The cone snails belong to a group known as the gastropods. These generally feed on algae growing on rocks using a toothed radula or scraping tool on the trunk-like proboscis. Some, however, are predatory creatures equipped with a radula that has adapted into a venom-charged harpoon similar to that of the bluebottle.

The proboscis is also an incredibly sensitive scent-organ that can detect minute traces of other creatures. By moving the proboscis the snail can pick up sensory clues and home in on other organisms that are suitable prey.

The proboscis of a cone snail extended. (Photo off the internet)

Some secrete concentrated acid that eats away the shell of a prey animal, and once the proboscis is inserted under the shell the acid steadily reduces the prey to a soup that can be sucked out through the flexible proboscis. As Wikipedia puts it: “Because all cone snails are venomous and capable of “stinging” humans, live ones should be handled with great care or preferably not at all. The species most dangerous to humans are the larger cones, which prey on small bottom-dwelling fish; the smaller species mostly hunt and eat marine worms. Cone snails use a hypodermic needle-like modified radula tooth and a venom gland to attack and paralyze their prey before engulfing it. The tooth, which is sometimes likened to a dart or a harpoon, is barbed and can be extended some distance out from the head of the snail, at the end of the proboscis.” For more go to:

A selection of cone shells – courtesy of Wikipedia

Cone snails occur along the KZN coast and folks are advised not to handle any of them, no matter how pretty might look. These snails have a habit of drawing the foot on which they move right back into the folds of the shell and many folks have had an unpleasant surprise either because they get stung or the creature dies and creates a very unpleasant smell. It’s thus quite important to identify the good, bad and ugly. In this regard, we strongly advise our members to beg, borrow buy or steal a book giving information on our seashore. “The Living Shores of Southern Africa” by George and Margo Branch is an excellent publication and provides a wealth of useful and fascinating information about the entire South African coast and its creatures. There is a wealth of other publications on specific groups of sea-creatures and most will provide adequate information. You should teach your family how to distinguish between the species as this could prevent a lot of anguish later on. Conversely, such books will add hugely to your enjoyment of a visit to the coast.

For more information and illustrations see:

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