Muck diving - The tale of the cross-eyed cone shell snail

by B. N. Sullivan

As I explained in my previous post, I was oblivious to the fact that snails (of all things!) had eyes until I began to photograph these creatures. Once I made the discovery, though, I always looked for eyes. In fact, eyes and faces became a recurrent theme in my underwater photos of marine animals.

Of all the critters I have photographed, the little creature on this page is the only cross-eyed one I've ever recorded. It's a Mediterranean Cone Shell (Conus mediterraneus), and the photo demonstrates the fact that the eyes, which are on flexible stalks, can move independently. I managed to shoot six frames of this very cooperative individual before it retracted completely into its shell. The eyes are 'crossed' in each of the six photos.

Mediterranean Cone Shell (Conus mediterraneus)

While the photo has a certain giggle factor, to me it also says something else: you never know what you're going to find or where you're going to find it. I photographed the cross-eyed cone shell in a shallow area near Cape Greco, on the eastern end of Cyprus. The area is known to divers for its rather interesting rocky terrain and some small caves -- but not for remarkable marine life.

I almost didn't take the camera with me on this particular dive, in part because a friend who had been there before us had mentioned that "there was nothing there worth photographing." At the last moment, I decided to set up the camera for macro photography, just in case. As it turned out, that was the right thing to do.

We spent most of the dive in the shallows, on our bellies, rummaging around in the the sand and pebbles looking for little critters. This is called 'muck diving' -- a genre of underwater exploration pursued by photographers and nature lovers who have learned that while lush coral reefs may be the most obvious place to find photogenic marine life, there are many small and interesting creatures living in less glamorous habitats, too. Muck divers look for and find great photo subjects -- like our cross-eyed cone shell -- on sandy bottoms and mud flats, in sea grass beds and mangrove swamps.

The lesson here is that there is always something to see, and something to photograph in just about any marine environment. You just have to know what to look for and how to find it.

Note:  The above image is a macro photo of a rather small creature.  In life, the shell is less than two inches long, but the wonderful crossed eyes are displayed well in this larger-than-life image, don't you think?


  1. Hi there,

    i met such a cone snail during diving in Cyprus and took a macro photo of it. Its really unbelievable what kind of eyes they have :-)

  2. I'm pretty sure this is not ''Conus'' at all. Conids do not have eyes like these... This is most probably ''Strombus decorus'', which are often mistaken for cone snails (the shell outline is very similar, but they are very distinct animals).

  3. I remember my first time doing PNG muck dive. It is a wonderful experience. I still remember every details of it.


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