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Cone Snail Sting

Cone Snail Sting Overview

A cone snail has a cone-shaped shell, a head, and tentacles. There are approximately 500 species of cone snails. They live in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Caribbean and Red seas, and along the coast of Florida. They are not aggressive.

The sting usually occurs when divers in deep reef waters handle the snails. Swimmers and snorkelers are unlikely to find cone snails in shallow intertidal waters. Their empty shells are prized items on sandy beaches. They are nocturnal (more active at night) and they tend to burrow themselves in the sand and coral during the day. Cone snail shells range in size from less than an inch to 9 inches long. Cone snails mainly hunt worms and other snails. A few varieties of cone snails eat fish, and these are the most harmful to humans.

In order to get its prey, the cone snail injects a rapid acting venom from a dart-like tooth (radicula) or dagger. In order to do this, the head of the snail extends out of the shell. The toxin from cone snails in the Indo-Pacific region tends to be more harmful than other regions of the world.

Cone Snail Sting Symptoms

  • Most stings occur on the hands and fingers due to handling.
  • Mild stings are similar to a wasp or bee sting with localized burning and sharp stinging symptoms. They can be intense and also have numbness and tingling to the wounded area.
  • Some sting symptoms can progress to include cyanosis (blueness at the site due to decreased blood flow), and even numbness or tingling involving an entire limb.
  • Severe cases show total limb numbness that progresses to the area around the mouth (perioral) and then the entire body. Paralysis (inability to move a part or entire body) can occur leading to paralysis of the diaphragm which stops the ability to breath.
  • Coma and death can in severe cases where the diaphragm is paralyzed.
  • Other symptoms that can occur include: fainting (syncope), itching, loss of coordination, heart failure, difficulty speaking. difficulty breathing, and double vision.
  • Symptoms can begin within minutes or take days to appear after the venom is injected.
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