Home > Invertebrates > Shells > Cowries

Updated 11/24/2013

Family Cypraeidae

Cowries

Cowries are a favorite of collectors because of their beautiful colors and high-gloss finish.  This is possible because the animals' mantle is on the outside, secreting the shell from the top-down and keeping it protected, whereas most other shells are secreted from the inside-out, hence the glossy interior of many shells.  The mantle is usually ornamented with papillae that provide camouflage and assist in respiration.  The color of the mantle sometimes matches the sponge it feeds upon.  Cowries usually remain hidden during the day in holes, dead coral heads, rubble, or under rocks and emerge at night to feed with the mantle fully extended.  Empty but intact shells are usually the result of predation by cone shells.

Cowries may be algal grazers or sponge grazers, or both.  Females lay a cluster of small egg capsules and will sit upon the mass until they hatch.  If you find a cowry clinging tightly to an egg mass do not disturb it otherwise it may not return to that position.  Veliger larvae hatch and spend some time in the plankton before settlement.  Juveniles look like paper-thin olive shells, coiling as they grow until maturity, when the outer lip curves inward, forms teeth, and the shell thickens with a new adult color pattern.  The height of an adult cowry does not change once this takes place but rather the shell thickens and the interior is dissolved to create more space inside.  Curiously, young cowries stop coiling at random regardless of height, resulting in a broad size range in adults.

Hawaii is special for having several endemic cowries, some of these being quite rare, such as live-collected Ostergaard's cowries worth several thousand dollars.  Widespread species often attain record size in Hawaiian waters and many of these are rare locally.

Proper care must be exercised to avoid ruining cowries.  Never boil, soak in water, use bleach, acid, or leave decaying flesh in contact with the shell.  Keep out of direct sunlight and store in the dark to slow down the fading process.  If the gloss is already marred nothing can be done to fix it.

Note: Species are grouped here according to appearance for easier comparison.  I have elected to keep parent genus Cypraea instead of the current (and confusing for the layperson) splitters' trend of elevating subgenera to genus.  Here subgenera are indicated within parentheses.

 

HAWAII

Cypraea (Mauritia) maculifera maculifera

HAWAIIAN RETICULATED COWRY 

 

 Cypraea (Monetaria) caputophidii

HAWAIIAN SNAKEHEAD COWRY 

 

Cypraea tigris schilderiana

HAWAIIAN TIGER COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Mauritia) mauritiana

HUMPBACK COWRY

 

Cypraea (Lyncina) carneola propinqua

CARNELIAN COWRY

Cypraea (Lyncina) leviathan leviathan

HAWAIIAN LEVIATHAN COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Lyncina) sulcidentata

GROOVE-TOOTHED COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Lyncina) schilderorum

SCHILDER'S COWRY

 

Cypraea (Luria) tessellata 

CHECKERED COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Luria) isabella controversa

ISABELLA COWRY

 

Cypraea (Blasicrura) pellucens pellucens

ALISON'S COWRY

 

Cypraea (Blasicrura) latior

BURGESS' COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Talostolida) rashleighana

RASHLEIGH'S COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Purpuradusta) fimbriata waikikiensis

FRINGED COWRY 

 

 

Cypraea (Erosaria) cernica cernica

WAXY COWRY

 

Cypraea (Cribrarula) gaskoini  

GASKOIN'S COWRY

 

Cypraea (Erosaria) beckii

BECK'S COWRY

Cypraea (Erosaria) ostergaardi

OSTERGAARD'S COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Erosaria) poraria

POROUS COWRY

 

Cypraea (Erosaria) hawaiiensis

HAWAIIAN HONEY COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Staphylaea) semiplota

HALF-SWIMMER COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Staphylaea) semiplota var. annae

ANNA'S HALF-SWIMMER COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Nucleolaria) granulata granulata

GRANULATED COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Nucleolaria) pseudonucleus

FALSE NUCLEAR COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Lyncina) vitellus polynesiae

CALF COWRY

 

Cypraea (Lyncina) lynx

LYNX COWRY

 

Cypraea (Ovatipsa) chinensis amiges

CLEAR CHINESE COWRY

 

Cypraea (Mauritia) scurra indica

JESTER COWRY

 

Cypraea (Pustularia) tuamotuensis takahashii

HAWAIIAN CHICK-PEA COWRY

 

Cypraea (Pustularia) mauiensis

MAUI'S COWRY 

 

Cypraea (Talparia) talpa

MOLE COWRY

 

 Cypraea (Monetaria) moneta

MONEY COWRY

 

Cypraea (Erosaria) erosa

ERODED COWRY

 


    INDO-PACIFIC

    Cypraea (Ovatipsa) chinensis chinensis

    CHINESE COWRY

     


    EASTERN PACIFIC

    Cypraea (Neobernaya) spadicea

    CHESTNUT COWRY

     

     



    Family Triviidae

    Allied Cowries

    Allied cowries are similar in appearance to cowries but differ in larval morphology and diet, feeding upon and laying eggs within compound tunicates.  Hawaiian species are tiny, measuring less than 1/4 inch at adulthood, therefore rarely collected alive but frequent in beach drift.  Formerly known as Family Eratoidae.

    HAWAII 

    Trivirostra scabriuscula

    ROUGH TRIVIA

     
    Trivirostra hordacea

    BARLEY GRAIN TRIVIA

    EASTERN PACIFIC

    Pusula californica

    CALIFORNIA TRIVIA

     

    Pusula solandri

    SOLANDER'S TRIVIA



Family Ovulidae

Egg Cowries & Volvas

Ovulids are similar in appearance to cowries but lack teeth along the aperture.  They live and feed upon soft corals, gorgonians, and black corals.  Their shells are quite drab but the mantle of live animals can be very attractive.

HAWAII

Phenacovolva brevirostris

STOUT VOLVA

 

INDO-PACIFIC

Primovula rosewateri

ROSEWATER'S VOLVA