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Cone Shells – Predatory Gastropods Living in the Great Barrier Reef

Updated on March 21, 2012

Cone Shells


The Cone Shape

Cone shells or cone snails as they are sometimes referred, relate to the family of predatory gastropods. The cone shells is one of the many organisms inhabiting the Great Barrier Reef, along with live coral and numerous varieties of colourful tropical fish. The shells are as the name suggests, shaped in a perfect cone that tapers from the base in much the same way as a pine cone. The cone shells have an attractive look about them, some with brilliant eye catching colours and such intricate patterns that children have an instant desire to pick them up but their outer covering is spiked with poisons that can cause serious injury on contact.

Some Facts About the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system of the world and was named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and came in at number three on the list of the seven underwater wonders of the world. Apart from the live coral of the reef the waters are alive with whales, dolphins, turtles and 1500 species of fish. It is such a vast area it can be seen from outer space stretching along the Queensland coastline of north eastern Australia.

The Dangerous Marine Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef Series has been commissioned by Toscana Village Resort, Airlie Beach Accommodation.

Great Barrier Reef From Above

Cone Shells - Predatory Gastropods Explained

What is a gastropod?

An animal in the gastropod family means it has a soft body and lives in a single shell. The common garden snail is part of the family and just as the garden snail has many varieties, there are 80 different species of cone shells in Australia, many of which are found inhabiting the Great Barrier Reef.

What is it about cone shells that make them predatory?

Surely these innocent and beautiful looking shells are not destructive or greedy are they? In actual fact, the surface of the shell while perfectly cone shaped and attractive, has hidden teeth which act like small harpoons strong enough to penetrate clothing. The animal will use these spears whenever it feels threatened but mostly to prey on other marine organisms.

The harpoons shoot out toxic peptides that are considered highly poisonous. Because there is no antivenin from the poisons of cone shells, medical attention should be sought immediately. Pressure immobilisation first aid needs to be applied and in severe cases assisted ventilation. Symptoms might include slurred speech, blurred vision and muscle weakness. Identifying shells before contact is imperative to staying safe while playing in the region.

More Shells of the Great Barrier Reef

Apart from the dangerous cone shells there are many beautiful and less harmful shells to be found along the reef. There are also a number of edible shells from the miniature clam to rock oysters. The Great Barrier Reef has no less than six of the eight varieties of large clams of the world. While not so much an edible treat they are certainly something to view from a distance. Care should be observed that no foreign particles enter the delicate inside of the shell if you are lucky enough to find one of these open mouthed as you explore under the surface and around the coral of the reef.

Airlie Beach Gateway to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef

If you are planning a trip to see all the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, Airlie Beach is well worth a look as the place to settle in and plan your adventures. The town is known as the gateway to the Whitsundays as a number of the 74 islands are within easy reach by boat or ferry. Tours to the Great Barrier Reef itself are varied and plentiful from half day snorkel tours to overnight stays as little as thirty minutes away.

The Dangerous Marine Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef Series has been commissioned by Toscana Village Resort, Airlie Beach Accommodation.

Copyright © Karen Wilton 2012


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    • Shar-0n17 profile image

      Sharon 3 years ago from Perth

      I love collecting shells on the beach and making crafts from them. But I did not know about the cone shells

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 5 years ago from Australia

      Well said vparker. Funny how nature has a way of making beautiful things but to look at not touch. I'm guess if you see these shells on the beach it means the organism has left and the danger has passed too, but I'd be doing a bit more research before putting that one to the test. Thanks for you comment.

    • vparker profile image

      Veronica Parker 5 years ago from From Mars

      The more you know :) Thanks for the wondering for now I know that when I come across these beautiful shells to just leave them alone.

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 5 years ago from Australia

      Thank you AliciaC, the poison from those cone shells is certainly worrying but a good reason to leave everything as it is in nature and especially the Great Barrier Reef.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another interesting article in your series about the Great Barrier Reef, Karanda. Cone shells sound beautiful, but I would definitely be careful while admiring them in real life. Any poison that has no antidote sounds very scary to me!

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 5 years ago from Australia

      Everyday Miracles if I hadn't started this dangerous marine creatures series I would never have known about these shells. Like you, I had thought shells were to be admired and picked up by children on the beach. Thank you for your comment.

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 5 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Really interesting. I didn't know that about cone shells. I used to love picking up shells along the beach when my family would visit Florida.

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks CMHypno, I agree that swimming in the region is best done in the beautiful lagoon, much safer than the open waters. But there are some fantastic dive and snorkel tours for anyone keen to see what is under the water.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting hub Karanda, shows that being beautiful doesn't mean that you are not dangerous! But to stay safe people do need to learn as much as they can about the dangers before they enter the water, or only swim in the man-made lagoon at Airlie Beach.