Australian Trumpet

The shell of a (deceased) Australian Trumpet.

One of the more eye-catching exhibits at the Secret Cities of the Sea exhibition at the Natural History Museum was this shell of the Australian Trumpet or Syrinx Aruanus. This spectacular shell belongs to the largest shelled mollusc in the world, and one of the biggest gastropods, extinct animals not included. Measuring in at around 90cm at its largest length and nearly 20kg in weight this monster is known mainly for its tremendous size and is often hunted both for the amazing shell and the flesh, which is edible and used for food and fish bait. The shell is typically a faded yellow colour, but on a living specimen a thin skin will cover the majority of the shell, making it look more of a brown muddy colour, much in the same way that land snails have greyish shells while alive, but empty shells soon become a magnolia colour. The proboscis, a sucking mouthpiece used by many invertebrate predators to drain fluids from their prey, is a full inch long and is used to catch its extremely large food.

Living, as the Trumpet’s name suggests, in the northern parts of Australia and areas above it such as southern Indonesia and much of Oceania, it is fairly common along the sandy sea bottom around 20-30m underwater. In some areas it is fished heavily and far less common, but generally it is a common animal and not unusual to see while diving. Using its large proboscis the Trumpet reaches under sandy banks and into rocky crevasse in search of gigantic tubular worms that can measure over a metre long, making the perfect enormous meal for another enormous predator. It will suck up its prey whole through its mouthpiece, rather than rasping against its food like non-predatory snails that we are used to in Britain.

This is a very interesting snail, and if I get the chance to go diving in the waters of Oceania (which would be truly amazing) I hope that I will have a chance to see this behemoth in the flesh.

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