Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creature Feature: Queen Conch.

Picking up shells on the beach is fun. You aren't supposed to do it, but it's fun anyways. Often, one gets so preoccupied in the shells that the original owners get ignored. For example, ever stop to wonder what's inside a conch shell?

Scary drawing a la Wikipedia. True to life.

...An eldritch horror, that's what. Say hello to the queen conch (Lobatus gigas / Strombus gigas), one of the most alien-looking snails ever. It is native to the Atlantic waters from Florida down to the top part of South America. Thankfully, it is an herbivore and only eats various types of seagrass - particularly turtle grass.

Fear factor 1: Queen conches are big.  They can get up to a foot (30cm) long after just a few years. Adult queens weigh about 5 pounds - way more than a paperweight. The expected lifespan of a single conch is 20-30 years, but age 40 is suspected. Oh, and they breed readily, too.

Found here. Will reappear in my nightmares.

Fear factor 2: Look into its eyes. Along with being huge as with the rest of the snail, queen conches have the most developed eyes of any gastropod. They have a fully-functioning lens and gold iris. It's like they have a vertebrate eye on the end of each stalk. Not even gonna mention that it's got a snout that looks an awful lot like a tentacle between those eyes. Nope.

Queen conches are popular snails. They can be found as captive-bred specimens in the exotic pet trade. They're treated as a delicacy in the Caribbean. Over-harvesting has upped their protection level on CITES, but they aren't endangered (yet). The good news is, this alien-looking snail (snailien?) is no threat. It is, in fact, perfectly edible so long as you mind the laws. Totally puts a new spin on shell-hunting, doesn't it? 

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