Online Lecture Series
offered virtually via Zoom and free of charge

Made possible by a gift from Mark and Kathy Helge.


Spot the Mollusk!

By Rebecca Mensch, Senior Marine Biologist
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Chameleons are frequently touted as having spectacular camouflage skills, but they pale in comparison to the abilities of many mollusks. Some gastropods and bivalves have evolved spectacular shells that don’t just act as a hard barrier, but also help them avoid being seen in their natural surroundings. The cephalopods in particular are the real kings of camouflage, with the ability to change not just shape and texture, but also individual pigment cells. Some mollusks, such as nudibranchs, take a different approach. Armed with toxic defenses, they advertise their presence as a warning to potential predators. Join this virtual lecture with Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s Senior Marine Biologist, Rebecca Mensch, MS, to learn more about (and see!) the fantastic adaptations many mollusks have evolved to deter detection.

About the speaker: Rebecca Mensch completed her B.S. in Marine Biology from Florida Institute of Technology. She completed her Master of Applied Science with Honors from Auckland University of Technology. Her master’s thesis was on the taxonomy of the deep-sea squid genus
Chiroteuthis. During her seven years with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Rebecca has had a broad scope of responsibilities including designing and leading in-house and outreach educational programming, identifying and cataloging scientific specimens in the Research Collection, conducting research on the life history of local marine mollusks, curating and caring for the Museum’s live mollusk collection.

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Let's Get Kraken: Cephalopods Coast to Coast

By Bret Grasse, Manager of Cephalopod Operations
Marine Biological Laboratories (Woods Hole, MA)

Cephalopods, which include octopuses, cuttlefish, squids and nautilus, have long fascinated humans.  For centuries, they have provided rich inspiration for our human culture through art, history and fables, technology, and media. 


Cephalopods are an evolutionary oddity that include many incredible physical and behavioral capabilities, unique to life on this planet.  They have the largest and most complex brains of any invertebrate, they have unmatched ability to change the color and texture of their skin, they are the fastest aquatic invertebrates, and they can regrow or regenerate entire limbs, to name a few.  This talk will focus on what makes cephalopods so impressive while discussing their presence and role in public aquariums and research communities.  

About the speaker: Bret Grasse has over 15 years of experience in the public aquarium industry. Most notably, Bret served as Senior Aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for nearly 10 years. During his tenure at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Bret created and supervised the world’s first ever large-scale cephalopod show, called Tentacles. As part of this exhibition, Bret maintained a diverse collection of cephalopods including 25 species of octopus, 15 species of squid, 10 species of cuttlefish, and nautilus. Bret cultured several of these species through multiple successive generations in aquaria, some for the first time ever. Part of this pioneer work also incorporated the display of several deep-sea cephalopods including vampire squid, glass squid, and flapjack octopus among others.  He has been featured in films such as National Geographic's Man vs. Octopus and BBC's The Octopus in My House as well as consulted for documentary series like BBC's Tiny World, Blue Planet II, and Planet Earth III (future production).


In 2017, Bret accepted a job as a Manager of Cephalopod Operations at the internationally renowned Marine Biological Laboratories (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA. Here he will continue his work with cephalopods in a world-class laboratory setting. The primary goal of this mission is to develop sustainable cultures of multiple cephalopod species and work with MBL scientists and educators to promote the use of these animals for research, education, and the conservation of our oceans. 



Mobilizing Millions of Mollusks of the Eastern Seaboard

By Rüdiger Bieler, PhD, Curator of Invertebrates
Field Museum of Natural History;
and José H. Leal, PhD, Science Director and Curator
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Mobilizing Millions of Mollusks of the Eastern Seaboard (ESB) is a collaborative Thematic Collections Network (TCN) project sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Infrastructure Capacity for Biology program of NSF’s Division of Biological Infrastructure.
The ESB Project involves 17 of the largest mollusk collections in the US and combines data of over 4.5 million individual specimens from the Atlantic and Gulf States, which will be made available through public online data portals. Adding map coordinates to occurrence records for live-collected mollusks in natural history collections will provide detailed knowledge of distributions. Because natural history collections have specimens collected from the mid-1800s to present, these occurrence records can help track distributional changes over time and lead to better fisheries and conservation management. Drs Leal and Bieler will discuss the project advances and the expected outcomes from this multifaceted cooperative effort.

About the speakers: Dr. Rüdiger Bieler is a marine biologist, specializing in Malacology (the science of mollusks), particularly the study of the comparative morphology, biodiversity, and interrelationships of marine gastropods and bivalves. Dr. Bieler received his M.Sc. and D.Sc. degrees from the University of Hamburg, Germany. After extensive fieldwork in Africa and postdoctoral appointments with the Smithsonian Institution in D.C. and Florida, he held curatorial and administrative positions at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, and joined the Field Museum staff in 1990. In addition to his National Science Foundation-supported research programs, he has served in various administrative roles (including Zoology Department Chair), trains an international group of PhD students, and leads national and international initiatives in evolutionary research and large-scale digitization of biological collections. He is on the faculty of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago, was elected president for both the International and the American Societies of Malacology, has served on the Board of Trustees of the Delaware Museum of Natural History, and holds appointments on numerous professional editorial boards. He has published extensively in his chosen fields of research.

