02 June 2009

Singapore ovulids and "The Living Ovulidae"

Today I got a pleasant surprise in the snail mail: a humungous snail book!
Written by Felix Lorenz and Dirk Fehse, "The Living Ovulidae: A Manual of the Families of Allied Cowries: Ovulidae, Pediculariidae and Eocypraeidae" is a fabulous work of art and science! And Dr Felix has not only kindly included some Singapore ovulids in this massive work, but also sent me a copy of the 2kg book! I am quite stunned!

Ovulids belong to the Family Ovulidae. These snails are carnivorous and prey on sea fans, sea whips and soft corals. Each species specialises in a particular prey and they usually mimic their prey perfectly.
Ovulid snail
A living ovulid covers its shell, which is usually plain and unmarked, with its body mantle. The mantle usually has the same colour and texture as the animal that it eats!

Ovulids are also called false cowries because they resemble cowries in their habit of covering their shells with their body mantle. Also, some of them are round and fat and look like cowries. Those with shells that taper at the tips are also called spindle cowries.
The book has lots of pages of the empty shells. Which are not as colourful as photos of the living snails, but are very useful in highlighting the features that help us identify these animals.

There was one page with some ovulid photos from Singapore shared by John Wei Peng.
These look like the snails we often see on our seafans on the East Coast and Changi.

And another page with some of my photos of ovulids.
Both this Spotted spindle cowrie and a spindle cowrie with a reticulated pattern and an orange shell, both of which I saw only once at Beting Bronok and never again.

It is hard to identify any animal with certainty from a photo. Most scientists require a specimen to be sure as they need to look at tiny features or even do dissections of the animal.

The book also has lots of awesome photos of ovulids. Some illustrate just how well these snails blend into their host and prey.
Others are just amazingly textured. The ones with the bumps are from the New World so I don't know if we have them.

There were also photos of false cowries that eat leathery soft corals. We have lots of leathery soft corals on our shores, but though I have looked, I have yet to find one of these snails.
Then there are the pretty spotted ones that look like the ovulids we see on our flowery soft corals.

WOW! Who knows how many of these amazing animals are on our shores but have yet to be observed. Makes me want to out right now and look for them!

Thank you Dr Felix for including our snails in your fabulous work. And for sending me a copy of the book. I shall always treasure it.

Visit Dr Felix's website for more about ovulids and a preview of the book.

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