The “Golden Cowry” is a stunning cowry of legendary fame and a greatly prized collector’s item. Named for its vivid orange dorsum, the colour is very intense in fresh specimens but slowly fades after collection. Although it was never very rare, its magical beauty ensured its listing as one of 50 “Rare Shells” (1969) by S. Peter Dance, who wrote “evidently the Golden Cowry exerts a strange power over shell collectors”.

Today it is known to range from Philippines to Polynesia, it is only uncommon but very prone to growth scars or stress lines meaning large and perfect specimens are still quite rare. It is usually found in moderately shallow water between -5~30m deep, and is a omnivorous nocturnal species that feeds on sponge and algae; often dwelling in caves or crevices in the reef during the day. Typical shell length around 90mm, very large specimens are known to exceed 120mm.

It was first discovered apparently during Captain Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775) in Tahiti where the shell was highly valued among natives as ornaments; these decorative specimens were taken in Fiji and all had holes perforated to pass string through for hanging in the neck. Live taken specimens were not available till later due to difficulty in accessing Fijian waters (its only known locality then) dominated by cannibal tribes. It has been used as a currency and symbol of status throughout the south Pacific, most well-known example is as a status symbol of Fijian chiefs. – Adapted from Chong Chen’s post

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