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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