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                         Teulerei rediscovering (dec. 2012)                      ARTICLE 2014





_________________________________________________ MASSIMO SCALI _________________________________________________

About ten years ago, during my wanderings around exotic destinations, I thought it would be nice to visit the Island of Masirah in Oman.
The island is certainly an interesting place for fishing, snorkeling, photography and shell collecting. Moreover, it wasn't a tourist destination. What more could I ask for? I was certainly excited to go, but my wife and son were hesitant.
Fortunately I was able to convince them, and the adventure began! Of course, the fact that it is the typical locality of Barycypraea teulerei certainly contributed to the appeal of Masirah, even if it has never been the main reason for my return trips.

The holiday was very satisfactory in many respects,
so much so that since my first trip I’ve returned to Oman four more times intent on spending more and more time on Masirah. The malacological fauna
has always been interesting, allowing me to collect beautiful specimens of more or less common species. However, in the past ten years, I have never
found a living specimen of Barycypraea teulerei (only two long dead shells). And so, after exploring the island‘s coastline and finding teulerei to be absent, I slowly began to develop the idea (shared by many others) that the species was now extinct on Masirah.

During my last trip in December 2012 / January 2013 I spent a part of my holiday in the south of Masirah along the coast of Oman where I had never been before. Equipped with an off‐road vehicle I managed to reach the coast from the main road at several points (albeit with some difficulty). I stopped several times during low tide to snorkel until one lucky day I found my first live specimen of the famous shell...


Some history :

The history of teulerei begins in 1843 when J.S. Gaskoin gave the species the name of "Cypraea leucostoma" in the "Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London". But leucostoma was a preoccupied name and it therefore could not be considered available. He received nine specimens from Mocha, a port city in Yemen on the Red Sea, and it was assumed that the shells originated from this area. However, Mocha was a market place where the specimens were likely brought in from far away. Moreover, later expeditions failed to find teulerei in the Red Sea.

Two years later, in 1845, Cazanavette described the species in vol. 14 of the "Actes de la Société linnéenne de Bordeaux.” In this article he dedicated the species to Dr. Teulère, the honorary president of the Linnaean Society at the time and indicated the shells origin as the Persian Gulf. In 1888 Melvill (Mem. Manchester Soc.(4)1:239) mentioned the Arabian Sea as the specie’s origin. In 1909, Shaw proposed another name: Cypraea hidalgoi.

In 1934 Schilder reported teulerei collected live from the Straight of Hormuz between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf (Schilder 1960, Arch. Mollusk. 89:185). In the Museum of Vienna there is a teulerei with the location labeled as "Eden," which may be understood to be Aden misspelled according to the German pronunciation. In the August 1960 issue of "Hawaiian Shell News" the cowrie was reported as being collected live from the Sudan Red Sea by Mr. R. C. Spencer.

For many years, the origin of this species emained very doubtful and the shell remained very rare. In the June 1964 issue of "Hawaiian Shell News” F. A. Schilder writes: "... this relic is a rare species, as only about 35 specimens are preserved in all public and private collections in Europe...." The word "relic" was appropriate as teulerei belongs to a very ancient genus of Cypraeidae, Barycypraea fultoni being the only other living representative of Barycypraea to which many fossil species belong.

A picture of the registered localities before the discovery of the large population of Masirah is shown in Fig. 1

Teulerei History Map

Fig. 1. Historical localities of Barycypraea teulerei before the discovery of the Masirah population.

In the September 1972 issue of “Hawaiian Shell News” Mr. Fred Luther describes his first collection experience on Masirah Island. He visited the island for the first time in January 1970 and obtained several specimens. He returned to Masirah November 1971 with the goal of exploring the island in order to self collect living teulerei and discover the features of the living animal. He was able to collect 69 specimens on the west coast among more than 200 sighted during only three hours. He walked in flat areas during low tide and found abundant specimens out of water with the mantle withdrawn.

