This was written last year. I have finished the work on the mappas, and basically the below given systematics appears correct. However, the systematic status finally given to the taxa may vary. It appears more important to me to point out that these different groups do exist and what they look like. Some names will be revised in the upcoming book, so the below given is merely a transitional status quo.


One of the most problematic groups in the family Cypraeidae is certainly the Leporicypraea mappa - complex whose large and colourful shells have attracted both, collectors and taxonomists to a high extent, with the result that its taxonomic and systematic situation is in a mess. In the first edition of A Guide to Worldwide Cowries" there were several mistakes concerning the assignment of names, and also in the interpretation of some of the Pacific taxa. In the second edition we have finally clarified the situation, at least on the taxonomical standpoint whereas the systematic arrangement is still unsatisfacorily superficial. This revision offered here on the internet shall give an overview to the taxa and all unnamed but distinct populations known to me. Perhaps somebody will find appropriate names for them, some of the ones I am using here have no taxonomic value, maked with *.


Revision of the mappas

updated 12/2002

by Felix Lorenz

The systematic position of most so-called subspecies is probably that of valid species. One indication for this is the sympatric occurrence e.g. of geographica and rosea in East Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarenes, of viridis and rewa in the Central Pacific and mappa and geographica in Indonesia. Another indication is offered by genetic studies according to which the mappa-complex consists of as many as seven species (Chris Meyers, pers. comm.). Here I am making an attempt to find a reasonable compromise between splitting up the group and keeping it in an overviewable scale. The result from the conchological and zoogeographical comparison leads to three distinguishable groups (here listed as species), with two subspecies and several geographically confined forms. Individual colour variations have not been listed.

1. Leporicypraea geographica geographica (forma: minima)

1 a. Leporicypraea geographica rewa

2. Leporicypraea mappa mappa

2 a. Leporicypraea mappa viridis (formae: eluceta, guamensis*, montrouzieri)

2 b. Leporicypraea mappa rosea

2 c. Leporicypraea mappa aliwalensis


1. Leporicypraea geographica geographica Schilder & Schilder 1933

The type of geographica was claimed to originate from Indonesia. It is difficult today to assign the name to either the well known large shelled East African specimens or the smaller eastern populations known from Phuket Is. and the Andaman Sea. The main conchological characteristics of geographica are the somewhat irregular, almost blurred dorsal netting, the large marginal spots and the absence of a basal blotch. The shells are oval rather than cylindrical, the margins are irregularly pitted. These features are also found in the rare rewa from western Polynesia, which should therefore be assigned to geographica rather than to any other forms or subspecies of mappa. More pictures are here.

minima Raybaudi 1985: Maldives, Thailand, Indonesia; Smaller, less callous.

Distribution of L. g. geographica

Leporicypraea g. geographica and its dwarf eastern variation L. geographica var. minima. According to genetic studies, the Western Australian shells belong to g. rewa rather than geographica geographica.


1 a. Leporicypraea geographica rewa (Steadman & Cotton 1943)

This rare taxon from western Polynesia differs from the western geographica mainly by its enormous weight and the more callous margins. The aperture is very narrow. Unlike any Pacific mappa, rewa never shows a basal blotch and has irregular, pitted margins. The dorsal line is mostly indistinct. It is found in Western Australia, the South China Sea to Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

Distribution of L. g. rewa

L. geographica rewa, typical specimens


2. Leporicypraea mappa mappa (Linnè 1758)

The holotype of mappa was illustrated by Rumphius and clearly shows the western Pacific subspecies known from the Philippines and parts of Indonesia. It is large, inflated, with a tendency towards a cylindrical shape. The base shows a faint blotch, the teeth are pale brown. The margins are hardly callous, with numerous small spots. The dorsal netting is regular and distant, forming round lacunae and the characterstic serpentine-dorsal line situatued towards the labral side of the dorsum. Reddish specimens are called panerythra.

Distirbution of Leporicypraea mappa mappa

2 a. Leporicypraea mappa viridis (Kenyon 1902)

There was quite a confusion about this name and probably there still is, well I am using this name here again for the western Pacific subspecies, admitting my earlier mistake. Conchologically, some viridis may be nearly indistinguishable from mappa mappa, but there are several distinct populations in Micronesia and Melanesia that represent no problem in distinction. The assignment of the New Caledonian shells to this subspecies as done by Alex Hubert and me in the second edition of the "Guide" is admittedly provisional, it is backed, however, by genetic findings.

