HOW TO MAKE A SHELL COLLECTIONgjg mhhh
 
INTRODUCTION: THE SAMPLING
BIBLIOGRAPHY
NETWORK OF CONTACTS
EXCHANGING SHELLS
SHELL SALES
CLEANING SHELLS
LABELLING SHELLS
EXHIBITION AND CONSERVATION

TAKING PHOTOS OF YOUR SHELLS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  If you want to check more photos on the upper book click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CUBAN POLYMITAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basically we have three ways to add new shells to a collection:

  • the self-collection
  • the exchange with other collectors
  • the purchase in wholesaler establishments sometimes only specialized in shells, but often in several zoological groups. Sometimes those may also offer to exchange

According to most collectors I know and myself, the first of these routes is the most gratifying, both for being the most relaxing and particularly the least costly, unless we decide to go to collect several thousand miles far away from home. Anyway, if we can make such kind of travels only for shells is what we can afford, can´t we?. Unfortunately we have a lot of work, wife and children, and we are certainly misunderstood in our passion for collecting so long-distance trips to pick up shells are terribly difficult. Maybe the money is not a problem but how you explain to your wife or your girlfriend that you're going to spend your short holiday time in a exotic country wich is outside the conventional routes of tour operators to search for shells?. At least in countries like Spain that is still a matter of science fiction.

Many collectors shells started our hobbies after a morning stroll on the beach with the head facing the ground. If there were hightide that night and tourists with umbrellas did not arrived beach yet, certainly striking shells that one had never seen before appeared. Even myself that I had made viewings of mollusks in my career hadn´t seen many of them. At least their colors and shapes were attractive.

The best beaches for shelling are those with strong tides and the best time to find the less common species is after periods of storm. When we are not lucky enough to live on the coast we have to settle with sampling shells during the summer holidays with the sea calm, with no storms... Unfortunately, the shells collected on the beach tend to be quite damaged and eroded and unless the sampled species are very difficult to find in perfect condition, are not usually included in private collections. Something very interesting on the beaches is the collection of detritus which can also be called shellgrit. The shellgrit is that sand composed of thousands of small pieces of crushed shells so if we move a little to see that sand is actually made up a significant proportion by remnants of finely crushed shells. Such material is ideal to investigate under the lens of a magnifying glass or a binocular microscope (not required an excessive increase) since one can separate wide variety of micromollusks (mollusks size less than a millimeter or a few millimeters). There are collectors, the most patients in my opinion, which are devoted exclusively to the study of micromollusks.

You can also collect live shells, something that I particularly do not like. If you do that, take care of considering basic ethical standards that I mention in "The Collector Ethics" section. Maybe you have the possibility of collecting shells by diving. In almost any holiday destination there are clubs or companies that organize diving workshops. There you can obtain the so-called diver "baptism" which is neither complicated nor expensive. But be careful and look always for experienced experts in diving. For my own experience, we must distrust of those who perform diving excursions in Caribbean countries because often economic interests prevail over security. If you suffer an accident at a considerable depth in one of these countries lacking transfer systems and emergency medical assistance you have a seriour trouble. I do not intend to alarm anyone, just remember that outside your country things are quite different. But removing these few exceptions diving is certainly a safe and recommended experience .

Another way to get good quality shells is by visiting the fishing boats that arrive the beaches early in the morning in coastal towns or fish and shellfish markets. Often some interesting shells end up in the trash because they have no commercial interest. Thus no matter how cheap it is the offer you make to the fishermen because they always will prefer to sell these shells rather than throw them away. Sometimes you can surprise with the specimens they obtain. On the other hand and focusing now on non coastal towns, we must take advantage of our confidential relationship with the fishmongers in the neighborhood and so we can ask them for keeping all the rare shells they find. In order to avoid to visit the fishmongers everyday we can suggest them to save these shells in the freezer until we can pick up them later.

