Like land snails, sea snails are not just one species living in the ocean. Instead, “sea snail” is a catch-all for various sluggish animals known as Gastropods.
Some people might confuse the sea snail with a sea slug, but sea snails are similar to land snails because they also have an exterior shell.
These sea snails are diverse organisms with shells that vary according to intricacy and color.
They also differ in size, and their environment determines how big they get.
The number of sea snail species is unknown, but conchs are some of the most popular.
Conch refers to several aquatic gastropods with large or medium-sized, elaborately spired shells.
These particular sea snails are famous for their shells, which are used for decorative purposes or to make jewelry.
In some parts of the world, they are eaten.
Regrettably, overfishing has decimated many conch populations, and some species are now endangered or threatened.
Conservation efforts are being made to safeguard these significant marine organisms and their environments.
Different Conch Species
There are over 70 conch species found in the different waters of the world.
This article aims to shed light and provide information on some of the most common conch species.
Keep reading to find out more about these different conch species.
1. The Queen Conch
The queen conch is called Strombus gigas, or more recently, Lobatus gigas, and is a type of large sea snail that is a member of the Strombidae family of true conchs.
The most well-known and economically significant conch species is the queen conch.
It can be found throughout the Caribbean and is famous for its enormous, exquisite shell, frequently used as ornamentation.
Because of its size, the queen conch is regarded as one of the biggest mollusks native to the Caribbean.
Within three to five years, the shell of the average queen conch grows as long as 5.9 to 12.2 inches.
However, its maximum length is just almost 14 inches.
Despite the queen conch’s covering not growing longer than 14 inches, its thickness keeps increasing.
The shell has 9 to 11 whorls, a broadly flared and thickened outer lip, and is very heavy.
The shell’s girth is crucial since a thicker one offers better protection to the queen conch’s body.
Also, after reaching its maximum size, the exterior shell thickens with age, indicating the queen conch’s age.
The tropical Western Atlantic shores of North and Central America, a part of the larger tropical Caribbean zone, are home to queen conchs.
Some of the countries this species inhabits include Barbados, Mexico, the United States, and the Dominican Republic.
Queen conchs can live in depths as far as 25 to 35 meters, and in more vulnerable areas, they go even deeper.
These organisms are herbivorous and feed on seagrass, algae, macroalgae, etc.
2. The Fighting Conch
The scientific name for the fighting conch is Strombus alatus, and it gets its name from the way it moves around the ocean floor, pushing other mollusks aside with its powerful foot.
If it tips over, it can flip back over using its foot.
However, beyond these, this species is in no way violent.
Because of its unique shape and vibrant look, it is a well-known species among shell collectors.
Aside from being famous among shell collectors, it is also consumed as food in various regions of the world.
The fighting conch is not as large as the queen conch, with its shell just over four inches.
Depending on the specific subspecies, fighting conchs may vary significantly in appearance, but they frequently look similar.
Fighting conchs have light brown shells that generally have darker brown patterns and a recognizable elevated spiral ridge.
Their shells are easily recognized, with a pointed spire and a flared outer lip that is frequently pink or orange in hue.
As a true conch, the fighting conch has a substantial foot that is pointed inward.
It also has an operculum or calcareous trap door that is strong enough to push it across the ocean floor.
From North Carolina to Brazil, the western Atlantic Ocean’s warm coastal waters are home to fighting conchs.
Due to overfishing and habitat loss, it is significant to mention that the fighting conch is a protected species in several regions.
Like all animals, fighting conchs should only be harvested or consumed following the law and in respect of conservation efforts.
3. The Horse Conch
Unlike the queen and fighting conchs, the horse conch is not a true conch.
With the common name the Florida horse conch (Triplofusus giganteus, Pleuroploca gigantea), the horse conch is also valued by collectors for its huge and striking shells, sometimes used for decorative purposes.
As mentioned, this species is not a true conch.
It is a type of enormous predatory sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk belonging to the Fasciolariidae family, including spindle snails and tulip snails.
Horse conchs can reach lengths of up to two feet (60 cm), making them some of the biggest univalve mollusks in the world.
They feature an unusual, lengthy shell with a pointed spire and an entrance that is large and flared.
The shell can also be brown or yellow but typically has a reddish-orange hue.
The shell’s shape is irregular, and it can have up to 10 whorls along with a long siphonal canal.
Its design has numerous axial ribs and spiral cords, some of which form knobs on the shoulders of the whorls.
The horse conch is a carnivorous species that feeds on other mollusks, including the queen conch.
These carnivores prefer to reside along the Atlantic coast of the Americas.
This stretches from Yucatán in the Gulf of Mexico to the south and from there to the U.S. state of North Carolina and to the north.
Horse conch numbers have decreased in certain areas due to overfishing and habitat loss, and they are now protected in other areas to stop further declines.
4. The Milk Conch
Macrostrombus costatus, also commonly called the milk conch, is a species of huge sea snails that belongs to the Strombidae family of true conchs.
This species was initially known as Strombus costatus and Lobatus costatus.
Like other conchs, these milk conchs are popular for their intricate shells and are a delicacy to the inhabitants of where they are found.
Milk conchs are large and have thick shells. The towering spire and flared lip of an adult milk conch’s shell help identify it.
The common name “milk conch” comes from the shell’s light cream exterior and the aperture’s milky white inside.
The average milk conch’s shell measures almost eight inches, but the longest one on record is nine inches.
The Atlantic Ocean’s tropical waters are home to milk conchs, which are also found on the islands and shores of North, Central, and South America.
This species loves the shelter, safety, and food that shallow-water backreef environments like algae banks, seagrass beds, and patch reefs offer.
However, the preferred habitat of this species also depends on their geographical location.
5. The Crown Conch
The crown conch, also referred to as Melongena corona, is a type of sea snail that is a predator and a member of the Melongenidae family.
From Florida to Brazil, this species inhabits the western Atlantic Ocean’s shallow waters.
The huge, spiral-shaped shell of the crown conch, which can lengthen to 10 inches, makes it distinctive.
Crown conch shells have a broad opening and a spiral shape.
They range in color from brown to purple to white.
Its common name comes from the white spins that finish each whorl, giving it the impression of a crown.
With long, black siphons extended, they can be observed cruising through the sediments among grass beds, salt marshes, and oyster reefs.
They need oxygen from the ocean to survive, but they also use it to sniff out aromas to guide them to food.
Due to a high concentration of predators at depth and their low tolerance for cold water, crown conchs are subtropical species that prefer to dwell in shallower waters (less than 3 feet).
Bivalves like oysters and clams are common prey but are also known to hunt down other snails like whelks.
In addition to acting as a predator, the crown conch is crucial to maintaining the harmony of marine habitats.
The crown conch assists in preventing overgrazing and maintaining healthy coral reefs and other marine habitats by managing the numbers of other marine species.
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