THE CONE SHELLS FAMILY CONIDAE. Genus CONUS, Linn.
Shell heavy, porcellanous, inversely conical; spire broad, body whorl tapering to notched base; aperture long, narrow; lip thin, with sinus at suture; surface usually smooth, with stria? crossing the whorl, variously marked, under thin epidermis; operculum claw-shaped; head with snout enclosed in a long cylindrical veil, eyes on bases of tentacles; teeth set on a tubular prolongation of the proboscis; foot long, narrow; mantle enclosed, ending in anterior siphon. A single genus of over four hun dred species, preying on other mollusks in tropical waters. Fossil species, one hundred.
This is one of the shell families it is easy to recognise at sight. The name defines the shape of the shell. Few of us will ever see the mollusks alive, but every alert collector may, and will, have specimens of the shells.
Both alive and dead, cone shells are handsome. We cannot imagine the wondrous beauty of tropical beaches. Fishes and all other creatures inhabiting the limpid water rival the birds and insects in brilliance of colouring and grace of motion. No more beautiful forms and colours are found in the flowers and foliage of tropical plants than are matched among the seaweeds and gorgonias and sea anemones that form the groves among coral reefs.
The cones do their share to make the coral groves beautiful as fairy land. They are favourites with collectors, holding their own with cowries and other high-priced shells. Some species are not only beautiful but rare, a combination of characters which in the case of the "glory of the sea" (C. gloria-maris) has run the price at auctions to Z43 sterling, and keeps it up even now near the high water mark of shell prices. Six specimens The Cone Shells of five different species of Conus sold at auction in 1865 averaged over ($too) apiece.
The white cones are in great demand in the islands of the Pacific, especially large individuals, cross sections of which are polished and worn as armlets by native women. Small white cones are strung into necklaces. European dealers do a large
business in these shells, charging the islanders high prices for them. Other rare species of shells native to inland waters have some times been discovered in necklaces which sailors have obtained in exchange for cheap trinkets that pleased aboriginal eye.
From accounts we have from naturalists who have made the acquaintance of the large cones on tropical beaches we might infer that they are vicious in temper, striking at the hand that ventures to pick them up, and dealing death with the stroke. This is the cone at bay, and afraid for his own safety. The same writers tell us that these mollusks are timid and not bold; they move slowly; when disturbed they retire into holes in the rocks. Their food is chiefly bivalve mollusks whose shells are bored through by the circular toothed tip of the snout. The juices of the body are sucked through the opening.
The cones deposit their eggs in flat, leaf-like capsules, set in rows on edge, on the surface of dead shells and like objects. A band of thin but tough membrane holds them together and fast to the shell. The young escape through a hole in the outer margin of the capsule. The shells of cones are usually large and thick, though some species are as small as a grain of rice. The absorp tion of the substance of the internal subdivisions of the spire goes on until they become very thin. This adds to the store of building material available for thickening the outer shell. It also gives more room for the body as it grows larger.
If I should undertake to describe all the four hundred and more species which are assigned to this genus the equilibrium of this book would be entirely destroyed. Anyone who has a cone in his collection can recognise it by the family characters. I shall describe a few of the most striking species, the largest one, the handsomest, the highest priced, the most venomous and the most common cabinet species, before going on with the descrip tions of the few native species, none of which is omitted.