The collection of snails may seem easy but some knowledges are necessary. Most of the land snails and freshwater live in calcareous substrates, i.e. they live in soils or waters with high content of carbonates (calcium and magnesium). The number of snails (both in density of species and specimens of the same species) decreases greatly in acidic non carbonated soils (a typical case is that of pine forests where the leaf litter decomposition often generates quite an acid pH in the first centimeters surface soil; acidity makes this type of ecosystems one of the worst to sample continental mollusks, especially if they are alloctone pine forests). Once you've chosen the sampling area it should be taken into account that the typical habitat for terrestrial mollusks are cracks in rock walls and the first centimeters of soil surface, especially under wet scrubs. Smaller snails can usually be found underneath the stones and under the litter layer. Only a few species of very small size can be obtained after sift soil of greater depth. There are few tree species that can be found in template latitudes since they are better suited to tropical and subtropical regions.

One could talk pages and pages on mollusks bibliography. There are countless books specializing in shells some level of families, others are focused on particular geographical regions, others in land or marine shells, and so on...

However books are often expensive and difficult to achieve especially if you live in a tiny town. My best advice is to get a small book collection, not many but the best qualified you can. In addition, the Internet provides virtually any data you need if you know where to search; optimizing the Internet use let you save much time and most importantly, a lot of money.

On the left you can find my books; Websites I often use to identify and classify the species of my collection can be found in the links section. Probably you drew attention to the fact that my library is quite small (most malacologists usually hold much greater amounts of books) but as you have been said, due to the invaluable help of the Internet this literature has been suitable enough in more than 15 years collecting shells. Also you can find an expert friend who will take a hand with the more complicated shells. In this regard, I can not forget the help of my good friend Antonio Tarruella to classify many of my shells, either because they were species not yet showed in any book, or mainly because they came from a very specific area where publications with photos of shells are really hard to get. Thank you from here to his invaluable help.

You will find a brief personal description of my books by clicking on the photographs displayed in the left column.

Undoubtedly getting a network of contacts as widely as possible is the best way to increase your shells collection. When you are a beginner seems complicated to make oneself a well-known collector in the world of exchange. Well, here I show you how you can improve your short address book.

Keep in mind that there are thousands of people who have your same hobbie scattered throughout the world. Think that all of them were beginners ever, and finally be aware that the world is very large and therefore there will always be someone who would want to meet you and many collectors could be interested in exchanging shells with you. Let me suggest you to take such a very optimistic approach.

Although there are many ways to connect with other enthusiastic collectors, the most effective and which may have a greater scope (I mean that can allow to meet many people in the shortest period of time) are the Malacological Societies, and the Websites on exchange:

The Malacological Societies are associations of malacologists, usually commanded by some of the largest national and regional experts that bind a lot of collectors and fans of malacology like you and me. The interest in subscribing to one of these associations is varied:

1- They provide some scientific publications allowing to increase your bibliographic database. An example of one of the periodical publications offered by the Spanish Society of Malacology (SEM) to its members can be checked to the right.

 

2- In their periodical bulletins lists of members of the Society along with their personal data are published including e-mail, shell preferences (type of shell that they like best, families that they collect, if they want to change shells or literature, if they are interested in buying shells and so on...); This is obviously an excellent means of access to privileged information, nothing more and nothing less than a census of malacologits willing to exchange. Not surprisingly, many malacológicos as I did, make our first exchanges after encourage us to contact any of those collectors involved in these lists. On the left you can see the front page of the SEM bulletin.

3- They organize events such as national and international Congresses that can be very useful to meet other collectors and introduce you to the group of members of the Society.

To learn more about Malacological Societies visit the links section.

Hopefully a single global forum or a single site that brings together all stakeholders in malacological exchange exists on the network. At the moment we must make use a handful of scattered pages where you one sign up by filling out simple forms. If you have any problems or your data aren´t published soon I recommend you to contact the webmaster (which e-mail is always in the site) and ask him to personally manage your data more quickly.

If you want to know what those pages for shells exchange are go again to the links section.

The exchange is a very interesting source for expanding quantitatively a collection and the most profitable from an economic point of view since all malacologists can easily get large numbers of duplicated shells coming from their own areas and probably they may be willing to exchange with ours. In this regard I recommend that you must take care of saving any shell in spite being very common. Shells which seem to be certainly common or abundant in your area could become rare for another collectors living on the other side of Earth.

