Thatcheria mirabilis,  Angas, 1877
Like most everything else – our “Japanese Wonder Shell” comes from China! The shell looks like no other, it is unique in appearance. Because of its deep water habitat, it remained unknown until a solitary specimen was discovered in the late 1800s.
The following information is quoted from
In describing the species in 1877, G. F. Angas said “This very remarkable shell, quite unlike anything hitherto met with, was recently brought from Japan by Mr. Charles Thatcher,” and, because Angas was at a loss to place it in a known genus, Mr. Thatcher acquired an unexpected immortality. Conchologists, puzzled by its peculiar appearance, were equally doubtful where to place it systematically and often they echoed the words of G. W. Tryon: “That this shell is a scalaiform monstrosity cannot be doubted, but what may be its normal form is not so readily ascertained”.
No others were known until the early 1930’s when several, exactly comparable, were fished up in Japanese waters; it was no longer a monstrosity and its systematic position was established a few years later. It is a member of the Turridae.
Today, Thatcheria mirablis are still quite scarce though not rare. The shell is hard to find in collectible condition so few make it to the market. Our specimen was trawled by a Chinese commerical fishing fleet in 100 fathoms,  North China Sea, 2010. It is typical in size and condition as to what is available.


Cypraea testudinaria, Linne 1758 – the Tortoise Cowrie.  It’s amazing how many shells Linnaeus classified, even more amazing that so many names remain valid today.  Cypraea testudinaria is instantly recognizable. It is impossible to confuse with any other cypraea. Its shape, sizing and coloring is distinct. It is a heavy massive shell that grows up to 5″ in length. Cypraea testudinaria is cylindrical in shape, brownish in color, big irregular spots around the margins and a pattern of dark brown blotches that extend across the dorsum. It also has white flecks imbedded in the nacre making it look as if covered with dandruff. The white flecks seem to be a mystery, there doesn’t appear to be a published explanation. Outside of size, there is little variation, the pattern is rather consistent from one specimen to the next though some have larger dark area than others. The base seems to have more variation than the dorsum, ranging from light grey to almost pink to tan through shades of brown. Cypraea testudinaria is widespread across the tropical Indo-Pacific, however it is relatively uncommon. Like most cypraea it is a reef dweller. Our specimen was found exposed at night on reef rubble off Samar Island, Philippines in 2006. It is darker than average in color, fully mature and over 4″ in size. Donated by Richard Kent


Most marginella are small shells often about 10-20 millimeters in size. There are exceptions. Our shells of the month are two of the largest, both being over 40mm. In addition they are large for their species. Thai fishing boats have been active in Burmese waters. Both specimens were collected by trawlers working off the coast of the Mergui Islands in the Andaman Sea during December of 2010

Marginella strigata (Unicolor Margin Shell) and Marginella Elegans (Elegant Margin Shell) are very similar. The obvious difference is one is patterned, the other not. Both are grey. The outer lip of  strigata is tan, elegans is deep red brown.

The following description is adopted from Wikipedia:

Marginella is a genus of small tropical and warm-water marine gastropods in the family  Marginellidae, the margin snails. It is the type genus of the family.

The shells of species in this genus are rounded, smooth and glossy, with a large aperture that appears to be toothed because it shows the edge of the collumellar folds. In many species the shells are colorful. The glossy surface of the shell results from the fact that the mantle covers most of the shell when the animal is active. The animal has a long siphon. When the animal is active, the foot extends much further out than the edge of the shell. Marginella are carnivorous and predatory. The shells of the species in this genus have spires which range from moderately elevated to flattened. The surface of the shell is glossy and porcellaneous, and it is often but not always colourful. The columella has four definite, subequal plaits on its anterior half. The outer lip is thickened, and generally denticulate inside, with distinct teeth or folds. The siphonal canal is not deeply incised. There is no operculum.

