- José H. Leal
In the Kingdom of Queen Conchs
The Museum has added three Queen Conchs, Aliger gigas (Linnaeus, 1758), to its Beyond Shells educational, living exhibitions. Make sure you take a look at them during your next visit to the Museum! The Queen Conch is an iconic, relatively well-known marine snail in the family of true conchs, the Strombidae (think Florida Fighting Conch, Milk Conch, and many others). At the onset of adulthood, its shell will begin developing the broad, flared lip that is so typical of the species. Queen Conchs are found in shallow-water in the tropical western Atlantic, from northern South America through South Carolina, parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the greater Caribbean, including the Bahamas, where it is known as Pink Conch.
Queen Conchs are herbivorous, feeding on assorted species of seaweed and decaying plant materials. Here in the Museum, Aquarium staff will feed them a home-made concoction specifically developed for the species by Florida researchers. (The species has also been very heavily studied for commercial, aquaculture purposes; one of the commercial uses for the species is in the manufacture of pink pearls.)
Queen Conchs have been captured and used as food in the greater Caribbean since time immemorial, which threatened the survival of populations in different areas of the species distribution range. As a result, the Queen Conch has had a convoluted conservation history, being super-protected in some areas, and not so much so in others. One of the main reasons for the complex nature of conserving the species is that its larvae spend about a month drifting in the water before they metamorphose, "falling" to the bottom to continue life as crawling snails. As a result, larvae spawned in one Caribbean island nation may end being carried by ocean currents and settling in another island nation. Conch “born” in Cuba may end up settling to the bottom in the Florida Keys, and so on. As you can imagine, managing the conservation of a species under such conditions is pretty tough.
A recent example of the complexity of managing the fisheries of the species in the greater Caribbean region can be found in the Regional Queen Conch Fisheries Management Conservation Plan published in 2017 by Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (Regional Queen Conch Fisheries Management and Conservation Plan (fao.org)). (Our conchs are being delivered by Dinasty, a supplying outfit based in the Florida Keys that is licensed by the Ste of Florida to collect the species in small numbers, for educational purposes. To be able to acquire the conchs, the Museum applied for and received a Special Activities License from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.)
(The photo of the living Queen Conch in the original email linking to this entry is from www.conchpearls.com.)