R.V. Subba Rao. 2003 Zoological Survey of India. Occasional paper No 192 pp 416 ISBN 81-85874-72-7.
Originally reviewed by Kevin Brown in 2004.
Published in Journal of Conchology (2004), Vol.38
The Subcontinent of India with it's long and varied coastline and associated offshore islands - Andamans, Nicobars and Lakshapweep - has a large and interesting molluscan fauna. Some 3271 marine species are recorded from India, of which this book deals with some 530 species, so even allowing that the book solely deals with Gastropoda and Chitons, it can be seen that this is by no means a comprehensivce coverage. On the whole this work is restricted to the larger species most likely to be encountered by the local students, for whom the book is, presumably, primarily intended. Unfortunately, from the point of view of a general collector, these are the species most likely to be covered in existing guide books to tropical marine shells.
Introductory sections of the book cover the general biology and ecology of marine molluscs, and their economic importance, with some very interesting information on local fisheries. The bulk of the book is given over to a systematic account, within this for each family more detailed accounts of biology and ecology of the family is given followed by clear descriptions of each species. These also give useful detailed information on distributions within india, as well as general notes on wider distributions, helpful comparisons are made between similar species. Each family section is concluded with a selective bibliography relating to the family - locally published papers as well as more general taxonomic works. It is somewhat frustrating that there is often a space after the selective bibliography where additional species in the family could, if not treated in depth, have been simply listed. Referring to the Naticidae for example we are told that "about 25 species were reported from India but only the following 22 are dealt with here" yet the section ends with a blank half page where the additional species could easily have been listed. This is all the more irritating when additional species lists have in fact beeen given for a few families - Conus, Turridae and Cerithiidae.
The nomenclature used is sometimes a little confused, for example Muricanthus virgineus (Roeding, 1798) on page 231 should be Chicoreus virgineus - which is actually referred to on page 40. Out of 29 species of Cypraea covered 28 are placed in various subgenera yet one is unaccountably listed as simply Cypraea. Under Babylonia spirata we read "the record from Andamans is based on one old specimen labelled Eburnea ambulacrum... it's occurance in the Islands is doubtful" and Eburnea ambulacrum is a valid species, so regardless of whether this is a dubious locality record or a misidentification it should not have been quoted as a synonym.
Each species covered is illustrated using some 96 photographic plates, mostly black and white, but with 10 rather poorer quality colour plates. On many of the plates scale bars are used by the specimens but without giving any indication of the scales used. Similarly reference numbers are quoted for many specimens illustrated, including a couple of type specimens, but without an indication of which collection these are from, although it is presumably the Zoological Survey of India Collection. I would also query the selection of species for some of the few colour plates. Why devote one plate to two specimens of Cassis cornuta and two specimens of Phalium glaucum, especially when the former appears in colour on the front cover. Completing the book are a glossary, an index and a general bibliography with a comprehensive list of regional works together with more general identification books.
The book contains numerous misprints, a two page list of corrections is included as a supplements, and this could easily be extended. I would also query the identification on page 241 of Nassa serta, which is a Pacific species, the species described and illustratrated is surely the Indian Ocean Nassa francolina.
Despite its failings, this book is undoubtedly the most comprehensive work available on Indian Marine Gastropoda and Chitons, and hopefully it will do much to stimulate the study of shells in India. It will certainly be essential to anybody working specifically on Indian shells, and offers much for the more general collector. At such a modest price, especially for a hardback, this should be on the shelves of every serious conchologist. A companion publication dealing with the bivalves and other remaining classes will, it is to be hoped, follow to complete the work began with this volume.