Overview

Brief Summary

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Like snails and sea slugs, the cone snail is a gastropod. Most gastropods have a shell and a muscular foot that they use to move around; the geographic cone snail has an especially beautiful brown-and-white shell—quite precious to collectors. It spends its time crawling around the reef looking for food. You can often find it in sandy areas and underneath corals. Because of its venom, the geographic cone snail is well protected.
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Comprehensive Description

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Do not underestimate the geographic cone snail: it is one of the deadliest animals on the reef! It uses a tube near its head to shoot tiny harpoons into its prey or any animal that dares to try to eat it. These harpoons are filled with incredibly toxic venom that stuns, or paralyzes, its prey, which the cone snail slowly eats alive. It can eat an entire fish whole! It has the most poisonous venom of any other species of cone snail, and has killed over 30 humans unlucky enough to get in its way! So you shouldn’t ever pick it up if you see it in the ocean.
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Distribution

Range Description

This species is found in the entire Indo-Pacific excluding Hawaii (Röckel et al. 1995). Both the EOO and the AOO exceed the threshold for criteria B1 and B2. This species is found to 20 m (Röckel et al. 1995).
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Geographic Range

The geographic cone snail, Conus geographus, is indigenous to the tropical and subtropical Indo-Pacific regions, found specifically along the northern shores of Australia, ranging from the west coast (Brisbane, Queensland), central (Darwin, Northern Territory), and east coast (Exmouth, Western Australia). Rare sightings (and recorded fatalities) have also been reported in New Caledonia.

Biogeographic Regions: australian (Native ); indian ocean (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )

  • Chadwick, A. 2011. "The Cone Snail" (On-line). Accessed June 21, 2011 at http://www.theconesnail.com/.
  • Estival, J. 1981. Cone Shells of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Paris, France: Editions Du Cagou.
  • Walls, J. 1978. Cone Shells: A Synopsis of the Living Conidae. Neptune City, N.J: T.F.H Publications, Inc.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

A calcareous, smooth shell covers the mollusk’s soft body. The shell spire is obconical (having a length of less than or equal to 10% of the entire structure) featuring coronation (small bumps) at and above the shoulder along the edges of the larger whorls. The spire is concave with smooth sutures and a prominent point at the protoconch apex. The body whorl terminates in an elongated aperture that has a width of about 1/3 of the overall shell width. The outer shell’s coloration ranges from ground colors of white, cream, or rose pink overlain with brown or red mottled patterns arranged in horizontal spirals along the body whorl. The shell is covered with a thin yellowish layer of protein-based material called the periostracum, forming tufts on the spire, on the spiral rows, and along the body whorl, following the sculpture of the shell. This protein covering gives the cone a roughened appearance.

The most obvious features of the geographic cone snail are the foot, which extends from the aperture; two small eyes borne on eyestalks, and two features associated with their feeding habits: the proboscis, an extendable protrusion in the oral region that expands to swallow its prey, and the siphon, an extension of the mantle tissue, used for chemoreception of its prey. The cone snail uses a elaborately scuplted, hollow radular tooth (housed in the proboscis) as a harpoon to incapacitate its prey. Venom glands produce deadly toxins and digestive enzymes, and these are injected into the snail’s prey through the radular tooth.

Range mass: 13.3 to 62 g.

Average mass: 38.8 g.

Range length: 70 to 150 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; venomous

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Diagnostic Description

Description

Highly dangerous - live specimens should be handled with extreme caution. Broad, thin shell, up to 15 cm, with wide aperture and numerous shoulder ridges or spines. Colour creamy white, with orange or reddish-brown bands or blotches. Aperture bluish-white or pink. Habitat: around shallow reefs. Distribution: Indo-Pacific. (Richmond, 1997)
  • Dautzenberg, Ph. (1929). Contribution à l'étude de la faune de Madagascar: Mollusca marina testacea. Faune des colonies françaises, III(fasc. 4). Société d'Editions géographiques, maritimes et coloniales: Paris. 321-636, plates IV-VII pp.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species is found on coral reef, rubble and sand, in caves and in lagoons from intertidal waters to 20 m. Once mature, it can reach a size ranging from 65 to 166 mm. This species feeds mainly on fish (Röckel et al. 1995, Duda et al. 2001). Human fatalities from the venom of this species are numerous and go mostly unreported (G.T. Poppe pers. comm. 2011).

