In a recent post, we introduced our readers to Cone Shells, and the snails that make those shells and live in them. We mentioned that the Cone Shell snails have a venomous sting, making them potentially dangerous to handle when they are alive.
Unlike some other mollusks, which eat algae, the animals that inhabit Cone Shells are carnivorous , and they use their venom, which is a neurotoxin, to immobilize or kill their prey. Some Cone Shell snails eat other mollusks, while others eat marine worms. A few Cone Shell species, like the one on this page, actually eat fish!
This is the Striated Cone (Conus striatus), a relatively large Cone Shell species. The one pictured here is from our shell collection. We found it in a sandy patch at a depth of about 6 meters (20 ft) off the coast of Puako, Hawaii. It is 10.4 cm in length (about 4.25 in). The Striated Cone is uncommon -- that is, it is not abundant in most locations. At the same time, though, it is widely distributed. It can be found in many different locations around the Indo-Pacific region, from the Red Sea all the way to Hawaii.
The Striated Cone is one of the Cone Shell species considered to be potentially dangerous to humans. For one thing, its venom is among the most potent. For another, the snail is amazingly flexible and agile. Its siphon and proboscis (where the stinging radula teeth are located) can be extended nearly the length of its shell. Thus, even if you are careful to hold a live Striated Cone Shell by the widest end, it still may be possible for it to sting you.
The Striated Cone snail hunts primarily at night. A wily predator, its method is to sneak up on a small fish that is 'sleeping' on the bottom and sting it, injecting it with venom. The neurotoxic venom paralyzes the little fishy. Once the prey is thus immobilized, the snail literally engulfs it.
You might imagine that it would take quite awhile for a snail to engulf a fish. In fact, the snail's proboscis (mouth) expands and it hoovers in the prey in a remarkably short time, swallowing it whole.
Don't believe me? Have a look at this video of Striated Cone Shell snail attacking and consuming a little fish: .
If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.
NOTE: This post was included in the Carnival of the Blue 23 over at Deep Sea News. (Thanks, Kevin.) We invite all of our readers to drop by the Carnival for more wonderful articles about the sea and its fascinating inhabitants.