The “Queen Conch” (Strombus gigas) — also known as the “Pink Conch” — is a mollusk with a much-coveted shell and fascinating life history! Native to Southeastern Florida, The Bahamas, Caribbean and Bermuda, they are believed to live as long as 20-30 years.
It may take a Queen Conch up to 5 years to reach sexual maturity. Adults mate in large clusters from February through October, when the females deposit egg masses containing hundreds of thousands of eggs!
After a few days, the eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae… a month or two later, the larvae sink to the ocean floor. During their first year of life, young conch burrow into the sand by day and come out to graze at night.
Slowly growing and thickening their spiral shells, adult conchs can reach 7 to 12 inches in length (18-30 cm). One way to estimate a conch’s age is by measuring the thickness of the lip of its shell.
As slow-moving herbivores, conchs can be found grazing on algae in sand or rubble patches, often near seagrass beds. Typically inhabiting water only 5-15 feet (1.5 – 5 meters) deep, they are easily collected by human harvesters.
Human collection of these animals (for their tasty meat, and beautiful shell) has severely depleted the species in some areas. For example, in Florida, both commercial and recreational fishing of conch has been banned since the 1980’s. On a small scale, conch remains a staple food in The Bahamas where it’s fried, marinated, grilled, baked into all sorts of delicious local fare.
Besides offering an important food source to people — conch predators include sea turtles, nurse sharks, eagle rays and spiny lobsters. When disturbed, the animal pulls itself into its shell and defends its opening with a hard plate called an operculum.
While many people comb beaches and nearshore waters for empty conch shell souvenirs, you can also look for live conchs leaving trails on the sandy sea floor while you are snorkeling.
Check out the Bahamas National Trust’s “Conchservation Campaign” to learn more about efforts to ensure the long term health of this important cultural treasure.