Tag Archives: conchs

Fighting conch shell with mollusk inside

The Beautiful Florida Fighting Conch

shallow ocean water shoreline
This type of mollusk likes calm, shallow water with a sandy bottom.

One of my favorite shells to see up close is the Fighting Conch, or the Florida Fighting Conch (Strombus alatus) as it’s known.  It is in the family Strombidae.

The Fighting Conch can be found on all Florida shorelines, but they prefer sandy, shallow water where wave action is minimal.   That’s exactly the type of place I discovered this one.

Before I came across this living mollusk, I had collected an empty fighting conch shell while visiting Sanibel Island.    On the Gulf coast, this shell is more common than where I am on the East coast.

So what is a conch shell? (Pronounced “konk”) By definition it is a large, spiral-shaped seashell.  It is big, but thicker and heavier than other gastropods, like the whelks.   The conch is the living creature inside which is sometimes harvested to eat.  Conch is on the menu in many tropical based restaurants, and the meat can be from any large gastropod shell.

I’ve also come across a broken and worn Fighting Conch shell with a hermit crab inside. This happened while exploring another similar type of island.

broken fighting conch
Broken Fighting Conch Shell with Hermit Crab Inside

Recently, I was lucky enough to come across this living Fighting Conch while walking the beach of an island in the Florida Intracoastal Waterway.  I didn’t think to measure it, but I’d estimate it’s length to be around 4 inches, and they don’t get much bigger, according to my seashell reference book.

Fighting conch shell with mollusk inside
The Beautiful Fighting Conch – this one is alive.

The chunky, wide-bodied shell, with a more compact spire, is a giveaway as to the name of this one.   It is known to “fight” or jump at other shells that could be a danger to it, hence the “fighting” name.

It also has some beautiful coloring.  From the dark purple with orange edges underneath at the aperture, to the light purple on top (it’s spire), even though this one has some green algae and a few barnacles, it was a lovely sight to behold.  I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it would have been all cleaned up.

florida fighting conch and mollusk
Living Florida Fighting Conch – view of the mollusk inside

I saw this shell up on the sand at an island out on the Indian River. I picked it up hoping it was empty so I could take it home, but found a living conch inside.   A fun surprise (at least it wasn’t a hermit crab!)

I took it to the boat to show my son – how often do you find something so awesome?  I got my iPhone to take these pictures, and then left it in the shallow water which is it’s home.

fighting conch seashell

My video of this living conch shell.  Somehow it ended up in Slow-motion (I am not tech savvy), which shows the sea water slowly coming in around the shell.

If you are ever tempted to try “conch” when out to eat at a Florida restaurant, this is the type of thing you are eating. The living shells are collected and the animal is pulled out and killed to bring that meal to you.

The Queen, or Pink, Conch is a threatened species due to over-harvesting. For this same reason I do not buy seashells from gift shops or shell shops. When I am walking the beach, or visiting these islands out on the river, I only collect empty seashells.

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Shell Size and Age of Mollusk: Queen Conch

two queen conchs pngMy mind has really been on boating and the water lately but now I am back to thinking about seashells, specifically the queen conch (Strombus gigas) and the creatures who live in them.

Someone who read my  Seashell Identification page at Wizzley asked  how old my conch shell was.  I have a picture posted on my page and she said that her shell looked like mine.

I get all kinds of questions now about seashells and I am not an expert, but I try to find the answer if I can.  It seems that the Queen conch reaches it’s mature size by age five, but it can live up to 30 (sometimes 40) years!  Therefore the size of the shell would not necessarily be an indicator of it’s age. Once the shell reaches a certain size it can become thicker, but not larger in general.

I bought my two large conch shells probably twenty years ago. I would no longer buy a shell like this.  In fact, they (and the animal inside) are protected now.  Do not ever collect one from the wild!   Not only is it illegal, you would be contributing to their decline.  In their natural habitat, the queen conch – or pink conch – lives in warm, shallow water and can be found among reefs, but maybe not for long.  Due to it’s beautiful shell and the tasty (supposedly) critter inside, too many queen conchs have been harvested over the years leaving the population of this magnificent mollusk in decline.

If you ever see a living pink conch, get the camera, photograph it, and then leave it in peace.  And don’t order conch from the menu!