Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cypraea Testudinaria - The Pig Cowrie or Tortoise Cowrie

I was swimming through the Grotto on a night dive Sunday looking for nudibranchs when I came across this guy just sitting there right in the open. This is a shell that you don't see very often around here, but to catch him with his mantle fully covering his shell and just sitting right out in the open is even more rare. I started snapping away taking pictures of this very impressive creature. The size also really surprised me as he was at least 5" long, that's a big shell.
As he started to retract his mantle you could see the color and pattern of the shell. These guys have been known by a couple common names, a Pig Cowrie, just because it's such a huge shell, and a Tortoise Cowrie, because the shell is reminiscent of the pattern on a tortoise. One of the other distinguishing features of these shells is it looks like they have little flecks of white paint all over them, like they were splattered by a spray paint can.
This view of the cowrie with his mantle fully retracted gives you a good look at his pattern and the little white specks all over the shell. It's nearly impossible to mistake this shell for any other because of its size and the distinctive pattern, also it's the only shell I know of with the white specks all over it like that.
And here's a side view of this most impressive shell. Many times you will find broken pieces of them laying on the ocean bottom, the snappers love to eat them, but to find them live and with the mantle fully exposed is indeed a rare treat. Live long and prosper Cypraea Testudinaria and make lots of babies!