There are many ways of making a shells trade. Actually nothing is written about it so everyone is free to arrange a shells exchange with its own rules as long as obviously, both collectors involved agree with the particular terms of the trade. However, let me give you some guidelines about the exchange ethics based on my experience gained over the last few years. This could be considered as a sort of "conduct code of the shells exchanger":

An updated exchange list must be always ready. The information displayed in this list should be as complete as possible (see paragraph on labelling above)

If you're the one who has the initiative to contact another collector, you'll be the first to send the requested shells, unless there is an agreement to do otherwise

Never send shells which the other collector has not asked for or at least if you're going to include some extra shells not included in the exchange agreement give this information before making shipment

You should warn the other malacologist on the quality of the shells you're submitting, especially if some are damaged, and on the number of specimens of each species you will send. Here you will find some categories that malacologists often use to determine the quality of shells (although I have always thought that this issue is very subjective and really everyone attribute the quality degree in an own way):

Gem (G)- A perfect specimen, completely adult, coloring normal, without damages, breaks or visible defects. Gastropods should have a perfect spiral shape, having intact the first coils and have no broken spines or chips on the outer lip. Bivalve shells must have both valves. The specimen should not have an oil or paraffin excess and be perfectly clean inside and out.

Fine (F) - An adult with a small defect or some slight growth mark. For example, a Fine Conidae or a Volutidae shell can have a small notch in the lip, or some roughness, a Fine Muricidae or Spondylidae can have some briefly broken spines. Shell repairs are not allowed. The shell must have the original color and brightness and well clean inside and out. Within this category subcategories can be made as the magnitude of the damage (F for the most notable damages; F+ for slight damages, F++ for very slight damages and even F+++ for shells almost reaching "Gem" condition, i.e. more + signs mean that shell is closer to the "Gem" condition).

Good - An acceptable specimen with some damages (growth marks, broken spines, lost some initial spiral, chips on the lip). The shells can be subadults but must display all the characteristics of the species. Well cleaned inside and long enough outside.

Poor (or Beach) - Eroded specimen with obvious damages (broken spines, lost coils, holes and so on) due to exposure to climate (found on the beach) or handling. These are very few valuable shells unless they involve very rare species difficult to get in a better condition.

Other indications that frequently find interesting are:

Young - Immature shells that could be treated as "Gem" in the case of those species that differ greatly in their adult status as Cypraea or Strombus.

W/O - With operculum which concerns gastropods. When the quality given to the shell is "Gem" the operculum must be the original of the sampled specimen.

Freak - Monstrous or deformed specimen either by defects in growth, colouring or even due to the place of collection. Some of these shells reach really high prices since they are much more scarce than the standard rate of the species.

You must know that sometimes the exchanges are not carried out species by species, since the value of a Gem 20cm size rare marine shell sampled at 500m deep can not be the same as another Fine 2cm size common marine shell collected at a few centimeters deep. Then it is necessary to establish an economic value to your shells (there are Websites and establishments specialized in giving prices to many species of mollusks, although no one better than oneself to know what is the value of the own sampled shells). Therefore, never achieved rare shells in exchange for common shells. Too often one may see in trade lists of other collectors a warning as follows: "not supported changing one €100 shell by 50 shells valued at €2 each "

The first shell exchange with another malacologist is always the hardest by natural distrust of the relationship between two people who are not well known. It is advisable to send by e-mail a photo of the shells in the package previously to put it in the post office and may even be good sending by e-mail a scanned copy of the postal receipt. Unfortunately there are many scammers and fraudsters in the world (in fact I have a list with names of alleged scammer malacologists. If you're interested I can send you this list by e-mail. Please do understand that the sensitivity of this information prevents me from a public disclosure on this Site).

Meet the malacologists ethical code available on this Website.

Any malacological magazine or the Web can be useful sources to find good candidates for making shell exchanges (have a look at my links section).

Collectors do not consider very seriously the issue of exchange at first. In fact many of us have not discovered the exchange by our own initiative but by chance. Once you discover the exchange world when collecting shells you always try to sample some extra ones to get an exchange stock. With regard to how store such duplicated specimens, you may check the final section of this page (exhibition and conservation) where I talk about the type of furniture and cabinets more useful to store shells. However I must clarify that you should not give the same store treatment to your stock of duplicated and your collection because the shells for exchange are much more handled and so they should be much more accessible. In this sense a good way to save your duplicated shells is by using plastic boxes easily gained in the stores like "Eurochina". I show some of which I used until I was able to buy some furniture with drawers.

