Extract from The Australian Medical Gazette, Sept 14, 1912, page 272-274
By J. Burton Cleland, M.D., Ch.M., (Syd)
Government Bureau of Microbiology
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Bites of the Shellfish of the Genus Conus. -

Through the kindness of Mr. Charles Hedley, F.L.S., of the Australian Museum, Sydney, who has kindly placed the following references to bites from shells of the genus Conus at my disposal, I am able to submit a number of valuable accounts of the severe effects produced in man by careless or inexperienced handling of these animals. Save that one of the implicated species is found along the Great Barrier Reef, the subject is hardly to be considered as strictly Australian, but, in view of the interest attached to the observations, it seemed well to take this opportunity of bringing the references together. I am also much indebted to the courtesy of Mr. R. Etheridge, Curator of the Australian Museum, for permission to use the very valuable information supplied by Dr. Corney, the original of which is filed amongst the Museum Records.

The accounts have been arranged with some attempt at chronological order. Literature references are given below.


The following account of the bite of Conus aulicus is given by Adams, A . : -

"Its bite produces a venomed wound, accompanied by acute pain, and making a small, deep triangular mark, which is succeeded by a watery vesicle. At the little island of Mayo, one of the Moluccas near Ternate, Sir Edward Belcher was bitten by on of these cones, which suddenly extended its proboscis as he took it out of the water with his hand, and he compared the pain he experienced to that produced by the burning of phosphorus under the skin...... The instrument which inflicted the wound in this instance was probably the tongue, which in these molluscs is long and armed with two ranges of sharp-pointed teeth."

Gray, J.E. (1853) quotes the above account and says that Mr. Adams informed him that the shell adhered to the hand by its mouth like a leech, as described by Adamson.


Bennett, (1860) says in a footnote :-

"The common Conus textilis of Linnaeus is found at Anaitum, and other islands of the New Hebrides group; the animal is poisonous. On biting its captor, it injects a poisonous and acrid fluid into the wound, occasioning the parts to swell, and often endangering the life of the injured person."

Mr Hedley informs me that this information is repeated by Coxon 1893


Crosse and Marie (1874) give the following information, roughly translated, about the poisonous bites of C. textile and C. tulipa, Linne., New Caledonia.

C. textile

The fact already mentioned by many English naturalists of the venomous properties of the bite of C. textile was confirmed at New Caledonia. After an ocular test, a native of Pnebo, having been stung on the hand, found in this hand and the corresponding arm a considerable swelling accompanied by very severe pains; this swelling persisted for some time. In this country the error is committed of attributing to the operculum of the cone the set which proceeds from its lingual teeth.

C. tulipa, Linne., Ille Art, Ile des Pins, Ile Lifon.

According to M. le Dr. Marie, the bite of this animal is as venomous as that of C. textile.

C. aulicus

In speaking of the genus Conus, Woodward (1875) states that these C. aulicus sometimes bite when handled.

C. marmoreus

Montrouzier (1877) states that at one of the Loyalty Islands, C. marmoreus, which occures abundantly, was known to cause accidents by the bite of its lingual apparatus. In the New Hebrides, accidents, caused by the bite of C. textile, were frequent.

This species, Mr. Hedley informs me, occurs off the Queensland Coast (Great Barrier Reef).


C. tulipa

Garrett (1858) recounts how C. tulipa present on the Viti Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Kingsmill Islands, Cook's Islands, Society Islands, Panmotu Island, Marquest Island and Sandwich Islands, "When collecting at the Panmotus, I found three examples of this species, and held them in my hand while searching for other shells, when one suddenly threw out its long slender proboscis and punctured one of my fingers, causing sharp pain not unlike the sting of a wasp."


C. geographus C. textilis and C. tulipa

Hinde (1885) . In this article, Dr. Cox read a letter from Dr. Benjamin Hinde, R.N. of H.M.S. "Diamond", containing information in respect to the poisonous effects of the bite inflicted by Conus geographus Linn. on the natives of New Britain. The summary of this is as follows:

"His attention was first directed to the question by a native of Nadup, of New Britain (now Papua New Guinea), who seeing him with the specimen of Conus geographus in his hand, remarked, "Suppose he bite he kill me." On further questioning the native stated that the fish would bite and that the bite was poisonous, and it always killed people unless they cut themselves all round the place bitten so as to let the blood run. Mr R. Parkinson, of New Britain, cotton planter, also supported the statement as to the effects of the bite of the Conus. Later Dr. Hinde himself saw a native on the Island of Matupi, Blanche Bay, New Britain, who had been bitten by one of these shells, at once cut small incisions with a small stone all over his arm and shoulder, from which the blood flowed freely, and he explained that if he had not taken these precautions he would have died. On examination of the place where he had been bitten, a small mark about the size of a threepenny piece between his finger and thumb was seen. Upon close examination of this area, two small incisions in the centre were seen, from which evidently no blood had come. He stopped the blood of the numerous cuts on his arm and shoulders with hot wood ashes and the arm seemed to be stiff and useless for the time. But Dr. Hinde did not know whether the effects of the bite or the cure were responsible for this state. Many other natives when questioned stated that the bite of this cone was deadly. Dr. Cox also mentioned that the Rev. W.Wyatt Gill had recorded the fatal effects of the bites of C. textilis Linn. Mr. Hedley has been unable to find this reference. Mr. Brasier had also informed Dr. Cox that he had known severe effects caused by the bite of Conus tulipa Linn. "


C. textile

Mr. Hedley says that :-"The natives are quite aware of the poisonous bite inflicted by several of the Cones. While collecting on a coral reef, I once rolled over a boulder and exposed to view a living Conus textile. Before I could pick it up, one of my coloured companions hastily snatched it away, and pointing to its "business end," explained with vivid gesticulations, its hurtful qualities. He would on no account allow me to handle the shell, but insisted on putting it himself into my bottle of spirits".


C. geographus

This report by Dr. A. Herbert Hallen on envenomation by Conus geographus was forwarded to the Australian Museum, Sydney, by Dr. B.G. Corney, from Fiji, 10th September 1901, and makes graphic reading.


Adams, A., Zool. of the >Voy. of H.M.S. "Samarang", p.19, 1850

Coxon (Proc. Roy. Soc. Q'land, x., 1893, p. 3)

Crosse and Marie, Journ. de Conch., xxii., 1874, p. 353.

Garrett, A. Journ of Conch., I., 1878, p. 365.

Gray, J.E. - (Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (2), xii., p. 178, August 1853

Hallen, Dr. A. Herbert - extract from the Government Medical Offier's Report, Levuka, for the month of June, 1901.i, .

Hedley, C., Appendix to Thomson's "British New Guinea", 1892.- Information from a Papuan, p. 283. Copied by Cooke (Cambridge Natural History, Mollusca).

Hinde, Dr. B. - Proc. Linn. Soc., N.S.W., ix., 1885, p. 944.

Montrouzier, R.P. , Journ. de Conch. xxv., 1877, p. 99.

Woodward., "Manual of the Mollusca" 3rd edition, edited by Ralph Tate, 1875, p. 228.

So take care when next you are visiting the Great Barrier Reef and other tropical reefs. Don't pick up cone shaped shells with your bare hands no matter how pretty they appear.

Beware the killer snails - and take care out there !

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BGL December 95

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