National Trust Purbeck Wildlife

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Small is Beautiful

cowrie1aMonstrous, ‘big as a dustbin lid’, barrel jellyfish may be taking centre stage, but for me, the star of the seashore show is the tiny, but very lovely, cowrie. These lemon-shaped, finely ridged sea snails grow to a length of only one centimetre though some tropical cowries can reach 15 centimetres.
When active, the brightly coloured mantle (the outer wall of a mollusc’s body) wraps around the shell so that it is almost totally covered. Their target is sea squirts, as cowries both eat them and lay their eggs inside them.
Two species occur around the UK, the European cowrie, with three dark spots on the shell, and the plain Arctic cowrie. Look for their empty shells along the strandline in patches of coarse gravel.