A Field Guide to Florida: Florida Fighting Conch

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Florida Fighting Conchs are one of the great shell finds that anyone can discover on Fort Myers Beach. In fact I’ve seen many people taking empty conch shells off the beach. Even I have two conch shells on my desk as I’m writing this article.

The Florida Fighting Conch shell grows to 4 to 5 inches long. Most people only think about the conch shell forgetting that, in fact, that shell was at one point home to a snail. At the front of the shell, there are two areas where the edge pinches upwards, allowing the eye stalks of the fighting conch to peek out, while the rest of its body is safe inside the shell. So while most people think that this point on the shell is the back, in fact it’s the front.

Conchs (and all other snails for that matter) crawl around on one long foot, while all of its squishy vital organs are tucked away safely in its shell. Its foot also has a sharp, serrated spike to defend itself. They also have an operculum, which grows on the Fighting Conch’s back. It serves as a trapdoor to close the opening of the shell when the snail decides to pull its head, tail, and eye stalks into the protective shell. If in a real bind they use the hardened tip of their operculum, to push themselves forward in a hopping motion called a ‘strombid leap’. This movement helps the conch make a quick escape from predators as well as breaking up their scent trail.

A Field Guide to Florida: Florida Fighting Conch
Florida fighting conch close-up with mollusk’s body out of shell. Photo copyrighted by Eugene Kalenkovich/123rf.com

The juvenile conchs will bury themselves in the sand for the majority of their first year of life, possibly as a means to avoid being eaten. Full-grown adults will bury themselves as well to hide during the day, but they will come back out at night to eat. Florida Fighting Conchs only eat algae. Although this makes for a bit of a bland diet, this helps the sea grass ecosystem that they live in tremendously. By eating the algae they help keep the algae in check in the sea grass beds, as algae can smother sea grass and kill it. It eats the algae by using its radula, a rough sandpaper-like tongue inside its proboscis (even though it looks like an elephant trunk, it’s a mouth, I promise). With this it can scrape algae off of sand, rocks, and sea grass.

Florida Fighting Conchs make their homes from North Carolina to the east coast of Mexico and in the Gulf Coast up to Texas. After periods of intense winds or wave action, hundreds of Florida Fighting Conch can be found washed onshore. So whenever a storm rolls through the Island go and take a look outside after the storm to see these snails up close. Put please don’t bring them home with you. Taking empty shells is fine. However, taking home the live snails involves state fines and is not good for the snails at all – so please leave them on the beach.

 

Rae Blake
Environmental Technician
Town of Fort Myers Beach

 

Captions:

 

  1. Florida Fighting Conch. Photo by LA Dawson courtesy of Wikipedia.
  2. Florida fighting conch close-up with mollusk’s body out of shell. Photo copyrighted by Eugene Kalenkovich/123rf.com