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Cone Snails: Beautiful Shells but Dangerous Animals

Posted by Greg on October 27, 2011

Cone snail seashells are an exciting discovery when you’re beachcombing. They are beautiful, and they are some of the rarer finds. When doing the research before writing this article, I found some very interesting facts about cone snails.

Cone Snail Variety (Photo by Pet/Wikimedia Commons)

A large variety of cone snail species can be found in the Indo-West Pacific region, but cone snails live in all tropical and sub-tropical seas.  Cone snails tend to live under rocks in coral reefs or in tidal waters. They will often bury themselves in the sand, leaving only their siphon tube exposed. When prey passes by, the cone snail senses it through the siphon. Then the snail will shoot a tethered harpoon, called a proboscis, into its prey and inject the venom. The prey becomes immobile almost immediately and is then devoured  by the cone snail.

Geographic Cone Snail (Photo by Kerry Matz, National Institute of General Medical Services/Wikipedia)

All cone snail stings are toxic, which is a very good reason to exercise caution when you are collecting their shells.  The geographic cone snail (Conus geographus), pictured to the left, is one of the larger and more dangerous cone snails.  According to National Geographic: “The geographic cone is the most venomous of the 500 known cone snail species, and several human deaths have been attributed to them. Their venom, a complex concoction of hundreds of different toxins, is delivered via a harpoonlike tooth propelled from an extendable proboscis. There is no antivenin for a [geographic] cone snail sting, and treatment is limited to merely keeping victims alive until the toxins wear off.” Other lethal stings have been attributed to the textile cone snail (Conus textile).

An exotic example of a rarer and less toxic cone snail variety is the glory-of-the-seas cone snail. Once thought to be very rare, their shells sold to collectors for as much as one thousand dollars each, and they have been highly sought after since they were first described by J. H. Chemnitz in 1777. According to Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “the glory-of-the-seas cone (C. gloriamaris) is 10 to 13 cm (4 to 5 inches) long and coloured golden brown, with a fine net pattern. Throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was known from fewer than 100 specimens, making it the most valuable shell in the world. In 1969 divers discovered the animal’s habitat in the sandy seafloor near the Philippines and Indonesia.”  They may now be acquired for more reasonable prices. (Photos that I found are copyrighted. If you’re curious, you can follow this link.)

Rayed Cones

For more fascinating  facts and lots of of details on the “Conidae” (scientific name), visit theconesnail.com, a very interesting site run by the University of Utah.

We hope you find many cone snail seashells (without the snails in them) on your next visit to the beach!

*Posted February 5, 2012: Rayed Cone Snails: Findings and Lucky Finds*

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