Wednesday, March 28, 2012

nature journal: murexsul emipowlusi

every family has its claim to fame.  that "story" that gets tossed about at family gatherings.  ours is that there is a shell discovered by and named after my grandpa eck that resides in the smithsonian's archives.  i had heard this tale since early childhood and it was a great source of quiet pride for me as i played with my own little shell collection while growing up beside the gulf of mexico.  the story came up again at our last family cookout, but this time it didn't stay just a story.  this time my sister pulled out her iphone and began googling and now the miracle of modern technology has backed our story with fact.  she quickly found the excerpt below, but no picture to assuage our virtual curiosity.  i must have been dreaming about it later that night because i woke up around midnight and began a smartphone search of my own.  i eventually found that the original name was changed for taxonomic purposes and from there i finally found a picture of the shell that bears my grandfather's name.  g was, of course, charmed by the story and is thrilled that a shell from his family is down there amongst the archives of "night at the museum 2."

the shell itself is very small, less than a half inch in length, and found in deep waters of the gulf of mexico, approximately 1200 feet down.  it's a murex, a mollusk that lives on rocks.  my dad says that grandpa eck used to have a heavy metal "bucket" of sorts that he used as an anchor and a dredge.  this bucket had holes in the bottom and was a source for several of his shell discoveries.  -source

i've included all the information i found online below for the family.  i wanted to keep it all in one place here as the google search was actually quite difficult.

"The gastropod name Ocenebra empowlusi Abbott, 1954 is named for Marland Eckley Powlus, Apr. - Bloomsburg, Columbia County, PA) 1909-80 (Mar. - Port St. Joe, FL..). His niece Barbara Powlus Hays has kindly provided the following information: The childhood was chaotic. His father worked on the railroad which necessitated often changing location. Unfortunately, the marriage soured, and physical abuse caused my grandmother to divorce and thus ended the family circle. My grandmother moved to New Jersey with the boys to protect them and her from the father. She then raised the boys on her own supporting them from her luncheonette business on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey. Uncle Eckley was very creative and talented . He engaged in singing and drawing. He first made his living by doing charcoal sketches of people at the beach in Wildwood, NJ and singing in public places. Neither his daughter nor I know for sure, but we both suspect that he did not complete high school. My father did not either and he was the more intellectual of the two. Uncle Eckley married and shortly thereafter children came along. Uncle Eckley's free bohemian spirit and wanderlust would not let him stay in one place very long. If I were to compare him to some notable character it would be Ernest Hemingway. His charismatic personality endeared him to all in spite of obvious faults. It was his habit to pick up stakes and move southward get settled and then send for the family. At one time he worked at making mirrors. This pattern continued until he got to Florida approximately 1941 with five children and another born soon after his arrival there. He took a job in the shipyard, but such occupations could not hold him. Since he could no longer continue his southward pilgrimage on land, he took to the water which suited his restless spirit. He teamed up with a Dan Seiger who was a deep sea fisherman and shell collector. The shells they obtained appealed to my uncle's creative side and he acquired a large and varied collection. Certain folks interested in rare shells evaluated his collection and discovered that a shell of a certain type of deep sea murex was previously unidentified. At some future time parts of the collection found its way into other hands. His daughter mentioned both Ringling Bros Circus and the Smithsonian. A gentleman in St. Petersburg owns a copy of Abbott's book published in 1954 where the name is given to the gastropod. I am in contact with him. He is looking up the information in the book and I will speak with him again to see if there is more information to add. Uncle Eckley also engaged in shrimp fishing and spent the rest of his years working in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean going as far South as Honduras. When he finally put the boat into the dock for good he took up residence on his daughter's property and ended his days in Port St. Joe FL."  -source

"Species Ocenebra (Ocinebrina) emipowlusi accepted as Murexsul emipowlusi" -source

"The gastropod Ocenebra emipowlusi R.T. Abbott, 1954 was dredged from aboard the shrimp trawler, "Sea Hag" off Florida in 1953 by Captain M.E. Powlus, 1???-, after whom the species is named."  -source


"Shell. — Small, from 7 to 8 mm. in length, broadly fusiform,
and somewhat resembling a Favartia; color white throughout ;
3y2 post-nuclear whorls ; last whorl with 6 rounded axial, varix-
like ribs; penultimate whorl with 7 to 8 similar ribs; the spiral
sculpture consists of strongly raised, squarish, slightly fimbri-
ated cords of which there are 17 to 20 on the last whorl, and 4
to 7 showing on the apical whorls. The one nuclear whorl is
pronounced, glossy-white and bearing on the first half turn a
strong, smooth spiral, carina, which gives the nucleus an obliquely
carinate appearance ; last half or third of nucleus without the
carina, and succeeded abruptly by the well-sculptured post-
nuclear whorls. Aperture oval, almost complete and somewhat
spout-like, with a thin, sharp inner and outer lip. No anal
fasciole present. Inside of outer lip with 5 or 6 weak, elongate,
glossy-white teeth of spiral origin. Outer lip slightly crenulate.
Siphonal canal well developed, and almost closed along its length,
except for a narrow slit. To its left are the ends of 3 or 4."  -source


  1. oh my gosh! this is so cool Doris! what an interesting character he was, too!