Cone Shells of Hawaii Can Be Deadly

Brown and White Textile Cone Shell

Brown and White Textile Shell is also known as Conus textile.  It's a type of sea snail or shell of the family Conidae.  It is venomous.
Brown and White Textile Shell is also known as Conus textile. It's a type of sea snail or shell of the family Conidae. It is venomous. | Source

Some Types of Cone Shells are Crepuscular.

Do you like to walk along the sandy beach at dusk – just as the sun slides silently into the ocean? Do you like to sit on the sand in the early evening? Well, if you are on a Hawaiian beach mat dusk and you want to sit down, I suggest you sit on a lawn chair and hold your legs out straight in front of you, ten inches off the ground.

The cone shells reside on Hawaii’s beaches. Cone shells are crepuscular. This fancy word means the cone shells are active just before dawn or at twilight. Some cone shells are nocturnal, not crepuscular.

Cone shells are beautiful, but can be deadly.

There are many fish in the ocean that eat shells, but only the cone shell strikes back and tries to eat fish. More often than not, they succeed. Cone shells have venom glands. They use these to strike out in defense of octopus – their main enemy. Octopuses (octopi is not the right word although I once thought so, too) dine on the animals residing in shells. The cone shell fires venom at an attacking octopus or a carnivorous mollusk.

The main purpose -- or more enjoyable use from the cone shell's perspective -- of the venom, however, is to immobilize its prey. The cone shell’s barbed teeth – which look sort of like arrows – are the next line of ambush for the cone shell. If it is a worm or snail that the cone shell is targeting, he will have conquered the prey easily with these two tactics; the venom and the teeth. But if it is a fish he is trying to catch, he knows the creature could swim away. So he bites into the fish and hangs on with one long tooth until the venom takes effect.

The venom affects the nervous system which first shows symptoms of lack of muscular coordination and eventually respiratory failure. Whether it is a fish, a worm, or a human, the symptoms and result are the same. Depending on the amount of venom excreted, a cone shell occupant can kill a human in five minutes.

Many seashell seekers who walk the beaches of Hawaii do not realize the danger lurking here. And if they do know about cone shells, they need to realize that cone shells can be very difficult to recognize. One reason for this is there are at least 33 kinds in the Hawaiian waters and they vary in design and color. Secondly, the cone shells like to live among rocks and rubble when they find themselves washed up on a beach. They sometimes become layered in brownish matter. This layer is called the periostracum. It is like a layer of moss. It camouflages the cone shell and prevents organisms to take hold and grow on it.

Most cone shells are rather flat on one end, but some are pointed. So you really do need to be careful if you are collecting seashells on a Hawaiian beach. The local people here say that it is a good idea to shake a seashell when you first pick it up if you are not sure whether or not it is a cone shell. In this way, if it is a cone shell, it becomes disoriented and cannot quickly fling its proboscis out toward its new enemy – you.



Cone shell ready to attack

From photo.noss.gov under Creative Commons Licensed Works. See link below.
From photo.noss.gov under Creative Commons Licensed Works. See link below.

Here's a shell that's pretty harmless

Not a cone shell -- and harmless if you don't count the creature about to come out of it.
Not a cone shell -- and harmless if you don't count the creature about to come out of it. | Source

Collecting sea shells can be fun. Be careful, though.

Do you see any cone shells in this sea shell collection?  There are many shells on the beach which look almost like cone shells.  I don't see any cone shells in this collection.
Do you see any cone shells in this sea shell collection? There are many shells on the beach which look almost like cone shells. I don't see any cone shells in this collection.

Happy Sea Shell Hunting

Source

The physiology of a cone shell creature is interesting, to say the least.

I am placing a link below so you can go to read the really macabre details of the cone shell creature's methodology and also his unique physiology. The photographs at this site are amazing.

The site is called Marinelife Photography (at MarinelifePhotography.com) and it is the scientific and creative works of Keoki and Yuko Stender.

Sources

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (c) 2010 Pamela Williams (Pamela Kinnaird W)

Sources

Severns, Michael. Hawaiian Seashells . Hawaii, Island Heritage, 2000. Print.

