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Conch Sex
Conch Reproduction and Development

Scientists tell us that conchs have sex in the spring and summer, and will do so as much as possible during that time.

Although to the casual observer all conchs may look alike, some conchs are male and others are female.

The male's sex organ is called the verge. The female conch is not the only creature to appreciate the male conchs' verge, so do the predators of the conch, such as crabs and eels, but for a different reason. If they can't get the whole conch out of its shell, they may feast on the protruding verge. For the conch this will not be such bad news, because unlike other species, his organ can regenerate. Perhaps medical science should look into this amazing ability for application to our human species.

During sex, the male inserts his verge into the vaginal area of the female and releases sperm that will fertilize the female's almost one half million microscopic eggs. When the eggs mature, they emerge from the female conch attached to a gelatinous string that looks like a thin fishing line. This sticky strand containing the half million eggs could be as much as 80 feet long if it were stretched out from end to end. The female conch, however, uses her claw-like foot, called an operculum, to lightly coat the egg string with sand. She then folds it back and forth forming a mass that looks like a sand sculpture the size and shape of a sea cucumber or a banana.

The mother conch then leaves the mass of eggs in a groove that she makes in the sand and goes off in search of another male, as the mating and egg-laying process will be repeated several times during the season.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of little embryos left by their mother begin to develop. In about a week they will hatch and the tiny conch larvae, called veligers, will float to the surface and join the masses of other minute sea creatures, called plankton, that drift along at the mercy of waves and currents near the ocean's surface. During this time, the veligers will survive by eating vegetable plankton. The vast majority of the veligers will be eaten up by bigger and more aggressive animal plankton as well as other predators, such as fish, shrimp, squid and jellyfish.

After about a month, when they are about the size of a grain of sand, the veligers transform into an immature version of an adult conch and sink down to the ocean floor. Here they will need to find a suitable environment of sand and seagrass in order to survive.

At this point, the baby conch will begin to develop its shell, which will at first be soft. The operculum will also be formed at this time, allowing them to move about on the bottom. Being small and having only a soft shell for protection, these tiny creatures are extremely vulnerable. In order to survive the dangerous world in which they have found themselves, they will hide from their predators by using their operculum to dig into the ocean floor around the roots of the seagrass and then covering themselves with the loose sand. They only will come out of hiding at night when they will feed on the algae that grow on the surface of the blades of seagrass.

It will take about four years before the conch reach sexual maturity and develop their characteristic Queen conch shell with its large and beautiful pink, orange, and yellow flaring lip.