Meet an old friend of mine, the Arabian cowrie known by its scientific name as Mauritia arabica (Linnaeus, 1758). When I started my first website as a teenager this was the first animal to feature and it’s still one of my favorites. I have always loved the fine lines and curves on the shell that resemble Arabic script and give the shell its scientific name “arabica”.
They are pretty wide-spread ranging from South Africa all the way up East Africa , the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam all the way across the Indonesian and Philippine islands and southern coast of China, down to Papua Guinea and northern Australia. It lives in shallow water near corals at cavern entrances and overhanging boulders or even under rocks where it feeds on algae during the night.
In Hong Kong if you know where to look its fairly easy to find them, too. Last weekend I was walking along a small beach in Ha Mei Wan (western side Lamma Island) south of the power station and spotted several bunches of 10 or more of them. The tide was very low which exposed many of them to the air and huddled together in shady and moist spots of overhanging boulders near the water line.
Another good place I have found this species is snorkeling among coral covered boulders at Shum Wan on Lamma Island. These guys like to cling to the overhangs of boulders near the sandy bottom.
I have inserted a picture from WikiCommons for this post, but for some really excellent images have a look at this site where you can see all the varieties of this little beauty from multiple angles: http://www.cypraea.eu/species/cypraea_arabica.htm
PLEASE, DO NOT COLLECT LIVE SPECIMENS OR BUY THEM FROM SHOPS OR ONLINE: There are many websites that sell seashells for profit and to get a perfect shell for selling, most collectors will take live specimens. They will put them in 100% alcohol to make them swell out of their shell and die so that the shell can be stored without smelling of rotting snails. But why kill such a beautiful animal simply to keep in a box and show off? If we all do that there won’t be any left. Sometimes empty shells wash up on beaches, especially after typhoons. They might not be in perfect shape, but you will be a better person for not killing these pretty little things.