Now I have got nice cabinets as you can see below. I spent many years looking for these kind of furniture and a lot of saved money. It was difficult because there are no local companies in my town so I needed to resort to other Spanish companies far away home. Later I offer you information about purchasing products such as the photographs.

Click on the pictures to expand
 

I do not want to finish this section without giving some basic rules to arrange a shells package for exchange.

First of all you must find a box with an appropriate size according to the amount of shells to be sent. The material which the package is made of must be both lightweight and resistant (cardboard, plastic, polystyrene or porexpan are the most commonly used; need not be purchased containers but any domestic container). The box must be hard because you never know which treatment during transport will be given; you have to think that as farther away you send that package better you must make sure that the shells inside will not suffer any mishap. The box must be light because the postage rates depending on the weight of the package and often they are expensive especially when international shipments are involved. So I recommend you have a small weight at home that allows you to calculate the weight of your packages. Not necessarily has to be a precision weight so a simple weight cooking usually yields good results. Sometimes a difference of a few grams can make double the price of shipping (for example a package of 995gr with U.S. destination could cost you if you send from a Spanish post office €20.99, but that value will rise to €33.24 if your weight is 1005gr. This is because our postal service charges a fee for certain weights between 350 and 1000gr while other fees too much higher are charged for weights between 1001 and 2000gr. If you are interested in calculating the price for postal sendings through the Spanish postal company, click the following link: Postage expenses calculator.

There are other agencies in Spain to transport your packages but often offer rates even higher than the previous one. In addition the service of such companies is very limited and postal services to all countries are not available. Even that is the case of such companies that allow shipments from other countries to Spain but not otherwise. Anyway I have noticed some notable improvements in shipments by the Spanish postal company last years. Now everything seems to be much faster. As an example 10 years ago a package from Jaen to Malaga (200km away) used to take up even ten days but now it takes one or two days at most.

The second and most important matter at the respect of preparing a shells parcel is the way in which the shells are packaged. There are many "recipes" for packaging in fact virtually everyone make up their packages with a personal style. I can give you some basic tips that I use. Shells must be well protected from strokes or friction among them which depends greatly on the size of the shell. For small shells they must be placed in small tubes or capsules while shells from medium to large sizes should be carefully wrapped one by one with paper or plastic wrapping paper introducing the shells of the same species in a single MultiGrip bag (hermatically sealed bag). Sometimes you can choose to put shells into small boxes or small plastic containers filled with cottons (providing specimens of the same species in the same container). Only when we are sure about each single shell will be well protected we must introduce all the shells in the selected package. Then the hollow spaces of the pack have to be filled with some kind of packaging material such as cork or plastic shavings, cuts of paper, plastic bubbles, cotton, and so on...Hence shells will travel inside the package firmly subjected because no holes that allow shells to move and crash with each other and against the package during his trip exist. Finally you should wrap the container with a paper wrapper (with the help of packing tape) where the address of the sending and yours as the sender may be writen (do not forget that some problems with the packages often occur so you must facilitate the return of the package to your home).

Do not forget to attach to each shells into the parcel a label displaying full information about its collection data. You can also send the detailed collection data by e-mail. The Microsoft Excel sheets are an ideal format for this purpose.

The purchase of shells often turns out to be the only way to obtain exotic shells and is certainly the most convenient for those who I call (fondly of course) "cabinet collectors". That's another way of collecting but in my view, the less related to the primary objective to be pursued by conduct a collection: respect for nature. When an activity is directed by a monetary issue loses its most basic essence. However, my sincere respect for the "cabinet collectors". The price range for shell purchases is enormous from cents (although it is already difficult to find even very common species by less than one euro) to hundreds, and the least thousands of euros. Small variations in the size and quality of the specimens originate large differences in price (we are talking sometimes about differences of tens of euros for smaller defects that are sometimes visible only by an expert eye under magnifying glass) so that, unless you want a stunning collection you can save a lot of money. Moreover as prices vary from one dealer to another so I strongly recommend to make comparisons among several sites before buying shells. An increasingly common practice now is buying at online auctions. I show you some of these pages in the links section; actually these purchase portals are often highly developed and visually hook for the quality of the photos.

