Cone snails

Conus marmoreus Conus marmoreus The cone snail family (Conidae) is entirely marine and consists of approximately 500-600 living species of which about 166 occur in Australian waters (133 are recorded from Queensland). Cones can be found under stones or coral rubble or in sand and weed depending on the preference of the species. Although they are most prolific in tropical and subtropical areas they also occur in the temperate waters of southern Australia. Cones are active predators, typically on the prowl at night. In most snails the feeding apparatus consists of a proboscis, mouth, radula (rows or tiny teeth arranged in a ribbon) and jaws. In cones the radular teeth are modified into elongate, hollow barbs shaped like harpoons. A venom gland supplies venom to fill the barbs and one of these barbs is then injected by the proboscis into the flesh of the prey which may be worms, other molluscs or fish. Once the prey is immobilised, it is engulfed by the cone’s proboscis. The most dangerous cones are the fish-eating and mollusc-eating species which are responsible for serious injuries and some fatalities. Worm-eaters may also cause injury, although not usually life-threatening.

WARNING: It is unfortunate that the shells of many cone species are brightly coloured or patterned as they can attract the attention of unsuspecting beachcombers, especially children. A cone shell on the beach may still have a living animal inside; one in the water is almost certainly still alive. Use a stick if you are curious, or better still, leave it alone!

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