The Australian Trumpet (Syrinx aruanus) is the biggest snail in the world, possibly the biggest snail in the history of life on Earth. It is the size and weight of a small child. It is also a highly specialized predator. But to get to that specialized predation, we’re taking a little journey through the interesting habits of bottlenose dolphins, a case of mistaken identity and a remarkable human culture that had some highly distinctive ritual practices …
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Read on for photos, video and links that expand on the world of Shark Bay’s dolphins, the Torres Strait Islanders and, of course, the biggest snail on Earth …
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the kind of dolphins I’m talking about in this episode, because … dolphins!:
A rather nice line drawing of an Australian Trumpet shell:
And since I talk in the episode a lot about sound, here’s … well, judge for yourself whether this is awesome or just a bit weird. It also connects to the misidentification theme of the episode: as happens not infrequently around the internet, this is identified as a ‘conch’ shell. It’s not. It’s a Syrinx shell, and a pretty big one at that:
Not as big as this one, though. The largest Syrinx aruanus shell, and therefore possibly the largest snail shell, ever recorded, at – supposedly – 91 cm (~3ft):
Photo from Hawaiian Shell News 1982 No. 7. (via Deep Sea News).
Just imagine, for a second, the size of the animal – the snail – that inhabited that amazing shell. I would love to be able to insert a decent photo of a living Syrinx in here, but good luck finding one of them around the internet. If anyone can, let me know!
On to various research papers and bits of further reading … More than most Wild Episodes, this installment is based on a handful of specific scientific papers. Three, in fact, and here they all are:
On conching dolphins: PDF Link (i.e. the PDF will load if you click it!) – Allen, S J; Bejder, L; Krützen, M (2011). Why do Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) carry conch shells (Turbinella sp.) in Shark Bay, Western Australia? Marine Mammal Science, 27(2):449-454.
On Bu shells in the Torres Strait Islands: (note, brief summary only at the other end of this link, but it’ll let you access the PDF if you want to) – David, Crouch & Zoppi (2005), Historicizing the Spiritual: Bu Shell Arrangements on the Island of Badu, Torres Strait, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 15(01), 2005.
On Syrinx‘s predatory behaviour: Taylor & Glover (2003), Food of giants – field observations on the diet of Syrinx aruanus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Turbinellidae) the largest living gastropod, in F. E. Wells, D. I. Walker and D. S. Jones (eds.) 2003. The Marine Flora and Fauna of Dampier, Western Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth.