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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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Phylum: MOLLUSCA (Linné, 1758) Cuvier, 1795

Class: GASTROPODA Cuvier, 1797

Subclass: PROSOBRANCHIA Milne Edwards, 1848


Order: SORBEOCONCHA Ponder & Lindberg, 1997

Superfamily: CYPRAEOIDEA Rafinesque, 1815

Family:CYPRAEIDAE Rafinesque, 1815

Highlight and click the classification term for a definition and additional information.

Subfamily: BERNAYINAE Schilder, 1927
Subfamily: CYPRAEINAE Gray, 1824
Subfamily: CYPRAEOVULINAE Schilder, 1927
Subfamily: EROSARIINAE Schilder, 1924
Subfamily: BERNAYINAE back to menutop of page
Barycypraea Schilder, 1927. Barycypraea Schilder, 1927. Type species: Cypraea (Aricia) caputviperae Martin, 1899. Oligocene to Recent; Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 27 [Bernayini] Cypraea (Barycypraea); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.103.
Barycypraea fultoni (G. B. Sowerby III, 1903), form: massieri Lorenz, 1991; Mozambique, 77mm; once considered the rarest and most desirable of the cowries, recent trawling activities yielded the mother-load of specimens, though most were flawed; perfect specimens are becoming increasingly rare again Ref.: Barycypraea fultoni (G. B. Sowerby III, 1903), form: massieri Lorenz, 1991; Mozambique, 72mm; a specimen from the mother-load of fultoni that came up in Russian fishing trawls in 1999 Ref.:
Siphocypraea Heilprin, 1887. Siphocypraea Heilprin, 1887. Type species: Cypraea (Siphocypraea) problematica Heilprin, 1887. Miocene to Pleiocene Cypraeactaeon White, 1887 Cypraea (Siphocypraea); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.103.
Siphocypraea mus bicornis (Sowerby, 1870); Colombia, 60mm; smooth form lacking the lumps and bumps often seen in this deeper water form; it also lacks the black dorsum mottling common in this species Ref.:  
Zoila Jousseaume, 1884 Zoila Jousseaume, 1884. Type species: Cypraea scotti Broderip, 1831. Miocene to Recent; Subgenus: ZOILA s.s. Cypraea (Zoila); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae] Zoila (Zoila); Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 28 [Bernayini]; Subgenus: GIGANTOCYPRAEA Schilder, 1927 Gigantocypraea Schilder, 1927. Type species: Cypraea gigas McCoy, 1867. Miocene Zoila (Gigantocypraea); Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 28 [Bernayini]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.103.
Zoila jeaniana (Cate, 1968) form: sherylae Raybaudi, 1990; Western Australia, 71.5mm; regional form with a limited range Ref.: Zoila marginata ketyana (Raybaudi, 1978); Western Australia, 48.5mm; extremely produced and thickened margins separate this form from typical specimens of the species found further south in W.A Ref.:
Zoila marginata ketyana (Raybaudi, 1978); Western Australia, 46mm; another localized form Ref.: Zoila venusta episema (Iredale, 1939); Western Australia, 78mm; a regional form; the species varies greatly throughout its range in from shallow to deep water Ref.:  
Subfamily: CYPRAEINAE back to menutop of page
Chelycypraea testudinaria (Linné, 1758); Philippines, 118-119mm, always has a white speckled pattern as if someone splattered paint across the shell; only member of the genus Ref.: Cypraea pantherina Solander in Lightfoot, 1786; Sudan, 63-65mm; uncommon honey colored form; localized population Ref.: Cypraea pantherina Solander in Lightfoot, 1786; Ethiopia, 63mm; niger specimen; dorsum pattern and mantle line is somewhat visible; it is a rare color form Ref.:
Cypraea pantherina Solander in Lightfoot, 1786; [niger] Ethiopia, 69mm; jet black dorsum and margins, an outstanding and rare specimen Ref.: Leporicypraea mappa (Linné, 1758); Papua New Guinea, 80mm; intensely red specimens are considered rare; collected by scuba diver in 25 meters of water at night Ref.: Leporicypraea valentia (Perry, 1811); Philippines, 79mm; once one of the great rarities in the molluscan realm, tangle netting now snags specimens infrequently; still one of the most desirable cowries Ref.:
Luria pulchra (Gray, 1824); Egypt, 65-66mm; huge inflated specimens; prominent black anterior and posterior spots; specimens this size are very rare Ref.: Luria tessellata (Swainson, 1822); Hawaii, 27-31mm; endemic to Hawaii, though a live specimen is reported to have been found in the Philippines Ref.: Lyncina aurantium (Gmelin, 1791); Philippines, 102mm; the species has hints of purple color around the margins and anterior/posterior canals when it comes up fresh out of the water; unfortunately the purple color fades rapidly; the orange color fades over a period of time; even when the orange color loses its intensity, it is still one of the most appealing of the cowrie shells Ref.:
