Carnelian cowry Lyncina carneola, copyright uwkwaj.

Belongs within: Cypraeidae.

Moles, tortoises, calves and cowries
Published 28 September 2019

The cowries of the family Cypraeidae are one of the most readily recognisable groups of tropical and subtropical shells. Their distinctive shape (with no spire and a long narrow aperture running the length of the shell) and highly polished appearance are guaranteed to catch the eye (to the extent that one species, the money cowry Monetaria moneta, famously has a history of being used as a form of currency in many regions around the Indian Ocean). Though there are a large number of cowry species found around the world, they tend to be similar enough to each other that, until relatively recently, many authors would place all within a single genus Cypraea. This approach has fallen out of fashion in more recent years and, indeed, the current favoured approach divides the family between several subfamilies. One such subgroup is the subfamily Luriinae.

Live mole cowry Talparia talpa, copyright Juuyoh Tanaka.

In a phylogenetic analysis of the cowries, Meyer (2003) recognised the Luriinae as including two tribes, the Luriini and Austrocypraeini. This concept of Luriinae was essentially based on molecular phylogenetic analysis though it was also corroborated by radular morphology (with a reduced shaft on all teeth). The underside of the shell in luriines is mostly smooth with the ‘teeth’ being restricted to alongside the aperture. As in other cowries, the mantle is widely extended and mostly covers the shell in life (this is how cowry shells stay so shiny). In most luriines, the mantle is covered by warty papillae. In species of the genus Luria these warts are obsolete (Schilder 1939) but they are particularly prominent in the Indo-west Pacific mole cowry Talparia talpa. Members of the Luriinae vary greatly in size: the Pacific Annepona mariae is only a centimetre or two in length but the tortoise cowry Chelycypraea testudinaria of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans grows to ten centimetres or more. Species of Luriini have shells that are banded in coloration, with three or four broad dark bands divided by narrower light bands. The Austrocypraeini are most commonly marked with brown speckles or blotches on a pale background; these blotches may be irregular as in Chelycypraea testudinaria or more regularly rounded as in Annepona mariae. The calf cowry Lyncina vitellus of the Indo-Pacific is marked with white spots on a brown background, and some species or forms of Austrocypraeini may have coloration patterns more like the banded arrangement of Luriini.

Lynx cowry Lyncina lynx, copyright Patrick Randall.

My impression is that species of Luriinae tend to be mostly nocturnal, sheltering in crevices in coral reefs during the day before emerging to feed at dusk (the name of the aforementioned mole cowry is, I suspect, more likely to refer to its appearance in some way than to any actual burrowing habit). Though I haven’t (though a cursory search, at least) found any reference to species of Luriinae in particular being endangered, a number of cowries in general have been threatened by overcollecting for their shells. Certainly, luriines would be subject to the broad range of threats that currently hang over coral reefs and their inhabitants anywhere in the world.

Systematics of Luriinae
    |    |--Talparia Troschel 1863 [Talpariinae, Talpariini]BR05
    |    |    |--*T. talpa (Linnaeus 1758) [=Cypraea talpa]BR17
    |    |    |--T. cinerea (Gmelin 1791)K96
    |    |    `--T. exusta (Sowerby 1832) [=Cypraea exusta]W93
    |    `--Luria Jousseaume 1884BR05 [incl. Basilitrona Iredale 1930W93]
    |         |--*L. lurida (Linnaeus 1758)BR17, M03 [=Cypraea luridaBR17]
    |         `--+--+--L. cinerea (Gmelin 1791)M03
    |            |  `--L. pulchra Gray 1824M03
    |            `--+--L. tessellata Swainson 1822M03
    |               `--+--L. isabella Linnaeus 1758M03 (see below for synonymy)
    |                  `--L. isabellamexicana Stearns 1893M03
    `--Austrocypraeini [Austrocypraeinae]BR05
         |--+--Trona stercoraria Linnaeus 1758M03
         |  `--Annepona mariae Schilder 1927M03
         `--+--Chelycypraea Schilder 1827M03, W93
            |    `--*C. testudinaria (Linnaeus 1758) [=Cypraea testudinaria]W93
            `--Lyncina Troschel 1863M03, W93 [incl. Mystaponda Iredale 1930W93, Ponda Jousseaume 1884W93]
                 |  i. s.: *Ponda’ achatinaW93
                 |--L. (Arestorides Iredale 1930)M03, W93
                 |    `--L. (*A.) argus Linnaeus 1758M03, W93, M03 [=Cypraea argusW93]
                 |--+--L. (Austrocypraea Cossmann 1903)M03, BR05 [incl. Prolyncina Schilder 1927W93]
                 |  |    |--‘Cypraea’ contusa McCoy 1877 [=*Austrocypraea contusa]BR17
                 |  |    `--L. (A.) reevei Sowerby 1832M03 [=Cypraea (A.) reeveiWG71, *Prolyncina reeveiW93]
                 |  `--L. (Miolyncina)M03
                 |       |--L. (M.) joycae (Clover 1970)M03, W93
                 |       `--L. (M.) porteri Cate 1966M03 [=Cypraea porteriW93]
                 `--+--L. (Callistocypraea Schilder 1927)M03, W93
                    |    |  i. s.: ‘Cypraea’ (C.) aubryana Jousseaume 1869EO65
                    |    |         L. (C.) broderipiiM03
                    |    |--L. (C.) nivosa Broderip 1827M03
                    |    `--+--L. (*C.) aurantium Gmelin 1791M03, W93, M03
                    |       `--L. (C.) leucodon Broderip 1827M03
                    `--L. (Lyncina)M03
                         |  i. s.: L. (L.) camelopardalisM03
                         |         L. (L.) kuroharaiM03
                         |--+--*L. (L.) lynx (Linnaeus 1758)W93, M03 [=Cypraea lynxW93, C. (Luponia) lynxG79]
                         |  |    |--L. l. lynxWG71
                         |  |    |--‘Cypraea’ l. caledonica Crosse 1869WG71
                         |  |    `--‘Cypraea’ l. vanelli Linnaeus 1758WG71
                         |  `--L. (L.) vitellus Linnaeus 1758M03 (see below for synonymy)
                         |--+--L. (L.) schilderorum Iredale 1939M03
                         |  `--L. (L.) sulcidentata Gray 1824M03
                         `--+--L. (L.) ventriculus Lamarck 1810M03
                            `--+--L. (L.) leviathan Schilder & Schilder 1937 [incl. L. bouteti]M03
                               |    |--L. l. leviathanBC01
                               |    `--L. l. titan Schilder & Schilder 1962 (see below for synonymy)BC01
                               `--+--L. (L.) carneola Linnaeus 1758M03 [=Cypraea carneolaW93, Ponda carneolaSP72]
                                  |    |--L. c. carneolaWG71
                                  |    `--‘Cypraea’ c. thepalea Iredale 1939WG71
                                  `--L. (L.) propinqua Garrett 1879M03

