At 9:30 on the starry but moonless night of April 16, 1863,
seven armored gunboats under the command of Admiral David Porter, accompanied
by three army transports and a steam ram, began a stealthy voyage down the
Mississippi under the guns of Vicksburg.
Water-soaked bales of hay were stacked around their boilers and pilot
houses, and coal barges lashed to their starboard flanks. At 11:10 PM, all hell broke loose .
On the evening of April 20, four days later, the regular biweekly
meeting of the California Academy of Natural Sciences convened at 622 Clay
Street, San Francisco, seven members present, Dr. Trask in the chair. Dr. Cooper communicated the description of a
new mollusk, recently discovered by Rev. Joseph Rowell in the waters of the
Feather River, Gundlachia californica 
Images of the little limpet, “length about sixteen one-hundredths of an
English inch,” showed a shell apex distinctly different from the embryonic
shell origin. Philip Lutley Sclater,
Esq., of London was elected a corresponding member, three species of reptiles
from San Mateo added to the cabinet, and the Academy adjourned.
Shortly after 5:00 on the evening of May 2, 1863, the troops
on the right flank of General Joseph Hooker’s army at Chancellorsville, VA, stacked
their rifles and began to prepare their suppers.
They were amused to see large numbers of deer
and rabbits break out of thickets to the west and come bounding toward them.
The men cheered and waved their caps at the
startled forest creatures, until the next thing they saw froze the laughter in
Total casualties at the
end of the battle were 3,500 killed and 19,000 wounded.
|May 2, Just before dawn. Wikimedia commons|
A bit more than two weeks later, on the afternoon of May 26,
1863, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia convened for its regular
weekly meeting, 19 members present, Mr. Lea in the chair. The agenda was lengthy: 9 papers presented
and ordered to be published, including an ambitious contribution by T. B.
Wilson & J. Cassin proposing a third kingdom of life, the Primalia. Mr. George W. Tryon read a paper describing
seven new species of freshwater gastropods, finishing with Ancylus fragilis . The 4 millimeter limpet, apex elevated, acute
and “curved backwards,” had been sent to him from California by Rev. J. Rowell.
On June 3, 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to concentrate
his army of 75,000 at Culpeper, in preparation for an invasion northward.
And on the morning of June 8, Union General
Alfred Pleasonton probed south across the Rappahannock with six brigades of
cavalry, approximately 10,000 horsemen, to gauge Lee’s disposition.
Around noon Pleasonton encountered a roughly
equal force of confederate cavalry under Gen. Jeb Stuart at Brandy Station.
Sabers, pistols, and carbines flashing in the
sun, the largest cavalry engagement ever fought on American soil was underway.
|Cavalry Charge Near Brandy Station, by Edwin Forbes.|
Two weeks later, on the afternoon of June 17, the Boston
Society of Natural History convened at Tremont Street, Prof. Wyman in the
chair. Mr. Stimpson read a paper on the
genus Gundlachia, in which he counted five species, including G. californica,
described just two months prior . He
went on to describe a sixth species, G. meekiana, collected from the vicinity
of Washington DC, similar in all respects to G. californica, but with a less
ovate aperture. One additional paper was
read, two communications received, six donations to the museum logged, and the
Admittedly, the little brown pulmonate limpet that we today
call Ferrissia fragilis
is not the most striking element of the North American
It is, however, the fourth
most common freshwater gastropod in the Eastern United States, behind Physa acuta
, Campeloma decisum
, and Menetus dilatatus 
Populations of Ferrissia fragilis
ubiquitous on aquatic vegetation and organic debris in every lake, pond, and
riverine backwater nationwide, Canada to Mexico, sea to shining sea.
Including at the mouth of Pennypack Creek, in
Why do you suppose that these exceptionally abundant and
wide-ranging little gastropods were completely overlooked by every American biologist
working in every puddle of fresh water for half a century, and then simultaneously
discovered by three completely separate societies of learned men, meeting in San
Francisco, Philadelphia, and Boston, during a single eight-week period of
What might account for the sudden,
passionate interest among young well-born gentlemen of the urban North in freshwater
I will leave that question to the
speculation of my readership.
|The Bartow County Yankee Killers |
I will, however, take a paragraph to remind you all of
several previous essays touching upon Ferrissia fragilis 
. You may recall, from my essays of 10June09
and 9Nov12, that the freshwater limpets were a particular research interest of
Bryant Walker’s (1856 – 1936), and that the definitive monograph was
contributed by Paul Basch in 1963 
Both Walker and Basch recognized Ferrissia fragilis
as a widespread and
important element of the North American malacofauna, and listed californica
(Rowell 1863) and meekiana
(Stimpson 1863) as junior synonyms of fragilis
(Tryon 1863). And you may also remember
my essay of 8Dec10 reviewing the excellent work of Andrea Walther and colleagues
synonymizing several additional well-known names under fragilis
(Pilsbry & Ferris 1906) and mcneilli
(Walker 1925). So that today, the FWGNA Project recognizes
just two species of Ferrissia
Up until recently it has been quite easy to ignore the extraordinarily
trivial and obscure detail that the meeting of the California Academy which
heard the description of G. californica
preceded the meeting of the ANSP which
heard the description of A. fragilis
by five weeks. And that Rowell's publication preceeded Tryon's by six. For some reason that I cannot fathom, however, here
in 2019 it has become less easy.
