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.

Shell description

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) :


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