Dorsal view of Ram's Murex Chicoreus virgineus

Dorsal view of Ram’s Murex Chicoreus virgineus

Curio shops in coastal tourist destinations are never in short supply of the Ram’s Murex/ Ramose Murex, an astounding hit among visitors. Scientifically called as Chicoreus ramosus, this shell is a gastropod under phylum Mollusca which includes snails, slugs, clams, oysters, scallops, chitons, octopods, cuttlefish and squids.

The shell is heavy, solid and large with plenty of spinuous ornamentation. Smaller snails have numerous short spines growing closely together while the larger ones have longer, pointed spines. Ram’s Murex can grow up to 35 cms. External colouration is white or sometimes brown. The outer lip and columella are pink making it a visual treat. The numerous horn-like branching adds to its beauty, making this shell a collector’s pride.

Ventral view of Ram's Murex Chicoreus ramosus

Ventral view of Ram’s Murex Chicoreus ramosus

Ram’s Murex is found in plenty in the Indo-Pacific and Red sea. Skin divers collect them from depths of 5 – 10 meters when pearl fishing ceased in the Gulf of Mannar region. Once trawlers were introduced, these shells landed in large quantities as by-catch in trawl nets. Ram’s Murex also lands as by-catch from bottom set gill nets. These marine snails are carnivorous, feeding on bivalves by drilling a hole with the aid of their proboscis. Their habitat includes coral and rocky reefs, sand, rubbles and is often spotted by divers hidden among rocks.

In the Southern States of India, especially in Tamil Nadu, meat from Ram’s Murex is sold in the local market. First the operculum (technically defined as – A lid or flap covering an aperture, such as the gill cover in some fishes or the horny shell cover in snails or other molluscs) is removedwith the help of a specially made, indigenous bent knife-like tool. The meat is then sliced into thin chips and sun-dried by the coastal fisher folk. Small time vendors collect the dried product and bring it to the local market. It is fried in oil and often consumed as wafer with rice. The shell is then separately cleaned in shell shops by acid wash and polished. Cleaned shells are used to make lamp shades, pen stands or sold as whole shells.

Another interesting fact is that the operculum is an important raw material/ ingredient in the manufacture of Agarbathis (incense sticks). Interviews with middlemen show that adding this ingredient makes incense sticks burn slower. Further discussions revealed that the opercula of many species of gastropods are collected for the same purpose.

As a student a decade ago, I was able to taste the wafers made from the Ram’s Murex, which do have a ‘fishy’ odour, flavor and taste. Now, except for select areas like Tuticorin and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu, it is rare to find these wafers in local markets. However, the Rams’ Murex shell with its milk white color and aesthetic charm continues to remain a best seller in shell shops or road side stalls.

Taxonomic status:

Phylum: Mollusca

Class: Gastropoda

Family: Muricidae

Genus: Chicoreus

Species: ramosus

Author: (Linnaeus, 1758)

This is copyrighted material: © Deepak Samuel



Welcome to Marine Life India blog site! I am writing on the marine diversity of India so that the next time you happen to be near a coastal area, you might be able to identify a plant or animal as good as a marine biologist! My passion for the ocean is unending and with the help of this blog, I am able to reach people around the world by spreading the message on the beauty of marine life.. Please come back next time to know about a new marine life... PLEASE LIKE THE PAGE IF YOU ARE HAPPY WITH THE INFORMATION PROVIDED :)

46 responses »

  1. anbutj says:

    its very informative for scientific and non scientific persons
    all the best for your up coming blog…

  2. peninal says:

    amazing creature both shell and u sir,very innovative explanation

  3. sheena says:

    very very interesting and informative anna. i always thought these shell creatures usually feed on planktons or something like that. its funny for a lay person like me, having always seen these shells, and only these shells, to imagine that these are actually living creatures that move about it the ocean, let alone eat other creatures! very very informative anna. keep blogging. i feel like i am taking a refresher course in biology from you 🙂 thank you.

    • Dear Sheens,
      thanks a lot for reading! There are interesting ones that can even target fishes like the cone snails with the help of sepcialized radular teeth called Harpoons… Hope Christmas and New Year went on well!! we missed you guys! Keep reading….

  4. feliciaprem says:

    Good info, Deepak…Refreshes my memory of Tuticorin days!..Keep up your good work of sharing your passion for the ocean, which is quite contagious..:)

  5. Hi deepak . its nice to read ur blog always .its very informative. …………..

  6. M Premil Kumar says:

    My dear Deepuma:
    1) It is an interesting information, since we had in our house these Conches (which I think , you call as Murex here).
    2) We had it in light Brownish to Yellowish Shades , and for a very long time it decked our showcase, and I remember my mother telling that she had collected it in Dhanushkodi beaches when my Grandpa (mom’s dad) was Post Master there those days. It was a time when the Rameswaram Express was called by the British as – Rameswaram Boat mail , meaning that Parcels, Letters Etc reach Dhanushkodi by this train upto a Boat pier in Dhanushkodi and trading with Ceylon was very active by sea.As an Island, Ceylon wanted many items of British , as well as food materials from Madras.
    3) I enjoyed your write up , as it added meaning to our mere showcase piece , and I could rethink on why my mom valued it so much, that she kept taking with us in various houses we kept shifting during those days, as per dear dad’s postings.

    Daddy dada -Kellys

  7. Dr Arularasan says:

    Hi Deepak! Good show. Keep going. Very nice to get information about molluscs from a TRUE Malacologist.

  8. shubham benani says:

    sir can you show me how they collect sea shells? can you upload their photos?

    • Dear Benani.

      sea shells are collected either by skin diving by the local fishermen or they come as by catch in fishing nets. They have to kill the animal inside in order to sell the shell for a price and sometimes even the meat is sold! this is a livelihood for fishermen of certain areas because they do not have/ know any other occupation. In some countries and in India, tribal people living in the coast eat their meat and keep the shells for ornamental purposes.. I shall load photos if I am able to click some in the field. Thanks for reading and for your questions.. do keep reading!

  9. shubham benani says:

    when they collect sea shells, are they alive? and they collect them by killing creatures inside the shell?

  10. shubham benani says:

    there is very bed to kill creatures for food. it is very shame to kill this beautiful creature for food. you should stop this.

  11. shubham benani says:

    thanks for reply. but if they killing animals in shells their spices can be go to trouble! what we do that time when we have no a single shell of it?

    • Dear Benami, shells can lay a million eggs from a single female and these in turn become the food for fishes or other invertebrates in the food cycle and only may be a thousand will reach the adult stage. Man because of his need (tribal/ indigenous people whose livelihood is dependent on these resources) and greed (indiscriminate exploitation) has resulted in various problems. It is time conservationists take up strong campaigns for sustainable utilization of marine resources.

  12. shubham benani says:

    thanks for reply again i am very glad to see that someone answers my questions correctly! and i have another question “how to indemnify shells righty or lefty? because i read some where that lefty shells are very hard to find because only one shell in 2 lacks shells is lefty! do you see any lefty shell? please reply my question and upload more data about shells i like marine life because it is unseen life and i want to know more about it!

    • Hi Benani… these shells are called rare because the lefty shell is just one in a million and an abnormal shell! right rotated shells are called dextral shells and left rotated shells are called sinistral is true that they are very very expensive..I have seen some when I was a student about a decade ago in a shell dealers house.. they are very rare indeed! Keep reading and there are many more interesting things on marine life coming up in my blog

  13. imran says:

    Hello sir.I’m from srilanka. I need to know some information

    My father found murex operculum one the pearl attached.

    My question is murex operculum can produce pearls?

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