There are several important geographic variations (or even subspecies?) in the Pacific:

eluceta Lorenz & Hubert 2000: Marshall Is. and Truk; Inflated, very heavy, oval. Basal blotch often absent. Bright whitish to orange base. Teeth pale orange. Larger marginal spots. The dorsal line usually is situated on the middle of the dorsum.

guamensis (new): Guam and other Island of the Marianas; Small. Very slender, slightly cylindrical. Basal blotch distinct, often present on both sides of the base. Lateral spots very fine and numerous. The dorsal line shows wide curves and is situated towards the labral side.

montrouzieri (Dautzenberg 1903): New Caledonia; Large, more elongate than western shells. The basal blotch distinct, the aperture rather wide. Lightweight. In deeper water off New Caleonia, a heavy shelled variation occurs which resembles the eastern admirabilis.

viridis from the Solomons and Australia are rather similar to the Philippine mappa mappa, the main differences being the more oval shape, more callous margins and the more produced anterior extremity.

All typical southwestern Pacific viridis have a more or less distinct basal blotch, a rather wide aperture, and dense, crowded marginal spots. The dorsal pattern always form regular circular lacunae. Serious consideration to subdivide eluceta as subspecies fails on account of the rarity of this beautiful form whose spectrum of variations is so far difficult to evaluate.

L. mappa mappa and its typical variations

The varieties L. mappa viridis var. eluceta and m. v. var. guamensis

The New Caledonian L. mappa viridis var. montrouzieri


2 b. Leporicypraea mappa admirabilis Lorenz 2002

This is the unmistakable heavy-shelled eastern Polynesian subspecies formerly lumped with viridis.

Leporicypraea mappa admirabilis from different Polynesian localities

Distribution of mappa admirabilis


2 c. Leporicypraea mappa rosea (Gray 1824)

The occurrence of m. rosea alongside geographica without interbreeding has been a taxonomical stir for a while, leading me to believe they were examples for sympatric subspecies, or separate species - an interpretation more likely to be the case, but perhaps a bit anarchistic at the time I first expressed it back in the late eighties. Still all I can say is that I do not know which interpretation is correct, as I am not a map cowry - I guess these guy know better than we do. What we can see is that rosea shares the basal blotch with mappa and appears more closely related to this rather than geographica. Rosea is characterized by the reduced number of regular round lacunae, the finer, dense and regular marginal spots, the more cylindrical, somewhat depressed shape and the more blurred, denser dorsal netting. The typical rosea is from Mauritius and La Reunion, which has a bright purple basal blotching and bright orange teeth. The populations from the mainland of East Africa, the Comoros, Madagascar and the Sala y Malha Bank tend to be larger and more distinctly cylindrical, the basal colour being less bright, whereas the teeth in all rosea are bright orange (compared to mappa). More pictures are here.

Distribution of L. mappa rosea and L. mappa aliwalensis

2 c. Leporicypraea mappa aliwalensis Lorenz 2002

This southern subspecies is closest related to m. rosea. Natal; Elongate, very dark basally. Dorsal netting dark, dense and coarser.

Leporicypraea mappa rosea and its South African variation L. mappa aliwalensis


An interesting comment sent in by Mr. John "Duffy" Daughenbaugh

"As one would expect, a very thoughtful paper which does much to advance our knowledge of this fascinating species. The most revolutionary proposition is the recognition of different species within the mappa complex. This may be the most controversial aspect of the paper for some readers. However, I find the argument put forth, i.e. the co-existence of distinct populations in the same geographic area to be persuasive.
Turning to the individual species, I would offer the following observations:
The population from the Central Pacific known as "Rewa" is classified as a subspecies of Geographica. Moreover, there does appear to be a real relationship between these two populations. The classification as a subspecies appears to follow the methodology under which, for example, "Aequinoctialis" is classified as a subspecies of "Annettae". One would expect such an approach in the interests of consistency if nothing else. However, such an approach does not appear to be accepted by all, with Aequinoctialis accepted as a separate species by some. I recognize the merits of both sides of the argument, but believe that neither are conclusive at this point in time. As personal observation, I do not believe that the marginal pitting in Geographica is as consistent or obvious as it is in Rewa. In fact, such marginal pitting may not be discernible in many specimens of Geographica. The recognition and separation of the smaller mappa from Guam is, in my opinion, very much deserved. However, I believe further study is required to determine if a status higher than forma is warranted. However, based on the current state of affairs, this is probably as far as one could prudently go. The same comments apply to Geographica, forma Minima. There remains the question of more normal sized mappa from Guam. These share many of the features of Montrouzieri, except they are more oval and are somewhat inflated. The status of the Eastern Polynesian population should be clarified in one aspect. Does this population consist exclusively of Viridis? If not, what is the species with which it co-exists?
So, where are we? Is the last word on the mappa complex? I doubt it and I doubt that the author intends it to be so. Does this advance our knowledge of the mappa complex? Undoubtedly it does and in a major and important way. This is a very difficult and complex task and the author should be commended for taking it on and doing so in a very professional manner."