Lyncina lynx (Linné, 1758); Philippines, 39mm; an aberrantly patterned form Ref.: Lyncina lynx (Linné, 1758) [+ caledonica Crosse, 1869]; New Caledonia, 43mm; a rostrate specimen Ref.: Lyncina porteri (Cate, 1966); Philippines, 47mm; the dorsum patterns vary considerably; this is considered an exceptional specimen Ref.:
Lyncina sulcidentata (Gray, 1824); Hawaii, 35-38mm; endemic to Hawaii Ref.: Mauritia arabica (Linné, 1758); Madagascar, 58mm; half and half - the aberrant dorsum pattern reveals the juvenile pattern which could have been caused by injury to the animal's mantle Ref.: Talparia exusta (Sowerby, 1832); Red Sea, 53-54mm, endemic to the Red Sea; it is most closely related to the Western Pacific T. talpa Ref.:
Trona stercoraria (Linné, 1758); Congo, 69-80mm; unusual, or abberant dorsum patterns; it is assumed that algae and other water pollutants get under the glossy layer of the shell as the mollusk forms the shell Ref.:    
Subfamily: CYPRAEOVULINAE back to menutop of page
Bistolida owenii vasta (Schilder & Schilder, 1938); Madagascar, 16-17mm; a variable species; lives intertidally among rocks Ref.: Bistolida stolida (Linné, 1758); Philippines, 25-29mm; varies considerably throughout its range; these are typical for this locality Ref.: Bistolida stolida diauges (Melvill, 1888); Zanzibar, 34mm; one of many forms in the stolida complex; the dorsum markings vary Ref.:
Blasicrura rashleighana (Melvill, 1888); Hawaii, 22mm, Fine++; an endemic species usually found subtidally by scuba divers; once considered uncommon; today finding a fully mature and colorful specimen like this is an exceptional find; the species' sudden scarceness coincided with Hurricane Ewa which hit Hawaii in the early 1980's leading one to believe that its habitats may have been altered by the storm; populations of the species could also be going through a natural cycle of abundance and scarceness Ref.: Cribrarula catholicorum (Schilder & Schilder, 1938); Solomon Islands, 12mm; found uncommonly throughout Melanesia Ref.: CW-0457Cribrarula cribraria melwardi (Iredale, 1930); Australia, 24.2mm; a white colored form; the species can be quite varied, some with a remnant pattern visible Ref.:
Cribrarula cumingii astaryi Schilder, 1971; Marquesas Ids., 20mm; endemic to the region; it is rarely found by scuba divers Ref.: CW-0401Cribrarula cumingii (Sowerby, 1832) form: cleopatra Schilder & Schilder, 1938; Tahiti, 20.1mm; considered a large form of cumingii Ref.: Cribrarula gaskoinii (Reeve, 1846); Hawaii, 20-22mm,; these specimens represent extremely mature shells with thick high margins; Cypraea tend to adult at different sizes probably influenced by food and water temperature Ref.:
Cypraeovula Gray, 1824. Cypraeovula Gray, 1824. Type species: Cypraea capensis Gray, 1828 (non Proterato (Proterato) sulcifera capensis Schilder, 1933). Recent. Cypraea (Cypraeovula); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae] Cypraeovula (Cypraeovula); Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 47 [Cypraeovulini] Cypreovula Fleming, 1828 (error pro Cypraeovula Gray, 1824) Cypraeova Swainson, 1840 (error pro Cypraeovula Gray, 1824) Cypraeovulum Sowerby, 1842 (error pro Cypraeovula Gray, 1824) Cyprovula Gray, 1847 (error pro Cypraeovula Gray, 1824) Cypraeovum Schaufuss, 1869 (Paetel, 1869) (error pro Cypraeovula Gray, 1824) Crossia Shikama, 1974 ? Hiraseadusta Shikama, 1976 ? Kurodadusta Shikama, 1976 Nakayasuia Shikama, 1976   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.106.
Cypraeovula alfredensis (Schilder & Schilder, 1929); South Africa, 24mm; taken by scuba diver in 18 meters of water; live-taken specimens are rare Ref.: Cypraeovula capensis (Gray, 1828); South Africa, 29.5mm; an exceptional specimen of the typical form; the dorsum blotch varies considerably from specimen to specimen; see these additional specimens Ref.:
Cypraeovula capensis (Gray, 1828) form: sphaerica Raybaudi, 1996; South Africa, 35mm; deepwater form from Port Alfred Ref.: Cypraeovula capensis (Gray, 1828) form: immaculata? probably refers to the lack of markings on the dorsum; taken in deepwater trap set in 100 meters of water; very much different than the diver-collected C. capensis Ref.: Cypraeovula capensis form: gonubiensis Massier, 1993; South Africa, 29.5mm; a localized form from the Port Elizabeth region Ref.:
