Strombus gigas Linnaeus, 1758
This breathtakingly beautiful gastropod is useful in many ways. Obviously it is appreciated for its decorative value. The snail (conch) inside the shell can be eaten. Occasionally there are pearls in the mantle* of the mollusk. Cameos can be cut from the thick, heavy shell; and the shell can be ground up to use in making porcelain. Conch shells with the spire broken off have, historically, been used as trumpets by us Southerners, Aztecs, Japanese, and ancient (and modern) Greeks, as well as other peoples. The shells also have been used as doorstops and for delinating the borders of flower gardens. They are sometimes called “Fountain Shells.”
The shell is as big as 12 inches tall, measuring from spire to bottom, and may weigh more than 5lbs. The main body of the creamy-to-yellowish buff shell is more or less conical in shape with nodes (dull points) on its shoulders. The adult shell has a huge outer lip which flares out like a big rosy pink wing, making the shell look remarkable. Young conchs, called “rollers,” have a thin, delicate outer lip.
Perhaps more amazing is the strange-looking creature inside. Strombus gigas has a thick, meaty, pinkish body; a black copulatory verge; two unblinking yellow eyes mounted on the ends of long, rotund stalks (some say that the eyeballs resemble agates); and a fleshy, fat, gray proboscis (snout). Its foot, a muscular extension of its body used for locomotion, is equipped with a horny operculum. The sickle-shaped, claw-like operculum can be used to partially close the aperture, or opening, of the shell when the snail retreats inside. Strombus gigas can also wield its chitinous operculum like a weapon. The shell of the living creature is covered with a brownish periostracum.
To see the Queen (or “Pink”) Conch get around is quite a sight. Early 20th-century conchologist Julia Ellen-Rogers gives this description:
The shell is massive, but the animal is strong enough to carry it without inconvenience. The muscular body thrusts out the arching foot, which extends forward a thumb-like process, the foot proper, with a creeping disk scarcely larger than a thumb nail. The enlarged hind portion of the foot bears the claw-like operculum on its extremity.
The peculiar foot gives rise to a peculiar gait. The conch is impulsive in temperment. It does not glide, but jumps along, striking the shawp claw into the sand, and flopping the shell from side to side as it proceeds. A most astonishing sight is a frightened conch taking long leaps, and making quick turns to escape capture when pursued. If placed on its back, it rights itself by a somersault. A downward slope is a great advantage, for here the weight of the shell becomes a propulsive force, and the foot is kept busy lifting the shell into positions of unstable equilibrium, then a slight push of the operculum sends it rolling down hill. This is convenient in getting back to the water after being stranded on the beach.
Specimens of Queen Conchs may be found on the coast of southern Florida, all the way to the West Indies; and in Bermuda.