Marginella strigata Dillwyn, 1817
Trawled At 30-60 Meters
Mergui islands, Burma
Northern Andaman Sea 12/2010

Marginella elegans Gmelin, 1791
Trawled At 30-60 Meters
Mergui islands, Burma
Northern Andaman Sea 12/2010


Conus bullatus, Linne, 1758  is Fay’s Shell of the Month for June 2011. It is a most attractive cone, with its bright orange/red color, high gloss and distinctive shape. Do you know why the aperature is so wide in this cone? Conus bullatus is a member of group called bubble cones because of their common shape. The wide aperature is because the snail is piscivores. It eats fish and quite large ones too. Conus bullatus lies burried in the sand with just its proboscis extended. When it senses a fish in the vicinity it goes into action, launching a harpoon that paralyzes the fish. Next the snail extends its mouth and sucks in the fish whole. “This species of cone snail immobilizes its prey in a split second with lightning-strike cabal toxins,” states the Howard Hills Medical Institute on its web site. You can see Conus bullatus feeding in videos on Youtube or  We recommed this web site to learn more about the eating habits of Conus bullautus and other cones. Much research has been done on the venom of Conus bullatus. “Characterization of the Conus bullatus genome and its venom-duct transcriptome” by Hu H is the main technical writing available on the web. Why would one be inerested? Because scientists are looking at conus venom for possible use in human medicine.
  We as collectors are probably more interested in the shell. Conus bullatus until recently has been a rare and valuable shell, so it comes as a surprise that Linnaeus know it in his day.  The shell is a creamy color overlaid with a cloudy orange to red series of blotches sometimes forming indistinct bands. The pattern appears blurred. Some specimens have darker dashes encircling the shell, others have none at all. The lip thickens with age.  As it does the pattern is obscured so mature specimens have no pattern near the lip. Younger ones, or those in a growth phases will have the pattern extended to the growing edge of a thin lip.  Conus bullatus is a clean shell, rarely with growth lines or erosion so its is usually available in higher grades. The range is sporadic through Indo-Pacific including Hawaii where specimens are especially colorful. Our specimen, donated by Richard Kent, is from off Balut Island, Mindanao, Philippines and was taken by tangle net at a depth of 100m.  It is 56mm in size, near gem in condition, fullly adult, and was collected in 2010. If stored in darkness it will maintain its color but bright light will cause fading. Retail value for a specimen this size and quality is in the $25-$40 range.


Murex pecten, Lightfoot, 1786, commonly known at the Venus Comb Murex is our shell of the month. The Venus Comb is not only a collectors favorite but a popular subject for both photographers and still life painters. The shell has over one hundred spines, which provide protection from predation, and prevent the snail from sinking in the soft mud where it is often found feeding on bivalves. Its range is extensive, across the the entire Indo-Pacific region. Perfect specimens are hard to find because of the fragile spines. It is also difficult to acquire specimens with the operculum.  Adult sizes are between 100 and 170mm but real large specimens aren’t found too often recently. Did you know that the flesh of this murex is edible? Our specimen came from Balicasag Island, Bohol, Philippines and was found by tangle net at a depth of 30-50 meters in 2008.

Shell of the Month April 2011

In honor of Easter, the April Shell of the Month is the Egg Cowrie, Ovula ovum, Linne 1758 along with its sister shell, the Elongated Egg Cowrie, also known at the Spindle Shell, Volva volva, Linne 1758.  Side by side they certainly make for an odd couple!

These are members of the family Ovulidae and are closely related to Cypraea.  Although this is a fairly large family, the majority of the specie are small shells with many under 10mm in size. The ovum and the volva are clearly the giants of the clan.