Cypraeovula capensis form: gonubiensis Massier, 1993; South Africa, 28mm; this form shows similar variations as does the nominate form Ref.: Cypraeovula castanea (Higgins, 1868); South Africa, 38mm; a great rarity; a deepwater form approaches C. iutsui; this specimen was taken scuba diving in ± 50 meters of water Ref.: Cypraeovula coronata (Schilder, 1930) form: gabriellii Lorenz & Hubert, 1993; South Africa, 32mm; a regional form Ref.:
Cypraeovula coronata (Schilder, 1930) form: immaculata Raybaudi, 1986; South Africa, 32mm; an unpattern regional form Ref.: Cypraeovula edentula (Gray, 1825); South Africa, 20mm; a number of varieties exist; endemic to South Africa Ref.: Cypraeovula edentula (Gray, 1825) form: astonensis Lorenz & Hubert, 1993; South Africa, 22mm; deepwater form from Jeffrey's Bay; taken from craypot set in +110 meters of water Ref.:
Cypraeovula edentula nahoonensis Lorenz, 1989; South Africa, 23-26mm; localized from from East London region Ref.: Cypraeovula fuscodentata (Gray, 1825) form: sphaerica Raybaudi, 1986; South Africa, 27mm; compressed deepwater form Ref.: Cypraeovula iutsui (Shikama, 1974) form: levissima Raybaudi, 1995; South Africa, 31mm, F++, bulbous white rarity, from deep water off Namaqualand; a glossy white, semi-translucent, delicate shell with sparse brown markings; described in World Shells: 12 - March 1995: as Crossia iutsui levissima; extremely rare; found in few collections Ref.:
Erronea Troschel, 1863. Erronea Troschel, 1863.Type species: Cypraea errones Linnaeus, 1758. Pliocene to Recent Cypraea (Palangerosa); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae] Erronea (Erronea); Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 49 [Erroneini] Cypraea (Erronea); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.107.
Erronea caurica (Linné, 1758); [niger], New Caledonia, 37mm; jet black dorsum with slight rostration; the amount of black coloration and rostration varies Ref.: Erronea fernandoi Cate, 1969; Philippines, 25mm; a rare species, found by hookah divers in 50 meters of water Ref.:
Erronea succincta succincta (Linné, 1758) [+ persica Sch.& Sch., 1938]; Oman, 41-42mm; this form has a wider aperture; most similar to E. onyx Ref.: Erronea vredenburgi Schilder, 1927; Bali, Indonesia, 28-30mm; large and robust specimens from the eastern most end of its range; the species has a limited range along southern Java to Bali Ref.:  
Neobernaya Schilder, 1927 Neobernaya Schilder, 1927. Type species: Cypraea spadicea Swainson, 1832. Pliocene to Recent Cypraea (Neobernaya); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae] Zonaria (Neobernaya); Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 46 [Zonariini]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.107.
Neobernaya spadicea (Swainson, 1823); California, 42-46mm; the only species of cowrie found north of Baja Mexico and the only member of the genus Ref.: Neobernaya spadicea (Swainson, 1823); California, 52-55mm; the species varies considerably in adult size and extent of the chestnut dorsum pattern Ref.:
NESIOCYPRAEA Azuma & Kurohara, 1967 Nesiocypraea Azuma & Kurohara, 1967. Type species: Nesiocypraea midwayensis Azuma & Kurohara, 1967. Recent; Schilder & Schilder, 1971: 44 [Zonariini] Cypraea (Nesiocypraea); Vaught, 1989: 33 [Cypraeidae]   Ref.: Millard, V. 1997. Classification of the Mollusca :A classification of worldwide Mollusca. pp.106.
Nesiocypraea langfordi (Kuroda, 1938); Philippines, 57mm; this is the nominate form of the species; it also ranges from Japan to Indonesia Ref.: Nesiocypraea langfordi (Kuroda,1938); Philippines, 53mm; an exceptional specimen taken in a tangle net in relatively deep water Ref.:
Nesiocypraea sakuraii (Habe, 1970); Philippines, 54mm; the species is found with an almost infinite variety of dorsum patterns; no two are identical; taken from deepwater tangle nets set in 40-60 fathoms of water Ref.: Nesiocypraea sakuraii (Habe, 1970); Philippines, 44mm; the mauve-colored dorsum and beige margins are characteristic of Philippines specimens; also found in Japan Ref.: Nesiocypraea sakuraii (Habe, 1970); Philippines, 40mm; a specimen from Balut Island in the southern Philippines Ref.:
Nesiocypraea sakuraii (Habe, 1970); Philippines, 42mm; this specimen represents an exceptionally dark specimen for the species Ref.:    
