Raja Ampat and North Sulawesi (Indonesia) 

During the 17th century, Dutch merchant vessels visited the islands of the Banda Sea to trade for spices, especially nutmeg. During this period, a large number of shells were gathered and brought back to Europe. The first published report of the molluscan fauna is the monumental "Amboinsche Rariteiten-kamer" (Amboinese Cabinet of Curiosities) of Eberhard G. Rumpf (better known under the name Rumphius) of 1701. Many original figures upon which Linnaeus based the concept of gastropod species are depicted in this book, and Ambon in the south of Ceram is their type locality.

 

In 1786, Lightfoot described Conus nocturnus, a spectacular species which until recently was only known from a dozen specimens stored in museums throughout Europe. A granulose variation was described as deburghiae by Sowerby II in 1857. However, the exact origin of these shells was unknown for nearly three hundred years, and searches for the species in the Banda Islands and the area of Ambon were fruitless.

 

In 1999, a group of divers discovered a small number of specimens near Waigeo Island, in Raja Ampat, Irian Jaya. An expedition on board the MV Empress in 2005 surveyed the area between the south of Halmahera in the Moluccas, Misool, and Waigeo. In all of these places, specimens or at least fragments of Conus nocturnus and its granulose deburghiae-form were found, extending the known range of this species to the Moluccas, and the northeast of Ceram. Further south, it is replaced by the Indo-Pacific Conus bandanus and C. marmoreus.

On this year's trip along the western end of the Bird's Head Peninsula of Irian Jaya, we were pleasantly surprised to find reefs in a condition matching that of ten years before, and observed a vast diversity of molluscs, including cowries. Also Conus nocturnus is still represented, and throughout the trip we found at least dead specimens, or fresh fragments of shells that have been attacked, possibly by Napoleon Wrasses, which are still quite abundant in this remote part of the world.

Conus nocturnus and its granulose variation deburghiae (two shells on right) from Raya Ampat

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