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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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)*.
*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.
You can make a submission in the exhibition or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include why you chose the name. See our website for terms and conditions, and helpful hints on making a suggestion.