Fun Cowrie Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Jan 03, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta
Cowrie facts are fascinating to read.

Cowries are seashells of the Cypraea family.

These intricately designed creatures are found in the Indian Ocean, the Maldaice Islands, Sri Lanka, and along the coastlines of Africa. This family comprises of some 200 species of cowries.

Some of these spices are tiger cowrie shells (heavy and large spotted in black or brown hues), Atlantic deer cowrie (elongated large shell with white spots adorning the shell), mole cowrie (also known as Talaparia talpa are small shells of brown color with yellow bands), and humpback cowrie (also known as chocolate cowrie are small shells with a dark brown color and yellow spots across its shell.)

These small creatures date back to the dinosaur age. They have a hard but smooth surface, formed by the mantle which secretes calcium carbonate.

An animal lives inside this shell and covers the outer range of the shell with its body. This creature secretes pigments that form the colorful and beautiful patterns on the shell. It also serves the purpose of protecting itself against prey.

Cowries have an amazing history. It is not shocking to realize that these creatures attracted the attention of early human beings. History records show that these shells were used as currency in many parts of the world such as Africa, India, and China.

However, the problem with the use of cowrie shells as money was that it was not acceptable by Indian traders. An abundantly available material tends to lose its intrinsic value. These seashells were also used to make jewelry and ornaments.

Read on to know more about this interesting Crypreae life history, the use of cowrie shells currency, and its etymology.

If you found this article interesting, do consider reading up about king crab and horseshoe crab.

Cowrie Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a cowrie?

Cowries are ancient sea creatures found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. They are a group of snails.

What class of animal does a cowrie belong to?

Cowries belong to the Mollusca of the kingdom Animalia. Mollusks are animals without a backbone, also known as invertebrates.

How many cowries are there in the world?

Although the exact number is not available for cowrie, there used to be quite a large population in ancient times due to the fact that many of the cowrie species are broadcast spawners, spraying eggs in the hundreds. Now due to human intervention, the population has decreased to quite a certain extent.

Where do cowries live?

A cowrie is usually found in the tropical coral shores of the Indian and Pacific oceans, mainly from Africa to Hawaii. These shells are found in abundance in the Maldives, East Indie Islands, and Sri Lanka.

What is a cowrie's habitat?

Cowries usually find secluded coral shores in the marine to make their home. They typically live under rocks.

These mystical creatures prefer to live in coral reefs, preferably living under rocks and in hidden places of reefs. As they are nocturnal in nature, they crawl out at night from their shells to move or to prey on sponges and algae for food.

Who do cowries live with?

As they are born in a certain area of coral rocks and they tend to stay in the same place, cowries are usually found in packs in their habitat.

How long does a cowrie live?

The life span of cowrie seashells is dependent on their size. Smaller ones may live for two or three years, whereas, the larger ones may live up to 10 years.

How do they reproduce?

Their eggs change their color with time. While initially, the eggs are yellowish in color, later they become a darker brown or purple hue. In many instances, it has been observed that a female Cypraea incubates the eggs for some time before they hatch into larvae. The family Cypraeidae is mostly broadcast spawners and not batch spawners.

The litter size of cowrie shells depends on the species. For instance, Cypraea annulus or Moneta (money cowrie) lay a batch of just a few eggs and in other cases, cowries lay hundreds of eggs spraying them over a particular region of their habitat.

What is their conservation status?

Even though scientists have been claiming that the population is going extinct, the conservation status is still listed as Non Evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN Red List. The decrease in population is being caused by an increase in human interference.

Golden cowrie shells have almost vanished from our shores. Cypraea tigris, also known as tiger cowrie shell, are almost invisible. Both tiger cowrie shells and Cypraea arabica come under Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened animals of Singapore.

Cowrie Fun Facts

What do cowries look like?

Cowries look quite fascinating with their oblong-shaped shells with glossy round top and flat base and a full-length thin aperture. Most cowries have an egg shape.

The living beings are typically enveloped within their mantle and the mantle covers a cowrie shell as it develops. These flaps that cover the shell secrete different kinds of pigmentation which results in the color and patterns on Cypraea shells.

They are around 200 to 250 types of species present in the world. Almost every one has its own distinct size range, from 0.1-7.5 in (0.05-19 cm).

How cute are they?

The various size and colors with infinite patterns make cowrie snails quite beautiful and fascinating. People collect them for jewelry and ornaments, and to keep them in their aquarium as well.

How do they communicate?

Mollusks are known to communicate using sounds. However, it is unclear whether the same can be said about cowries.

How big is a cowrie?

Cowrie shell varies in size depending on the species.  They can be as small as a thumbnail or as large as a hand palm.

How fast can a cowrie move?

A cowrie snail usually stays inside its shell and only comes out to crawl, making them a very slow creature.

How much does a cowrie weigh?

As the size of a Cypraea is typically not very large, they have negligible weight. With bigger shells, this may vary.

What are the male and female names of the species?

There is no separate name for male and female shells.

What would you call a baby cowrie?

There is no name for a baby cowrie. In the early stages of growth, an egg cowrie hatches into larvae.

What do they eat?

Children of marine cowrie shells usually eat soft corals and anemones. Adult shells prey and eat detritus and algae. Each cowrie has a special radula that is adapted to their specific prey. They also use their tentacles and siphon that can be found in their mantle to look around for food and water.

Are they eaten by humans?

They are collected by local fishermen to then eat but it is not a common practice as it makes people feel nauseous.

Would they make a good pet?

As they have glossy patterned shells, which are quite alluring, cowrie shells can make an excellent addition to the aquarium. As they eat algae and sponges, they should be kept in a reef aquarium.

Did you know...

The word 'cowrie' means 'the value of something' and it can be traced back to Hindi and to Sanskrit. This word has been transformed from the word, 'kauri'.

In ancient times, cowries represented power and status. Fiji rulers valued them immensely. Therefore today, a golden cowrie shell is priced highly by collectors.

Also, these shells have certain spiritual values. In African communities, it was believed that these cowries represent goddess protection.

Shells of tiger cowrie and its related panther cowrie were found in Popei at an excavation site.

When are cowries most active?

Cypraea shells are nocturnal in nature. They hide away in their rocks and crevices of their habitat in the daytime and come out for food and for movement at night.

How do cowries protect themselves against predators?

As the living beings live inside the hard shell which has a narrow-toothed slit, it's difficult for predators to reach inside. Cowrie mostly has a slippery shell which also makes it quite arduous for predators to grip. As they only come out at night, it is easier for them to stay safe from predators.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other arthropods including green crab, or hermit crab.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our conch shell coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Deeti Gupta picture

Deeti GuptaBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

A detail-oriented fact-checker with a research-oriented approach. Devika has a passion for creative writing, she has been published on multiple digital publishing platforms and editorials before joining the Kidadl team. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from St.Xavier's College, Deeti has won several accolades and writing competitions throughout her academic career.

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