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FAMA Classic: Cowries and Eggshells

These mollusks are even better in a tank than on a shelf.

By Jean-Francois Hamel and Annie Mercier |

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Cowries are among the most attractive and prized of all seashells. They have long been used by coastal civilizations as currency or in the fabrication of ritual ornaments. Today, many shell collectors would spend fortunes to acquire the most exceptional specimens. Their magnificence is indeed their misfortune, for many cowry species have been overexploited and have nearly disappeared from habitats where they were traditionally plentiful. Compared to the collectors’ trade, the small amount of cowries gathered for the aquarium market is probably insignificant and has a negligible effect on natural populations.

So what makes these splendid creatures relatively unpopular in the aquarium trade? First of all, the fact that their basic biological needs are poorly understood does not make them the easiest animals to maintain and breed in captivity. Second, some cowries are known to live on a diet that would be considered very distasteful by most hobbyists — they feed on coral polyps. Other specialized species will prey on hydroids, tunicates, sponges or similarly sessile animals. Nevertheless, many cowries and related snails are herbivores or scavengers, and thus are less destructive and better suited for mini-reefs and other popular marine tanks.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the September 2010 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.

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