If you have ever been shell collecting on a tropical vacation, you have probably come across a cone snail. These snails are popular among collectors because of their often highly polished and colourful, patterned shells. Cone snails are a type of gastropod (snail), which mostly belong to a single genus, Conus (although there are several other genera within the Family Conidae). The group has been around since the Miocene (about 55 million years ago), and can be found in tropical and sub tropical fossil localities all over the world. We have some in our lab from the Pinecrest Beds of Florida that still have some colour (about 4 – 2 million years old)!
But while cone shells may be beautiful, the animal itself is deadly. All gastropods have a special feeding organ called a radula (usually for wrasping and rough like a cat’s tongue), but in the case of cone snails, the radula has been modified into a harpoon, complete with a venom gland.
What might a little snail need a venomous harpoon for, you ask? Oh, just for paralysing and then eating FISH. Cone snails harpoon their victims, causing almost instant paralysis, and then basically swallow them whole. Cone snails are considered one of the deadliest animals, and the venom can be fatal for humans. In other words, NO TOUCHING!
Horrifying. Disgusting. Awesome.
Want to see a video of a cone snail taking down a fish? Check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcBmMPJrrKk
For more information, visit these other cool sites:
The Conus Biodiversity Website – http://biology.burke.washington.edu/conus/index.php
Some cool pictures of colour preservation in fossil cones – http://neogeneatlas.org/species/conus-adversarius/