With a few exceptions such as Senegal, Gabon, Cavo Verde, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Zanzibar, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Maldives Islands, Panama, Brazil and other South American countries that have a small local market of shells, philippine shells are the ones with the largest market share, in fact almost everywhere in the world any souvenir shop sells almost exclusively shells from this country. On the other hand some shell paradises have prohibited shells capture, sale and export. It´s the case of Seychelles, Mauritius, Australia, Galapagos Island or Cuba where unfortunately for collectors some of the most beautiful land snails in the world live (Cuban Polymitas are said to be never two equal specimens; see photos at left) and their world market is extremely small. This limitation of shell commerce (with which I completely agree) causes that shells of these areas reach unaffordable prices. All previous reasons make really interesting the exchange with other collectors as it will be cheaper and will broaden our perspectives beyond the philippines shells that account for 90% of the market.

There are excellent Websites where a wealth of information about cleaning shells is offered (hopefully my page evolve over time to become as comprehensive as those). I think it would be unfair to myself if I copy and show such information as writen by my own. Thus I can redirect through the following links to those pages:

Cleaning shells by Alfonso Pina

Cleaning shells by Victoriano Meneses

When a shell is collected to record as much information as possible about it is imperative because that's the only way to give your collection a necessary scientific approach although you hardly recognize. Just think that within 10 or 15 years is almost certainly you no longer remember where or when this shell was sampled, and no longer remember what depth or on what kind of soil. Among the information to be regarded as necessary (the rest is interesting but perhaps not essential) you must take note of the detailed place where the shell was collected (not just the city and the country but also the beach, the mountains or the river/stream), the habitat (type of substrate, depth, cohabiting species, type of vegetation, and any other relevant data), the date of collection and the collector´s name.

Three purposes are met by taking these data: i) having your collection orderly ii) to provide other collectors this information in any shells exchange (in fact many collectors require as a condition for agreeing a shells exchange to supply them a detailed data description of the requested species), and iii) to provide data from ancient presence of a species in a given area. In the latter case, assuming that a species that you sampled 10 years ago could become locally or totally extinct, the information you can provide about the precise geographical location and habitat of the species you collected 10 years ago may have an inestimable scientific value.

It is appropriate therefore that the specimens you save in your collection and those reserved as duplicates for future exchanges have a label in which all collecting data are displayed. Here I show you an example of how do it. The size of each label is designed to hermetically sealed bags (zip) of a minimum size of 8cm high x 6cm wide frequently used to store shells.

 

Here you can see the label inside a bag with two examples. Click on the photos to magnify the pictures.

 

Apart from this, to have a database containing all information of your shells is also advisable. You can choose the traditional cardboard sheets system (a sheet for each species, although sometimes you can have several sheets of a species if you have different morphotypes from different places).

You can create a computerized database. Some software specifically designed for collectors can be found like "My Collection Explorer" and "Handy Backup 4.1." I have demo executable files of these (90 days of use); I may send you them if you want.

We should firstly fix the purpose of our collection, if we want to delight the senses not only ours but that of any colleague, family member or friend who could visit home, or otherwise we are giving the collection a more scientific approach (professional might say) because a shell collection may be used for organizing exhibitions or with educational purposes.

In this late case, mollusks as the second filum with the greater biodiversity after the arthropods, become an extraordinary pedagogical tool for instilling in people and especially children respect for nature and the environment, but you wonder why?. Normally Western Europeans have a very partial view of the wonderful diversity of mollusks and tend to think that all shells in the world have the simple forms and the light colors of our austere European mollusks. However after a first contact with some of the exotic species of marine or terrestrial mollusks which break these rules of simple ornamentation, sizes and colors (red, green, yellow, and so on) most of the inexperienced people change their point of view about mollusks and begin to evaluate them differently. Then mollusks are perceived like more important animals, more worthy of preserving and respecting of what had previously considered. Therein lies the true significance of a shells collection (according to my humble opinion), that is to say the possibility of using it to bring nature and the dangers that threaten it to citizens and thereby contribute to improve our respect for the Earth.

