Cone Snails Are Aquatic Beauties But Deadly

The Aquatic Cone Snails may move slowly, but that’s precisely why their venom is extra potent. They have hollow modified teeth called “radulae” that are sharp enough to penetrate a wetsuit, and the estimated human lethal dose is incredibly small.

Also, it’s believed that the venom in one of these mollusks is enough to kill 20 adult humans. As if drowning weren’t enough, there are so many ways the ocean will end your life.

Add to the lethal list of box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, fugu and the always popular great white shark, the beautiful but deadly cone snails. Of the 500 species of poisonous cone snails, just a few are venomous enough to kill you.

In general, the geography cone is the deadliest, with more than 100 toxins in its small, six-inch body. Just because human deaths are uncommon, it doesn’t mean you should throw away caution.

Cone Snails
What you need to know about Cone Snails – (Ocean Facts)

Which are the most Venomous Animals?

Apart from the Cone Snails, the list of other related and topmost venomous animals in the world is quite huge.

Not forgetting, these venomous animals naturally produce venoms, toxins, and poisons to defend themselves and incapacitate their prey.

While others accumulate toxins from the food they eat. From jellyfish to snakes, poisonous creatures come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. And in that case, you were wondering how. Right?

Well, an animal is poisonous when its toxins are passively deployed. In contrast, topmost venomous animals directly inject you with their variable toxins. But, before proceeding, consider having a look at;

10 Most Venomous Animals In The World

How Dangerous are Cone Snails?

In the first place, cone snails are predatory animals, stinging their victims with a venomous harpoon-like tooth.

And even though cone snails primarily use their tooth to subdue prey, it can also be used defensively, stinging other animals, or humans, that get too close.

Equally, though all cone snails have venom glands, only a few species are dangerous enough to be fatal to humans.

Secondly, the cone snails venom is mainly peptides. The venoms contain many different toxins that vary in their effects; some are extremely toxic.

In fact, the sting of even a small cone snail is no worse than a bee sting, but the sting of a few of the larger species of tropical cone snails can be serious, occasionally even fatal to humans.

Cone Snails Attack
Attack Of The Cone Snails – (allthatsinteresting.com)

Where are Cone Snails found?

They live in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Caribbean and Red seas, and along the coast of Florida. However, they are not aggressive.

Their sting usually occurs when divers in deep reef waters handle the snails. Swimmers and snorkelers are unlikely to find cone snails in shallow intertidal waters.

For one thing, cone snails are found in oceans around the world from shallow to moderate depths. And are generally buried in the sand or rubble during the day and are active during the night.

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 are among the most sought after by collectors.

The venomous tooth is located at the tip of the proboscis, a muscular extension of the mouth. Cone snails, one of the largest families of marine snails, have heavy, smooth shells and are much prized by 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.

However, as of today, there is no antivenom for a cone snail sting, and treatment is limited to merely keeping victims alive until the toxins wear off.

How do the Cone Snails feed?

When the cone snails shoot fish with their teeth, they hold on to the tooth to keep the fish from swimming away.

Eventually, the venom, which affects the nervous system and also deteriorates the animal’s tissues, takes effect, allowing the snail to eat the fish whole. Below is a full video of how the ‘Killer Snail’ eats a Fish.

They hunt by smell using a siphon which can be extended away from the shell’s opening. And also, depending on the species, cones may prefer marine worms, snails (including other cones) or sleeping fish. By extending the proboscis, the snail can eat its prey without the snail having to leave its protective shell.

The 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.

It’s also known, in a gallows humor sort of way, as the cigarette snail. Meaning if one stings you, you have just enough time to smoke a cigarette before you die.

Dangerous Cone Snails
How Do ‘Killer Snails’ Kill Their Victims? – Illustration by (sciencefriday.com)

Structuring out the ‘Killer Snail’

Each structure has a special function that helps a snail hide, pounce, kill, and consume its prey. Like an undercover assassin, a cone snail uses its muscular foot to burrow, conceal, and anchor itself to a rock as it patiently awaits its victim. Like a nose, the siphon sniffs out prey.