Ovula Ovum is a porcelan white shell that has a great range in size, from 32mm all the way up to 120mm. Our specimen is on the smaller end.  The animal is black with a mantle that fully covers the shell. It is at home in corals and soft corals throughout the Indo-Pacific range.  This specimen was found grazing on soft corals in near Port Moresby, New Guinea

Volva volva has an even greater size range running up to a whopping 186mm. Volva volva although normally white will sometimes be found in rose, pink or even a pale purple shade. The extremities are drawn out into long canals and the shape too is variable. Our specimen is large in size, typical in shape and color. Its mantle is white with long tan to brown papillae ringed with a darker shade. Our specimen comes from a coastal reef off Negros Island in the Philippines.  Both shells were donated by Richard Kent

Shell of the Month February 2011

This set of Heart Cockles is most appropriate for February Shell of the Month as we honor St. Valentine. Corculum cardissa, Linné 1758, is a most unusual bivalve. It’s anatomy is rotated ninety degrees. The valves open down the center rather than at the sides.
Corculum live in sandy bottom where sea grasses grow, often in dense colonies. They attach themselves to the sand with a byssus thread. They are most prevalent in the offshore waters of Cebu, Philippines, but range north to Malaysia.
Splitters divide this shell into multiple species. “Shells of the Philippines” by Springsteen and Leobrera site 5 different specie but admit they might be “morphophenotypes of a single taxon.”
Heart cockles are attractive shells, coming in a variety of delicate pastels, often solid, sometimes speckled, with pale yellow to white being most common with orange, pink and lavender harder to come by. They are seeming endless in variety of heart shapes. Average size is about 40mm but they come smaller and rarely from 55 to 65mm. The heart shells in this set range in size from about 35 to 55mm. The top left and top right are often sold as Corculum impressum, Lightfoot 1786. All came from off the coast of Cebu and were collected in 2010.

Shell of the Month January 2011

Set of seven Terebra, from left to right

Terebra areolata, Link 1807 off shore shallow water in sand Nha Trang, Viet Nam

Terebra dimidiata, Linné 1758 20′ in sand  Nago Bay, Okinawa 1985

Terebra pertusa, Born 1778 diver 7-10m  Olango Island, Cebu, Philippines 2008

Terebra crenulata, Linné 1758 40′ in sand night SCUBA Tuamotus, French Polynesia 2000

Terebra nebulosa, Sowerby, 1825 diver 7-10m Olango Island, Cebu, Philippines 2008

Terebra, subulata, Linné 1767 in sand at night Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Terebra guttata, Roding, 1798 15-10m inside reef by diver Balayon Bay Batangas, Philippines 2007

Terebra are closely related to Conus and Turris. They all have a poison apparatus to kill their prey. Terebra feed mainly marine worms. Terebra live worldwide, with most species in the Indo-Pacific region.  Terebra is one of four genera in Terebridae, the others being Hastula, Duplicaria and Impages.  Many of the smaller species are near impossible to identify. The largest specimen presented in this group just over 5″ and the smallest is 2 1/2″. Terebra maculata, LInné 1758, not offered here is far and away the largest growing Terebra reaching a size of 10″. In Florida we have Terebra taurinus, Lightfoot 1786 which grows to 5″ and Terebra floridanus, Dall, 1889 which grows to 3″ plus several dozen much smaller species.

Shell of the Month November 2010

Cypraea aurantium, Gmelin 1791. In the  Fiji and Solomon Islands the Golden Cowrie is a symbol of power and rank for chieftains. Until recently it was considered very rare. Then its habitat was discovered and now reaches the market in sufficient numbers. The cowrie lives in deep water inside of caves which explains why beached specimens are seldom seen. When Philippine divers first learned where to find the golden cowrie they kept the habitat and locations secret to preserve the value. Until recently very few specimens came with data. Although available now to collectors, gem quality specimens are extremely rare. Something in the growth cycle cause stress marks as the animal reaches maturity and virtually every specimen has a few growth lines, often making the shell ugly.  Our specimen, while not a gem is has minimal growth lines that do not distract. The specimen is from the collection of Richard Kent.

Cypraea aurantium, Gmelin 1791, Collected under ledge inside cave by hookah diver at 25 to 30 meters deep, night time, off Prieto Diaz, Albay Gulf. Philippines 2006. Size about 3 1/2″ or 90mm