Dick Dell and the fantastic frilled crab

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Richard (Dick) Dell specialised in the study of marine invertebrates, especially molluscs (shells). His interests and expertise also included crustaceans, and one of the more memorable names that he coined was for a spectacular deep water crab.

Richard ‘Dick’ Dell, Director of the National Museum, 1975. Photograph by Trevor Ulyatt. Image: Te Papa (MA_B.13190)

Richard ‘Dick’ Dell, Director of the National Museum, 1975. Photograph by Trevor Ulyatt. Image: Te Papa (MA_B.13190)

Te Papa turned 150 years old on 8 December 2015. To celebrate 150 years since the opening of the Colonial Museum in Wellington, the exhibition ‘You called me WHAT?!’ is open on Level 3 until the end of 2016. The exhibition, and this series of blogs, explore the history of the museum by showcasing some of the more than 2,500 animal and plant species named by museum staff since 1865 – and seek your suggestions for names for species that have yet to be described and named.

Land snail, Maoriconcha fiordlandica Dell, 1952; holotype. Collected at the head of Caswell Sound, Fiordland on 23 March 1949 by Richard Dell. Image: Te Papa

Land snail, Maoriconcha fiordlandica Dell, 1952; holotype. Collected at the head of Caswell Sound, Fiordland on 23 March 1949 by Richard Dell. Image: Te Papa

This ninth blog in the series features the museum’s sixth Director – Dr Richard Kenneth Dell (1920-2002). Dell was the Dominion Museum’s conchologist (shell expert) from 1947 to 1961, then was the museum’s Assistant Director during 1961-66. He became the Director in 1966, and was at the helm when the Dominion Museum became the National Museum of New Zealand in 1972, before retiring in 1980.

Many of the museum’s collections – across natural science, Māori, and history – grew dramatically under Dell’s leadership. This was largely due to the increased staffing of the museum (from 22 to 38 people) that Dell was able to achieve.

Alex Black’s Alert maurea, Maurea alertae (B. Marshall, 1995); holotype of Alertalex blacki Dell, 1956. Collected from the Chatham Rise on 10 February 1954. Found at depths of 280–861 metres. Image: Te Papa

Alex Black’s Alert maurea, Maurea alertae (B. Marshall, 1995); holotype of Alertalex blacki Dell, 1956. Collected from the Chatham Rise on 10 February 1954. Found at depths of 280–861 metres. Image: Te Papa

 

M.V. Alert alongside Queens Wharf, Wellington Harbour, January 1957. Image: John Yaldwyn

M.V. Alert alongside Queens Wharf, Wellington Harbour, January 1957. Image: John Yaldwyn

One of the highlights of Dell’s research career was participating in the legendary 1954 Chatham Islands Expedition. This was the first New Zealand-based expedition to explore the deep ocean floor, and led to the discovery of more than 150 new species. Even more notable were the many species or genera previously known only as fossils, that were found to be alive and thriving on the continental shelf. The expedition chartered the 22-metre launch M.V. Alert skippered by Alex Black of Dunedin. One of Dell’s names for a new deep-water snail collected on the exhibition was a clever play on the name of the vessel and its captain: Alertalex blacki. Another of Dell’s gastropod (snail) names for a species collected on the same day commemorated the entire expedition: Chathamidia expeditionis. Alex Black and the Alert had previously taken Dominion Museum staff members to the Snares Islands in 1947 and Antipodes Island in 1950.

