Archerd Shell Collection > Shell Classes > Gastropoda > Cypraeidae

Family: Cypraeidae (Cowries)

The family Cypraeidae has about 200 living species. The basic shape of the shell is the same in all species. Long prized by primitive people for their shape and attractive colors, they were widely used for money in ancient times. While cowries are abundant in the tropics, some species are now quite rare and get a very high price from collectors.
A very deep coating of enamel on the outer surface gives the the shell a brilliantly polished appearance, naturally. In life, two lobes of the cowrie's mantle extend out and over the dorsal surface of the shell, meeting at midline, and they continually deposit enamel while protecting the shell from abrasion. Interestingly, the mantle has a totally different color and pattern than the shell. If startled or touched the cowrie can suddenly change colors by withdrawing its mantle completely inside the shell, thus confusing a predator.
Although the shell seems to be bilaterally symmetrical, the newest whorl completely covers the previous whorls. Well developed teeth are found on both sides of the lengthwise aperture slit. Cowries are nocturnal and feed on algae around coral reefs.
False cowries of the Ovulidae family are members of the same superfamily, as the Cypraeidae. They usually have smaller shells but otherwise resemble the Cypraeidae and share similar mantle protective habits.

Class: Gastropoda
Clade: Littorinimorpha
Superfamily: Cypraeoidea
Family: Cypraeidae
Major Genera
  • Genus: Cypraea
  • Genus: Jenneri

Cypraea tigris (Linnaeus, 1758)
Tiger Cowrie  

Cypraea tigris (Linnaeus, 1758)
Tiger Cowrie
(an underwater picture of the
live mollusc, courtesy of
Barry Wilson)


Cypraea iutsui iutsui
(Shikama, 1974)
Algoa Bay Cowries (Africa)



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Archerd Shell Collection > Shell Classes > Gastropods > Cowries