Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cone Snail

Conus textile
(Image Source)

There are around 500 species of Cone Snail, marine gastropods that belong to the genus Conus. They live in tropical and subtropical waters around the world and vary in size depending on the species, with the largest measuring over 20cm in length. Cone Snails also look quite pretty. They have long, attractive shells that tend to have nice little patterns and designs on them, no wonder they are popularly used as jewelry!

But beware! Cone Snails have a extremely potent toxin (called Conotoxin), and they have to. They are tiny little guys who don't move very fast. Their toxin needs to paralyze their prey quickly, otherwise it'll get away. The toxin in these Snails has the ability to kill a human being, and there is no known antivenom. They attack via a barb that shoots out from their shell, and the type of paralysis is dependent on the species. When their prey is immobilized, they draw it back in to their shell, still attached to the barb. Cone Snails are carnivorous and predatory, and feed off of fish, worms, and other mollusks, depending on the specific species.

Interestingly, when some of the components of the toxins are isolated, they make an extremely potent painkiller. The drug Prialt is made from the toxin of Conus magnus, and new uses for the toxins are still being researched.

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