Cuba, the landshells paradise

Submitted by Peter Topley on Sat, 14/04/2012 14:06

Cuba, the landshells paradise. Adrian Gonzalez Guillen. Greta Editores, Lleida, Spain. ISBN 978-84-933615-0-1. Price about £73.00.

Review source

 Mollusc World Issue 20 page 18.


The island of Cuba has one of the most diverse and important land snail faunas in the world, exhibiting a high degree of endemism (the book states that of the 1406 species described from Cuba an estimated 96% of these are found nowhere else). The pulmonate fauna includes such well known species as the ‘Cuban versions’ of the Florida tree snail Liguus fasciatus (Müller, 1774) with several forms unique to the island and the also very variable and colourful Polymita picta Born, 1780. The operculate molluscs include the intriguing Blaeospira echinus Wright & Pfieffer, 1862 with its delicate uncoiled and spiny shell (see figure 1), the again very variable Viana regina (Morelet, 1849) where the male shells exhibit an apertural notch and the many species of the elongated Urocoptidae including the spectacular Callonia ellioti, Poey, 1857 (see Figure 2). This fauna has long been in need of a popular book that introduces this fascinating fauna to the general interested reader and this is such a book.

Adrián González Guillén is clearly passionate about both the land where he lives and the land molluscs that are found there. This comes across in the English translation which is placed side by side with the original Spanish (an idea which perhaps has its origins in much early books such as da Costa’s ...Testacea Britanniae of 1784, where French and English were used in a similar way, in that case to try to increase the interest to a potentially international list of sponsors). The book begins with an interesting introduction to a distinguished history of Cuban nonmarine conchology, which includes some well known Conchological figures of the past such as Carlos de la Torre (1858-1950). There follows an introductory chapter to land molluscs which includes an interesting illustration of columella patterns in three Cuban landsnail genera. Next is a chapter on the evolutionary diversity of Cuban molluscs, including descriptions of habitats and pictorial distribution charts of some major groups. This is not a book that concentrates on systematic taxonomy but rather focuses on describing how different species of land molluscs have adapted to the diverse habitats found in the large island of Cuba and the problems facing some of them as they struggle to survive alongside the encroachment of man and introduced species, and this is reflected in the subsequent chapters. Interestingly, regarding the conservation of molluscs, the author states: ‘Not many people are aware that it was in Cuba where the first efforts regarding the conservation of land molluscs were carried out (1942-1943), long before the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1948.’ I am uncertain of the significance of the date 1948 to the society in relation to our recording scheme that dates back to our origins in 1874; perhaps someone with more knowledge of the history of the Conc. Soc. is able to draw some light on this?

At the end of the book are a series of 25 plates of a small selection of the vast landsnail list of this country. Part of the problem of illustrating more of them is stated by the author in the case of the family Urocoptidae: ‘We have not included more photographs…due to the difficulties identifying their species’ and sites the existence of just two copies of an unpublished monograph on this family by Paul Bartsch from 1943. I do have some doubts about the durability of the binding of the book and the book is a paperback, which makes it a little on the expensive side. However the real glory of this book are the numerous excellent colour photographs of living molluscs in their natural habitats, many taken by the author. Although this book is not primarily an identification manual, and some of the English translation could be more precise, I would recommend this book, a labour of love, to anyone interested in molluscs as an engaging introduction to the land snails of Cuba.

Accompanying this review are three photographs of living Cuban landsnails, not from this volume but taken on a recent expedition to Cuba (The photographs were by Adrián González Guillén, Oscar Pentón and Simon Aiken, and appeared courtesy of Simon’s Specimen Shells Ltd).