Physical Description


Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Source: Animal Diversity Web


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Evolution and Systematics



Alternative views on the classification of Cypraeidae range from uniting most of the species in the genus Cypraea (e.g. Ranson, 1967) to splitting in several subfamilies and dozens of genera (e.g. Schilder & Schilder, 1938 and subsequent papers) for less than 250 extant species). There is no doubt that the family has an old evolutionary history, dating back to the Jurassic, so that existing species are likely to show enough divergence so as to support some taxonomic splitting. The classification of Lorenz (2002) largely coincides with that of Meyer (2003) based on molecular data, so that it was the basis for the classification in subfamilies in Bouchet & Rocroi (2005). Subfamilies are here listed as alternate representation and the genera are direct child taxa of the family Cypraeidae.
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Source: World Register of Marine Species


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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:780
Specimens with Sequences:707
Specimens with Barcodes:693
Species With Barcodes:246
Public Records:691
Public Species:242
Public BINs:246
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Barcode data

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Cypraeidae, common name the cowries (singular: cowry), is a taxonomic family of small to large sea snails. These are marine gastropod mollusks in the superfamily Cypraeoidea, the cowries and cowry allies.

Shell description[edit]

Cypraeidae have adult shells which are very rounded, almost like an egg; they do not look like a typical gastropod shell. In virtually all of the species in the family Cypraeidae, the shells are extremely smooth and shiny. This is because in the living animal, the shell is nearly always fully covered with the mantle.

Typically, no spire is visible in the fully adult shell, and there is a long, narrow, aperture which is lined with "teeth."

Juvenile cowry shells are not at all similar to adult cowry shells. The juvenile shells of cowries perhaps more closely resemble the shells of some "bubble snails" in the order Cephalaspidea. Also the shells of juvenile cowries seldom exhibit the same color patterns as the adult shells do, and thus can be hard to identify to species.

Cowries have no operculum.


The very narrow toothed aperture of the cowry shell makes the adult shells difficult for many predators to reach into. However cowries are still vulnerable to predation:

  • Some mollusc-eating cones, such as Conus textile, can inject venom into the cowry's flesh. The cone then extends its stomach into the shell, through the aperature, to completely ingest the flesh.
  • Some octopuses can gouge a small hole (using a special barb/tooth and an acidic secretion) through the shell to inject a venom that kills the animal within.


For nearly 200 years, every species in the family Cypraeidae was placed in one genus, Cypraea, but in 2002 [1] the cowries were divided into many different genera.

2005 taxonomy[edit]

The family Cypraeidae belongs, together with the family Ovulidae, to the superfamily Cypraeoidea. This, in turn, is part of the clade Littorinimorpha which belongs within the clade Hypsogastropoda according to the taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi (2005).

The following six subfamilies have been recognized in the taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi (2005) but are treated as alternate representation of Cypraeidae in the World Register of Marine Species :

  • Cypraeinae Rafinesque, 1815
    • tribe Cypraeini Rafinesque, 1815 - synonym: Porcellanidae Roberts, 1870 (inv.)
    • tribe Mauritiini Steadman & Cotton, 1946
  • Erosariinae Schilder, 1924 - synonyms: Cypraeacitinae Schilder, 1930 (inv.); Nariinae Schilder, 1932; Staphylaeinae iredale, 1935
  • Erroneinae Schilder, 1927
    • tribe Erroneini Schilder, 1927 - synonym: Adustinae Steadman & Cotton, 1946
    • tribe Bistolidini C. Meyer, 2003
  • Gisortiinae Schilder, 1927 - synonyms: Archicypraeinae Schilder, 1930; Bernayinae Schilder, 1927; Cpraeorbini Schilder, 1927; Mandolininae Schilder, 1932; Umbiliini Schilder 1932; Zoilinae Iredale, 1935
  • Luriinae Schilder, 1932
    • tribe Luriini Schilder, 1932 - synonym: Talpariinae Iredale, 1935
    • tribe Austrocypraeini Iredale, 1935
  • Pustulariinae Gill, 1871
    • tribe Pustulariini Gill, 1871
    • tribe Cypraeovulini Schilder, 1927
    • tribe Zonariini Schilder, 1932


Genera within the family Cypraeidae include:

Apertural view of a shell of Nucleolaria granulata
  • Subfamily Pustulariinae Gill, 1871
    • Tribe Pustulariini Gill, 1871
Neobernaya spadicea
Notocypraea piperita
Eclogavena quadrimaculata thielei


For a list of Species in the taxonomic family Cypraeidae, see Cowries.


  1. ^ Lorenz F. 2002. New Worldwide Cowries. Descriptions of new taxa and revisions of selected groups of living Cypraeidae (Mollusca: Gastropoda). Schriften zur Malakozoologie aus dem Haus der Natur-Cismar 20: 1-292, pl. 1-40
  2. ^ a b c d e f Meyer C. P. (2003) "Molecular systematics of cowries (Gastropoda: Cypraeidae) and diversification patterns in the tropics". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 79(3): 401–459. doi:10.1046/j.1095-8312.2003.00197.x

Further reading[edit]

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