200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 47: “Deadly Snails ”

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photo of Conus geographus
Conus geographus: The proboscis is to the right. (Photo via www.latelanera.com.)

Deadly Snails

Conus geographus, a type of cone snail, is a dangerous creature. Found in tropical and subtropical seas, these snails hide under the sand in coral reefs with their siphon sticking out. Why are they so crafty? These snails rely on venom to catch prey, usually small fish. As they approach their prey, they use their proboscis (a tubular, elongated snout) to engulf them and thrust a hollow harpoon-like prong into the fish’s flesh. They then pump several drops of venom through their harpoon, paralyzing their prey within seconds.

Fish haven’t been these snails’ only victims. Humans, too, have suffered their wrath! According to Malacology Collection Manager Paul Callomon, humans often get stung when they pick up living cone snails or collect them and handle them carelessly. The venom is not always fatal, but many human deaths have been recorded. The Academy’s Malacology Curator and Chair, Gary Rosenberg, currently is working on a project in the Philippines with one of the main cone-venom research groups, centered at the University of Utah. The group is looking at bacteria that live symbiotically in the mollusks to see if the bacteria play a role in producing the venoms.

When you visit the Academy, you can see the shell of a cone snail that killed its 28-year-old collector within three hours. Visit the museum today and hunt it down!

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