Luria isabella Linnaeus 1758M03 [=Cypraea isabellaW93, *Basilitrona isabellaW93; incl. C. isabella lekalekana Ladd 1934W93, C. isabella rumphii Schilder & Schilder 1938W93]

Lyncina (Lyncina) leviathan titan Schilder & Schilder 1962 [incl. Cypraea (Lyncina) leviathan gedlingae Cate 1968]BC01

Lyncina (Lyncina) vitellus Linnaeus 1758M03 [=Cypraea vitellusW93, C. (Luponia) vitellusG79, *Mystaponda vitellusW93; incl. M. orcina Iredale 1931W93, Cypraea vitellus orcinaWG71]

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BR05] Bouchet, P., & J.-P. Rocroi. 2005. Classification and nomenclator of gastropod families. Malacologia 47 (1–2): 1–397.

[BR17] Bouchet, P., J.-P. Rocroi, B. Hausdorf, A. Kaim, Y. Kano, A. Nützel, P. Parkhaev, M. Schrödl & E. E. Strong. 2017. Revised classification, nomenclator and typification of gastropod and monoplacophoran families. Malacologia 61 (1–2): 1–526.

[BC01] Boyko, C. B., & J. R. Cordeiro. 2001. Catalog of Recent type specimens in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History. V. Mollusca, part 2 (class Gastropoda [exclusive of Opisthobranchia and Pulmonata], with supplements to Gastropoda [Opisthobranchia], and Bivalvia). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 262: 1–170.

[EO65] Emerson, W. K., & W. E. Old Jr. 1965. New records for Cypraea surinamensis. Nautilus 79 (1): 26–30.

[G79] Garrett, A. 1879. Annotated catalogue of the species of Cypraeidae collected in the S. Sea islands. Journal of Conchology 2: 105–128.

[K96] Kay, E. A. 1996. Evolutionary radiations in the Cypraeidae. In: Taylor, J. D. (ed.) Origin and Evolutionary Radiation of the Mollusca pp. 211–220. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[M03] Meyer, C. P. 2003. Molecular systematics of cowries (Gastropoda: Cypraeidae) and diversification patterns in the tropics. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 79: 401–459.

Schilder, F. A. 1939. Die Genera der Cypraeacea. Archiv für Molluskenkunde 71 (5–6): 165–201.

[SP72] Smythe, K. R., & W. W. A. Phillips. 1972. Some observations on the fauna of the Maldive Islands (Indian Ocean) part VIII. Marine shells. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 69 (2): 290–296.

[W93] Wilson, B. 1993. Australian Marine Shells vol. 1. Prosobranch Gastropods. Part One. Odyssey Publishing: Kallaroo (Western Australia).

[WG71] Wilson, B. R., & K. Gillett. 1971. Australian Shells: illustrating and describing 600 species of marine gastropods found in Australian waters. A. H. & A. W. Reed: Sydney.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *