shelled snails text index | photo index
Phylum Mollusca > Class Gastropoda
Cone snails
Family Conidae
updated Oct 2016

Where seen? Although empty shells of dead snails are sometimes seen, living cone snails are rarely encountered. In Singapore's past, they were seen on rocky shores, reef flats and reefs.

Features: 5-10cm. Shell is heavy, conical with a flattened end, somewhat like an ice-cream cone. Although some cone snails have pointed tips or are olive-shaped. The shell opening is a narrow slit. The operculum is a tiny long sliver of horn-like material. The colourful shell patterns of many species may be hidden under a thick 'hairy' growth (periostracum). Others are glossy as they spend most of their time burrowed into sand, where they lie in wait for passing prey.

This slow-moving snail relies on its fast0acting venom to rapidly immobilise and kill prey. The radula is modified into a hollow tooth that the snail shoots out like a harpoon to inject a potent toxin into prey (Here's a photo of the harpoon on The Gladys Archerd Shell Collection website). The harpoon remains embedded in the prey. The harpoon is attached to the snail with a chord. Once the prey is paralysed (usually in seconds), the snail retracts the cord and engulfs the prey. It can take a cone snail several hours to digest its prey. The snail can 'reload' a new harpoon to replace a used one.

Sometimes mistaken for Olive snails (Family Olividae) which tend to be more tapered on both ends of the shell, resulting in a more olive-like shape.

What do they eat? Cone snails are predators. They feed on worms, other snails and small fishes. Many are only active at night, hiding during the day.

Human uses: Cone snails are mainly collected for their attractive shells for the shell trade. Research on their toxins have resulted in some medical applications to help humans cope with pain and diseases.

Status and threats: The Textile cone (Conus textile) is listed as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore. It used to be found in Singapore coral reef areas up till the 1970s but is now extremely rare. The Singed cone (Conus consor) is also listed as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore. It used to be the most common cone species seen in Singapore's rocky shores in the past, but now seldom seen due to degradation or reclamation of natural rocky shores.

Singed cone snail (Conus consors)
Cyrene Reef, Aug 13

Cyrene Reef, Aug 13
Deadly cone! The cone snail is one of the most dangerous animals on Singapore shores. The snail can inject bare hands and bare feet of swimmers and shore explorers in shallow water. Its tiny 'harpoon' is hardly felt so victims are often unaware until they show symptoms of envenomation.

The best recourse is to bring the victim to hospital immediately.

What is the effect of a cone snail's sting? Although the sting is painless, the effect on humans can be fatal. Here's a description: Local stinging is followed within minutes by numbness, or tingling/burning skin and localised tissue death. Serious stings may result in nausea, headache, loss of coordination, blurred vision, speech and hearing, general paralysis, coma, and respiratory failure within hours. Death is typically due to respiratory failure from paralysis of the diaphragm or heart failure. The Geographic cone (Conus geographus), which produces the most potent conotoxins found to date, may produce rapid brain swelling, coma, respiratory arrest and heart failure. Death has been documented within 5 hours in a C. geographus envenomation. No antivenin is available for cone shell envenomation. In significant envenomations, symptoms may take several weeks to resolve. From Conidae on MedScape Reference

How to stay safe: Do not handle any snails that appear conical. If you are not sure what the snail is, don't handle it. Do not collect snails in open bags or plastic bags which harpoons can penetrate to hit bare skin. Use hard containers when collecting specimens (which in Singapore should only be done with a valid permit). Do not dig into sand with bare hands. Wear covered shoes and long pants.

Cone snails on Singapore shores

Photos of Cone snails for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map

Cyrene Reef, Aug 16
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Filmed on Cyrene Reef Aug 2013
shared by Heng Pei Yan on her blog.

Family Conidae recorded for Singapore
from Tan Siong Kiat and Henrietta P. M. Woo, 2010 Preliminary Checklist of The Molluscs of Singapore.
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.
^from WORM

  Family Conidae
  Conus achatinus
Conus aulicus
Conus capitaneus
Conus caracteristicus
Conus consors
(Singed cone snail) (VU: Vulnerable)
Conus coronatus
Conus generalis
Conus geographus
Conus glans
Conus gubernator
Conus hyaena
Conus magus
Conus marmoreus
Conus mustelinus
Conus planorbis
Conus recluzianus
Conus striatus
Conus sulcatus
Conus tessulatus
Conus textile
(Textile cone snail) (VU: Vulnerable)
Conus virgo
Conus zeylandicus=^Conus zeylanicus

Gymnobela fulvocincta
^now in Family Raphitomidae



  • Toh Chay Hoon and Tan Siong Kiat. 12 September 2014. Marbled cone snail at Pulau Hantu, Conus marmoreus. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 256.
  • Toh Chay Hoon. 16 May 2014. Cone snail (Conus recluzianus) at Lazarus Island Singapore Biodiversity Records 2014: 135-136
  • Tan Siong Kiat and Henrietta P. M. Woo, 2010 Preliminary Checklist of The Molluscs of Singapore (pdf), Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Abbott, R. Tucker, 1991. Seashells of South East Asia. Graham Brash, Singapore. 145 pp.
  • Gosliner, Terrence M., David W. Behrens and Gary C. Williams. 1996. Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific: Animal life from Africa to Hawaii exclusive of the vertebrates Sea Challengers. 314pp.
FREE photos from wildsingapore tagged with Conidae. Make your own badge here.
links | references | about | email Ria
Spot errors? Have a question? Want to share your sightings? email Ria I'll be glad to hear from you!
wildfactsheets website©ria tan 2008