Author : Touitou David

 

I have been collected Martinique cowries since 7 months now. Of course Caribbean Sea is not THE spot to look out for this family. The Cypraeidae family is very poorly represented there. We can find only main four species :

- the very common Cypraea cinerea (Gemlin, 1791) (Now splited in several sp. and ssp. like "brasilensis")
- the common Cypraea acicularis (Gemlin, 1791)
- the very uncomon Cypraea zebra (Linné, 1758)
- the very rare Cypraea surinamensis (Perry, 1811)

The Cypraea acicularis is a very nice cowrie. It's deep yellow to brown coloration makes it a very nice shell to look at. This specie is very close to it's Mediterranean Sea cousin : the Cypraea spurca. Of course there are some diffenrences.



Picture 01 : Cream color of the base
The biggest difference, from my field experience, it the base color wich is cream with the Cypraea spurca and white with the Cypraea acicularis.

I must admit that we can find intergrades, I have a few specimens with also cream base (see the picture beside).

The dorsum can be really the same between the two species, even if the Cypraea spurca cannot get the very light yellow color of the Cypraea acicularis.

Picture 02 : Set of 3 different coloration specimens
This is a small cowrie commnly around 15 to 30 mm. It is found from surface, but also to 30 m deep and more. The dorsum can be the field of many variations.
The general color of it starts from clear yellow to dark brown/orange (look at picture 02).

Picture 03 : The left one is half-ocellated, the middle one is fully ocellated and the right one is not at all.
There are also many variations concerning the dorsum spots. These spots, can become really ocellated spots (picture 03).


In some places, the Cypraea acicularis can be very dark and become a really amazing cowrie. In this case, the spots (ocellated or not), are really easy to distinguish and make this cowrie become really beautifull and less common
that the ones usually found or sold (picture 04 & 05).


Picture 04 : Set of 3 amazing dark specimens    


Picture 05 : more usual clear yellowish color    


I have a specimen with uncommon look. The ocellated spots are really nice and the appearance
of the shell make me think about my Cypraea ocellata from south India.


Picture 06 : Amazing specimen with very clear spots, looking like some Cypraea ocellata

But maybe the biggest variation is the specimens I found in North Caribbean Sea. They
have a big dark blotch on a side of the shell. (Picture 07 & 08). Those 2 specimens were found
beached in 3-4 meters deep. The biggest one have a cream Cypraea spurca-like base (more difficult to
observe on the smallest ones). The spot is made of a deep dark red-orange coloration. The dorsum color of those 2 specimens is darker than usual too.


 
Picture 07 & 08 : A surprising one-bloched variation    


Here are some more pictures of other specimens :



Picture 09 : The left specimen has many spots but not at all ocellated,
the right one as a cream base wich can be easily seen even from dorsum view.



Picture 10 : The left one have the mantle line easy to spot,
wich is rarely seen in fact. The right one is a very pale colored one.