Biohistorical notes (4): W.K. Weyrauch

Wolfgang Weyrauch is one of the well-known malacologists for anyone interested in Neotropical land snails. He different families, among others Camaenidae, Charopidae, Clausiliidae, Endodontidae, Orthalicidae, Pupillidae, Scolodontidae, Subulinidae and Urocoptidae. His productiviness in terms of new taxa has been enormous, as he described 198 new taxa (Barbosa et al. 2008). Of these, many are from the Orthalicidae.

In the 1970s, when preparing for my field work, his published localities were often the most accurate found in literature and a great guidance on my itinerary (see Breure, 1975). I was not only able to visit many of his type localities, but also see his former collection in Tucumán. Weyrauch as a person, however, remained unknown to me, having only the paper of Zilch (1970) with a very concise biography and a list of published taxa. During my revisionary work on the Bulimulinae it struck me how many taxa with manuscript (MS) names I found in several museums, but I didn't have time to go into any detail.

It was only last year, that I became interested again in his life and work. I still had not seen any picture of him and I could not readily find it in malacological literature. At WCM I spoke with Eike Neubert and somehow we touched the subject of Weyrauch's MS-names. In hindsight, the project was then born to revise these 'ghost taxa'.

Earlier this week I became aware that a new publication on Weyrauch is well underway, listing his malacological taxa and publications, as well as a short biography. Finally I saw a picture of the man that had been only a name to me for such long time.
Afbeelding 18 Wolfgang K. Weyrauch (1907-1970)

For his biography I take some quotes from Barbosa et al. (2008):
By 1938, Weyrauch was in Peru, where he worked as entomologist at the Estación Agrícola de La Molina in Lima until 1946, when he began work at the Estación Experimental Agrícola de Tingo Maria, also in Lima. During the Second World War, Weyrauch spent a few years in Texas, U.S.A., where he did field work in entomology and malacology. From 1948 to 1961, he worked at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, where he was a professor of systematic zoology, animal ecology, zoogeography, and genetics. From 1959 to 1961, he also worked as professor of agricultural zoology at the Facultad de Agronomía de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Lima. In 1962, Weyrauch moved to Argentina, and became a researcher and professor at the Instituto Miguel Lillo, Tucumán, where he remained until his death of a heart attach on July 21, 1970.
According to Willink (1999), Weyrauch was not very kind and rejected the opinions of many colleagues and students. Aguilar (1970) described him as a very devoted and save professor. An indefatigable worker, Weyrauch arrived in the laboratory at 3 or 4 p.m., and then worked all night, until his wife, Imelda Valdizán de Weyrauch, came to take him home in the morning. A compulsive smoker, his laboratory was a noxious environment, contributing to an antisocial way of life.

Although I met Dr Willink during my 1975 visit I can't remember having heared much details about Weyrauch or to have found any notes or correspondence of him. When I inquired with the curent curator, Dr Gabriela Cuezzo, she told me that after Weyrauch's sudden death his widow had been very uncollaborative and unwilling to search for lost type material and bibiography.

More information about the project on Weyrauch's type localities and MS-names can be found


Aguilar, P., (1970) Prof. Dr. Wolfgang K. Weyrauch, 1907-1970. - Revista Peruana de Entomologia, 13: 3-4.
Barbosa, A. F., V.K. Delhey & E.V. Coan. (2008). Molluscan names and malacological contributions by Wolfgang Karl Weyrauch (1907-1970) with a brief biography. - Malacologia, 50: 265-277.
Breure, A.S.H. (1975) Description of a collecting trip in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. - De Kreukel 11 (7): 83-116.
Willink, A., 1999. Biografias Lilloanas. - Revista de la Sociedad Entomológica Argentina, 58 (3-4): 3-10.
Zilch, A. (1970) Wolfgang Karl Weyrauch (1907-1970). - Mittheilungen der Deutschen Malakozoologischen Gesellschaft, 2 (18): 226-236.

