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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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.