Bruce Marshall is a self-taught malacologist (shell expert) who has worked at Te Papa, and the previous National Museum, since 1976. As collection manager of molluscs, Bruce is responsible for a vast collection of several million specimens representing more than 4,700 New Zealand species. These range in size from tiny snails 0.48 mm in length to enormous colossal and giant squid specimens up to 10 m long.
It is estimated that about 1,950 species of New Zealand molluscs remain undescribed, despite Bruce’s determined efforts over the past four decades. He has so far named 481 species, 61 genera and 12 families of molluscs, making him the most prolific ‘namer’ among scientists who have worked for the museum (Dick Dell is in second place, with 321 species and 18 genera, and John Salmon a close third).
Among the species that Bruce has named is a large mussel that lives on volcanic vents at relatively shallow depths (140-500 m) off the Kermadec Islands, north-east of New Zealand. The name chosen by Bruce and his co-author Rudo von Cosel was Vulcanidas insolatus, meaning ‘volcano mussel in the sunshine’. Most mussels that live on volcanic vents occur at great depths and in total darkness. The shallowest colonies of V. insolatus occur within the penetration range of sunlight. Blue light is the wavelength that reaches furthest, creating the eerie images of blue mussel colonies taken from a submersible on the summit of the Giggenbach volcano, 40 km north-west of Macauley Island.
At the other end of the size range, Bruce has named four species in the genus Bathyxylophila, from the tiny Bathyxylophila iota (0.7 mm) to the giant Bathyxylophila excelsa (1.55 mm). The genus name means ‘deep wood-lover’. They are minute snails that live on and eat sunken wood.
Bruce’s career path to becoming a Te Papa scientist was rather unconventional even by 1970s standards. After building up a substantial collection of shells and related publications as a teenager, he was offered a museum job after his first year at university. As a result, he did not hold a university degree until his lifetime’s work was recognised by a Doctor of Science (DSc) awarded by Victoria University of Wellington in 2012.
Bruce Marshall has also been honoured by his peers, with 23 species and 6 genera named after him, including the genera Marshallaskeya, Marshallora, Bruceiella, Brucetriphora, Marshallopsis and Bruceina.
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.
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.