Ms. K. Harris, Interview. May 27, 2010

Photograph 2. Image courtesy of Schristia's Photostream. The Cone Shell (IMG_5458R)

© 2010 Pamela Kinnaird W

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Comments 51 comments

Tony Arioli 9 months ago

Hi - I , too have never heard of a cone shell envenomation related death in Hawaii (I've been studying marine shells of both California & Hawaii since 1962). I have read of several injuries though, and most all of them are attributable to Conus textile, plus one by Conus imperialis in the Waikiki area in 1969. The species that is responsible for deaths doesn't occur in Hawaii - only in the tropical South Pacific and Indian Oceans from French Polynesia to the east coast of Africa, Conus geographus.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 17 months ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I stay out of the water, too, for sort of the same reason. Really, swimming with a pair of good, thick running shoes on, it's pretty safe.


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poetryman6969 17 months ago

I try to stay out out of the water because of critters like this. I hope that research on such a toxic poison yields some useful medicines.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

oceansnsunsets, thank you for your visit and your votes. You are a prolific writer and I always enjoy your hubs.


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oceansnsunsets 2 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hello Pamela, I had no idea about this! I love shells, and this is a good warning to people. It would be a dream for me to go back to Hawaii sometime, and if I ever do and walk the beaches, I will keep all of this in mind. That is the last thing one would expect at a time like that. Thanks for sharing this hub, and voted up, beautiful, interesting, and useful.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I think that's what most people think -- the shells are old and dry and harmless. But not me -- I'm overly cautious, so I'll never be shaking a shell to find out if anybody still lives in there. Actually, I've given up on shell collecting. I have walked many a beach and I have never found one single shell pretty or intact and worth picking up. I can walk with people on the beach who see all sorts to pick up. For me, it's either fear or blindness -- one or the other.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you, David, for the reminder. And did you see the link I added to that really good site? Thanks, again.


David 2 years ago

Hi Pamela,

Glad to see the photo updates to your blog. Very helpful to many to see the newly posted pics of non-cone shells!


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diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

Nice pics, and some info I missed...it might not be the greatest idea to shake one to see if it is occupied! That might make the inmate think you're an octopus (I will still say octopi!). I wonder why the shells are a danger on dry sand? It would seem that most would be old, dead shells in that situation unless it was on wet sand at low tide?

Bob


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Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I know -- I've been told several times and I've been meaning to fix this. I will do so right now. Thanks.


David 2 years ago

Hi Pamela,

I see that you still have erroneous information up on this page. Photos 3 and 4 are NOT cone shells and both of these are totally harmless.

Cheers,

David


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Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

You're at least the third person who has told me photo three and photo four are not cone shells. Thank you. I will try to get busily re-researching it and deleting those photos if prudent. I'm just not able to do so right now.

I enjoyed your story about you and your dad. Thanks for sharing it.


opensesame1 3 years ago

Hi Pamela,

The way your page is now, photo 1 and 2 at the top are cone shells, pictures 3 and 4 definitely are not.

As a kid in Hawaii , my biologist dad and I used to snorkel and turn over live cone shells all the time. He always taught me to grab them by their tops, being careful not to let my fingers slip down the sides. I vividly remember the time he spotted a large cone shell in shallow water on the reef and flipped it over with his fingers. I knew before he touched it that it was a Striate cone, the deadliest there is (and I mean, DEADLY), but it was too late to warn him through my snorkel. Luckily, it was not alive and we scooped it up and took it home. People were less safety conscious in those days (the 1960s) and I would be more reluctant to let my children pick up cones shells today.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Your comments were very interesting. Thank you. I do believe the people I have spoken to -- but I am naïve in some ways, so you may be right. As for the two bottom photos not being cone shells or one of their varieties, I will look into that one day soon. The places I had looked, labelled them so, but if they are not, I will delete the photos when time permits for the research. Thanks again.


Keola Donaghy 3 years ago

I grew up in Kīhei, went to the old Kīhei School, across the street from the wharf you are talking about in the early 70s. Never heard this story before, and personally don't believe it, someone probably sold you a bill of goods. I was an avid shell collector in high school and after, dove this area frequently, and up and down that entire coast. There are three fairly common Hawai‘i cones whose stings can be fatal: Conus textile (your top picture), Conus striatus (the one that you show live with its proboscis showing), and Conus marmoreus (marbled cone). I safely collected and handled all three. The biggest risk is picking them up by the wrong end, or putting them in a mesh bag that comes into contact with your body, or putting them in your pocket. All cones are venomous, and there are others in other areas of the world that can cause fatalities, and a few that are rarely found in Hawai‘i that can be, too. I've never seen a live cone on a beach, you might encounter one in a tide pool or rocky shallows at low tide. Your other pictures are not cones, one is a top shell and the other an ‘opihi (limpet).

