Feature Creature: Strombus alatus

Strombus - 004clb

This overturned conch is looking in two different directs.

In early August, I was walking in the shallows at Big Carlos Pass, enjoying the calm morning water with an exceptionally low tide. It was one of those still mornings that can fool you into believing that there’s nothing new or particularly interesting to see. I should know better than to ever think that, not as long as there’s an ocean at my feet.

First I spotted one Florida fighting conch (Strombus alatus), then another, then a few more. Strombus alatus has always been a complete favorite of mine, not only for its wonderful shell, but as a personable mollusk. There is some irony in the name ‘fighting conch,’ because this hefty mollusk is probably one of the most peaceful gastropods in Florida waters. Rare among gastropods (certainly at least the larger gastropods), Strombus alatus is almost exclusively a vegetarian. The name ‘fighting conch’ actually comes from their struggle to be freed when captured or picked up. They kick using their foot and operculum.Strombus - 003 ff

A Florida fighting conch with its foot and operculum extended.

The conches were in the shallows, all covered in sand and mostly hidden. A closer look revealed something that I had never seen before. They were laying eggs! The spongy egg masses were almost the exact color of the sand and formed a textured column. Tiny bits of shell were attached at near regular intervals. I would never have noticed the eggs, if I had only given a casual glance.

Strombus with eggs

A conch, while laying eggs.  Its shell is covered in a growth of hair algae.

Strombus - 006 eggs trim


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