The Magician’s Cone
The magician’s cone, Conus magus, is a fish-hunting, or piscivorous cone snail found in the Western Pacific. It is so common in some of small Pacific islands, especially in the Philippines, that it is routinely sold in the market as food. The magician’s cone attacks its fish prey by sticking out its light yellowish proboscis, from which venom is pushed through a harpoon-like tooth. It hunts by the hook-and-line method and so will engulf its prey after it has been paralyzed. To learn more about hook-and-line hunters, click here.
Scientists have analyzed the venom of the magician’s cone and one of its venom components was discovered to have a unique pharmacological activity by blocking a specific calcium channel (N-type). After this venom component was isolated and characterized in a laboratory, researchers realized that it had potential medical application. By blocking N-type calcium channels, the venom blocks channels that when open convey pain from nerve cells. If this is blocked, the brain cannot perceive these pain signals. It was developed as a pain management drug, and is now chemically synthesized and sold under the trade name Prialt. This drug is given to patients who have very severe pain that is not alliviated by morphine.
Conus magus is an extremely variable cone species with respect to its shell pattern. Different specimens of Conus magus collected from different islands will look different from each other; it is not well understood why some species of Conus are very constant in their shell pattern, while the shells of other species, such as Conus magus, are extremely variable. Looking at two different Conus magus often makes one think that they are in fact different species of cone snails.
Species Conus magus