Table of Contents
Cone Shell Hunting Video
Some footage of a hunting Cone Snail (Conus Sp.) taken in Subic Bay, Philippines.
Cone snails are a type of predatory sea snail of the species Conus. Conus species have shells that are shaped more or less like geometric cones. Most sub-species have colourful patterns on the shell surface.
Conus snails are all venomous and should be handled with extreme care or, better yet, not handled at all. Cone snails use a hypodermic-like modified radula tooth and a poison gland to attack and paralyze their prey before engulfing it. The tooth is sometimes likened to a dart or a harpoon. It is barbed and can be extended some distance out from the mouth of the snail, at the end of the proboscis.
Cone Shell Venom
Cone snail venoms are mainly peptides. The venoms contain many different toxins that vary in their effects; some are extremely poisonous. The sting of cone snails can be serious, occasionally even fatal to human beings. There is no known anti-venom.
The snails will commonly prey on small fish, worms and other small creatures that live amongst the sea bed. One of the fish-eating species, the geography cone, Conus geographus, is also known colloquially as the “cigarette snail,” a humorous exaggeration implying that, when stung by this creature, the victim will have only enough time to smoke a cigarette before dying.
Cone Shell Sting Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of a more serious cone snail sting include intense, localized pain, swelling, numbness and tingling and vomiting. Symptoms can start immediately or can be delayed in onset for days. Severe cases involve muscle paralysis, changes in vision and respiratory failure that can lead to death. There is no anti-venom, so the only practical treatment involves providing life support until the venom is metabolised by the victim.
Cone Shell Venom – Medicinal Use
The appeal of the cone snail’s venom for creating pharmaceutical drugs is the precision and speed with which the various components act; in isolation, they can reliably and quickly produce a particular effect on the body’s systems without side effects; for example, almost instantly reducing heart rate or turning off the signaling of a single class of nerve, such as pain receptors.
The venom of some cone snails shows much promise for providing a non-addictive pain reliever 1000 times as powerful as morphine.
Medical tests have proved cone shell venom compounds to be very effective in treating postsurgical and neuropathic pain, even accelerating recovery from nerve injury. Other drugs are in clinical and preclinical trials, such as compounds of the toxin that may be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy
The first painkiller derived from cone snail toxins, ziconotide, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2004 under the name “Prialt”.
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