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!

The Demise of the Pink Conch

The Pink or Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), can grow to be a foot or more in length and has a smooth pink interior. (Horse conch snails can grow to be 2 feet long!). The pretty shell is in danger of disappearing because of its collection as a decoration after the snail is pulled from it’s home to be eaten!
Have you ever eaten conch? I have not.  In Florida and other Caribbean areas, the conch is a delicacy and is made into fritters and other food, but it has been over fished so there are restrictions and fines associated with the collecting of it. Conch meat is used in chowder, salads, fried, fritters, sandwiches and more.

queen conch shells
Queen (Pink) Conchs

For these two reasons, the Queen or Pink conch is in high demand. It is very unlikely that you will just come across a large, empty queen conch on the beach. They are trawled and taken from their homes out in the ocean and brought in for shell shops and restaurants. The queen conchs I have were purchased over 20 years ago at a shell shop some place in Florida. At the time, I never thought about where they came from, but I would definitely not purchase one now.

So when you vacation in the tropics, you might want to think twice before ordering conch fritters just to be able to say you’ve tried it.

*More strange food they eat in Florida – Alligator and turtle.  I lived across the street from some people who had a cookout and the food was served buffet style.  I added to my plate what looked like chicken nuggets and fortunately I was told that it was turtle meat before I tried it.  Yikes, that was close. I love the Gopher turtles and could never ever eat one!

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Queen Conch Shells

The queen conch (pronounced “konk”), or pink conch, is becoming endangered.  The strombus gigas can grow to be quite large and has a pearly pink inside.
The shells I own (in the photo below) were purchased many years ago at a shell shop…can’t even remember where, but probably on
Sanibel Island or Fort Meyers in Florida.
The Queen conch is an edible sea snail and a prized delicacy in parts of Florida and the Carribbean has been overly fished as a food source. This
mollusk is found in the tropics from Bermuda to Brazil and fortunately some areas now have strict guidelines against over fishing.  (See the links below for more info).
Queen Conch postcard

The Southern Regional Aquaculture Center (SRAC) has photos of baby conchs and the life cycle and info on what can be done to help relieve the problem.    And read more at this site.