Triton’s Trumpet, the iconic sea snail

Triton's trumpet, Charonia tritons

Triton’s Trumpet, also know as Giant Triton or “Bourou” in Greek, (scientific name: “Charonia tritonis”), is a mollusk gastropod, a sea shell, practically a snail of impressive size. It is the biggest and most known sea snail of the Mediterranean. Different species of this genus are found in temperate and tropical climatic zones all over the world, while the size of larger ones can reach or even exceed half a meter in length. It is usually in the shade of the rocks or in holes where it passes the day waiting for the arrival of darkness, when it is time for most fish to go for rest and for night predators to prey.
The seemingly harmless Triton is a carnivorous animal, a predator of the bottom, who feeds on other mollusks and starfish. Something that one wouldn’t expect from such a creature is that when Triton detects the smell of the prey, starts chasing it. Although the pursuit is far from a cinematic version of dizzying speed, it is just enough to be quicker than your prey, and Triton does!
Triton apparently has a particular preference on starfish and after catching them, opens a hole in their hard skin with a radula tooth (imagine a can opener), and then injects its nerve paralysing saliva. Despite eating poisonous thorns or other unwanted parts of the prey, Triton manages to spit these out. Triton is a very important predator for marine ecosystems as regulates the population of starfish and echinoderms that otherwise would devastate corals and u/w flora.

Someone somewhere once tried to blow through a small hole that could have been created when the edge of the Triton’s shell broke, (and could that led to the invention or inspiration for the construction of a trumpet music instrument?). The Triton has been used since antiquity to create this distinct sound,  especially by sailors, giving the shell its Greek name. The god Poseidon, but especially its son Triton – the messenger of the sea in Greek mythology, are often depicted holding such a shell and ruled the waves with it. This obviously inspired the English common name “Triton’s trumpet”.

Nowadays, Tritons are at risk due to lost of habitat, depletion of then ecosystem and quite often becoming a by-catch or picked for their shell, although is endangered and protected.

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