Permanent Exhibition » Virtual Shell Hall



  • close-up of a gastropod shell exhibited in the Shells Hall
  • close-up of a coral exhibited in the Shells Hall
  • close-up of a coral exhibited in the Shells Hall
  • close-up of the aquarium (and a clown fish) exhibited in the Shells Hall

Virtual Shell Hall

The Insect and Shell halls permanently closed their doors on 18 April 2017. You can still take a virtual look inside the halls thanks to Google Street View (click on the yellow guy down on the right, then select the third floor in the upper banner). You can also get in with Google Maps (drag the yellow guy onto the Institute, then select the third floor in the column on the right).

This hall contains over a thousand species of shells and molluscs! And this represents only a fraction of our collection which, with nearly nine million specimens, is one of the biggest mollusc collections in the world!

Laid out with impressive models and instructive illustrations, the Shell Hall also houses a tropical aquarium heated to 26 °C all year round, along with displays of sponges, corals, starfish, urchins and other invertebrates, a few live specimens of which can be seen in the aquarium.

Remarkable Elements

  • Entemnotrochus rumphii has a spiral shell with a wide base whose diameter can sometimes reach up to 30 cm.
  • Two specimens of ‘Helix aspersa aspersa’: one with a dextral shell (it coils in a clockwise direction from the opening) and one with a sinistral shell
  • A species of murex snail exhibited in the Shells Hall

Most of the molluscs in this room are gastropods. These have a muscular foot, which they use to move themselves along (either by crawling, like most, or swimming in some aquatic species). They also have a radula, a kind of rough tongue, for scraping algae off rocks and walls or devouring their prey (in cone snails, the radula is used like a venomous harpoon), and a univalve (one piece) shell, which is often spiralled. In slugs, the shell is extremely reduced and internal, or even completely absent.

In this hall, you can admire the curved, finger-like projections of the Lambis crocata (display 39, Strombidae no. 24), the impressive size of the Syrinx aruanus and Melo amphora (display 37), the delicate complexity of the Venus comb, Murex pecten (display 42, no. 78), and much more.

North Sea
  • Coil of sand on a Belgian beach
  • Barnacles may look like molluscs, but they are actually crustaceans, like crabs and shrimps.

In the Belgian section of the North Sea, which is only 1% of its total area, there are around 90 species of fish (amongst them eels, herring, anchovies, whiting, turbot, plaice, brill, butterfish, blennies, and mullet). There are also a few marine mammals, such as porpoises and seals, a number of birds (including black-headed gulls, herring gulls, common terns, shelduck, common scoter and the European eider) and a wide variety of invertebrates (bivalves, crustaceans, worms, etc.).

A workshop in this area would be a good start to a school trip to the seaside.

  • Pectinidae with various colors (from yellow to purple) exhibited in the Shells Hall
  • The gland that mussels have at the base of their foot for produces byssal threads (the mussel’s “beard”).

Mussels, scallops, razor shells, clams, oysters, and more: bivalves, as their name indicates, are molluscs whose shells are composed of two valves. They live underwater and, as you will see, they come in a wide range of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.

Don’t forget to have a look at our giant bivalves like the fan mussel (Pinna nobilis, display 34, no. 26), the very long Kuphus polythalamia (display 35, no. 111) and the record beater – for size and weight– the giant clam (Tridacna gigas). The biggest giant clam is too large and heavy for the display cases in the hall, and can be found with the corals opposite the aquarium.

The Dautzenberg Collection
  • Some of the 8,000 books from the Dautzenberg collection

Philippe Dautzenberg (1849-1935), a Belgian amateur conchologist, studied and collected shelled molluscs. He amassed some 8,000 specialist publications and, more notably, 4.5 million specimens which he collected, bought and exchanged with other enthusiasts.

In 1929, he donated his collection to the museum, which now has the third largest shell collection in the world!

In the two displays dedicated to his work, you can admire a few of the books, drawings and specimens from this significant collection.

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