And also, like protective armor, its tough calcium carbonate shell safeguards it from larger, hungry predators. Depending upon the species, everything from fish to marine worms to even other snails.

The proboscis stretches out like a tongue, tipped with a venom-coated harpoon to stun, paralyze, and capture its prey. Then again, the venom bulb acts as a pump to deliver venom through the venom duct into the harpoon, injecting it into the prey.

The rostrum acts like a mouth, engulfing the prey in one big chomp. Some hours later, the snail burps out any indigestible fish parts such as scales and fish bones, along with one used harpoon.

Before its next hunt, another harpoon will be retrieved from its radular sac and reloaded into the proboscis ready to stun its next prey.

How does their Attack on Humans occur?

For example, picture the common garden snail, peacefully oozing along a branch to find some leaves to nibble on. But, it’s a much different picture with some marine snails, like the cone snail.

This seemingly innocuous creature is designed to kill, quickly striking its prey and eating an entire fish in one gulp.

Not to mention, the innocuous-looking sea creature lives in a beautiful shell made of colorful brown, black and white patterns that are often prized by beachcombers. However, their outer beauty hides a deadly inner secret.

You’ve just encountered a cone snail, Conus Magus also called the “magical cone.” Though they can go unnoticed as they sit silently beneath the sand, they can pack quite a punch.

As you just observed, in less than 30 seconds, the magical cone can harpoon, tether, paralyze, and engulf an unsuspecting meal. Giving new meaning to the expression, “going at a snail’s pace!”

Of the more than 700 different species of cone snails, all of them are venomous predators, and all share a set of essential structures for capturing, poisoning, and consuming their prey.

In reality, the more peptides of different shapes there are in a cone snail’s venom cocktail, the more venom components it has at its disposal for poisoning prey.

The Cone Snails Venom Is A Cocktail

As a matter of fact, cone snails venom is like a cup of fruit cocktail–it is actually a mix of several different kinds of venom!

Whereby, the venom of each cone snail species contains several different venoms in the form of peptides. (Small proteins usually between 10-30 amino acids in length).

The venom of each cone snail species contains a unique mix of these venom peptides–also called “conotoxins.”In general, that has evolved over many generations to be effective against the prey, predators, and competitors specific to its niche.

An individual peptide is a three-dimensional structure made out of a string of amino acids strung together like Christmas lights. The string of peptides bends and folds itself into a tangled mass with a very specific shape.

Not forgetting, the snail’s own genetic code determines the order of amino acids in a conotoxin, which influences the ultimate 3D structure of the conotoxin peptide.

Because the amino acid sequence ultimately dictates the three-dimensional shape of the resulting peptide. So to say, different sequences of amino acids form peptides with different shapes.

The unique shapes of cone snail venom peptides, determine how and where that particular venom works within the body of prey.

What is contained in their Venom?

Ironically, among the compounds found in cone snail venom are proteins that, 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.

These conotoxins have long interested medical researchers because of their potential painkilling abilities. The venom, however, is very complex; each kind contains perhaps 50 or more different chemicals that target the brain and nervous system.

Overall, researchers believe that more than 50,000 conotoxins may exist. That diversity has made it hard for them to isolate a specific chemical to work on. But over the last few decades, conotoxins have begun to give up their secrets.

For instance, researchers have published more than 2,500 papers on the chemicals, and have described and identified more than 100 specific toxins. After all, which show promise for treating everything from arthritis to cancer.

As with anything of value, both the shells and the pharmaceutical promise of cone snails, has made them a target and they are in danger of being over-harvested. At the present time, no cone snail species are listed as endangered or threatened.

Here: Model The Structure Of Snail Venom Peptides

Resourceful References;

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