How a cone snail kills its prey
Different species hunt different kinds of food, but they all pack a lethal punch.
Target Conus catus hunts fish by extending a proboscis, a sort of fleshy harpoon, until it feels the creature’s lateral line—a sensory organ that helps the fish navigate. If the mollusk hits this nervefilled target, the victim will have almost no chance of escape.
Strike Once it identifies its mark, the tiny assassin shoots a hollow, barbed tooth out of its proboscis, spearing the fish’s underbelly and securely hooking into its flesh. The now-stung quarry, thrashing and struggling to escape, is firmly tethered to the immobile hunter.
Inject The snail’s hollow tooth acts as a syringe, injecting toxins into the prey. This venom contains hundreds of peptides that work in tandem. First, neurotoxins stop the victim’s nerve impulses from switching off, making it about as stiff as a frozen fish stick.
Eat A second set of peptides stops the nerves from communicating with muscles. Within 20 minutes, the fish goes limp. This serves as a backup: If the fish shakes off the rigid paralysis and escapes, the snail can search for and consume its immobilized prey.
Digest As toxins do their work, the predator reels the victim into its mouth. Digestion starts while the fish is alive. An hour or so later, the snail regurgitates scales, bones, and the harpoon. More barbs, formed within a quiverlike organ, await the next victim.