When I was actively collecting and interacting with others in the state who did so, I only heard of two incidents of Hawai‘i people getting stung, and neither died. The textile cone (also known as the "cloth of gold") was used as a murder weapon in Hawai‘i Five-O back in the early 1970s.

As for that wharf, the state gov't simply stopped maintaining it. Cone shells didn't have anything to do with it falling into disuse.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Are you sure there are no cone shells on your beaches? I'm not sure -- there could be. But your walks sound lovely. That's one of my favorite past times -- walking along the seashore at a brisk walk. Can't do it right now and I miss it. Thanks for visiting, Eileen Hughes.


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Eileen Hughes 4 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Wow that is awful, Luckily I live in Australia so they not here I hope!

I love walking on the beaches and collecting shells to make crafts and of course get the exercise and fresh air thanks for this hub


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thanks for reading the hub and commenting. I was surprised, too, when I first found out about these particular cone shells and the fact that several men had died from their poison down at the long wharf where the ABC store now is on South Kihei Road, Maui -- near Kenolio Park. The county curtailed certain activities there so that the deaths would stop. Mahalo, hawaiianodysseus.


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hawaiianodysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

Hi, Pamela!

When I was a little boy, I was really into collecting all sorts of things, and seashells were no exception. I vividly remember reading about this particular cone.

Whether while fishing or beachcombing, the ones I encountered the most were the Hawaiian Hebrew cone shells. These were the ones that had a white or beige foundation with lots of black or dark brown leopard-like spots...a cool name for them would've been Dalmation Cones. Now, I'm wondering if they were toxic as well...

Thanks for sharing this intriguing bit of knowledge!

Aloha!


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I remember looking that up when I wrote this a year or so ago. Octopi is what comes to mind, but in fact, at least in the sources I checked, was not correct. Octopodes....I don't remember seeing that word, but you're probably right on all counts. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.


Matt 4 years ago

Fun fact: technically speaking, octopodes is the proper plural to octopus, but octopuses, octopi, and octopodes are all accepted.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I do think the second photo is the image of a cone shell, but the third one, perhaps not. I deleted many photos of shells a year ago from this hub -- bags of shells -- and moved other photos around, so -- you may be right. I'll delete the notation under the third photo.


Melissa 4 years ago

The second and third image are not cone shells and are not venomous.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

That must have been scary. eternals3ptember, thank you for commenting.


eternals3ptember profile image

eternals3ptember 4 years ago from Sherman Oaks (Not the Nice Part, Unfortunantly)

Oh these things scare me... I used to collect the shells in Japan and we were trained to stand underwater with our flippers bent so these things couldn't get you.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you, helmutbiscut.


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helmutbiscut 4 years ago from Ohio

Love learning about marine life. Very interesting and informative hub!


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Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Peter M. Arel, Hi again. I'm not familiar with the marble cone shell, but I was reading an article about a man in Hawaii who classified all the shells of the Hawaiian Islands. It's my understanding that any cone shells are poisonous. You might find a photo at one of the sites for photographs with common permissions. (e.g. Photobucket)


Peter M. Arel 5 years ago

Hi, Pamela. It's me again, Peter Arel from New Hampshire. Can anybody show me a picture of a marble cone shell?I think they're supposed to be dangerous to people too.


Peter M. Arel 5 years ago

I remember reading somewhere where somebody came up with the idea of putting a cone shell-with the creature still inside-in a big pot of boiling water, which is supposed to kill the creature in order to remove it from its shell.I've got a better idea than that-leave all cone shells that may be dangerous in the ocean where they belong!


Peter M. Arel 5 years ago

I'm glad that somebody pointed this out. I've got two books that tell of the danger posed by cone shells.Correction-make that three!


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Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Peter, thank you for taking the time to comment.


