Can the snails harpoon themselves/ harm themselves?

Yes, they could (in rare cases) accidentally harpoon themselves and inject themselves with venom. However, though they would be paralysed by it, as long as they were safe from predators during that time, the venom would gradually wear off, and they would probably not be hurt.

Cone snails eat their prey with the venom in it - does that not paralyse them?

The venom does not have the same paralysing effect if it is ingested.

Is there an anti-venom?

No. If you are hurt by a snail you must seek help immediately. There is no special antidote that can be given to you. If vital organs are stabilized, the toxins will wear off and you would be OK. There have been fatal cases of injection with cone snail venom. This most often occurs with deep sea divers who pick up a cone snail unaware of their dangers. When hurt, they cannot reach land quickly enough to get help, and become paralyzed on route.

What should you do if you are injected / hurt by a cone snail?

Seek immediate hospital care.

How does the venom work?

Learn about how the venom works here.

Do prey ever escape from a cone snail?

Yes. In fact there is a video in our gallery of a fish escaping entitled "tag with fish" where the fish keeps moving away from a net hunter which is unable to engulf it. Other videos show a fish that has been paralyzed, but the harpoon broke off. In this case, even though the venom worked the snail is unable to reel it into its mouth. There are also videos of fish becoming more active as the snail prepares to engulf them, indicating that the venom can wear off before the fish is eaten. Usually the cone snail will sting again but it is possible for a fish to escape.

How many times a day does it need to eat?

After one feeding the snail may not have to eat again for another few days. It can remain hidden underneath the sand while it digests its large meal.

How many types of venom are there?

Conus peptide libraries hold over 50,000 distinct toxic components. The snails are able to use a mixture of different types of venom with each injection. Each type of venom has a distinct target and purpose, and when injected together, they efficiently and completely paralyse the prey.

How do the net hunters get the fish to stay still enough to catch it?

Most cone snails hunt at night when fish are sleeping. Scientists believe that cone snails secrete sedative chemicals into the surrounding waters to further calm the fish. For awake fish, a net hunter has a deceptive appearance where their mouth may be mistaken for an anemone or worms. This may help lure the fish closer to its mouth as well.

Can cone snails see?

Though the cone snails have eye stalks on both sides of their mouth, it is not known how well they can see underwater, especially since not much light is available at certain depths. You can learn about their anatomy here.

How do cone snails find their prey?

They use their siphon to detect prey in the nearby water. Chemo-sensors on the siphon help them detect prey from a considerable distance.

How can researchers use the venom?

Scientists use the venom to conduct studies, not only for medical purposes, but for understanding more about other types of science. The amino acid sequences of the peptides can be studied to understand more about the different varieties that are produced, and how they are linked on an evolutionary scale. The targets of these peptides, mostly voltage-gated ion channels through which certain ions are carried in and out of cells, can be studied in more detail and understood by studying the venom. The components of the venom are studied for pharmacological purposes, or for their medicinal properties. Prialt is one drug currently approved by the FDA that was created from Conus magus. There are other drugs being developed as well for pain and hopefully neurological disorders like epilepsy.

Cone snail shells are beautiful. Are their shells used for anything?

Are some of them very rare and expensive? Yes. The shells have long been items of interest to people all over the world, rich collectors have been willing to pay a lot of money for them, and the worth of one shell exceeded a famous painting at an auction at one point! But they have also been used for currency and trade in other parts of the world. In addition, some beautiful jewellery has been made using the shells.

Do people eat them?

Yes. In the Philippines, cone snails are actually made into a delicious creamy soup after the venom duct is removed. The venom duct is removed as a precaution, but acids in our human stomach would denature, or break apart, the conotoxins.

How fast do they move?

Cone snails do not move very quickly, but they can paralyse their prey in a matter of seconds.

How large can a cone snail be?

The largest cone snail is about 8 inches long.

How do cone snails reproduce?

Cone snails are dioecious, meaning they have separate sexes. They reproduce sexually. The female will lay hundreds of eggs and the ones that survive will metamorph into cone snails. They will grow larger and secrete calcium carbonate to build their shells.

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Exploring Cone Snails and Science