digital murex

G. Thomas Watters

Division of Molluscs
Museum of Biological Diversity
Department of Evolution, Ecology,
and Organismal Biology
The Ohio State University

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LAST UPDATE - 2 March 2016


The Muricidae is a fairly speciose family of marine gastropods found in every ocean of the world, from the high intertidal zone to at least 1,856 m deep, from the arctic and antarctic to the equator. Many have spectacular shells, much sought after by collectors. Other species are used as food items. Some are serious pests of commercial oyster, clam, and mussel beds. A few have a fascinating history intertwined with the Greek city states and the Roman Empire (and before) and the Catholic Church.

Recent collections in relatively unstudied areas (such as New Caledonia, Somalia, Brasil) and tangle-netting in the Philippines have revealed an amazing bounty of new species, suggesting that we are nowhere near to closing the book on this group. 

Diagnosis: Small to large snails -- very few adult species are truly minute (< 5mm). Most are sculptured with axial and/or spiral ribs, often elaborately produced into spines, fronds, tubercles, etc. Many groups with prominent varices. Aperture with or without teeth or lirae; a labral tooth may be present. Some groups with hollow anal canals, either embedded within the varix or intervarical. Siphonal canal absent to greatly elongated. Chitinous operculum present, apex central to terminal.

The radular row consists of a central tooth flanked by a lateral tooth on each side. The central tooth usually has three (to 5) cusps; smaller intermediate cusps may be present as well. Laterals sickle-shaped.

All studied species are carnivores or scavengers. Many drill into the shells or tests of molluscs, corals, echinoderms, and barnacles using their radula. This boring action may be assisted by the accessory boring gland in the foot, which secretes a soup of acids and enzymes to break down the prey's shell. The hypobranchial gland may secrete a toxic chemical to relax prey as well. Some use a "tooth" on the outer lip of the shell to pry open prey. A few feed upon polychaete worms.

Sexes are separate and eggs are deposited in attached capsules. Development may be direct or involve a planktonic larval form.

Systematics: Current muricid classification is far from satisfactory and every worker has his or her own scheme. The classification used here borrows heavily from Vokes (1996) supplemented by the various works of Houart. I have chosen this route because only Vokes has considered the fossil taxa when framing her phylogenetic scheme. The status of the Ergalataxinae is very suspect. The Thaidinae is being studied by Kool and Vermeij, but as yet we have only tantalizing results. The Trophoninae is by far the least studied and its systematics reflect this. It is apparent that the type of Trophon itself is an ocenebrine, leaving all other species in the lurch. Like the Ergalataxinae, the Trophoninae is undoubtedly a polyphyletic/paraphyletic collection of understudied species.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a monograph of the Recent Muricidae. It does not include synonymies or precise ranges. If you cannot find a species name, it probably has been synonymized with something else. I have followed the synonymies (for the most part) of Vokes and Houart, so you will need to consult those sources or contact me. Likewise, the ranges given are approximations. Consult the references for more detailed information. 

I don't consider myself a complete idiot on the Muricidae (a  semi-idiot would cover it) so I have changed things where I see fit, based on my own observations. The point is -- I, and only I, am responsible for the material presented here. No other person, including those who helped, knowingly or unknowingly, or those whose references I've used, is in any way responsible for this web site. The Ohio State University is not responsible either. 

Digital Murex is a Work In Progress! Please notify me of errors, omissions, or misidentifications. Be sure to check back on a regular basis as new taxa and photos are added.

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