Lobatus gigas, commonly known as the Queen Conch, is a type of big sea snail, or mollusk, found in the ocean. The Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the area around Bermuda are all home to the Queen Conch. A point to remember is that the scientific name has been updated several times, with the most recent change being in 2020. 

One of the most precious species in the Caribbean, the Queen Conch are highly prized for its flesh and its unique shells. Suggested regulations to add the Queen Conch to the Endangered Species Act’s list of vulnerable species are currently on the way.

Appearance

The upper portion of a Queen Conch is brown and spiky, while the interior of the shell lip is pink. Queen Conchs have a huge, thick, whorl-shaped shell with several tiny spines at the peak. They may weigh up to 5 lbs and reach a height of up to 12 in. The average growth rates, size, and weight of females are faster, higher, and bigger than those of males. 

The detailed appearance of the Queen Conch camouflaged to the seabed
The detailed appearance of the Queen Conch camouflaged to the seabed

Credit: oceanzam

Long, independently movable eye stalks and a proboscis, which resembles a tube with a mouth, are hallmarks of Queen Conchs. If attacked, the proboscis can retract inside the shell as a defense mechanism.

Diet

Queen Conch are herbivorous benthic grazers that consume diatoms, seagrass debris, different kinds of algae, and epiphytes. They occasionally scavenge dead and rotting debris in addition to the algae that are developing on the sand’s surface.

The operculum, which surrounds the shell aperture, resembles a claw that the conch uses to push itself through the sand. The Queen Conch moves in a unique manner known as “bouncing,” in which the foot is pressed against the ground, raising the shell before it is hurled onward. They may graze more than 400 feet of seagrass in this way. Queen Conch are diurnal creatures, meaning their feed time takes place during the daytime.

Habitat

The habitat of the Queen Conch extends from the northern South American coast, through into the Caribbean and Bahamas, reaching south Florida and Bermuda. Although they are seldom seen on the coral reef surface directly, queen conchs are found on sand plains and seagrass beds that are connected to coral reefs. 

Queen Conch in its natural habitat bouncing and grazing
Queen Conch in its natural habitat bouncing and grazing

Credit: National Parks Gallery

They fit very nicely with their surroundings despite having sand-colored exteriors and vivid pink or orange interiors on their shells. It heavily relies on camouflaging with its surroundings in order to survive. The Queen Conch can be found at depths from 0.9–60 ft at the shallowest depth or  82–115 ft at the deepest.

Reproduction

The reproduction mechanism of the Queen Conch is known as internalized fertilization. When a female queen conch lays her adhesive eggs on the beach, they soon cover themselves in the sand and other materials, providing them with camouflage and protecting them from egg hunters.

Females may preserve fertilized eggs over several days, and eggs can be fertilized by numerous males at the same time. Each egg mass contains roughly 1 million eggs, and egg development takes 24 to 36 hours. The eggs take around five days to hatch, after which the larvae wander through the water column for up to a month before settling to the bottom and undergoing metamorphosis into full maturation.

Threats

The nurse shark is one species that successfully consume adult queen conch since it can produce enough pressure to pull the specimen right out of its shell. For reference, humans face significant difficulty achieving the same result using specialized tools.

A Queen Conch peers out of its shell to examine the environment
A Queen Conch peers out of its shell to examine the environment

Credit:  Michelle Kerr/FWC

Queen conch numbers are falling across their span and have become almost extinct in certain regions. They are greatly regarded for their flesh and are among the Caribbean’s most prized animals. Conch pearls are non-nacreous pearls that are mostly formed by Queen Conch. Few conch shells generate pearls, and even fewer produce commercial-quality pearls. This adds to the danger that Queen Conch faces from poachers.

Facts about the Queen Conch

  • 1 in 10,000 Queen Conch produces a pearl.
  • A queen conch may take at least five years to develop fully. At this stage of development, they have an incredibly hard flaring lip and may procreate.
  • The cameo carvers of Torre del Greco, Italy, rely heavily on Queen Conch shells as a source of carving tools.
  • The Queen conch is a species of marine mollusk that is a huge edible sea snail.
  • The Queen Conchs’ shell gets thicker with age.


FAQs 

Why is the Queen Conch endangered?

Although the IUCN does not list the queen conch as an endangered species, overfishing is a factor that many countries and organizations regard to be a threat to population numbers.

Is Queen Conch venomous?

The Queen Conch doesn’t possess any venomous properties, meaning that they are completely harmless to other fish and humans. Matter of fact is that their meat is prime for consumption for a majority of predators of the ocean.

How long does Queen Conch live?

It is estimated that queen conchs attain sexual maturity at roughly 3.5 to 4 years of age and have a lifespan of up to 30 years.

How can you tell if a Queen Conch is male or female?

Like other organisms, Queen Conchs can be either male or female. The male’s right eye is covered by a black arm. The right foot of the female conch has a groove along the length of it.