Let me start talking about how to keep and preserve your shells collection. Before asking about what kind of furniture or exhibitors are going to use, we need to decide what kind of container we will use to save each species. You can choose many kinds of containers:

To save shells individually MultiGrip bags I explained before are very useful (they are also ideal for attaching labels identifying data collection). Here I show you a picture (click on it to expand) showing the variety of bags with sealing device that can be found on the market with their corresponding dimensions. I show you the smaller bags delivered as scientific or office consumables but there are larger and high quality formats that are sold as bags to preserve and freeze food stores in the Chinese shops for household products. A good link where you can find the bags of the photograph and other larger at moderate prices is the following: MultiGrip Bags

Some collectors prefer methacrylate transparent boxes. They are much more aesthetic but more expensive as well, especially if you have a lot of shells and need to introduce a single shell (or a single species at most) in each box. I can indicate a link that my friend Miguel Carrillo from Madrid gave me about a company that manufactures various plastic products: http://www.resopal.es. You can find several kind of containers and boxes in this Website and you can also contact them to ask for prices to a phone located on the bottom of each PDF file when downloaded. But if you want boxes at a lower price you can always resort to cardboard boxes. That´s not easy to find them in Spain. One can contact Natura Kucera (e-mail : Kucera@mailpersonal.com) which is an establishment in Barcelona that provides shells and various types of archiving systems for them.

If you want to save your shells in containers with multiple compartments, not a single shell per container as was the case of boxes earlier, a good alternative are the plastic boxes that I told you above. They are used to store hardware and other small parts which are sold at hardware stores. They are easy to obtain and drawers of all sizes are possible to buy. Their only drawback is the ease with which drawers may be opened if you're not careful enough.

There are various manufacturers of modules made of injected plastic that have different trays compositions to be stacked to consumer desire. There are even manufacturers that design furniture comprising those drawers in a metal structure by creating a fairly attractive design. Obviously this furniture fail to be as decorative as wooden furniture that any carpenter can make. I personally like the CLEN design and secondly the ORGANITEC one. I´m offering downloadable PDF brochures if you request me for where you'll find all the information about measures and combinations to get your own composition of cabinets for your shell collection. Perhaps most interesting of these products is offering compartments or buckets of various sizes inside their drawers for keeping different sizes of shells. That´s great.

But all these manufactured designs are really expensive. Until I was able to save up to make a design of this type I had my collection in cardboard boxes. Normally a box contained a family with their species kept inside MultiGrip bags. For the largest families two boxes were needed. On the other hand the families with a short number of species in the collection were grouped in the same box. Each box was labelled with the name of the corresponding family and a photograph of a representative shell.

Although this kind of cabinets are cheap and easy to find, they have the disadvantages of being little aesthetic and impractical. Therefore I advise you should make the effort to get some more specific furniture for collectors. The drawers should easily slide and have the appropriate height to each type of shell that could be kept inside. Within each drawer shells should be grouped by families or other taxonomic groups and ideally each specimen or group of specimens from the same species should have a box, bag or container that prevents its free movement, protecting them from crash and from being mixed and confused.

In the following pictures you can see the cabinets containing my collection (CLEN model). I´m really happy with them.

Marine Collection
Land and Freshwater Collection
Click on the pictures to expand
 

Although shells seem to have an apparent strength several threats could affect them so a material which seems to be incorruptible and durable could suffer various problems. Let's see:

1- The dust. The solution is simply cleaning shells with a dry cloth (recommended a rag fibre soft made of cotton. Some remnants of an old clothes are ideal for this purpose). The problem of dust increases when no smooth shells with a complex structure are involved. Then we can occasionally wash them with soap and water. If you follow my advice to use sealing device bags to save your shells you may avoid the problem of dust as another extra advantage.

2- The loss of brightness. It is sometimes caused by the passage of time but other times, is appreciated at the same time of collection, usually because the shell has been exposed to sunlight for an extended period of time. One way to recover muted colours of a shell is through impregnation it with liquid paraffin or cheaper, with petroleum jelly (sold in tubes in pharmacies), followed by drying it with kitchen towels or tissue paper. The result is often surprising and does not affect the durability of the shell.

