Paper Fig Shell (Ficus communis Roding, 1798)

Paper Fig Shell
Ficus communis Roding, 1798

Paper Fig Shell:
A Fragile, Shapely Beauty

By Patricia B. Mitchell.

The Paper Fig Shell is the delicate home for a gastropod. The thin, pear-shaped shell may reach a height of 4-5 inches. It has approximately four body whorls, which are enlarged on the “fat part” of the “pear.” There is almost no spire, but rather a little “nipple.” The shell has a long, straight canal and a large, smooth aperture. The lip of the aperture is thin. The surface of the shell has flattened cord-like ribs which alternate with weaker ribs. These are crossed by fine vertical striae. The fresh Paper Fig Shell is pinkish, perhaps with pale brown dots. The interior is shiny orange-brown. (Beach specimens are often bleached.)

There is no operculum in adults.The animal inside the shell has a large foot; two big curved flaps near the head; and a long siphon. When the snail crawls, the mantle almost envelops the animal.

This shell may be found from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico. The gastropod seems to have a preference for warmer seas. It is abundant on the western coast of Florida.

Sometimes this shell is called simply the Common Fig Shell. It is occasionally mistaken for a Pear Whelk, but a Pear Shell has a more distinct spire, revolving lines (rather than trellise-like “sculpture”), and more sloping shoulders. To add to the confusion, the Pear Whelk is sometimes called the Fig Whelk….


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