Venemous harpoon of a marine snail (Profundiconus neocaledonicus
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Venemous harpoon of a marine snail (Profundiconus neocaledonicus)

Profundiconus neocaledonicus

Magnification: 329:1

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Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph showing the a Conus snail harpoon (Profundiconus neocaledonicus), by Martin Oeggerli.

Cone snails are marine species that have shells shaped like geometric cones, often with colorful patterning on the surface. All cone snails are venomous. The most dangerous species are the larger cones, which prey on small bottom-dwelling fish, while smaller species prefer to hunt marine worms. Cone snails haunt using a hypodermic needle-like modified radula tooth to attack and paralyze their prey before engulfing it. The tooth, or harpoon, is primarily made of chitin and barbed, similar to a harpoon. The diet of Profundiconus is unknown. Presumed vermivorous. However, there are reports of finding the beak of an small octopus in the gut of a specimen of Profundiconus smirnoides. Also, the radular morphology of Pygmaeconus resembles very much that of Californiconus californicus, a species known to be a generalist feeder, preying on worms, molluscs, fishes and even shrimps. However, the relationship between the diet and the radular morphology might not be so straightforward as initially expected.

Cone snail venoms are mainly peptides, containing hundreds of compounds with different and specific (!) effects. The exact composition of the venom varies widely between species. Cone snail venoms have been propelled into the focus of scientific research as a source of new, medically important substances. The appeal for creating pharmaceutical drugs is the precision and speed with which the various components act; many of the compounds target a particular class of receptor, to the exclusion of any other. This means that, in isolation, they can reliably and quickly produce a particular effect on the body’s systems without side effects. How the substances are applied in pharmacology remeins to be determined.