The issue of the American Malacological Bulletin freshly
arrived on my desk last month included a research note announcing the
“discovery of the freshwater limpet, Ferrissia californica
(Rowell, 1863)” on
the Island of Montserrat 
” does not appear in title, abstract, key words, or the first
five paragraphs of its introduction.
Do systematic biologists of the 21st
some heightened sense of obligation to the Rev. Rowell, now asleep in Christ
for 100 years?
Have our oaths to uphold the
International Code of Zoological Nomenclature suddenly become more solemn?
Is the iron fist of the ICZN Commission grown
I do not know.
I am neither
priest nor scribe nor Pharisee, I am a scientist.
The names I assign to populations of
freshwater gastropods are hypotheses of evolutionary relationship – my best
hypothesis, without compromise.
find that more than one name has been assigned to a population or group of
populations, each of which conveys the same evolutionary hypothesis, I will
select the name that, in my judgement, conveys my hypothesis to the broadest
The best name for North American freshwater limpets with an eccentric shell apex is Ferrissia fragilis (Tryon, 1863).
The letter of some legalistic code about
which I was not consulted, administered by some commission I do not recall
electing, does not enter into the calculation.
But let me hasten to make another point, and to make it as
forcefully as I have made the previous one.
I would not presume to impose my selection of any scientific name on
In fact, I earnestly hope that
other scientists will develop other hypotheses about the evolutionary
relationships of the populations I refer to Ferrissia fragilis
Such a situation would be the mark of an
And if it is the
judgement of some other worker that Rowell’s nomen californica
information more effectively than Tryon’s fragilis
, far be it from me to
I have no problem with synonyms.
I do not think that taxonomic synonyms
necessarily lead to scientific confusion, any more than I expect the college
dean to become confused if I tell him to kiss my peachy-pink posterior or my
rosy-red ass, on the way out the door.
are pervasive in the English language, and we are richer for it.
Indeed, I think it will be a service to preserve both
So just this morning I have
added Rowell’s “Ferrissia californica
” directly under the header “Ferrissia
” at the top of my FWGNA page.
And entered the nomen into the list of synonyms available from the
And written the
present essay, wherein both names are connected.
In this fashion, the future generation of graduate students, perhaps naïve about
situation, will be able to google-up and connect their disparate literatures.
Difficult though it may be to understand 
, some non-negligible fraction
of my colleagues have, from time to time, associated into committees to develop
formal lists of accepted or approved names that we, “the community,” will be sanctioned
to apply to the diverse biota of this, our great country.
I would suggest that all members of such
committees re-read the first six paragraphs of the present essay.
And get a life, every one of you.
This account of the action at Vicksburg, together with
those of Chancellorsville and Brandy Station following, are extracted from
Shelby Foote’s (1963) classic The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume II, Fredricksburg to Meridian
Books, 988 pp.
Rowell, J (1863) Description of a new Californian
Proceedings of the California
Academy of Sciences Series 1, 3: 21 – 22.
Tryon, G. W. (1863) Descriptions of new species of fresh
water Mollusca, belonging to the families Amnicolidae, Valvatidea, and Limnaeidae;
Proc. Acad. Natl.
Sci. Phila. 15: 147 – 150.
Stimpson, W. (1863) Malacozoological Notices No. 1, On
the genus Gundlachia
Proc. Boston Nat.
Hist. Soc. 9: 249 -252.
This result is from 18,974 records of 99 species in four
regions: the Atlantic, the Ohio, East Tennessee, and (very preliminarily) The
Download the presentation
- The freshwater gastropods of The Ohio: An interim report
From left, Daniel, John, and Pleasant Chitwood of Company
Daniel and John were captured at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863.
This image scanned from Miller, W J. & B.
C. Pohanka (2006). An Illustrated
History of the Civil War
My previous essays on Ferrissia
- Just One Species of Ferrissia [10June09]
- Two Species of Ferrissia [8Dec10]
- Bryant Walker’s Sense of Fairness [9Nov12]
Basch, P.F. (1963) A review of the recent freshwater
limpet snails of North America (Mollusca: Pulmonata). Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool.
Harvard Univ. 129: 399–461.
Walther, A. C., J. B. Burch and D. O’Foighil (2010)
Molecular phylogenetic revision of the freshwater limpet genus Ferrissia
(Planorbidae:Ancylinae) in North America yields two species: Ferrissia
and Ferrissia (Kincaidilla) fragilis
. Malacologia 53:
Coote, T, K. A. Schmidt, R. E. Schmidt, & E. R.
McMullin (2018) Discovery of the freshwater limpet, Ferrissia californica
(Rowell, 1863) (Gastropoda: Planorbidae), from streams of Montserrat, West
Indies, a new addition to the Caribbean fauna.
American Malacological Bulletin 36: 291 – 295.
I myself probably do understand it, however.
I think committees form to standardize the
names of the diverse elements of the American biota to facilitate governmental
And with governmental
regulation comes governmental funding.
don’t want to be cynical – I’m pretty sure my colleagues on such committees think
that they are furthering the cause of conservation, and that whatever taxpayer’s
dollars might be expended on their salaries are well-justified.
I used to think that, too.