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In 1804, G. L. C. F. D. Cuvier described the Pteropods as a group. It was J. B. P. A. de Lamarck who defined the Heteropods as an order for the first time in 1812. H. M. D. de Blainville, in 1824, recognised both groups as molluscs and he made the distinction between the naked and shelled pteropods: the Gymnosomata and Thecosomata. A. d'Orbigny and P. C. A. L. Rang made important contributions to the description of species, they gave special attention also to the tiny species. J. E. V. Boas gave the first monograph of the pteropods in 1886 and a synthesis of the Heteropoda was given by Smith in 1888 in the Challenger Reports. Many studies on anatomy were made in the period 1850-1900 by scientists like C. Gegenbaur (1853-1855) and J. Meisenheimer (1903-1905); P. J. van Beneden also made an important contribution on the morphology of the group.

Ecological studies started in 1900 as shown by the studies of H. B. Bigelow and M. Sears (1939). The first biogeographical study was published by J. Meisenheimer in 1905, and W. H. Dall made a large contribution to the understanding of the Pacific fauna. The Challenger and Dana Expeditions revived interest in these pelagic groups and the work of E. A. Smith (1888), P. Pelseneer (1888) and J. J. Tesch (1946-1950) on material of these expeditions set the trend for modern research.

The modern taxonomy of heteropods is for the first time given by G. Richter. One of the last breakthroughs was the study of living pelagic molluscs with scuba by G. R. Harbison and R. W. Gilmer and breeding experiments contributed to the understanding of ecology of the group. For more details see under the Pteropoda and Heteropoda in the Higher Taxa.