Systems
  • Marine
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Geographic cone snails are most commonly found in the sublittoral epipelagic zone. Their surrounding habitat includes living or fragmented coral reefs, and sandy regions within tidal zones. They are less commonly found in deeper waters.

Range depth: 0 to 200 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical

Aquatic Biomes: benthic ; coastal

Other Habitat Features: intertidal or littoral

  • Lim, C., V. Wee. 1992. Southeast Asia Conus: a Seashells Book. Singapore: Seaconus Private Limited.
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Depth range based on 3 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 2 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 6 - 17
  Temperature range (°C): 26.692 - 28.496
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.117 - 0.923
  Salinity (PPS): 34.440 - 35.037
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.516 - 4.685
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.088 - 0.122
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.983 - 1.089

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 6 - 17

Temperature range (°C): 26.692 - 28.496

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.117 - 0.923

Salinity (PPS): 34.440 - 35.037

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.516 - 4.685

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.088 - 0.122

Silicate (umol/l): 0.983 - 1.089
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Conus geographus is nocturnal, hunting at night when its fish prey are the least active or at rest. They crawl on top of the substrate, or crawl while buried beneath the sand. Diet consists of small (30 to 50 mm) and medium (100 to 130 mm) sized fishes that fit into its rostrum (mouth). Larger snails (80 to 87 mm) are able to capture and ingest larger fishes between 130 and 140 mm in length.

Observations show that snails hunt with two methods used by other Conus species: the hook-and-line method and the net-hunting method. In the hook-and-line method, the snail slowly approaches its prey, waving its proboscis like a lure to attract the fish before stinging the fish with its radula. The fish jerks violently for a few moments and is injected with a paralyzing excitotoxin venom that stiffens the fish, allowing the cone snail to swallow it whole. Several hours or days later, the snail regurgitates the fish’s bones. Another method is net-hunting, wherein a fish is engulfed in one mouthful before being harpooned with the radular tooth.

Animal Foods: fish

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

The geographic cone snail is a piscivore, thus it influences the ecosystem dynamics of coral reef populations of small fish species.

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Predation

Predators during its larval period include nektonic fishes and filer-feeding invertebrates that consume zooplankton. As an adult, the only enemies the geographic cone snail may fear are mollusk-eating vertebrates such as sea turtles and rays, and human shell collectors. The radular tooth also serves as a defense mechanism against potential predators.

Known Predators:

  • large fish
  • humans

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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WhyReef - Menu

The geographic cone snail eats small fish, but will also snack on other snails or sea slugs. Since it only eats other animals, it is a carnivore.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

The three main methods of perception used are visual (eyes to detect light), tactile (using its foot) and chemoreception (detecting dissolved chemicals in the water). It is likely that potential mates are detected using all three of these senses.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Development

Very little is known of the cone shell’s natural history from neoteny to adulthood. After the mating ritual, clusters of egg sacs (about 40 eggs per sac) are extruded and attached on a suitable hard surface. The eggs incubate within their capsule for 10 to 15 days before maturing into the larval stage. After twenty days, the transparent shells and bodies are visible, and they break from their capsules and drift in the plankton as meroplanktonic veliger larvae (a temporary zooplanktonic stage of the lifecycle). The larval diet is unknown, but assumed to be smaller plankton. Only a low percentage of cone snail larvae survive to metamorphose into benthic juveniles, and even fewer survive to reach adulthood. Planktonic survival rate is affected by weather and oceanographic factors such as water temperature, salinity, and ocean currents, as well as abundance of secondary consumers in the water column.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis ; indeterminate growth

  • Cruz, L., G. Corpuz, B. Olivera. 1978. Mating, spawning, development and feeding habits of Conus geographus in captivity. The Nautilus, 92 (4): 150-153.
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

There is no recorded data of any longevity in the wild or captivity.

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Reproduction

Published observations on reproductive behavior were made in aquaria, and direct observations on ritual courtships or competition for a mate in the wild is lacking. Some researchers hypothesize that male cone snails may exhibit territoriality to ensure access to potential mates.

During copulation, the male mounts the female using its foot. It inserts about 2/3 of a ribbon-like organ called the verge (analogous to a penis) into the female’s opening near the anal notch. This position is maintained for at least 15 minutes before the male retracts its verge. Two to three days later, the female lays several capsules eggs on a hard surface. No information is available as to whether mating occurs singly or at multiple times across the lifespan.

Mating System: monogamous

Sexual maturity may occur between 6 to 12 months. After mating, the female lays her egg capsules on a smooth, hard surface, where they develop into larvae in twenty days.