Dick Dell (holding cup) and other members of the 1954 expedition in the cabin of the Alert. Others recognisable from left are Dave Garner, John Yaldwyn (in stairwell), Elliot Dawson, Ray Forster, with Stephen Barker (from Wharekauri, Chatham Island) in right foreground. Image: Te Papa MA_B023471

Dick Dell (holding cup) and other members of the Chatham Islands expedition in the saloon of the Alert, February 1954. Others recognisable from left are Dave Garner, John Yaldwyn (in stairwell), Elliot Dawson and Ray Forster, with Stephen Barker (from Wharekauri, Chatham Island) in right foreground. Image: Te Papa (MA_B023471)

Chatham Islands expedition shell, Exilia expeditionis (Dell, 1956); holotype of Chathamidia expeditionis Dell, 1956. Collected from the Chatham Rise on 10 February 1954. Found at depths of 476–984 metres. Image: Te Papa

Chatham Islands expedition shell, Exilia expeditionis (Dell, 1956); holotype of Chathamidia expeditionis Dell, 1956. Collected from the Chatham Rise on 10 February 1954. Found at depths of 476–984 metres. Image: Te Papa

One of the more evocative names that Dell proposed was Trichopeltarion fantasticum for a magnificent deep-water crab. While Dell didn’t elaborate on his choice of the species name, it undoubtedly refers to the ‘fantastic’ development of the ‘grossly enlarged right cheliped’ (claw).

Frilled crab, Trichopeltarion fantasticum Richardson & Dell, 1964. The holotype was collected in Palliser Bay in January 1956. Found at depths of 22–750 metres. Image: Te Papa

Frilled crab, Trichopeltarion fantasticum Richardson & Dell, 1964. The holotype was collected in Palliser Bay in January 1956. Found at depths of 22–750 metres. Image: Te Papa

Dick Dell was honoured by his scientific colleagues in the names of many marine organisms, including shells, crabs and fish. Notable among these was the clingfish Dellichthys morelandi that Dell and the Dominion Museum’s fish curator John (Jock) Moreland collected near East Cape in December 1950. This small fish is usually found hiding under kina (sea urchins). It is the only organism where both the genus name and the species name honour two different staff members of the Dominion Museum (now known as Te Papa)*.

Urchin clingfish, Dellichthys morelandi Briggs, 1955, hiding under a sea urchin, Matt's Crack, Poor Knights Islands. Image: Ian Skipworth

Urchin clingfish, Dellichthys morelandi Briggs, 1955, hiding under a sea urchin, Matt’s Crack, Poor Knights Islands. Image: Ian Skipworth

*Brookula delli was another attempt, now lost in synonymy.

Help us name a new species

For 150 years, Te Papa scientists have been working to discover, describe, and name new species. Now it’s your turn. Celebrate 150 years of science at Te Papa by helping us name a new species. You might just go down in history. Suggest a name for this Acanthoclinus rockfish. We’ll seriously consider your idea.

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You can make a submission in the exhibition or by emailing youcalledmewhat@tepapa.govt.nz. Please include why you chose the name. See our website for terms and conditions, and helpful hints on making a suggestion.

Related blogs

Sir James Hector, Hector’s dolphin and Taniwhasaurus

Sir James Hector and the Kerguelen connection

Augustus Hamilton and the gold-spangled butterfly

Allan Thomson and the Cenozoic brachiopods

W.R.B. Oliver – jack-of-all-trades and master of most

Robert Falla and the Westland petrel

John Yaldwyn and the frog crab

Alan Baker and Maui’s dolphin

Nancy Adams, Wendy Nelson and the Three Kings’ seaweeds

Bruce Marshall and the volcanic vent mussel

Pat Brownsey and the cave-dwelling spleenwort

Clive Roberts and one tiny iota fish

 

Help name a new species

Unforgettable names for a new forget-me-not-species

5 Responses

  1. Alison Barwick

    As always, the subject and your writing about it are highly interesting, Colin. Have been interested in shells and other marine life since childhood, when my brothers and I spent many happy, fossicking summers at Wainui (Banks Peninsula) and Woodend Beach (North Canterbury.

    Reply
    • Colin Miskelly

      Thanks very much for your comments Alison.
      Cheers
      Colin

  2. Marie_louise Myburgh

    Fascinating; enjoyed reading this very informative blog very much.

    Reply
    • Chrissy Garlick

      A lovely read. I too am most enamoured of sea creatures and shells.

    • Colin Miskelly

      Thanks very much for your feedback Marie-Louise and Chrissy – I am glad you found it of interest
      Kind regards
      Colin

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