Why am I interested in malacology and nature study?

I was born in 1948. I grew up 12 miles southeast of the center of London, England, in North Kent, where the suburbs ended and the countryside began. Each summer for two weeks my immediate family vacationed in Bideford, North Devon, where my mother was from and where my grandmother, and a vast number of other relatives lived. Devon was where I really got interested in shells, although I also studied all other aspects of nature back in Kent. I collected a lot of shells, but I am sorry to say that my mother threw away some of my boxes of shells over the years.

When I was 19, I was living in Cambridge, England, and I got married to a PhD student in Organic Chemistry. In 1970, when I was 22, we both moved to La Jolla in Southern California, where he had been awarded a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Salk Institute. In California I got a lot deeper into shells, and started writing papers about them. My first husband helped me learn more about fossils, and about how to research and write the papers we co-authored. In return I taught him a lot about shells.

After 14 months in California, I went back to Cambridge, England for 5 years. Ever since the late 1960s when we met, we had done a lot of mapping of the non-marine mollusks of the British Isles for the Conch Soc of GB and Northern Island. I got a job in the Histology Department of the Physiology Lab of Cambridge University for 5 years. Then we got separated, and I began the process of getting a divorce. I was then invited to move back to the US by an 18th century British historian, who had been offered a tenure-track position at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

After four years at Yale, my second husband-to-be and I moved to Harvard University, where he had been awarded a full professorship, the second youngest person ever to attain that. I went to work in the Malacology section of the Louis Agassiz Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. After a couple more years, we split up. I moved briefly to Ithaca, and then to New York City, where I lived at several different addresses downtown.

In 1988, I started a live-in relationship with Ed Subitzky, a cartoonist, humor writer and comedy performer, who had a day job in advertising. We soon started vacationing in the Caribbean. For about five years of visits we went to Mustique, a private island in the Grenadines, and then, after that, we started going to Nevis, Leeward Islands.

In the spring of 2000, after Hurricane Lenny, aka "Wrong-way Lenny", had brushed Nevis in November of 1999, I discovered that the island had developed a very small, but very rich, shell beach, and because of that I really got into Caribbean seashells in a major way. Over the following years Ed and I gradually started staying longer on Nevis, eventually for as long as four weeks on each visit. As well as visiting Nevis's sister island, St. Kitts fairly often, whenever I happened to be on Nevis for a public holiday, I was able to take a day trip on the "Sea Hustler" ferryboat, to either Montserrat or St. Eustatius, where I would search for shells. And, partly as a result of all that research, and the papers I published on it, in 2015 I was qualified to be accepted to take part in a Dutch scientific marine biological expedition to the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius.

For several years, starting in 1999, in order to help my research, I volunteered in the Malacology section of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, and when Malacology unfortunately shut up shop, I started volunteering in Invertebrate Paleontology.

Starting in the summer of 2007, for seven years I did a great deal of work on Wikipedia as "Invertzoo". The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, knew me quite well, and referred to me as "the Snail Lady".

In 2014, I shifted the online aspect of my volunteer work over to iNaturalist, and, as time went by, I was delighted to meet and become friends with several really terrific local naturalists and biologists here in NYC.

On this webpage you can find a complete list of my science-oriented publications; they are mainly malacological, but a few are more generally nature-related, including one on moths:



Posted on July 03, 2021 02:48 PM by susanhewitt susanhewitt


Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am hardly qualified to even carry your briefcase, but I so much enjoy your iNat entries and appreciate your help in completing or correcting some of my ID's. I still intend to do some serious wading and searching in the fresh waters of the Albemarle Sound at my farm to get good specimens of the fresh water clams and mussels that live there to photograph and make iNat entries. Jack

Posted by jspruill almost 3 years ago

Thanks Jack.

Posted by susanhewitt almost 3 years ago

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