Cypraeidae, common name the cowries (singular: cowry), is a taxonomic family of small to large sea snails. These are marine gastropod mollusks in the superfamily Cypraeoidea, the cowries and cowry allies.
For more than 200 years, every species in the family Cypraeidae was in the genus Cypraea, but recently the cowries have been divided into many different genera.
Cypraeidae have adult shells which are very rounded, almost like an egg; they do not look like a typical gastropod shell
. In virtually all of the species in the family Cypraeidae, the shells are extremely smooth and shiny. This is because in the living animal, the shell is nearly always fully covered with the mantle
Typically, no spire is visible in the fully adult shell, and there is a long, narrow, aperture which is lined with "teeth". This arrangement makes the adult shell difficult for some predators to enter or reach into, however some crustaceans can crush cowry shells and some molluscovorous cones like Conus textile can inject vemon into the cowry's flesh and then extend its stomach into the shell, through the slit, to completely ingest the flesh. Also, some octopi can gouge a small hole (using a special barb/tooth and an acidic secretion) through the shell to inject a venom that kills the animal within.
Juvenile cowry shells are not at all similar to adult cowry shells. The juveniles of cowries perhaps more closely resemble the shells of some bubble snails in the order Cephalaspidea.
Cowries have no operculum.
The family Cypraeidae belongs, together with the family Ovulidae
, to the superfamily Cypraeoidea
. This, in turn, is part of the clade
Littorinimorpha, that belongs within the clade Hypsogastropoda.
The following subfamilies have been recognized in the taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi (2005) :
- Subfamily Bernayinae
- Tribe Bernayini Schilder, 1927
- Tribe Gisortiini ---> This tribe has been upgraded to subfamily Gisortiinae
- Subfamily Cypraeinae Rafinesque, 1815
- Tribe Cypraeini
- Tribe Mauritiini Steadman & Cotton, 1946
- Subfamily Erosariinae Schilder, 1924 (the new taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi doesn't mention any tribes in this subfamily)
- Tribe Staphylaeini
- Tribe Erosariini
- Subfamily Erroneinae Schilder, 1924
- Tribe Erroneini Schilder, 1927
- Tribe Bistolidini C. Meyer, 2003
- Subfamily Gisortiinae Schilder, 1927 (former invalid synonym Archicypraeinae Schilder, 1930 )
- Subfamily Luriinae Schilder, 1932
- Tribe Luriini Schilder, 1932
- Tribe Austrocypraeini Iredale, 1935
- Subfamily Pustulariinae Gill, 1871
- Tribe Cypraeovulini Schilder, 1927
- Tribe Pseudozonariini
- Tribe Pustulariini Gill, 1871
- Tribe Zonariini Schilder, 1932
- Subfamily Umbiliinae Franc, 1968 has become a synonym of the tribe Umbiliini Schilder, 1932, that, in turn, has become a synonym of the subfamily Gisortiinae Schilder, 1927