Horse Conchs and Crown Conchs

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 09:56 AM.

Far more numerous and easy to see are the Crown Conchs (Melongena corona).  Crown conchs will reach a maximum size of five inches, but smaller specimens are more common. Unlike Horse Conchs, Crown Conchs are scavengers.  After cleaning your scallops in shallow water, you’ll soon have fish, crabs, and a slow motion procession of Crown Conchs moving in to take advantage of the spoils. Crown Conchs also invade baited traps, and can sometimes be seen in mass feeding on a dead Horseshoe Crab.  Crown Conch shells are also found in Indian middens and the dark meat is edible although a bit chewy.

Crown conchs get their name from the spires around the axial ribs. Turned point upward, the spikes look like a monarch’s crown.  There is a lot of variability in Crown Conchs.  Some have long, curved, hollow spikes; others have only short nubs. There is also a good amount of color variation in live specimens.  Nevertheless, most have bands of brown, tan, and maroon circling the shell and are quite pretty. Others have very pale bands. These variations are the result of genetic differences in both individuals, as well as populations, and also diet. Crown conchs live around mangroves and salt marshes, but are always found in shallow, quiet bay waters or estuaries. Hermit crabs also prize empty Crown Conch shells, so it is best to collect the empty shells on the beach and not in the bay.

Despite the common names we use, Crown Conchs are actually Whelks, and Horse Conchs are actually Spindle Shells and are not true conchs. They are more closely related to Tulip shells. By whatever names we call them, the little Crown Conchs and the massive Horse Conchs are part of the rich diversity of life in St. Joseph Bay.  The conditions that have made them flourish here in the past must be guarded so that their numbers continue.

Tom Baird has been a fisheries biologist, high school and community college teacher (oceanography and microbiology), director of a science and environmental center, teacher of science and principal in Pinellas County as well as an educational consultant. He retired from the Florida Department of Education and he and his wife divide their time between Tallahassee and Cape San Blas.



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