Queen Conch – Detail Page

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English Name: Queen Conch

Scientific Name: Lobatus gigas

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca

Class: Gastropoda

Order: Neotaenioglossa

Family: Lobatidae (true conchs)

Genus: Lobatus

Species: gigas

Other Names: Pink Conch, Karko (Papiamentu)

 

Conservation Status: 

  • IUCN Red List: not yet assessed.
  • CITES: listed in Appendix II.
  • SPAW: listed in Annex III.

Island Status:

  • This large marine gastropod is found on all islands of the Dutch Caribbean, but its numbers have declined significantly due to over-exploitation.

Description

The queen conch has a length of 20 to 30 cm (~ 7.9 to 11.8″) and weighs on average 2.3 kilos (~5 lbs). It has a large orange to brown colored shell that is spiral-shaped and has a broad lip. The shell is typically encrusted with algae.The soft body has a head with a long snout, two tentacles and a small foot.

Distinct features: 1) the opening of the shell is lined with pink and/or orange; 2) the shell has spines on the outside, typically near the top; and 3) the eyestalks of the soft body have small yellow eyes.

Life History

It feeds on algae, grasses and organic debris. The Queen Conch grazes on the shallow sea floor using its radula, which is a little like a tongue.

It reaches sexual maturity at three years of age. Mating season is from March to November and internal fertilization takes place. The gestation period is unknown, although it is probably several weeks. Spawning occurs in the summer. Up to eight times per breeding season, a number of 300,000 to 700,000 eggs produced in long gel-like masses. The eggs hatch after five days, and spend up to 40 days in the larvae stage before settling on the sea floor to grow. The life expectancy of this species is 20 to 30 years, with a maximum of up to 40 years.

Habitat: They live in warm shallow waters, notably in shallow sandy areas, mangroves and seagrass beds. Small numbers are found in coral reefs.

Distribution: They can be found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, as far north as Bermuda and as far south as Brazil.

Local Research and Conservation Efforts

Marine Ordinances on all Dutch Caribbean islands now place strict regulations on the removal of queen conch to protect this endangered species. Some local conservation organizations are also taking action to restore depleted conch populations, such as STINAPA Bonaire’s Queen Conch Restoration Project in Lac Bay.
Find out more about this project here:

Did You Know?

  • The Queen Conch has played a central role in the history of the Dutch Caribbean islands. Its meat used to be an important food source, and its beautiful shell was valuable for the tourist trade.
  • Despite the best efforts from local Marine Parks, poaching is still a huge problem. Poachers tend to remove small, immature conch before they are able to breed, meaning that these slow-growing animals do not get the chance to rebuild their population.
  • Conch move forward by using their foot, leaping forward as best they can. This foot has a small operculum that looks like a claw and is used to defend themselves against predators; when seized, they use it to free themselves.

Related Pages:
Species in the Spotlight: Queen Conch
 
Sources: