It is obvious how cone shells acquired their names. When you sit it upright it is cone shaped. Turn it upside down and it looks like an ice cream cone. How and why shells have specific names is an interesting study in itself. When you are seeking information about a particular shell it is easy to find if it you know the scientific name as well as the common name. The Condiae or Cone Shell family has around 500 different species within it. Each member of the family has their differences as to color and size but they all have one major thing in common. That is how they acquire their food.
All cone shell animals are carnivorous. They enjoy a tasty meal of small fish, sea worms, other shell animals and even their own family members. In order to satisfy their appetites they are equipped with a venomous sack they use to inject poison into their victims. When they come upon a potential meal they extend their snout or proboscis and send forth a harpoon emitting at the same time sufficient toxin to stun or kill their victim. They then reel him and consume him.
Anyone that has been in the military and has served time in warm tropical waters is familiar with the warnings that have been given to proceed carefully when approaching a cone shell. Some cone shells in particular, like Conus Geographus have sufficient poison to kill a human being. Someone said in some areas the Conus Geographus Shell is called the Cigarette Cone. When you are inflicted with its poison the time it takes for you to die would be the amount of time it would take to smoke a cigarette. There have been at least fifteen known fatalities as a result of cone shells. To look at some of these beautiful shells such as the Marble Cone and the Cloth of Gold Cone, it is hard to fathom that anything so beautiful could kill you. I learned a long time ago, when it come, to the ocean, never be deceived by looks.
In recent years there have been various studies conducted about the value of toxin of the Cone Shells. It has been found that the same cone shell poison that can create severe pain, and even kill you, also can assist you by eliminating pain. Researchers are looking into the possibility of cone shell venom someday fighting disease such as Parkinsonís, and Alzheimerís.
At the Old Gray House we have many different species of Cone Shells available. You will find them in our Specimen Shell Shack individually labeled.