Monday, September 29, 2008

We are all mollusks now

A number of readers have written to me to point out something that - on the face of it - appears as a gross factual error in the Molluskan Zodiac. Namely, that the Barnacle is not actually a mollusk at all. Now, I fully appreciate that in todays enlightened world of scientific discovery, we have seen great advances in our understanding of the fields of taxonomy and systematics. These disciplines have undergone a revolution due to the development of molecular phylogenetic techniques, and we can now describe with much greater certainty the relationships and kinship of any set of species that you might wish to compare.

And so I do accept that from a certain viewpoint, it is true that the Barnacle is not a mollusk at all and is perhaps more suitably classified as a crustacean. However, I feel safe in proclaiming that while some people of a scientific persuasion might wish to use such classification systems in order to label our beloved Barnacles as crustaceans, that this is a side-issue and of no relevance to the Molluskan Zodiac. Take a second to realize that our present-day understanding of molluskan divination has been distilled from many centuries of nautical folk-lore, from sailors swapping tales over a shot of rum, from fishing families that passed on the knowledge that had often helped them to a bountiful harvest. Did the founding fathers of the Molluskan Zodiac have access to DNA sequencing technology? Did they have access to such learned materials as the Journal of Molluskan Studies? The answer to these questions is clearly 'no'. The reality is that throughout history, sailors, fishermen, and other sea-goers would have seen the shelled form of the blessed Barnacle and assumed that - on the basis of morphology - this humble, yet proud creature is for all intents and purposes...a mollusk.

When the rain is lashing down amid stormy seas, let us not debate whether small-subunit rRNA sequencing places the Barnacle apart from other mollusks on nature's grand ladder. Let us not see the Barnacle as black and the Oyster as white. Instead let us see the shelled inhabitants of the seas as a broad canvas painted in many shades of grey. It may be true that had our forefathers had access to advanced phylogenetic techniques, that we may now be talking today about the fate and fortunes of the abalone or the cockle instead of the humble Barnacle. What is important, and what will remain important is that the stoic Barnacle is here to stay and will forever guide the lives of those people born between December 2nd and February 19th. Finally, let me refer people to some text from a 'lost verse' of Coleridge's famous poem Rime of the ancient mariner that makes it clear what many us already know in our hearts to be true:

When the sails are rent asunder
As Poseidon waits for thee
Do not talk down apon yonder Barnacle
For we are all mollusks now

1 comment:

Marigold said...

Hmmm, I see how it became a part of this zodiac. Yet, I will never be able to include them as mollusks. Inside the shell they just look crabby to me.