The review of the mappa-complex is excellent, it
makes "everything" clear (although there are always people who prefer
different name), also because you show the best of the best in mappa's (make
one day a sort of iconography with those plates!!).

a comment by Laurentius Gorissen


I just saw your page on Leporocypraea mappa. I wish to congratulate you for the wonderful pictures of specimens from so
many locations. Pictures are very clear. I own the first edition of your book. I think, my modest opinion, is the best
treatise on Cypraea. Albert Bitar


Your revision on the mappa-complex is getting much better !!!!!!!!!!

The comment from Mr. John Duffy Daughenbaugh is not so badbut it should be more elaborated (less questionmarks)I agree with him concerning the E. Polynesian race = are they all L. m. viridis ? (& the range can be further spread).
The New Caledonian montrouzieri (Dautz.), this probably the one you used to call panerythraBut I dont know any species from that region who are lightweight ?
I know that you dont use (or list) individual colour variationsbut the name panerythra will still be used (for the red coloured base of mappa mappa from the Philippines) ?What about the red coloured ones from Tanzania ?
All the Leporicypraea youre talking about, I have in my collection (±1/6 bought from you50 to 60 spieces) but I still have an interesting specimen (only one) that is proclaimed rare and only found in the extreme south of Palawan (average small species)this one disserves also a closer look

a comment by Jo van Heesvelde


Here is a comment by Dr. Luigi "Gino" Raybaudi. In his unique way he has expressed some perplexities about me putting up a revision (which I fully understand-I was indeed provocative here) at the same time he realizes why I did that, and why it was put on the internet. I really appreciate his comment and I still hope that my version on the mappa might have helped to get closer to the truth, which in the end, none of us has a subscription to.

A propos of mappa in Cypraeidae

by Luigi Raybaudi Massilia.

About one year ago I announced that, together with my friend Mirco Bergonzoni and the collaboration of other specialists, I was working on a total revision of mappa (Cypraeidae). In the meantime I have examined over 1500 specimens, while our work is gradually proceeding as other specimens I have requested from the world's dealers and divers arrive one by one, Felix Lorenz has suddenly come out with a new revision of mappa. Some common friends have stigmatised this undertaking, denouncing it as treacherous and rude towards me. But I consider it at most a form of emulation, which is understandable in someone, who, wanting to arrive first, shoots ahead without realizing that by doing so he is giving me the opportunity to have the last word. Thank you, Felix! The problem is that in his new revision I havent found anything that I did not already know, except for his folly in having created three species of mappa! Thats 3 species, not subspecies.

In any case were moving ahead, and will be working for another 3-4 months. Starting from different assumptions, our conclusions will be openly, totally different from those of Lorenz, whose good will I appreciate in any case, but to whom we recommend a little less hastiness.

Thanks Gino for this comment. The fact that I have put my "revision" only on the internet (this is not a publication!!) should show everybody that I leave the field to you. If I had published anything on mappa in a print medium I would agree to being "treacherous and rude". The opposite is the case, and as you realize correctly: here is my opinion, now you have the last word. Hasn't it always been that way?

yours loving "grandson" Felix


Your wish to stimulate discussion on the taxonomic revision of the mappa
certainly was fulfilled. I am a Marine Biologist, not a taxonomist, but I
certainly believe in the biological species concept. If your statement "The
occurrence of rosea alongside geographica without interbreeding..." is a
known scientific fact, then the hypothesis that these two populations are
separate species is supported. However, since it is impractical to determine
the reproductive isolation of the various mappa populations in the natural
environment, one is forced to adopt an alternative classification system
such as the phenetic species concept.

Although much weight is placed on morphological differences primarily in the
mappa shell, I hope that future revisions will incorporate as much other
scientific knowledge that is available. For instance, with the advances in
molecular biology, I hope that genetic information such as that of Chris
Meyers that you alluded to in your article can be used. In addition, I hope
that as much ecological information about each mappa population is also
included. For example, as rosea and geographica are both found in Mauritius,
do both populations live on the same reef, at the same depth and eat the
same food?

As to being a cowrie collector, I would suppose that all of us are basically
"splitters" at heart. After all, I would presume that there is happiness in
numbers and that most of us would like to have 10 species or subspecies of
cowries in our collection as opposed to 10 geographical forms.

a comment by Dr. Edward Krasny


Send me your comments, please