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Cypraea caputserpentis (Family Cypraeidae)

Snake's Head Cowrie

Distribution:

The Snake's Head Cowrie has an Indo-West Pacific and tropical East Pacific distribution pattern. It is a widespread species in Australia ranging from Albany in southern WA, around northern shores including NT and Qld to southern NSW near Eden (WA, NT, QLD, NSW).

Features:

This is a beautifully formed and coloured cowrie. The top of the shell is brown, with numerous white spots, forming a mottled pattern, while the base and sides are chocolate brown, lighter on the ends. Juvenile shells have a prominent central band. The shell is solid, with the upper surface indented or depressed, with strong bumps called teeth on the lip. Northern shells have a thickened margin, expanded to form a flat base, while southern forms lack a thickened margin that creates the impression of a juvenile appearance. It grows to 35 - 40 mm in length. The animal is grey in colour and has many extensively branched extensions called papillae.

Ecology/Way of Life:

This species is found under stones and coral at low tide level in the intertidal zone and below in the subtidal zone. Seven subspecies have been named for this widespread species with four coming from Australian shores. Wilson & Gillett (1979) consider that there is very little difference between these forms.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The Snake's Head Cowrie shell's high gloss, striking colours, patterns and attractive forms make them a most highly sought shell by collectors. Some collectors would not hesitate to kill the live animal to gain the "prize". Although widespread and apparently common on some shores, this species should be continually monitored to ensure that it is not over-depleted.

Other Comments:

Cypraea caputserpentis, Linnaeus, 1758. The word Cypraea could be derived from two sources, one being from the Greek word kyperos meaning a sedge, and the other Latin word cupresseus or its derived French word cupressus meaning a cypress tree. The word caputserpentis comes from two Latin words, caput means a head or knob, and serpere, to creep, like a snake.

Further Reading:

Bennett, I. (1987), W. J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores. p.286-7, Angus & Robertson.

Davey, K. (1998). A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p. 109. New Holland Press.

Jansen, P. (2000). Seashells of South-East Australia. p.32. Capricornia Publications, Lindfield.

Marine Research Group (1984), Coastal Invertebrates of Victoria, p.123. Museum of Victoria.

Short, J.W. & Potter, D.G. (1987). Shells of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef: Marine Gastropods. p. 36. Golden Press, Drummoyne.

Wells, F.E. & Bryce, C.W. (1988). Seashells of Western Australia. p.70. Western Australian Museum.

Wilson, B.R. & Gillett, K. (1979). A Field Guide to Australian Shells: Prosobranch Gastropods. p. 91. Reed, Sydney.

Acknowledgments:

Text, map & photograph by Keith Davey.

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