3- The chemical deterioration. The calcium carbonate of shells is very sensitive to acids so it easily reacts chemically. Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that under high humidity and temperature conditions reacts with water to form carbonic acid represents a threat to the shells. This means that we must avoid depositing our shells in warm and humid places. Other materials that we must avoid contact with our shells because they can induce various types of adverse chemical reactions would be the oak, varnish, paints and synthetic iron.

4- The Byne disease. It is produced by the debris from the biological activity of some microorganisms mainly bacteria. It is especially frequent in warm and wet countries and is really dangerous since it is able to completely ruin a collection. It manifests itself through the acquisition of a color and consistency of chalk in shells of shiny surfaces. In addition the ill shell exhales a slight smell of vinegar.

Almost certain that I am not the best malacologist to give lessons on photography as just two years ago I started making my first digital photographs. However I feel at this point the obligation to give you a number of tips on how to obtain pictures of your shells either because you want to publish them on the Internet or simply because you want to have your own photographic database.

First of all obviously is to acquire a digital camera. In the market there are tens of brands and hundred of models. What is the best? Therefore depends on your money. In general the amount of megapixels is a highly used publicitary decoy but beware that if you want to amortize your camera to photograph your shells collection the number of megapixels to reach is not important because most of the pictures (unless they are huge shells) may be taken between 0.3 and 3 megapixels, and there are no cameras with lower resolutions. You need to ask to the photo shop assistant that provide you the camera: 1) if the camera has "macro" system and a good digital zoom. The lenses should admitted photographs at close range. You have to find a button that is activated to take photographs of small sized objects and 2) the equipped lens system should have the highest possible quality; in fact this system usually determines the price of the camera and its quality. So camera optics must condition your choice. If you are interested in the kind of camera that I have used to take all photographs from this Website it is the model 935 of hp. After viewing my photos you can judge whether it's a good camera or not. The main advantage of this camera or any of this brand is that you are supplied with a special software for managing and editing photographic images. As hp is a brand for computers it works much more efficiently than other brands.

Shells must be placed on a monochromatic background to take photographs; most amateurs tend to use black backgrounds (better cardboard or a paper, because the interwoven surfaces such as those made of cloths show the fibres when magnified with the macro system) but I like white backgrounds the most because a white shell can be seen on a white background, but a shell fully black or with black tones or spots can fade into a black background. You must get white lights in your photo room and avoid the shadows. Of course, whenever you take photographs of small shells (less than 1 cm in size) you should couplers camera to a tripod. In general the tripod is recommended for all types of shells but especially for smaller. It is almost impossible to photograph pulse without any blurring. There are small useful cheap tripods. We do not need a too big tripod since having 20-30 cm tall is enough.

You must be advised to buy an electric adapter for your camera. Thus your camera could be connected to the light of your house without needing to recharge the batteries. This let you do long photography sessions without losing any time. The adapters are sold in any store photos and are commonly cheap.

With regard to how hold your shells to get good photographs each photograph has their own tricks. The shells that are not flat or that can not be placed on any supported edge, spine, ornament, pons, and so on, can be adhered to the surface using a small amount of clay or supported on a small cotton. Be careful that what you set as support of the shell does not appear in the photo. Although there are ways to remove such undes¡rable objects from the brackground by using editing softwares that´s better you avoid this work

Well, you already have your photo album and you find a problem since you want to give a uniform format to the photos. Usually though you think all the photos have been well done, it is almost impossible to have two photographs with the same size and specially with the same set of tones. Depending on the angle of the photograph, the position of your body or tripod, shadows... each photo will have different tone combinations and a different brightness and we must give homogeneity to them. To that end many photo editing softwares exist. I use the Corel Photo Paint programme included in the Corel 8.0 package. This is not the last version but I like. On how to use this program I always recommend by the relief technique of "trial and error." There are a number of tools to achieve the homogenization of your pictures by using this softwate. I can suggest the following:

a) Image size: lets you define a size (in pixels or in millimeters) for an picture.

b) Mask and magic wand: lets you select a background of a single colour and change it to another (using the stuffing tool).

c) Adjusting brightness: lets you give your photos the same values of brightness, contrast or intensity.

If you start on learning how to manage this or any other program and need my help you may write me an e-mail and if possible I´ll help you. That is much easier than it looks.