You’ve probably seen tiger cowrie shells, which can be as large as six inches long. In cream, brown, and black, with a variety of patterns, they are so popular that they were once used as money.
The residents of these shells, which are a type of snail, are nocturnal. During the day, they take shelter from predators in coral reefs; at night, they eat algae and sponges. They can also eat fire coral and anemones despite their stings.
Most of the time, a live tiger cowrie’s shell is covered by its mantle, which is its outermost layer. The mantle forms spikes that may help the cowrie breathe or avoid predators. The cowrie can also pull its entire body inside its shell to protect itself.
Tiger cowries are found in tidal areas and shallow reefs in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. You can learn more about tiger cowries and hundreds of other marine animals in Oceana’s marine life encyclopedia.
Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Today's animal is the little penguin.
The little penguin is, as you might have guessed, the smallest species of penguin. It can be found off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, where it nests each night in sand burrows or caves along the rocky shoreline. Little penguins can be very noisy at night, and each penguin has its own unique identifying call, used to recognize family members, mates, and strangers.
Because the little penguin is so small, it is a tasty target for dogs, cats, foxes and rats. They penguins are especially vulnerable each night when they come ashore to roost and each morning when they head back to sea, so they seek safety in numbers by “parading” together in stable groups, a spectacle that draws as many as a half million tourists each year to places like Phillip Island in Australia.
Little penguins also fish in groups, working together to gather fish together before they all begin eating. They are particularly fond of anchovies, sardines, and small squid, all of which are suffering population declines, which may prove difficult for little penguins. However, current population estimates for the birds stand at almost a million, and they are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN.
To see more animals, check out Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.