Today’s blog is a gallery of some of the most exquisite lowly snails in the world – the rock snails of the family Muricidae. This marine group occurs from the high tide line to nearly abyssal depths and is found the world over. It is believed that they are predators on other molluscs and barnacles, scavengers, and ectoparasites on cnidarians – but we really don’t know very much about them. They can be pests of valuable commercial shellfish beds and some nuisance species have been accidentally moved around the globe. A few Mediterranean species were the source of Royal Tyrian Dye, supporting an industry that dates back millennia. The dye was the product of a compound in the saliva of the snails that turned a deep purple when treated correctly. The dye was so expensive to make that only royalty and clergy could afford to wear it – the purple in Catholic robes and sashes was originally made this way.
The muricids are popular with collectors, with some specimens selling for thousands of dollars. There are perhaps 1,700 species and more are described all the time. Current “hot spots” for new muricid species are New Caledonia, Somalia, and Indonesia.
About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.