The big spread of teulerei specimens among collectors worldwide was due mainly to the shell collecting activity of Dr. Donald Bosch and his family in the 1970s. Mr. Bosch lived and worked for many years in Oman as a doctor with his wife Eloise. They became passionate collectors and spent a lot of time on Masirah Island. Several newly discovered species of multiple families have been dedicated to him and his wife.

From that time forward the teulerei population of Masirah Island and the surrounding coast was heavily collected. The cowrie was very easy to collect due to its shallow water habitat, often exposed during low tide. Thousands and thousands of specimens were collected and made available to collectors. Soon teulerei became known as “the poor man’s fultoni!” After 10-­‐15 years of intensive collection, the species was all but eradicated, and as a result very few specimens have been found alive since the late 1980s early 1990s. Until December 2012, all (or almost all) the specimens for sale where collected many years earlier (many collected by Dr. Bosch and his family). Most of the shells on the market are labeled as coming from Masirah Island. Occasionally some labels indicate Muscat, Oman; but as with the original specimens from Mocha, it is possible that these specimens where brought there from Masirah.


The Discovery ...

From the first moment, I realized that I had reached an interesting place. Imagine my shock and joy at discovering the first live specimen! After that, I immediately sighted others in the vicinity of an abandoned fishing net. All were juvenile and at first I wondered how that could be possible? Then away from the net I started to spot the adults. I then realized that I had confirmation that the area was a healthy and prosperous habitat for the species. The living fossil was not extinct after all! After a careful survey I collected a selection of specimens accompanied by photographs. Unfortunately, I only had the camera available for a short time and could not take many photographs of living specimens.


Characteristics of the specimens :

A wonderful surprise was to discover multiple specimens in contact with their eggs. In most cases spawning takes place inside the shell of a dead bivalve (Fig. 2 and 3). The adult teulerei sits upside down, hidden under the valve, the foot attached to the inner surface almost like a suction cup covering the eggs. I had to dethatch the foot in order to make the eggs visible. The eggs are of brown color and grouped in clusters as shown in the following picture.

teulerei eggs 1 teulerei eggs 2

Fig. 2 and 3. Barycypraea teulerei on eggs.

Several specimens were completely exposed at low tide. Perhaps it is due to there being little chance of predation? They have a very strong shell with the highest ratio of weight to volume among all living cowries. I only saw a few specimens with the mantle extended and these were under more than 20cm of water. Unfortunately I could not photograph the mantle because I did not have a waterproof camera available. When trying then to collect the specimens they immediately retreated the mantle. The mantle is very thin and semi‐transparent and it was difficult to even see it underwater. Probably, given the fragility of the mantle, the specimens out of the water and at very shallow depths were reticent to expose it to strong sunlight.

The population showed a remarkable variety of specimens regarding sizes, patterns and colors. Of course I selected only the most interesting, some examples of which in the following Fig. 4‐7. Regarding sizes, the extremes found are 33.6 mm and 57.7 mm.


Hopes for the future :

I'm not the only one to consider teulerei as one of the finest species of cowries. It is so fascinating not only for its solid appearance and unique patterning, but also for the fact that it is a kind of living fossil: one of the ancient mothers of the existing cowries! I hope the species is still present in different areas from Hormuz Strait to the south of Oman and as far as Yemen. In fact, despite the shell being easy to find in its shallow habitat, many of those potential habitat areas are still very difficult to access. On the other hand the shell has a direct development and it’s current known habitats seem to be very restricted making it difficult for the population to expand towards other areas.

Barycypraea teulerei is perfectly adapted to live undisturbed while exposed during low tide just (see Fig. 8) as it has undoubtedly for millennia. However, there is a new predator in man, and it is our responsibility to preserve this wonderful species like so many others endangered all over the world !


teulerei group 2

Fig. 5. Variability of Barycypraea teulerei from the new discovered population


teulerei collecting and photography

Fig. 8. Aspects of the environment of Barycypraea teulerei and resting after a tough day of photographing and collecting !