Murex: Glories of the Sea

As a boy, I collected seashells. The first seashell I acquired was picked from the beach. By the time I found it, it was bleached to chalky white though its lovely form was still intact. It had an elongated body with bony spines of wrapped around it like a protective armour. Some spines were long and curved; others were short but pointy. Many of its spines were broken but I could imagine that in perfect condition, it wouldn’t look too different from the complete skeleton of a fish. After some research, I learned the name of my seashell: Murex Pecten, commonly known as the Venus Comb. More wonderful revelations followed; I learned that not all members of the Murex family are spiny like Murex Pecten, that some have fronds and varices like rose buds, while others have flared varices that resemble “wings”. Over the years, I bought a variety of seashells, including conches, cones, cowries, volutes and others. They are all wonderful in their unique shapes and colors. Murex have since had a special place in my collecting memory.

Here are photos of eight different Murex species in all their spiny and winged glories.

Pterynotus loebbeckei, Phillippines

Peter Dance (Rare Seashells, 1969) said that the shell of Pterynotus loebbeckei was “the loveliest, most exquisite natural object he has ever seen.” Adult size is from 35 mm to 80 mm in length. Larger shells have more prominent “wings” that have been compared to the petals of tropical flowers.

Murex Pecten (Venus Comb Murex)
The shell with a hundred spines (actually more), Murex Pecten is a common species found in the Indo-Pacific waters. However, perfect specimens are scarce due to the fragile long spines. The species grows to between 10 and 15 cm in length.

Siratus alabaster

A delicate white alabaster murex shell is a beauty to behold. This shell has paper thin webbed wings and are found in deep waters from Japan to the Philippines. They grow to between 10 and 13 cm.

Chicoreus Nobilis

A little shell of around 4 cm, this common shell is found in Cebu in the Philippines.

Chicoreus Axicornis

This shell with a slender curved shoulder spines is distributed widely from the Indian Ocean to the Philippines. The color ranges from whitish to reddish and dark brown. The shell reaches a length of between 3 and 9 cm.

Pterynotus miyokoae

This once rare shell is a favorite of shell aficiandos. The shell has a spectacular form with beautifully flared varices making up the “wings” and it often comes with a pleasing color. This 62 cm specimen was found tangled in nets at 200-300m off Balut Island, Philippines.

Murex Favartia Judithae

Barely one inch in length, “Judith’s Murex” makes up for its puny size with a highly spinose form and stunning color. This shell is a deep-water member of the Muricidae family. Its habitat is the Philippines.

Another view of Judith’s Murex

Murex Bednalli
Ranging from Kimberly, Western Australia to the Northern Territory, Bednalli is a highly attractive and uncommon shell popular with serious collectors. The Aboriginal Australians call it the “butterfly shell” because of its large wing-like varices. The shell’s coloration is quite variable, from white to orange, to dark brown and occasionally even pink. Typical shell length is between 60 and 70 mm.

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