris that gets under its shell. All shelled mollusks make them, but it is the pearl oysters that sometimes make the symmetrical, shiny ones, essentially decorative pieces of dirt. Over the years, mollusks have been used for many other purposes: dyes, decorative inlays, medicines, blades, fishing lures, tweezers, and horns. Overharvesting has endangered many mollusks species, and cultivation of mollusks had emerged as one solution.