Conch Snails: An Iconic Family of Aquatic Snails

conch snail

You know in the movies, when someone picks up a shell and blows into it, making a noise that summons mermaids or something else from the water? That shell they blow into, is a conch snail shell — and yes, there is (or was) an animal inside of it.

What is a Conch Snail?

The term ‘conch’ or ‘conch snails’ is a term that refers to a few different species, all of which are sea snails.

In the US, the name is usually used to talk about the ‘queen conch’, also known scientifically as Lobatus gigas. The queen conch was also formerly known as Strombus gigas and Aliger gigas but has been given a recent classification overhaul.

Sadly, numbers of the royal conch snail have declined due to overfishing and other factors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) has started the process to have the species listed as endangered in US waters after a report showed they were facing a very serious risk of extinction.

Conch Snail Infographic

Conch Snail Types

A few other conch snails include:

  • Goliath conch – Titanostrombus [/Strombus/Lobatus] goliath
  • Florida fighting conch – Strombus alatus
  • Eastern Pacific fighting conch – Strombus gracilior
  • West Indian fighting conch – Strombus pugilis
  • Dog conch – Laevistrombus canarium/Strombus canarium
  • Spider conch – Lambis
  • Florida horse conch – Triplofusus papillosus

What Do Conch Snails Look Like?

The shells of conch snails are truly beautiful things to behold, and they’re often used as decorations in homes, as symbolic and spiritual objects, and more. For many, they’re the typical and traditional shell found on a tropical beach, associated with all things mystical and mermaidy.

Tiger sand conches, also known as tiger conch, strawberry conch, or the scientific name Conomurex luhuanus is every bit as striped and strawberry blonde as they sound.

conch snail shell

The West Indian fighting conch can be a vast array of interesting and beautiful colors, including bright and light orange, bright or pale yellow, off-white/cream, pale to bright/salmon pink, and an ombre blend of them all.

Queen conches, although large, are almost boring in comparison. Full-grown queens tend to be a beige-brown color, enabling them to camouflage in with their sandy surroundings.

Do Conch Snails Have Eyes?

Yes, conch snails do have eyes… and they often get people talking.

If you can picture the stereotypical cartoon snail, with big eyeballs right at the top of stalks, you’ve got the right idea. This is pretty much how conch snail eyes look. They can move and look at things independently of each other, so the left one can look one way while the right one looks another.

Conch snails use their eyes more-slash-differently than other species. They’ll keep their eyes on you, and they’ll quickly tuck themselves (and the eyes) back into the shell.

How Big Are Conch Snails?

There are different ‘conch’ snails ranging from medium to large, to extra-large. The goliath conch, for example, reaches incredible shell lengths of up to 15 inches (38 cm). The queen conch is a little smaller, reaching a maximum shell length of 13.9 inches (35 cm).

On the other end of the scale, you have the Florida fighting conch, sometimes referred to as just fighting conch, which reaches a maximum length of 4.4 inches (11 cm).

The Mauritian conch (Conomurex decorus) is smaller than that, reaching a maximum length of 3.14 inches (8 cm).

The variable stromb (Canarium mutabile) is even smaller still: 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) in length.

How Long Do Conch Snails Live?

The queen conch is believed to have the ability to live for thirty years, but not all conches can live a life quite that long.

Most conches have a maximum lifespan of around ten years. Unlike other gastropod species, conch snails do much better in the wild, left alone by humans. Owners report their aquarium pet conch snail living for up to five or six years before passing over the snail rainbow bridge.

several conch shells on a beach

Which Conch Snails for a Saltwater Aquarium?

The most popular and readily available conch species for saltwater tanks is the fighting conch, of which there are few different subspecies and colorways.

You may also find spider conch snails (Lambis lambis). The shells are easier to find and buy than the actual snails are, however. These are only suitable for really big tanks, at least 60 gallons (270 liters) or more.

Tiger conch snails are also somewhat readily available, but you’ll likely have a bit more luck finding them online than at walk-in aquarium stores.

These gastropods are not suitable for a brand-new aquarium or tank that hasn’t yet fully or properly cycled. Ideally, you’ll want to add them to a somewhat established home setup. Not all conches are suitable for the same setups, too.

The conch world is quite a complex one, so it’s recommended to do your research and ticked off all the boxes before you incorporate one into your watery habitat.

What Do Conch Snails Eat?

Most conch snails are herbivores, eating plant material. For a while it was believed that they were carnivores, and some scientists still argue that they are more like omnivores (eating plant and animal material) than herbivores.

Most conch snails in the wild are believed to eat a diet that is made up of primarily seagrasses, seaweed, diatoms, epiphytes, and other types of micro- and macroalgae, but food preferences heavily depend on size and species. Smaller species like to burrow and sift through sandy substrate, eating detritus, dead and dying plant material, and more.

Tiger conch snails will eat everything and anything they can get their mouths on. They are the most insatiable eaters of all conch snails, and perhaps even all snails.

a conch snail shell

Are Conch Snails Edible?

Yes, they are edible. In fact, in the Bahamas, it is traditional to grab them from the beach, wash them, and then cook them, either stewing, smoking, or frying. Some people will eat them raw.

Conch meat is exported from various countries in the Caribbean to other places around the world, including Europe and the Americas. In fact, most places that have native populations of this gastropod export them for either food or decoration.

What Eats Conch Snails?

Aside from humans, an interesting array of other creatures prey on even the biggest of conch snails. The Eastern Pacific giant conch, for example, are commonly preyed on by snappers, trigger fish, octopuses, rays, and more.

The queen conch is actually attacked and eaten by another conch snail. The Florida horse conch (also known as true tulip snail) is a major predator of the smaller queens.

Are Conch Snails Venomous or Poisonous?

No, there aren’t any venomous or poisonous conch snails. They aren’t believed to be dangerous to humans or other animals. They don’t even eat other animals. (Well, mostly.)

How Do Conch Snails Breed?

Conch snails are not hermaphrodites, so in order to mate and successfully breed, you must have one male and one female… and they must like each other enough to actually ‘get it on’.

Males may fight over females, and the two sexes must actually copulate to fertilize the egg. Before that there’ll be a courtship ritual of the female playing hard to get and the male continually chasing after her, which can take up to two hours.

Eggs are laid by females, many thousands at a time, which larvae emerge from. A few weeks later, those larvae then turn into very small conch snails – but very few of them will actually make it through the larvae stage.

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