Shells from Key West

Here are some shells I have found in the Florida Keys over several years, taken in a small aquarium while the mollusks were still living. I used a Nikon D100 digital camera with a zoom-tele lens and later enhanced the photos (taking out distracting backgrounds and correcting for color) in Photoshop.
 
Conus jaspideus, "Jasper Cone"

Crawling in sand of a sand bar near shore at tide's turn.

 
Pyrgospira tampaensis, "Tampa Turrid"

Crawling in sand of a sand bar near shore at tide's turn, near the cone above.

 
Conus mus, "Mouse Cone"

In the "cone zone" just seaward of the highest part of the offshore reef, I found three of these under one rock.

 
Conus mus, "Mouse Cone"

 
Conus regius, "Crown Cone"

Also in the "cone zone". Some specimens were laying eggs, and we left them to it. This one must have been hungry, because it prowled all over the aquarium.

 
Conus regius, "Crown Cone"

After I was done photographing it, I put the specimen in a box with other shells. I looked over and saw it had its proboscus extended and the sheath that holds its radular teeth extended. Cones "spear" their prey with their radular teeth, which are in the shape of harpoons with a poison tip.

 
Conus regius, "Crown Cone"

I believe the Pisania pusio to the left of the cone has been speared. But apparently the cone wanted more to eat because it waved its proboscus about for quite a while and didn't attempt to eat anything. Finally I moved it away from the other shells, since I hadn't finished photographing them!

 
Astraea caelata, "Carved Star Shell"

This is a small specimen of a shell that grows to 3 inches across or more. They prefer elkhorn coral reefs.

 
Triphora decorata, "Mottled Triphora"

Underside of a rock on the reef. The shell is 1/2 inch in length, the animal tiny. Shells in this family are sinistral, opening on the left as you hold the shell with the aperture down and facing you; most gastropods are dextral, or right opening.

 
Cyphoma gibbosa, "Flamingo Tongue"

These brilliant shells have an even more brilliant foot and mantle that often covers the shell. They stand out on their preferred habitat, purple sea fans (one is to the right).

 
Cyphoma gibbosa, "Flamingo Tongue"

It is speculated that the animal is noxious or tastes bad; otherwise it would be easily seen and eaten by predators. The bright color might advertise its nasty taste. This is one of the few shells most divers can spot.

 
Pilsbryspira jayana

Members of the family Turridae are shy, and this one was nearly buried in sand under a rock on the outer reef.

 
Pilsbryspira jayana

It crawled up on the glass for a good view of the underside of the shell.

 
Lima lima, "Spiny Lima"

This animal is a lovely pink color with white tentacles. It has extended its foot and will spin byssal threads to anchor itself in place.

 
Pisania pusio, "Miniature Trumpet Triton"

I usually find these in the inner area of the reef, but these were in the "cone zone" - one rock sheltered about eight of them!

 
Pisania pusio, "Miniature Trumpet Triton"

Despite the "common" name, this animal is in a totally different family from the tritons.

 
 
Strombus costatus, "Milk Conch"

Found in the Gulf of Mexico off Key West in grassy areas in four to six feet of water. Note the "bullseye" eyes!

 
Busycon sinistrum, "Left-Handed Whelk"

Specimens I have found in the Keys are in the Gulf of Mexico and are generally small and colorful.

 
Cypraea cervus, "Deer Cowry"

A secret spot always yields both this species and the Zebra Cowry.

 
Cypraea zebra, "Zebra Cowry

These cowries live under fairly large rocks in high current areas.

 
another view of Cypraea zebra

They are often under rocks that also shelter lobsters.

 
Strombus raninus, "Hawk-Wing Conch"

Lives in sandy areas with a little sea grass where it eats tiny plants.

 
Cassis madagascariensis, "Queen Helmet"

Usually found in turtle grass in 8 feet or more of water, this beautiful specimen was near the reef in only four feet.

 
another view of Cassis madagascariensis

 
Charonia variegata, "Trumpet Triton"

We've found a total of about a dozen of these coveted shells in various areas and habitats. This is a small one, taken so I could snap its picture.

 
Callistochiton shuttleworthianus

This is a fairly rare chiton, about an inch in length. Its neutral color makes it difficult to spot in its environment under limestone rocks.

 
another view of Callistochiton shuttleworthianus

 
Cypraea cinerea, "Gray Cowry"

A reef shell, living under dead corals in very shallow water. The mantle is a thin, smooth sheet of tissue.

 
Cypraea cinerea

In 2004 I found several females guarding their eggs. The eggs are laid in a circle and are pale yellow. You don't know if there are eggs until you gently move the parent. I'm careful to keep her with her eggs when I return the rock.

 
Cypraea acicularis, "Yellow Cowry"

These cowries are in the same area as the gray cowries.

 
Cypraea acicularis, "Yellow Cowry"

The mantle is covered with protrusions that blend with mossy sea grasses. When it's fully extended you can't see the shell at all.

 
Cypraea cinerea and acicularis

 
Cypraea cinerea and acicularis

 
Dolicholatirus cayohuesonicus, "Key West Latirus"

Less than an inch in length, these shells and the following species live under dead coral on the reef.

 
Columbella mercatoria "Dove Shell"

One of the most common reef shells, it may be black, orange, yellow, brown or red.

 
Trachypollia nodulosa, "Blackberry Drupe"

A muricid, this shell is one of several black shells found under coral rocks. It is unusual to find one without purple coralline algae encrusting the shell.

 
Favartia alveata

A muricid, this shell is very hard to spot under coral rocks.

 
Costellaria sykesi

One of the several tiny black-and-white shells found under rocks at the reef.

 
Morum oniscus, "Atlantic Wood-Louse"

This inch-long shell buries in sand under rocks. It is very difficult to spot because of its color and mottled pattern.

 
another view of Morum oniscus

The wide flat foot is adapted to shovel under the sand and it can be separated from the body to leave behind for a predator while the animal escapes. This and other characteristics caused scientists to reclassify the Morums in the Harp family.

 
another view of Morum oniscus

The especially long siphon and eyestalks are also adaptations to living under the sand.

 
another view of Morum oniscus

Note the vestigial operculum (a yellow dot) perched on the back of the foot. Burrowing animals don't need an operculum for safety.

 
Caribachlamys sentis, "Sentis Scallop"

These flat shells live attached to the bottom of coral rocks by a sticky byssus. Though brightly colored, they are often overlooked.

 
another view of Caribachlamys sentis

Scallops have two rows of "eyes" next to the shell. Sentis eyes are red. Other sensory organs are the long tentacles.

 
another view of Caribachlamys sentis

Sentis scallops may be red, purple, or white. The largest are less than two inches in length.

 
Tegula lividomaculata

Found under rocks in the shallowest part of the reef, these shells are usually covered with coralline algae.

 
another view of Tegula lividomaculata

Usually these animals are very active, moving swiftly back to the underside of a rock and waving their tentacles to sense trouble, but it was late at night and I couldn't stay up until this guy woke up!

 
Cerion incanum, "Peanut Shell"

These are properly land snails, but they like the salt air and are found near salt water. Here they are in a vacant lot near a canal.