The waters around the Hawaiian islands are home to more than thirty species of cone snails from the genus Conus, much admired for the beautiful patterning. I was happy to find the one above washed up on the shore of a beach in Kauai. Ah, but there's more to this beauty than dazzles the eye. These sea snails are venomous, though only a few species have been known to cause human fatalities. The Hawaiian term for them is pupu 'ala as well as pupu ponuinui, meaning dizzy shell. Their venom is used defensively, but also to capture prey. Different species of cone snails hunt different prey: some eat marine worms, others snails, and some are piscivorous, that is, they eat small fish (these are the more venomous ones). They inhabit shallow to mid-level waters, where their shape helps them to bury themselves in the sand or under the rock and rubble. At night, they hunt. Spectacularly.
While hunting techniques vary from species to species, in general, the siphon of the snail acts like a nose, waved about in order to sniff out chemicals given off by potential prey. Once located, the snail extends its proboscis which contains the harpoon-like apparatus to sting its prey - thus allowing the snail to do this without ever leaving its shell. The quick acting venom then renders the prey helpless while the snail's mouth extends and can actually envelop and hoover up the hapless victim. But here's the silver lining: cone snail venom may hold medical promise in such areas as pain management.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.