A new marine research laboratory on Monterey Bay in California gave Frank Mace MacFarland the ideal setting to begin, in 1892, his lifelong study of sea slugs (nudibranchs). MacFarland became a world expert on nudibranchs—colorful mollusks that have no protective outer shell, and include some 3,000 species. MacFarland’s wife, Olive Hornbrook MacFarland, worked alongside him and painted the watercolors that illustrate his publications. Many sea slugs warn away predators with striking patterns and colors that advertise their powerful chemical defenses. Some species produce their own toxins, including sulphuric acid. Others store poisons taken from prey such as toxic algae. 

See more archival images. 

Belcher’s Chorus Shell (Forreria Belcheri, Hinds 1843)

With Operculum and Barnacles

This is a genus of marine gastropod mollusks in the family Muricidae and is indigenous to the Pacific Coast of California. These specimens have an interesting history. When Pier 174 burned in Los Angeles Harbor in December of 1967, these shells attached to the wooden pilings. On a silt bottom, they fed on mussels. They were collected with SCUBA at 35′ in 1991. It normally lives in shallow protected water and it is not a common shell. Like other rock shells, it is carnivorous, using its file-like radula (from the Latin meaning “scraper”) to drill through shells of other kinds of mollusks.


Among the roughly 1,400 species of land snails found in Cuba, those from the genus Polymita—that’s Latin for “many stripes”—are unique to the island nation. These tiny gastropods are quite aptly known as painted snails because of the variety of vibrant colors of their shells.

A dazzling array of painted snail specimens can be seen in the special exhibition ¡Cuba!, including Polymita picta, P. sulphurosa, P. versicolor, P. venusta, P. brochuri, and P. muscarum, all from the Museum’s collection.

Read more about these beautiful snails on the blog.


Reptile and amphibian specimens are not the only things stored in 70% ethanol! Departments such as Ornithology, Botany, and Mollusks preserve select specimens in fluid for further scientific use. This method preserves soft tissues that would otherwise need to be removed, maintains the natural three dimensional shape, and slows down DNA degradation. Fluid collections are more difficult to maintain as they take up more space and have to be regularly monitored to prevent the specimens from drying out. Keep an eye out for our future Alcohol House public tours to see these specimens up close and to meet our collection managers!

Here’s the list of specimens from left to right:

Maianthemum racemosum flowers
Cipangopaludina chinensis
Platycercus eximius
Chameleo gracilis gracilis
Elliptio jayensis
Monstera of Costa Rica
Maianthemum racamosum fruits
Polygonatum biflorum

How did you do at guessing the contents?

Two small orange-spike polycera (Polycera atra) inch gracefully though their home in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. 

These nudibranchs have bright orange tips on their gills, from which they get their common name. 

(Photo: Evan Barba)

Mottled in green, brown, and pink, this giant clam was spotted in the Fagalua/Fogama'a area of National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. 

Once nestled into a location on the reef, giant clams remain stationary throughout life, and play a major role in reef community structure. Like corals, giant clams have developed symbiotic relationships with algae called zooxanthellae. In return for shelter, zooxanthellae provide giant clams with nutrients they’ve photosynthesized! 

(Photo: NOAA)