The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s free online lecture series continues on Thursday, October 12th at 5:30pm with The Charisma of Cowries, led by Dr. José H. Leal, Museum Science Director and Curator.


Cowries have played significant roles in human culture going back tens of thousands of years. Their shapes, sizes, and colors exert an attraction that knows no geographical or cultural barriers. Cowries have been used as money, ornaments, spiritual objects, and became one the most desired groups of collectible shells in modern times. In this presentation Dr. Leal discusses the biodiversity, geographical distribution, and natural history of cowries, and some of the most remarkable cultural uses of cowrie shells.


José H. Leal, Ph.D. is the Science Director and Curator of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Dr. Leal received his Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami and has served as an Assistant Editor for Sea Frontiers Magazine, a Visiting Professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. He holds honorary faculty positions at the University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University, is a past president of the American Malacological Society and of Conchologists of America, and is currently editor of The Nautilus journal of malacology.


Registration required at


The National Shell Museum is currently closed for reconstruction following the impacts of Hurricane Ian. Its re-opening will be phased, with the goal of restoring the Living Gallery of aquariums, lobby, and Museum Store by the end of 2023.


About the Museum: The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a natural history museum, and the only museum in the United States devoted primarily to shells and mollusks. Its mission is to use exceptional collections, aquariums, programs, experiences, and science to be the nation’s leading museum in the conservation, preservation, interpretation, and celebration of shells, the mollusks that create them, and their ecosystems. Permanent exhibitions on view include the Great Hall of Shells which displays highlights of the Museum’s collection of some 550,000 shells, as well as the Beyond Shells living gallery of aquariums and over 60 species of marine life. In 2023 the Museum is under reconstruction following the impacts of Hurricane Ian. For more information, please visit or call (239) 395-2233.