200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 164: “The Legend of Dragon Palace ”

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two views of a marine snail shell
Dragon Palace Shell (Entemnotrochus rumphii).

The Legend of Dragon Palace

Japanese legend tells of Urashima Taro, a poor boy who one day rescued a sea turtle from a gang of children. The grateful turtle bore him on his back down to the fabulous palace of the Dragon King on the deep ocean floor. There he was feted as a hero by the beautiful Dragon Princess, forgetting for a while his humble home.

Eventually he yearned to visit his village once more. The princess gave him a small box to carry as a keepsake, and she made him promise never to open it lest he be unable to return to her. Curiosity got the better of him, however, and emerging from the waves he opened the box. In a flash, he turned into an ancient man with misty eyes and a flowing beard. Hobbling into his village, he realized to his horror that 100 years had passed in the mere weeks he had been in the palace and that no one he had ever known remained alive.

The marine snail shown here, Entemnotrochus rumphii, is known in Japan and China as the “Dragon Palace Shell.” Its pearly interior and beautiful pattern evoke the wealth and splendor of the Dragon King’s realm. Scientifically it is interesting as one of only 25 surviving species of the ancient Slit Shells, a family that was abundant in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. The long slit in the side of this so-called “living fossil” is a vent for water that has passed over the gills. This rare shell comes only from deep water off Japan and Taiwan, and perfect examples change hands for thousands of dollars. The Academy’s shells have multiple breaks that were repaired after their inhabitants survived attacks by predatory lobsters.

Mark your calendar! Swim through a sea of shells during the month of October at the Academy. Throughout the month, see some of our treasures, meet our scientists, and collect a shell to take home.

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