Kingman Reef, Line Islands, Central Pacific Ocean
NOAA Vessel Hi’ialakai, shipboard studio
Archival Pigment Print
Many are familiar with the globose, shiny shells of cowries, but few are aware of the spectacular animals that construct and inhabit those shells. Like all cowries, the tiger (seen here crawling toward the camera) has folds of skin that envelop the shell and produce the glossy surface so admired by shell collectors; in this species, the skin bears numerous fine tentacles. The folds meet along the top of the shell but can be withdrawn into it when the animal is disturbed. Here, the folds are parted, revealing the brown-spotted shell beneath. The tiger cowry was once common in many parts of the tropical Indo-Pacific, but populations have suffered due to shell collecting and habitat destruction.