Photo: Geographic cone snail

The most deadly of the nearly 500 species of cone snails, the geographic cone's intricately patterned shell is coveted by collectors.

Photograph by Kerry Matz

Map

Map: Geographic cone snail range

Geographic Cone Snail Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Invertebrate
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
4 to 6 in (10 to 15 cm)
Did you know?
The geographic cone is nicknamed the "cigarette snail," a humorous exaggeration meaning a person stung by one would have enough time to smoke a cigarette before dying.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Geographic cone snail compared with tea cup

The incredibly toxic venom of the geographic cone snail has to be strong enough to paralyze instantly. Otherwise, the fish it preys on would swim away to die, and the slow-moving gastropod would have nothing for its efforts.

Indigenous to the reefs of the Indo-Pacific, geographic cones grow to about 6 inches (15 centimeters) in length and have intricately patterned brown-and-white shells highly prized by shell collectors.

The geographic cone is the most venomous of the 500 known cone snail species, and several human deaths have been attributed to them. Their venom, a complex concoction of hundreds of different toxins, is delivered via a harpoonlike tooth propelled from an extendable proboscis. There is no antivenin for a cone snail sting, and treatment is limited to merely keeping victims alive until the toxins wear off.

Ironically, among the compounds found in cone snail venom are proteins which, when isolated, have enormous potential as pain-killing drugs. Research shows that certain of these proteins target specific human pain receptors and can be up to 10,000 times more potent than morphine without morphine 's addictive properties and side-effects.

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