Money Cowrie Shells
(image via: Naples Sea Shell Company)
The Money Cowrie (Monetaria moneta) is one of the smaller (30-45mm or 1-2″ long) species of Cowrie shells; actually sea snails found in temperate regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The relative abundance of glossy Cowrie shells and their roughly standard size led to the shells being used as a medium of exchange – natural currency, as it were – in many African, Asian and Pacific island nations up until the late 19th century.
Money Cowries are one of many species of Cowrie shell, and these days their straw-yellow to milky white shells literally pale in comparison to some of the other species, notably the Map Cowrie and especially the Tiger Cowrie. The latter is becoming rare due to demand for shells by collectors and jewelry-makers.
World’s Newest Snail
(images via: Pensoft)
New to us, perhaps, but this exquisite, semi-transparent, cave-dwelling snail found in Croatia’s Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system has probably been living happily and obliviously beneath our notice (and the ground) for untold millions of years. Given the name Zospeum tholussum by its discoverer, Dr. Alexander Weigand of the Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany, only a single living specimen of the new species was found: 980m (3,215ft) deep in a water-filled cavern. As the snail lives in complete darkness, it requires neither shell pigmentation nor eyes.
Deadly Cone Snails
Death by snail? It’s more likely than you think: around 15 human fatalities annually can be attributed to poisonous, venomous snails, specifically those of the genus Conus, or Cone Snails. Unlike Fugu or Greenland Sharks, the danger lies not in eating the creatures but by being stung by them. Cone Snails employ a barbed harpoon-like dart attached to an internal venom gland to subdue their prey, and humans who pick up the oft-beautiful shells too often live (or not) to regret it.
(image via: Ahuii Crafts and Shells)
While the stings of smaller Cone Snails are often likened to those of bees, larger shells such as the Marbled Cone (Conus marmoreus) and Textile Cone pack a correspondingly more powerful package of poison. The beauty of these shells can be likened to a fatal attraction, however, as children find it hard to resist picking up these shells when they’re washed up on beach sands. Be aware that though a sea snail may have washed ashore, it may still be living and it WON’T be pleased to meet you!