The Cypraeidae, or Cowries have long been one of the most popular collectable seashells due to their glossy appearance and varied colors and patterns; so-called "gems of the sea". The approximately 217 species and numerous subspecies and forms have been the focus of many popular and scientific publications. For many years cowrie specialists have tried to divide the genus Cypraea, in which all of the cowrie species were classified, into well-defined genera based on shell characteristics, but with little acceptance. In recent years, though, most specialists have once again agreed upon a classification that divides the Cypraeidae into 34 genera. Here you will find the classification outlined in A Guide to Worldwide Cowries by Lorenz and Hubert (see literature below). (Some of the images here still use Cypraea as the identifying genus. This is because the images were produced prior to adopting the Lorenz classification. This mix of classifications will be updated over time. All of the images captions though are correct.)
Ecology: The cowries are tropical and subtropical dwellers, living in shallow to relatively deep water habitats. Most species are nocturnal, grazing at night on algae and other plant matter among rocks and reef environments. A number of very valuable and desirable cowries inhabit remote locations in very deep water. Deepwater fishing trawlers and fishermen's tangle nets rarely bring these great rarities to the surface. A number of scuba divers traveling to remote locales, and divers breathing mixed gases enabling deeper dives, occasionally find some of these rare cowries while exploring the underwater realm. One of the smallest recorded cowries, a specimen of Naria irrorata (Gray, 1828), is 7mm in length. The largest, Macrocypraea cervus (Linné, 1771) has been recorded at 7-1/2 inches (190.5mm). An interesting aspect of the cowries is that they can adult their shells, a point when the animal reaches sexual maturity, at various sizes. Specimens that adult at an early stage of growth by infolding the outer lip and thickening its shell, are referred to as dwarf shells. There are various factors that can cause this to happen including water temperature and food sources. Serious cowrie collectors often exhibit a wide range of species variants in their collections.
LITERATURE: Like many of the popular collectible families of seashells, the Cypraeidae have been well-documented in books, shell magazines, and scientific papers. Among the more important publications vital for the serious cowrie collector include A Guide to Worldwide Cowries by Felix Lorenz, Jr. and Alex Hubert (Verlag Christa Hemmen, Wiesbaden, 1993). A revised second edition is slated for publication in early 2000. Other books for the cowrie specialist and fancier include · Cowries Of The World by Pat Burgess (Seacomber Publications, South Africa, 1985) which may be out of print, but copies are occasionally available on the market · Porcelaines Mystérieuses de Nouvelle-Calédonie (Mysterious Cowries of New Caledonia) by R. & G. Pierson (privately printed, 1975, Noumea, N.C.) is one of the most comprehensive books dealing with the niger and rostrate cowries. It is unfortunately out of print · Cowries and their relative of Southern Africa - A study of the southern African Cypraeacean and Velutinacean gastropod fauna by William R. Liltved (Seacomber Publications, South Africa, 1989) is the best publication for the South African Cypraeovula species. The field notes, ecology information and illustrated variations of each species is unparalleled. The book also includes the allied cowrie families. · Many other popular and scientific books and journals deal with regional and worldwide Cypraeidae.
ON-LINE LITERATUREOne of the best literature resources for the Cypraeidae on the Internet is the Archive Site of The Captured Cowry
Web site. Developed by Bob Dayle, the site is a compilation of every cowrie article published during the 50 year run of Hawaiian Shell News
. This comprehensive resource will provide a wealth of cowrie information for the specialist with the ease of Internet access. · In summary, there is no lack of popular and scientific Cypraeidae literature.
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