From the Archives: A World of Shells

Biology’s shell collection has come out of the lab
Window magazine staff
a black and white spiny sea snail shell
Clam-eating sea snail Hexaplex radix
a thin-shelled Tonna shell, white, translucent with a grooved surface.
A thin-shelled Tonna shell.
a Cassis helmet shell, white with pale tan dots, and with teeth-like prongs around the opening.
Cassis helmet shell
Vokesimurex elenensis, a white, spiny sea snail with a long spindle and cream-colored stripes
The spiny Vokesimurex elenensis found from Baja California to Peru.

When WWU biology students went home and classes went online during the height of the pandemic, lab support tech Kendra Bradford tackled a COVID project: putting the Biology Department’s massive shell collection online.

The department has about 1,770 types of shells from around the world, and often many shells of a single type. They were collected over the decades by faculty, staff and community members. A large portion were collected by one professor, the late June Ross, who taught biology at Western from 1967 to 2004.

After fellow lab support tech Sarah Hoag, ’03, B.A., biology, tracked down all the boxes of shells, Bradford set up a makeshift photo studio in a teaching lab and took thousands of photographs of the shells, along with the notes about them and where they were collected. She worked with Tony Kurtz, ’88, B.A., English and ’99, M.A., history, and others in Western Libraries to upload the images to MABEL, Western’s Multimedia Archives Based Electronic Library.

Now that the biology labs are filled with students again, the shell collection is available for all to see.

“We hope that the collection will be used as a reference and a teaching tool for biology students, the Western community, and the general public,” Bradford says.

See the shells yourself at

a long-tailed spindle sea snail Fusinus colus
Fusinus colus, a long-tailed spindle sea snail
Harpago chiragra spider conch, brown and white speckles with six "legs"
Harpago chiragra spider conch often found in the Indian Ocean
Emerald green tree snail Papustyla pulcherrima
Emerald green tree snail Papustyla pulcherrima from Papua New Guine
A tapestry turban sea snail Turbo petholatus, with brown and black-and-white patterned stripes.
A tapestry turban sea snail Turbo petholatus often found in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and Western Australia.
Lambis lambis spider conch, white with tan speckles and six spiny "legs"
A Lambis lambis spider conch found throughout the Western Pacific Ocean.