Meeting critters, eyeball to eyeball

by B. N. Sullivan

You've heard of 'snake eyes' -- but have you ever seen snail eyes? I mean, who knew?! I certainly didn't realize that snails had eyes -- nor had I even thought about it -- until I got serious about underwater photography.

Milk Conch (Strombus costatus), Cayman IslandsI made the discovery one day when we found a large conch shell on a sandy patch and I decided to photograph it. As we approached the shell, it was clear that it had a living animal inside, because it had left a slightly indented trail in the sand as it had moved along.

First I took some shots of the shell where it lay on the sand, without disturbing it. Then I decided to turn it over to photograph 'the shiny side' -- the part kept smooth and pearly by the animal's secretions.

Conch shells, like other spirally constructed sea shells, are inhabited by gastropod marine snails. In fact, the shell itself is secreted by the snail over its lifetime. In the case of this particular species of conch, the snail inside often is quite large, and the shell can be up to about 6 inches in length.

When I turned over the one I was going to photograph, the snail retracted to hide itself in the depths of its shell. I set the shell back down on the sand, shiny side up, and only the tiniest bit of its mantle was visible in the aperture of the shell as I proceeded to photograph it.

I paused for a moment, kneeling on the sand while I twiddled with a few camera settings. When I turned back toward the shell to shoot again, I was amazed to see that the snail was peeking out of its shell at me. I managed to get this one shot of those wonderful eyes on their flexible stalks before the critter, reacting to the flash, disappeared into its shell once more.

I turned the shell over again, placing it back on the sand the way we had found it, and we continued the dive. I wondered anxiously if I actually had managed to capture those eyes on film, and could hardly wait to see the slides. As you can see, the shot was successful.

For the record, the species in the image on this page is a 'Milk Conch' (Strombus costatus). I photographed it in the Caribbean Sea on a sand flat just west of Jackson Bay, Little Cayman island.


  1. Wow. that's an amazing photo. I'm liking this blog more and more!

  2. Your photos are amazing! What a gift you have. I've really enjoyed my visit here and have learned much about the ocean. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Thank you, Kathy.

    I've seen your work and you're quite a good photographer yourself (although though your subject matter is quite different than mine). ;-}



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