Breeding interval: Geographic cone snails breed once a year.

Breeding season: Between April and September when the waters are warm.

Range number of offspring: 1000 to 5000.

Average number of offspring: 2500.

Range gestation period: 2 to 3 days.

Average gestation period: 3 days.

Range time to independence: 15 to 25 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 6 to 12 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 6 to 12 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

There is no further investment in parental care after eggs are laid, as is the case for most marine invertebrates.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; pre-fertilization

  • Cruz, L., G. Corpuz, B. Olivera. 1978. Mating, spawning, development and feeding habits of Conus geographus in captivity. The Nautilus, 92 (4): 150-153.
  • Estival, J. 1981. Cone Shells of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Paris, France: Editions Du Cagou.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Conus geographus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.   Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.  Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

TCTGGATTGGTTGGYACTGCTTTA---AGGTTGTTAATTCGTGCAGAATTAGGACAACCAGGTGCCTTACTTGGAGAC---GATCAATTATATAATGTTATTGTAACAGCTCATGCTTTTGTTATAATTTTTTTCTTAGTAATACCAATGATAATTGGGGGGTTTGGAAATTGACTTGTGCCTTTAATA---TTAGGGGCCCCAGATATGGTATTTCCTCGCTTAAATAATATAAGTTTTTGACTTCTCCCTCCTGCCCTTTTACTTCTATTATCGTCAGCTGCTGTAGAAAGTGGAGTGGGTACAGGATGAACTGTATACCCACCATTGGCTGGTAATTTAGCTCATGCTGGTGGGTCTGTAGATCTA---GCAATCTTTTCTTTACACCTAGCTGGGGTATCATCTATTTTAGGGGCAGTAAATTTTATTACTACAATCATTAATATACGATGACAAGGAATAAAATTTGAACGTCTTTCACTTTTTGTATGGTCAGTGAAGATTACGGCTATTTTACTTCTTTTATCTTTACCTGTGCTAGCTGGT---GCAATTACTATATTATTAACTGACCGAAATTTTAATACTGCMTTCTTTGATCCC---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------G
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Conus geographus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Kohn, A.

Reviewer/s
Peters, H. & Poppe, G.

Contributor/s

Justification

This species is found in the entire Indo-Pacific excluding Hawaii. This is a wide ranging species and is common throughout its range. There are no known major threats, therefore it is listed as Least Concern.

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This species is not listed as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Population

Population
This species is common (G.T. Poppe and A.J. Kohn pers. comm. 2011).

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no known threats to this species.
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WhyReef - Threats

Humans kill cone snails so they can use their shells as decorations! Cone snails always need to watch out for humans! Reefs are in danger, and that means so is the home of the geographic cone snail!
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
There are no known conservation measures currently in place for this species. It occurs in marine protected areas within its range.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The conantokins in one sting can kill 15 people. Symptoms include an excruciating pain at the penetrated area, much worse than a bee’s sting. As the pain fades, numbness soon sets in, followed by dizziness, slurred speech, and respiratory paralysis. Death can follow within half an hour afterward, but this is rare. Presently, there is no known anti-venom; applied pressure on the wound, immobilization and artificial respiration (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) are the only recommended treatments for the victim.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings, venomous )

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Conantokins ("sleeper peptides") from the geographic cone snail are a complex mix of short-chain peptides that affect a number of neural receptors in fish and mammals. The potential therapeutic and economic benefits from conantokins have great potential. Conantokins are antagonists to the nicotinic aceytlcholine receptors (the means by which the cone snails paralyze their prey) and N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors, which (in humans) are involved with pain reception, drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, memory, and learning. Con-G, one of the conantokins from the geographic cone snail, is a potent analgesic, particularly for nociceptive pain (pain that warns the body of tissue injury or other serious damage). Con-G specifically acts on the NR2B NMDA receptor subtype, which means it is more selective than morphine for treating chronic neuropathic pain found in patients suffering from cancer, arthritis, shingles, diabetes, and AIDS. Therefore, smaller doses can be used, and Con-G does not seem to be addictive or to have side effects in the therapeutic dose range, unlike morphine. In addition, since NMDA receptors are involved with memory, conantokins can potentially be used in treating Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and possibly used as anti-convulsants in epilepsy or as a means of alleviating drug-induced withdrawal symptoms. In addition, Con-G has been found to act as a neuroprotective agent in brain ischemia from strokes.

Positive Impacts: source of medicine or drug

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