This month features two of Jamaica’s best – a shell and an athlete, both genuine rarities.
The shell is Chicoreus cosmani Abbott & Finlay, 1979. This beautiful mollusc is a member of the large family of marine snails known as the Muricidae, for my money the most exquisite group of all seashells. They are favorites of collectors with rare species selling for thousands of dollars. Most are carnivores on other molluscs and barnacles and can become serious pests of commercial oyster, mussel, and clam beds. But they can be utilitarian as well. From certain species is extracted the Royal Tyrian Purple dye, so costly to make that it became the hallmark of only the very rich and powerful – Caesars and Popes – and is still today the “official” color of the Catholic Church. The dye has been in production since at least 1750 BC.
But it is unlikely Chicoreus cosmani will ever become a pest or be found in sufficient numbers to be used for dyes. Only a handful of specimens are known, all from moderately deep water, and most from a single stretch of coastline on northern Jamaica.
Jamaica has another rarity, in human form – Usain Bolt, who has the true distinction of being the fastest human alive, running at roughly Warp Factor 8 (“The legs canna take it, Captain!”). I visited his hometown of Sherwood Content in the hinterlands of Jamaica in 2013. Here is the sign his townspeople erected to him.