Leopard Cone - The largest cone shell in Hawaii

by B. N. Sullivan

Conus leopardusWe promised to show our readers some of the shells we have collected over our many years of diving.  All of the shells in our collection were found by us; none were purchased.  Some of the shells in our collection were found while beachcombing, but most were found underwater.

The Leopard Cone (Conus leopardus), pictured on this page, is the largest Cone Shell in our collection.   In fact, the Leopard Cone happens to be the largest Cone Shell species found in Hawaii.  According to E. Alison Kay's authoritative book, Hawaiian Marine Shells*, Leopard Cones grow to a length of about 140 mm (5 in), and a diameter of 80 mm (about 3.5 in).  Our specimen is 105 mm (about 4.25 in) in length, with a diameter of 60 mm (2.75 in) at the widest part.

The specimen pictured on this page is a little battered, but it is the only one we ever have found that was not alive, and also not broken.  We found it about 25 years ago while diving on the north shore of the island of O'ahu, in an area known as Pupukea.  The Leopard Cone is fairly common in Hawaiian waters, but it also can be found elsewhere in the western and south Pacific [Click on the photos for an enlarged view.]

Conus leopardusKay describes the Leopard Cone shell as "cream white with many (18 or more) spiral rows of blue-brown to black spots, which are often more pronounced in smaller individuals."  Like many shells, live Leopard Cones are covered with a thin coating called periostracum.  The periostracum is somewhat sticky, so it's not unusual to see one of these guys on the sand with algae and sand grains stuck all over it.  

The Leopard Cone snail is light tan or yellowish, mottled with brown.  This species eats marine worms.

Last week I posted an article about collecting Cone Shells, and the care that is required when handling them.  Live ones can be dangerous, because the snail inside is venomous and its sting can cause pain, paralysis, and even death.  If you are interested in collecting shells while diving or at the beach, you may want to have a look at that article.

* If you are interested in identifying and learning about marine shells from Hawaii, there probably is no source more comprehensive than E. Alison Kay's Hawaiian Marine Shells:  Reef and Shore Fauna of Hawaii, Section 4: Mollusca (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1979). Of course, since it was published thirty years ago, it does not include marine mollusks discovered and identified since then. Still, it is a remarkable piece of scholarship that has enduring value. I believe the book is now out of print, but it still is available in libraries and some second-hand bookstores -- and on my bookshelf!

Dr. Kay, who passed away last June, probably knew more about marine mollusks in the Pacific than anyone on the planet. Originally from Kauai, Dr. Kay earned an M.A. at Cambridge University as a Fulbright scholar before returning to the University of Hawaii for her Ph.D. Her 1957 doctoral dissertation was on cowrie shells, and years later, a cowrie shell was named after her (Cypraea alisonae). She had a long career as a Professor at the University of Hawaii, and also worked with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.


  1. Oooo...that's a nice one. I can see how it got its name. Very fitting.

  2. How interesting and how pretty is this shell. I certainly didn't know that they were poisoness. You must have to be very carefull looking at live ones.. I've always loved collecting shells at the beach, but all of them are just common. Where we search for beach glass are some of the smallest fresh water ( lake ) shells I've ever seen.

  3. Thanks, everyone.

    Bobbie & Jerry

  4. That's a great shell too! I never see these things and I've always wanted to find some beach glass too. Closest I've come is broken bottles. Maybe people just beat me to them.

    Great info. Thanks for that.

  5. It's easy to see how 'leopard' came to be attached to this cone shell. Thanks for another interesting post.

  6. Beautiful shell! It's slightly alarming to think about picking up a shell and getting bitten. But I guess that's what makes nature great.

  7. @ 2Sweet - Most of the shells we are showing on The Right Blue were found in relatively deep water. They're not the sort you're likely to find on a beach.

    @ George - Yes, the name suits it.

    @ AFM - If it makes you feel any better, Cone Shells do NOT eat humans -- and apparently only sting us by accident. ;-)


  8. I recently found a cone shell on Maui that's approximately 2 1/2 feet long.

    1. I don't think so! Sorry!

  9. Any records that you know of involving human injuries by Conus striatus in Hawaii? I am only aware of ones by Conus textile and one in the Waikiki area by a Conus imperialis.

  10. My daughter just found one today on the beach at Kaena Point. It's intact and very large. What a wonderful find! It's about 5" tall 3.5" in diameter.

  11. @ yoncalla44 I've never heard of anyone stung by Conus striatus in Hawaii. I'm not saying it never happened, just that I never heard about it.

    @ Cheryl Price A great find and a wonderful treasure. Just imagine how old the critter that secreted that shell must have been to make one that large.


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry