Jan 112010
photo provided courtesy of Cybersamx on Flickr Creative CommonsNumber of Species – over 40
HomeTemperate and Tropical waters worldwide
Habitatshallow coastal waters
Nichepredatory mollusk
Favorite Foodother mollusks, barnacles
Notable Featuresspiny shells protect from predators, acid secretions help to dissolve the shells of prey

Members of the family that includes snails and slugs, Murexes are predatory mollusks, preferring shallow, rocky waters worldwide. They prey on other shelled creatures of their coastal habitat, including barnacles, clams, and snails. Instantly recognizable by their long, spiny shells that are prized by beach collectors, they are well-protected against most predators.

When a murex has found suitable prey, it runs into the immediate problem of how to get past the formidable shell barrier standing between it and the fleshy meal beneath. Ever marvels, murexes have devised a way to penetrate this shield. After it fixes its muscular foot firmly to a victim’s shell using powerful suction, a murex will then secret powerful acid. Using a combination of the erosive acid and a rasping, spiny tongue called a radula, the predator can break through the toughest shells and reach the soft tissue underneath. After it has broken through, a murex will then feast, rasping away flesh with its radula and ultimately killing its victim.

Many species of murex have been central to history. In ancient times they were cultivated by the Phoenicians, a seafaring people in the Middle East. Certain murex species contain a special, dark secretion that was harvested and processed into brilliant purple dye by these people. Because the dye was so rare (each murex contains only a drop) and the process of extraction so labor-intensive, bright purple was considered kingly, only to be worn by royalty in special ceremony.

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