Commemorating great biologists

We just concluded the 300th anniversary of Carl Linnaeus in 2007 (even in Second Life!). But the next big festivity is well underway already... The 200th birthday of Charles Darwin in 2009. Someone has taken up the project to raising funds for building a replica of the HMS Beagle and to sail the same journey again.
In 2009, the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth we will launch a sailing replica of HMS Beagle. An icon of scientific progress, she will circumnavigate the globe in Darwin's wake, crewed by aspiring scientists and researchers. They will carry out original research both at sea and on land, updating Darwin's observations, breaking new scientific ground and relating the adventure of science to enthuse a new generation of young students.
One of the topics that will be researched is molecular genetics, using PCR and barcoding techniques. That sounds exciting, although at least at *the* icon of Darwinism - the Galápagos - the radiation of land snails (Naesiotus) has recently been studied by Christine Parent¹ using phylogenetic methods.
Of course, every project has a blog and the Beagle project is no exception. Read it to see the project develop and support it when you find it interesting enough.
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Parent, C. E. & B. J. Crespie. (2006). Sequential colonization and diversification of Galápagos endemic land snail genus Bulimulus (Gastropoda, Styllomatophora). Evolution, 60(11), 2311-2328.

You win some and you lose some

This weekend I uncovered my archive from the dust. When I made my career switch in the early '80s I didn't want to throw everything away (using the motto "when you keep something, you have something"). Subsequently when we moved in 1992 everything was put in a box and stored in a dark place in the house.
When my malacological research interest regained momentum some years ago, I could quickly find my literature card-index system (it still comes in very handy to locate reprints) but not my notes, although I knew that there was probably something. Last week a box full of notes turned up. Not as much as I had expected, but still with some very valuable notes, drawings (several unpublished) and photographs. Nowadays we don't fancy these B/W pictures anymore, but 30 years ago it was the best we had (and the only thing acceptable for publication!). Still, imagine how it would look like in full-colour....
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Plekocheilus succineoides (Petit). Photo's: Toine Cleef

Of science, struggling and helpfulness

Two of the software programs that I (irregularly) use for my scientific work, have a discussion group. I have set up the membership in such a way that I daily receive a summarizing message, containing the headlines of all (if any) messages that have been posted to the group that day. Just observing what's going on it struck me that one group is much more helpful than the other (scientists are quite helpful people, aren't they? ;-) What causes the difference? Is it the size of the membership (active vs. less active: 500 vs. 200)? Is it a difference in people, attracted by the different subject (molecular analysis vs. biogeography)?
Anyway, I was struggling with some topics due to inexperience. Admittedly my lack of time and resources forces me sometimes to look for 'quick-and-dirty' a.k.a. easy solutions. Instead of puzzling for hours and hours it is sometimes very tempting to ask it to the 'group', just hoping that someone will be helpful. Shame on me, but what other choice would you be making when one wants to be productive with very limited time? It's like making use of stepping stones when crossing a river. Every time a little hop, hoping to reach the other margin without becoming too wet...
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Off topic again!

Certainly off topic here. But I found this interesting story that I wanted to share, especially since it is about science, evolutionary biology and communication.
The item Neil Shubin is relating to can be found
here. Anyone up for a similar show on Dutch TV? Hmm, not me, that's for sure :-)

Lost? Hidden!

Recently a sample of alcohol material mysteriously disappeared from my workbench in Naturalis. I was really sad, as it was a species of Naesiotus collected alive some months ago by Edi Gittenberger in St. Lucia, and I wanted to use it for DNA research.
Eike Neubert, unknowingly of this incident, wrote to me: "In a museum nothing is really lost, only hidden". How far away should it be hidden to be considered lost?

