Cowries or cypraeids

Superfamily: CYPRAEOIDEA
Family: Cypraeidae


Cypraea cribraria. The mantle flaps are partially retracted to show the white spotted pattern on the shell. Note the long tapering head tentacles on the right and the right eye at the base of the stalk. Koumac, New Caledonia, October 1993. PHOTO: Bill Rudman.

Cowry shells are a favourite group for shell collectors because of the large variety of shiny coloured shells found witin the family. However in the living animal these brightly coloured shells are usually hidden by two flaps of the mantle. In some cases the mantle flaps are brightly coloured, as in the photo above, but often they are dull mottled colours with branching papillae, making the animal highly camouflaged. There are two main feeding divisions within the family, one group feeding on sponges while the other group are herbivores. Like the ovulids or false cowries they look superficially like sea slugs, especially when the shell is hidden.

Authorship details
Rudman, W.B., 2000 (March 1) Cowries or cypraeids. [In] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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