José H. Leal, Ph.D. has worked for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum since 1996 and is currently the Science Director and Curator. Dr. Leal received his PhD in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami. He has served as an Assistant Editor for Sea Frontiers Magazine, a Visiting Professor at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Leal holds honorary faculty positions at the University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University, where he is an affiliate member of the Coastal Watershed Institute. He is also a past president of the American Malacological Society and of Conchologists of America, a past board member of the Florida Association of Museums, an Accreditation Peer Reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums, and editor of The Nautilus. It was through Dr. Leal's leadership that the Museum was awarded accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2010.

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Saving the Queen of the Sea: Queen Conch Conservation Aquaculture

By Megan Davis, Ph.D., Research Professor, Aquaculture and Stock Enhancement Program
Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

Conservation aquaculture is the farming of fresh and saltwater plants and animals for restoration and food. During this presentation you will learn about Queen Conch aquaculture, which has been Dr. Davis’s focus for the past 40 years. Conchs are a cultural icon of Florida, The Bahamas and the Caribbean where they are found in the shallow seagrass beds and sandy flats. They are known for their beautiful pink lipped shell and harvested as a fishery species for delicacies such as conch chowder, fritters, and salad. You will learn about the life cycle of the Queen Conch, the Conch fishery, and how FAU Harbor Branch has joined with Caribbean partners and communities to aquaculture the Queen Conch for the sake of the species, the ecosystem, and the people who depend on the fishery. 
About the speaker: Dr. Davis has worked in the field of aquaculture for over four decades and has led several team projects throughout the Caribbean and Florida. Her passion for the ocean began as a young girl collecting shells along the beaches of her native Australia and sailing many summers in The Bahamas with her family. She spent 10 years in the Turks and Caicos Islands as co-founder and chief scientist for the world’s largest Queen Conch farm. Davis and her team work on Queen Conch restoration and conservation community partnership projects in Florida, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico and other locations in the Caribbean. See for more information and follow Dr. Davis on Instagram @queenconchlab for regular updates on the projects.

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Land Snails in Los Angeles: An Experiment in Urban Citizen Science

By Dr. Jann Elizabeth Vendetti, Associate Curator and Twila Bratcher Chair in Malacology
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

The land snail and slug fauna of Los Angeles County, like that of many other metropolitan areas, is under-surveyed and under-studied. To address this shortfall, in 2015 the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County began a citizen/community science project called SLIME (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments), focused on the terrestrial malacofauna from Southern California. As of early 2022, there have been more than 18,000 observations added to the project and approximately 100 species documented. Results have included first occurrence records for several species within Southern California counties and the documentation of range extents and limits of native and introduced taxa.

The outreach aspect of the project has engaged students and school groups, museum associates and members, and other community groups. The success of SLIME has been replicated with similar iNaturalist projects elsewhere in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Georgia and Seattle, Washington. In this talk, Dr. Vendetti will share highlights and insights of building a successful citizen science movement in the nation's largest urban area, and surprising discoveries about land snail and slug species in Los Angeles.

About the speaker: Jann Vendetti is Associate Curator of Malacology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the co-director of the Museum's Urban Nature Research Center. She is interested in the natural history, evolution, systematics, and conservation of marine and terrestrial snails. Jann joined the museum in 2014 and has focused on collections-based research and the Snails and slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments (SLIME) project, championing the important role of citizen/community science to understanding terrestrial gastropod biodiversity. Jann earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, and had a postdoctoral fellowship at California State University, Los Angeles, which was partially funded by a Smithsonian Encyclopedia of Life Rubenstein Fellowship. 

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Southwest Florida's Water Quality Challenges and the Urgent Need to Complete Everglades Restoration

By James Evans, Environmental Policy Director, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation


Shells and Bad Water:
Ocean Acidification and its Effects on Mollusks​

By José H. Leal, Ph.D., Science Director and Curator, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum 


Blue Revolution:
A Water Ethic for America and Florida

By Cynthia Barnett, Award-Winning Environmental Journalist 


Artistic Adaptations: 2,000 Years of Seashells in Art

By Jean M. Burks, Curator Emerita, Shelburne Museum, and Kory Rogers, Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art, Shelburne Museum 


Curator’s Choice: New Photographs of Extraordinary Shells, and the Digital Imaging Project at the National Shell Museum

By José H. Leal, Ph.D., Science Director and Curator, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum 


Oysters: A Crystal Ball for Water Quality in Southwest Florida

By Melissa A. May, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Florida Gulf Coast University


Supersized Squid

By Rebecca Mensch, Senior Marine Biologist, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum 


8,000 Years of Shells in the American Southeast: Archaeological Insights on the Ecology, Diet, Architecture, and Ritual of Ancient Native Americans

By Kenneth E. Sassaman, Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology, University of Florida

By Dan Killam, Ph.D., Biosphere 2, University of Arizona


Why Am I Growing Giant Clams in the Middle of the Arizona Desert?

By Jean M. Burks, Curator Emerita, Shelburne Museum, and Kory Rogers, Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art, Shelburne Museum 


Shell Dressed: Seashells in Fashion and Jewelry


Spooky Mollusks and Other Evils
of the Deep: A Halloween Special 

By José H. Leal, Ph.D., Science Director and Curator, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum