One of the world’s biggest sea snails at risk of extinction
A century of unregulated harvesting for its gigantic shell has left the horse conch far more vulnerable than scientists realized.
Horse conchs, the flashy marine snails that inhabit Florida’s colossal state seashell, live shorter lives and reproduce later than previously understood, according to new research that warns the Gulf of Mexico population could be nearing collapse.
Spindle-shaped shells that can grow to more than a foot and red-orange bodies bright as traffic cones make horse conchs some of the most eye-catching species on the beaches of the southeastern United States. They were once even bigger: Historic Florida photographs show tourists lugging horse conch shells half the length of a small child. Those sizes aren’t seen anymore, prompting researchers to ask why.
Scientists used sclerochronology—the shell version of dendrochronology, or tree-ring science—to investigate the lifespans of the animals whose