CYPRAEIDAE (Cowries)

Seashells

Cypraea tigris (Tiger Cowrie)

Deeply polished, attractive shells, much collected. In life, two lobes of the animal’s mantle extend out and over the shell, meeting at midline, continually depositing enamel and protecting the shell from abrasion. Well developed teeth are found on both sides of the lengthwise aperture slit. Cowries are mostly nocturnal and feed on and around coral reefs. Their combination of form, texture and colour have made them sought after from ancient times.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Cypraea tigris (Tiger Cowrie)

The Tiger Cowrie is rather strangely named, as it is spotted, not striped. This is probably the best known of cowries, indeed of all shells, abundant on reefs.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Cypraea erosa (Gnawed Cowrie)

Teeth coarse, extending half way across the outer lip; short in the centre of the base, longer anteriorly and posteriorly. Base of shell white or fawn; sides marked with vertical streaks, thickening into ridges in mature specimens. Dorsal surface fawn, finely speckled with white dots and sometimes marked with larger brown spots. Typically about 35 mm. Intertidal, under stones. Abundant in the tropics. (Beechey, Seashells of NSW)

One looks subfossil, which is quite possible as subfossils of living species of molluscs have been found on North Stradbroke Is.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Cypraea caputserpentis (Snake’s Head Cowrie)

Widespread species in Australia. Top of shell is brown, with white spots forming a mottled pattern. Base and sides are chocolate brown, lighter on the ends. Grows to 35 – 40 mm in length. Found under stones and coral at low tide level in the intertidal zone and below in the subtidal zone.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Cypraea caputserpentis (Snake’s Head Cowrie)

The word caputserpentis comes from two Latin words, caput means a head or knob, and serpere, to creep, like a snake. In danger of over collection by those taking live animals.

Photo: Robert Whyte