Monday, November 3, 2008

Cone Snails: Deadly Predators

Oddly enough one of the most deadly animals in the entire ocean is a tiny snail called a cone snail. While it seems comical to even think of a snail as dangerous, let alone lethal, cone snails have some of the most sophisticated and deadly neurotoxins known to man. A cone snail sting can kill a person within minutes of injection.

While most snails simply graze on algae, cone snails are active predators. They are fully capable of catching and eating quick and agile fish. These mollusks move just as slowly as other snails, but they pack a hidden weapon. They have a long tube which conceals a deadly harpoon tipped with their powerful venom. They can fire this harpoon with lightning fast accuracy. Their prey is killed almost before even knowing it has been hit. The snail then reels the dead fish into its vacuum-like mouth and swallows it whole.

People are rarely attacked by cone-snails because they do not actively hunt humans. Only about 15 known cone snail related deaths have been reported to date. Most of these incidents occur because people pick up the beautiful shells they see on the ocean floor. When the snail is agitated, it fires its harpoon, and the person often dies within minutes. If you ever see a cone-shaped shell lying on the sand, it's best to just leave it alone.

11 comments:

Ava said...

Hey Novablogger,

Where do cone snails usually habitate?

I've actually never heard of the cone snail until now so thanks for this.

Ava

NovaBlogger said...

Hi, Ava. Thanks for stopping by. I posted a map of their geographic locations for you on my most recent Cone Snail post. Cone Snails can be found in tropical oceans throughout the equator. The only place in America that I know of where they can be found is Florida.

If you happen to find a cone shaped snail, I don't recommend picking it up, just to be safe.

Dean said...

I have gotten cone shells exactly like the textile cone shell at the top of page in Oahu, Hawaii.

Shawn said...

I found one of the textile cone shells recently (before I knew they were dangerous) on Oahu and stuffed it inside my wet suit next to my skin since I didn't have a bag.... Wholly smokes! Thank God for BIG miracles, I can't believe I didn't get hit! I'll be educating everyone I know about these from now on. Who'd have thunk it????

NovaBlogger said...

Whoa, that's pretty scary! Thank God you're ok! It definitely looks like someone was looking out for you. Unfortunately that is exactly how most divers are hurt or killed by these snails. You have to be pretty close to them to get harpooned, but they don't always take kindly to being picked up.

I'm really glad the one you ran into was in a good mood. The whole "look, but don't touch" rule is always good to follow when in the ocean. You would be amazed how many creatures can really hurt you if you tick them off.

Anonymous said...

Hi Novablogger,

I am doing a report and would like to know if you are able to answer my question. Do Cone Snails eat Mandarin Goby Fish? I could really use the help!

Thanks! :)

NovaBlogger said...

While I'm not sure specifically if they eat Mandarin Gobies, I'm sure they would be on the menu. They prefer to eat small fish that live near the bottom, and mandarin gobies spend almost all their time within harpoon range. Even with all that beautiful coloring, I'm sure mandarin gobies taste about the same as all their other favorite foods.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i was wondering if anything eats cone snail?? thanks

Anonymous said...

hi, i was wondering, does anything eat cone snails?

Bernie said...

bjsurfboy
I was snorkeling off the Gulf Coast of Florida summer of 2008.I was stung by a cone shell and ended up in intensive care,unable to walk,and had a hard time breathing.I was unable to walk or even move my legs for two weeks.The doctor that treated me new about these shells and said I was lucky to servive.

NWCataclysm said...

Several years ago while snorkeling off Napili Beach on Maui I collected a Textile Cone snail. I had no idea what I had found, and snorkeled for 30 minutes with the cone snail in the pocket of my bathing suit. I didn't realize the shell was inhabited until I returned to our condo. I boiled the shell and removed the snail, and only after returning to Washington State did I discover how close of a close call I'd had. I also kicked a live alligator once in Florida believing it to be dead, so perhaps I have some kind of death wish. Never the less, I'll never again thoughtlessly handle a seemingly harmless sea shell. I am surprised that there were not better posted warnings about cone snails in Hawaii.