Notadusta katsuae (Kuroda, 1960); Philippines, 18mm; N. vicdani is a synonym; taken in tangle nets set by fishermen in 60-80 fathoms of water Ref.: Notadusta martini (Schepman, 1907); Kwajalein Atoll, 14-15mm; scuba divers have made this species much more available in recent years; the black outlined dentition along the aperture is a characteristic of this species Ref.: Notocypraea angustata (Gmelin, 1791); South Australia, 27-31mm; the dorsum color varies considerably; it can also be found with a very dark dorsum color Ref.:
Palmadusta saulae (Gaskoin, 1843); Philippines, 24-27mm; the dorsum patterns varies considerably in this species; many names have been applied to the forms of this species yet all are considered synonyms Ref.: Purpuradusta gracilis (Gaskoin, 1849); New Caledonia, 25.5mm; a rostrate specimen Ref.: Schilderia achatidea (Sowerby, 1837) form: longinqua Schilder & Schilder, 1938; Senegal, 42mm; this form is trawled off of West Africa north of the Ivory Coast Ref.:
Zonaria pyrum (Gmelin, 1791) Libya, 28-37mm; north African specimens tend to be darker and more spectacular; taken by fishing trawlers Ref.: Zonaria pyrum (Gmelin, 1791); Libya, 40mm; closer aperture detail of a specimen trawled off of north Africa Ref.:  
Subfamily: EROSARIINAE back to menu
Erosaria a. acicularis (Gmelin, 1791); Florida Keys, 25mm; a very mature specimen with thickened margins; the overall coloring of this specimen is very light for the species Ref.: Erosaria a. acicularis (Gmelin, 1791); Gulf of Mexico, 25mm; taken in lobster traps; this is an extremely mature specimen with thickened margins Ref.: CW-0519Erosaria cernica (Sowerby, 1870) [+ cernica marielae Cate]; Hawaii, 26-27mm; this species varies considerably throughout its range in the Western Pacific; it is a rare species in Hawaii Ref.:
Erosaria citrina (Gray, 1825); Madagascar, 21-23mm; this cowrie was an elusive species, found only as dead-taken shells until recently; this are examples of live shells exhibiting intense color Ref.: Erosaria eburnea (D. H. Barnes, 1824) form: mara Iredale, 1939; Papua New Guinea, 42mm; a hybrid form between E. eburnea and E. lamarckii (J.E. Gray, 1825); has also been found in New Caledonia, but very rare Ref.: CW-0523Erosaria englerti (Summers & Burgess, 1965); Easter Island, 24-25mm, endemic to Easter Island Ref.:
CW-0310Erosaria englerti (Summers & Burgess, 1965); Easter Island, 26mm, large robust shells Ref.: Erosaria guttata (Gmelin, 1791); Philippines, 51.3mm; though this form is not considered ultra-rare anymore, it is still one of the more sought-after species of cowries; other forms of E. guttata are still considered rare Ref.: Erosaria guttata (Gmelin, 1791); Philippines, 56mm; one of the most amazingly formed cowries; it is no longer as rare as it once was, yet still is highly desirable species amongst collectors Ref.:
Erosaria marginalis (Dillwyn, 1817); Somalia, 20-23mm; the lavender colored base and ocellated spots are characteristic of the species Ref.: Erosaria moneta (Linné, 1758); Kenya, 23-27mm; aberrant specimens from a restricted population; deformity possibly due to environmental conditions Ref.: Erosaria ostergaardi (Dall, 1921) [+ thomasi Crosse, 1865]; Hawaii, 14.8mm; a rare live-taken specimen; the image does not bring out the shell's beautiful orange coloring with lavender ocellated spots; a great endemic rarity Ref.:
Erosaria ostergaardi (Dall, 1921) [+ thomasi Crosse, 1865]; Hawaii, 17mm; live-taken; two of the most beautiful specimens you'll ever see; both were found under the same coral rubble rock! Erosaria spurca (Linné, 1758); Italy, 25mm; found in the Mediterranean and Atlantic along the coasts of southern Europe and north western Africa; the animal's mantle line caused a distinct demarcation on the dorsum Ref.: Pustularia chiapponii Lorenz, 1999; Philippines, 15mm; compare with P. bistrinotata, and other species in this genus; differences in dentition and other shell characteristics; see the orignal description on Felix Lorenz's web site Ref.:
Pustularia chiapponii Lorenz, 1999; Philippines, 16mm; another specimen with additional views; check the Pustularia specimens in your collection; they may have been misidentified Ref.: Pustularia mauiensis (Burgess, 1967); Hawaii, 12mm; a dark and quite different population from typical pale specimens Ref.: Staphylaea semiplota (Mighels, 1845); Hawaii, 23mm; very large for the species; compared with an average size specimen Ref.:
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