Update: Believe it or not, within one week after this posting the missing vial unexpectedly was found by a colleague in a different room than where I had stored my material. Only to prove the saying... :-)

Land bridges and memory hooks

Earlier this week in the same newspaper, there was a small article about a giant South American rodent (also reported here). It wasn't for the rodent, but they casually mentioned the 're-established land bridge between Central and South America to be dating 3 Ma'. That reminded me of the discussion that I had with Ira Richter during WCM in Antwerp on the complex geology of Central America and the Caribbean. And it made me think on the distribution of Orthalicoidea in that area. The isthmus of Panama is seemingly a barrier for some genera (e.g. Plekocheilus), while others are part of the "Great American Biotic Interchange"¹ (e.g. Drymaeus, Bulimulus, Orthalicus). Remarkable though, that some mainland genera are partially present in the Caribbean (Plekocheilus and Naesiotus on some of the Lesser Antilles), adding to the complexity of the picture. Lacking nearly completely fossil records, this family suffers from good reference points in time which come in handy when doing phylogenetic analyses. But a clear geological picture could partly give a helpful clue.
When doing a quick search for papers on the geology of Central America, it struck me that many biological arguments are grounded in mammals.
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I found a paper² testing two hypotheses, peninsular or an archipelago in the middle Miocene, using tooth dimensions as a proxy for body size. This is related to the "island rule", which says that related species on islands can be smaller or bigger than those of the mainland. As far as I know the examples are all from higher vertebrates. What about mollusks? Again a quick search, turned up some interesting stuff: an analogy from deep sea malacology³.
Finally, it leads me to the distinction between 'rules', 'laws' and 'principles' in biology. This is nicely
discussed in the weblog of John Hawks on paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution.

F.G. Stehli and S.D. Webb (1985) The Great American Biotic Interchange, Plenum Press, New York.
M.X. Kirby and B. MacFadden (2005) Was southern Central America an archipelago or a peninsula in the middle Miocene? A test using land-mammal body size. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 228: 193-202.
³ Craig R. McClain, Alison G. Boyer, Gary Rosenberg (2006) The island rule and the evolution of body size in the deep sea. Journal of Biogeography 33 (9), 1578–1584.

Off topic - or not?

My newspaper had this weekend an article on blogging by scientists. (Sorry, it is in Dutch only, but read on for the international links....). It seems that quite some scientists are writing about their discipline and their work, though not sharing research ideas. They might be copied and published sooner than one could actually do it yourself. I might be bloody naive, but I can't see the point of hiding a worthwhile idea if it could become even a better idea by sharing with a colleague. The same applies to keeping someone from the conclusions in a paper in press instead of sharing them right away. Must be bloody big egos....
Anyway, it seems that there are more biologists blogging than any other scientists together :-)

Exploring some of the links from the article I noticed that there was even a
conference on scientific blogging this weekend in the USA, with more than 200 people attending. For some, it seems even to be a new job. Science communication in the age of Web 2.0...
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Accidentally, I found a remarkable mollusk item, with amazing mimicry in cephalopods. Just click on the image to view the video.
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Always wondered about mimicry in land snails... They can't be that fast like cephalopods ;-)

Some selected links (not at all on malacology):


Synthesys is a EU-funded programme aimed at strengthening the infrastructure and research in natural sciences (among which taxonomy). There are 20 natural history museums and botanical gardens participating in this programme, that runs till Spring next year.
Untill recently I was unaware of it, but I realized that it could be a perfect chance to revisit the Natural History Museum (BMNH) in London, and to visit the Berlin museum. Both are participants and act as Taxonomic Access Facilities, providing facilities for research.
As both are important depositories of type material for the Orthalicoidea (see
here), it is worth trying to seize the chance. While funding possibilities have definitely decreased over the past decades, it is a very commendable initiative of the EU.
Let's hope for the best.
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Biohistorical notes (3): L.A. Reeve

Looking through the new additions this week in the library of Naturalis, I came across an very interesting publication on L.A. Reeve. We probably all know him as a major 19th century malacologist and a very productive taxonomist. But apart from the many Bulimulid taxa described by him, I did not know anything about his life. This paper beautifully describes it all:
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The paper presents an insightful view of the different activities of Reeve (a.o. publisher, taxonomist) and puts them in a contemporary framework, indicating the relationships with H. Cuming and G.B. Sowerby I and II. This part contains also some valuable quotations and remarks relating to the collection of the Natural History Museum (BMNH) in London. Valuable because I hope to visit this collection later this year.
The major publications are also discussed and their publication data established as precise as possible. Although the major part of it related to marine molluscs, the work is certainly invaluable for future reference for land snail workers, as it also contains many useful references to rare publications.
An impressive work.