Significance to humans

Because of their tremendous diversity in form and color, caenogastropods have figured more prominently in human cultural than most other gastropod groups. The Phoenicians were famous throughout the ancient Mediterranean world for producing a royal purple dye made from organs found in members of the family Muricidae. Cowry shells were first used as money in China in 1200 B.C. So many cultures have used shells for money that it is the most widely and longest used currency in human history. Shell trumpets (constructed primarily of caenogastropod species such as Tonna, Bursa, Trophon, and Cassis) are found in many parts of the world (Polynesia, Japan, South America, and the Mediterranean), where they were used as both signaling and musical instruments. In India, the shanka has been used Hindu rituals for more than 1,000 years. In art, caenogastropod shells often decorate still-life paintings because of their brilliant colors and forms; one of the most famous shell paintings is undoubtedly Rembrandt's 1650 Cone Shell (Conus marmoreus).

Approximately 20 species of cone shells are known to be dangerous to humans, and stings from three species (Conus geographus, Conus textile, and Conus tulipus) have resulted in fatalities. However, cone shell venom is also being used to produce drugs for the control of pain. Lastly, shell collecting has been popular since the early nineteenth century and certain caenogastropod groups such as cone shells, cowries, and Murex have been among some of the most valuable and sought-after species.

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1. Apple snail (Ampullaria canaliculata); 2. Geography cone shell (Conus geographus). (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

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