Peter M. Arel 5 years ago

Very interesting. I have two books that say that very thing-Cone Shells can, indeed, be deadly

to people;so why bother with them at all? The REALLY dangerous ones are in the Pacific Ocean.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

jennifer criston and aleida_77, thank you for reading this and commenting. Like you, I didn't realize cone shells were deadly either, but I found out just last year.


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aleida_77 5 years ago from Los Angeles

I certainly had no idea that these creatures can be so deadly. Very informative hub.


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jennifercriston 5 years ago from Oxford Road

could not imagine cone shells in Hawaii pose such a danger.


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Scoutruth 5 years ago

I wish I could of read this hub four years ago ;) Hawaii is a wonderful place to visit and I can't even imagine the beauty that surrounds you each morning. However, with the beauty comes dangers and I really had no idea that shells could be so dangerous. Very good read!


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thanks, habee.


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habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I love shelling, but I know some of those beauties are dangerous. Great info!


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Prasetio30, I didn't know either until recently about the danger of this shell. Thank you for taking the time to read my hub.


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prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I never know about this animal before. It looks cute, but when I heard that this animal highly poisonous it makes me afraid to stay close with this animal. Thanks for give us early warning. If I go to Hawaiian beach, I'll follow your suggestion. Good information.

Prasetio


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

GarnetBird, thank you.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Beauty Babe, you live in a beautiful place. The birds of Australia are so numerous. One of my favorites -- which I have painted a few times -- is the red-capped parrot.

Thanks for reading the hub.


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GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

I had no idea that these shells were toxic--a very interesting, timely Hub-Good work!


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BEAUTYBABE 6 years ago from QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA.

Hello Pamela,

This is Pam,I see we have the same name.

I just read this hub about cone shells. It is very ironic I found your hub. I have recently watched a show on TV where a young woman had an accident which involved one of these deadly creatures. I learned a lot from this hub you have done. It is very informative and I must say very descriptive and I thought it first rate.

As you would have seen I am an Aussie and yes I have been to the Great Barrier Reef, and it is documented as one of the Great wonders of the world. It has over the years unfortunatley been destroyed, by mankind. There is not a lot of coral reef left, which really saddens me.

Every time someone dives on reefs it causes erosion, hence destruction to the piece that they walk on as well.

This was a good hub Pam, can I call you Pam. I get called Pam or my husband calls me Pammee if he wants to get my attention, if you know what I mean, Anyway, I look forward to reading more hubs that you have written.

I have become a fan of yours too. Take care of yourself and we shall meet up again soon. Love Beautybabe.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thanks for reading the hub.

There is a wharf here -- near where I live -- that is only about 100 feet long. Apparently it used to be very long and ships would dock there. But the locals (whose ancestors had lived through the times when their country was stolen from them by the United States) used to dive under the water there to obtain the hundreds of cone shells that thrived on the bottom of the docks' pillars. Several local people, shell collectors who were doing this to earn money, died from cone shell venom. So the wharf was dismantled in order to prevent further deaths. Now little boats dock out there in the bay and then the boat owners and passengers ride a little kayak or something into shore.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thanks for reading the hub.

There is a wharf here -- near where I live -- that is only about 100 feet long. Apparently it used to be very long and ships would dock there. But the locals (whose ancestors had lived through the times when their country was stolen from them by the United States) used to dive under the water there to obtain the hundreds of cone shells that thrived on the bottom of the docks' pillars. Several local people, shell collectors who were doing this to earn money, died from cone shell venom. So the wharf was dismantled in order to prevent further deaths. Now little boats dock out there in the bay each evening. Their occupants ride on little whatever-they're-called (dinghys?) to get from their boats to the shore.


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billyaustindillon 6 years ago

I used to love collecting shells when I was younger. I remember the stingers in some of the cone shells. This is a great hub Pamela - makes me jealous remembering those beautiful beaches.


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kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

That's scary. They really do look harmless. I'll have to keep that in mind when I vacation in Hawaii... someday *sigh*

Thanks for the info.


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Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Mentalist Acer, hi! Thanks for reading the article. Yes, the puffer fish are very common here. I haven't researched them yet, but from what I hear, they cause a lot of discomfort and pain, but not death.


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Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

An informative Hub Pamela...are the puffer fish common in Hawaii and are they poisonous?

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