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East African Cowrie Seashell Is #1 On All Collectors’ Lists

East African Cowrie Seashell

It Is Not A Cowrie To Be Had By Combing The Beaches!

The East African cowrie seashell may not be the rarest, but it is one the rarest of this region and it is number one on collectors’ lists.

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There are many marine places in the world where collectors find a great number of seashells.

However, the cowries are considered to be the “Aristocrats” of all seashell specimen.

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Many shell enthusiasts collect all groups or families of shells; others concentrate on certain families such as the Cypraeidae, more commonly called Cowries.

Cowries are considered to be the “aristocrats” of all shells, for in their natural state they are found with a high glossy polish and need no human means of bringing forth their beauty.

The east coast of Africa offers over 45 species of cowries for collectors who know where and when to search.

The south-east coast from Mozambique to the Cape offers a large number of these, among them some of the rarest.

As many of the East African cowries are quite common over the whole of the Indian Ocean, east to Australia, and north into the Pacific Ocean, you will also find cowries considered rare or semi-rare.

How To Find Rare Cowrie Shells?

It is a deep water shell, usually obtained by dredging or trawling.

The collector who is acquainted with fishermen or with people working in the canneries should have a better opportunity of obtaining this species, if he is not already equipped with a boat for dredging or trawling.

If fishermen would only realize it, the value of this shell is greater than the fish within which it is found!

Bernaya fultoni is easy to identify for it is among the larger cowries, the average size being from 55mm to 70mm in length and 35mm to 40mm in width and height.

It can be called pear-shaped with the top being quite humped.

The top markings are irregular and scattered on a reddish-brown or chestnut color on a light background.

The side markings become a series of large dark spots, which carry part way over on the base, which is white.

The teeth on both lips are coarse and red in colour.

To the beginner or unobserving collector, this shell may be and has been mistaken for the more common Cypraeovula capensis.

See the source image
Common Cowrie Shells

However, its average size is 24 to 27mm which is 3 or 4 mm shorter than capensis in length.

The top is smooth whereas the ribs or ridges and grooves continue over the top from side to side.

The sides are spotted on some shells, and some so densely that they are almost a solid dark pattern or have a wide line along the full length of the shell.

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Where To Find The East African Cowrie Seashell?

I presume it to be a deep water shell and dead specimens are washed ashore by storms.

This shell is not to be confused with the common Cypraeovula fuscodentata.

Yet, most most collectors are familiar with the rarest little East African cowrie seashell.

Africa also offers many other rare cowries on its northern coast.

There are also several on the west coast rated from common to rare, but there seem to be few collectors around Cape Verde where they occur.

Consequently, there are few of these in collections.

Collectors searching for cowries will be wise to confine their hunting to rocky shores and coral reefs.

Many cowries prefer to remain under rocks and are inclined to avoid sandy beaches for the grains of sand get under the mantle and cause irritation.

However, a few in the Phillippines do bury themselves in coarse sand, like members of the olive family.

With the latest improvements in the aqua-lung, skin divers are able to go to greater depths (over 100 feet).

Therefore, many cowries are now being collected from reefs and rocky bottoms that before were not obtainable except as dead specimens washed ashore.

Curing And Cleaning Of East African Cowrie Seashells

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the curing and cleaning of cowries, it is well to know that these shells can be ruined by improper cleaning methods.

When in doubt about curing and cleaning shells, DON’T CLEAN OR BOIL THEM.

The BEST method to clean an East African cowrie seashell is to place the shells in cold water and let the meat decay.

The water should be changed every 48 hours for a week or ten days.

In all cases, a small knife and bent wire are handy tools for removing the animal.

To make a collection more interesting and of greater value, always include:

  • Label of specimen as to locality
  • Date found
  • Name of the collector

Other information may be written on the label, but these three
items are essential.

In the event of sale, other collectors will request exact data with specimens.

Some families of shells are seldom found alive, but whenever possible it is better to collect live specimens.

Dead shells have little value unless very rare.

Experienced collectors avoid specimens, which have been dipped in varnish or lacquer to make them shine or look pretty.

Cowries have a natural polish and do not need any help from mankind to make them look beautiful.

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How to identify an East African cowrie seashells

Contributed By Lloyd E. Berry