The aptly named Vase Shells, in the molluscan Family Vasidae, represent a relatively small group of world wide, mainly tropical gastropods that inhabit both shallow and deep water environments. The thick, heavy and conical, or fusiform shaped shells of the genus Vasum, and the delicate, spindly, deep water Columbarium, represent two extreme members of the Vasidae. The Vasum almost always have a thick periostracum that obscures the shell color below. The largest number of Vasidae species inhabit the Pacific Ocean, though many Columbarium are found in the Western Atlantic.

The Sacred Chank Shell, Turbinella pyrum (Linné, 1758) found in India, is fashioned into ceremonial trumpets and bangles, the operculum is used for incense, and the animal provides a food source for the local economy. Sinistral, or left-handed Chanks are highly revered due to the association with the Hindu god Vishnu.

The Columbrariinae, or generically, Columbarium, encompass relatively few species inhabiting deep water muddy substrates to depths of over 1600 meters of water. Commonly called Pagoda Shells, the long slender siphonal canal and strong peripheral keel on most species make the Columbarium easy to classify in this Subfamily. The Vasidae taxonomy has been in a considerable state of flux, with many publications using the Family name Turbinellidae. Vasidae is used here with reservations. Some older publications catagorize the Subfamily Columbariinae in a separate Family, the Columbariidae, and some even in the Fasciolariidae.

LITERATURE: No one book deals exclusively with the Vasidae, though many regional molluscan books have good coverage for the particular region. A number of scientific papers are important for the specialist. For the Columbariinae, two important publications must be mentioned; A Review of the Columbariinae (Gastropoda: Turbinellidae) of the Western Atlantic With Notes on the Anatomy and Systematic Relationships of the Subfamily, by M.G. Harasewych, NEMOURIA 27 (1983), pp. 1-42, (Occasional Papers of the Delaware Museum of Natural History); and The Columbariinae (Gastropoda: Turbinellidae) of the eastern Indian Ocean, by M.G. Harasewych, Journal of the Malacological Society of Australia 7(3-4): 155-170, 1986. Other important papers include; A Revision of the Genus Benthovoluta with Notes on the Evolution of the Subfamily Ptychatractinae (Prosobranchia: Turbinellidae), by M.G. Harasewych, The Nautilus 101(4):166-181, 1987; A New Species of Coluzea (Gastropoda: Turbinellidae) from off Southeastern Africa, by M.G. Harasewych, The Nautilus 103(2):70-72, 1989; A New Species of Columbarium (Gastropoda: Muricacea) From Off Eastern Australia, by M.G. Harasewych, The Nautilus 97(1):28-29, 1983; A New Species of Vasum (Gastropoda: Turbinellidae) from off Somalia, by W.K. Emerson and W.E. Sage, The Nautilus 102(1):36-39, 1988; and The Religious Use of Turninella pyrum (Linneus), The Indian Chank, by Kenneth D. Rose, The Nautilus, 88(1):1-5, 1974.

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Phylum: MOLLUSCA (Linné, 1758) Cuvier, 1795

Class: GASTROPODA Cuvier, 1797

Subclass: PROSOBRANCHIA Milne Edwards, 1848


Suborder: NEOGASTROPODA Thiele, 1929

      Superfamily: MURICOIDEA da Costa, 1776

Family:VASIDAE Rafinesque, 1815

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

Subfamily: COLUMBARIINAE (+ COLUMBARIIDAE) back to menutop of page
Columbarium caragarangColumbarium caragarang Garrard, 1965 - Australia, 59mm - limited distribution off Queensland. Trawled in deep water. Note the hooked spines at the base of the siphonal canal. Columbarium eastwoodaeColumbarium eastwoodae Kilburn, 1971 - South Africa, 69mm - Columbarium harrisaeColumbarium harrisae Harasewych, 1983 - Australia, 101mm - very restricted distribution in deep water off Queensland. One of the more ornamented species of the group.
Columbarium natalenseColumbarium natalense Tomlin, 1928 - South Africa, 27mm - dredged in 100-150 meters of water off the Durban coast. Columbarium sp.Columbarium sp. - southwest Madagascar, 82mm - taken in 600-800 meters of water. Many unusual species considered new to science are surfacing from this area. Coluzea mariaeColuzea mariae (Powell, 1952) - endemic to New Zealand, 70mm - a relatively large, alabaster white species trawled in 200-300 fathoms of water between southeast South Island and the Chatham Rise east of New Zealand. Rather rare.
Fulgurofusus brayiFulgurofusus brayi (Clench, 1959) - Colombia, 30mm - taken in commercial fishing trawled in 200 meters of water. This specimen is an example of the single keeled form. A rare species. The type locality is Venezuela. (re: Malacolog). Fulgurofusus brayiFulgurofusus brayi (Clench, 1959) - Colombia, 69mm - a form with extended spire whorls. The largest specimen recorded in the literature is 73mm. Most specimens average well under 50mm. Trawled off Colombia in 500 meters of water. (re: Malacolog). Fulgurofusus electraFulgurofusus electra (Bayer, 1971) - Florida, 31mm - a deep water species; these were taken in 100 fathoms. Type locality is the Straits of Florida. (re: Malacolog).
Fulgurofusus timorFulgurofusus timor Harasewych, 1983 - North Carolina, 36mm - trawled in 700-1000 feet of water. Type locality is Cape Fear, North Carolina. (re: Malacolog).    
Subfamily: PTYCHATRACTINAE back to menutop of page
Subfamily: VASINAE back to menutop of page
Vasum capitellumVasum capitellum (Linné, 1758) - Puerto Rico, 54mm - spine development varies considerably depending on the habitat in which it grows. This specimen was found in the shallow, calm waters along Boqueron Bay, between Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo living on turtle grass. Shells of this species found in rough waters and on reef systems are often eroded with stubbier spines. A thin periostracum coats the shell. Found throughout the West Indies. (re: Malacolog). Vasum cassiformeVasum cassiforme Kiener, 1841 - Brazil, 104mm - characterized by its thick apertural shield and the prominent dorsum spines. Purple is the typical shield color. Endemic to Brazilian coast mostly from Pernambuco to Espirito Santo. (re: Malacolog). Vasum cassiformeVasum cassiforme Kiener, 1841 [+ cassidiformis Deshayes, 1845] - Brazil - an unusual color form with a white shield. (re: Malacolog).
Vasum globulus nuttingiVasum (Globivasum) globulus nuttingi Henderson, 1919 - endemic to Antigua, Lesser Antilles, 25.5mm - a West Indian subspecies of the West African V. g. globulus. The nominate form differs only by its rosy-pink aperture instead of the brownish-orange to dark brown aperture of V. g. nuttingi, the type species of the subgenus. Some references reduce the name nuttingi into synonymy. (re: Malacolog). Vasum truncatumVasum truncatum Sowerby, 1892 - South Africa, 72mm - An uncommon species found in nature with a heavy brown periostracum that totally obscures the white to yellow shell color. Vasum truncatumVasum truncatum Sowerby, 1892 - South Africa, 82mm - A specimen cloaked with periostracum. The shells are often camouflaged with encrustations and algae over the periostracum.