The variety of conch most common in the Gulf’ of Mexico is the horse conch, Fasciolaria gigantea. It is long and rather trumpet-like. The interior is yellowish, sometimes golden, and occasionally a golden pearl is found. This species is widely distributed throughout the world, and its shell was used by the Norsemen and early clans. When the Spaniards and English first settled in the West Indies, they found an abundance of a beautiful conch not known in the old world. This was the queen conch or great pink conch, Strom-bus gigantea. Great numbers were shipped to England for use in manufacture, and the flesh of the animal was found to be highly nutritious. Also, pearls were found. The Queen conch is found only within a region embraced by the West Indies, the Bermuda’s and the south Florida coast. The outstanding characteristics of this conch are the extreme beauty of the interior of its shell, and the long, horny protuberances that spiral around the exterior.
Queen conchs often move in groups, like flocks of sheep, two hundred often being seen together near reefs. Each is equipped with two well-formed eyes, which are located on the extreme ends of flexible, stem-like organs, with a small elephant-like trunk at the tip, this being the mouth. When eating, the conch extends and contracts this at will. It sometimes extends to a length of four inches. The food consists of minute animal and vegetable life.
Professional conch fishermen known as “Iconics” usually get the conchs from a boat, using a water-glass and a long pole with an iron hook on one end. While one man takes care of the boat, the other leans over the side, locating the conch by the water-glass, slips the hook under the shell and brings the animal to the surface. Some fishermen prefer to dive for them. When Columbus first landed in the Bahamas, he found that the Indians owned large pink pearls of a kind unknown to Europeans. These were pearls made by Strom-bus giganteas. They were largely oval or elongated in shape, round conch pearls being rare. Pink, red, white, yellow and, occasionally, deep rich brown pearls are found; rarely a golden one. As the Bahamas and south Florida were settled these pearls appeared in London and Paris.
The larger and finer pearls drifted into the collections of crowned heads, and to the princes and rajahs of India. The crown of Sweden bears a large conch pearl from Key West. Conch pearls, however, seem relatively little known and appreciated in the United States. The finder of a large and perfect conch pearl offered it for sale, some time ago, in Miami, without getting a reasonable offer. New York gave the same result, but the pearl sold to a Bond Street jeweller in London for $10,000.