A Conch is a sea creature, a mollusk, and more specifically, a marine gastropod. True conches belong to the genus Strombus, under the Family Strombidae, but many other Gastropods have common names using conch. While most Strombid species are extinct, at least 65 species are living. Of these, most are in the Indo-Pacific Oceans while 6 are in the greater Caribbean region.
Living true conch species include Strombus gigas (the Queen Conch) and the West Indian Fighting Conch (Strombus pugilis). Living non-true conch animals bearing the name conch include the Horse Conch (Pleuroploca gigantea).
Conches have have spirally constructed shells. Depending on species (or aberrant growth patterns), shell growth can be sinistral (left-handed) or dextral (right-handed).
Conches have long eye stalks, a long and narrow aperture, and a siphonal canal with an indentation near the anterior end called a stromboid notch, and a foot ending in a pointed, sickle-shaped, horny operculum. They grow a flared lip on their shells upon reaching sexual maturity.
Conches have a characteristic leaping motion, using their pointed, sickle-shaped, horny operculum to propel themselves forward. They lay eggs in long, gelatinous strands.
The animal inside the shell is eaten, either raw, as in salads, or cooked, as in fritters, chowders, gumbos, and burgers.
Conch shells are sometimes used as crude bugles by removal of the small tip of the shell to form a mouthpiece, as decoration, as decorative planters, ground up as an ingredient in porcelain, and in cameo making. In classic Mayan art, conches are shown being utilized in many ways including as paint and ink holders for elite scribes, as bugle or trumpet, and as hand weapons (held by combatants by inserting their hands in the aperature).
Playing The Conch Shell
While lacking the range capabillities and tone quality of other brass instruments the conch shell is still a fun instrument to play. Having no mouthpiece or valves the Embouchure in shell playing is critical. most shells will only naturally play one note, but with pitch manipulations multiple sounds can be achieved.
The Conch as Religious Symbolism
The Conch in Hindu Tradition
The conch is a major Hindu article of prayer, used as a trumpeting announcement of all sorts. The God of Preservation, Vishnu, is said to hold a special conch, Panchajaya, that represents life as it has come out of life-giving waters. The warriors of ancient India would blow conchs to announce battle, such as is famously represented in the beginning of the war of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata, the famous Hindu epic. The conch shell is a deep part of Hindu symbolic and religious tradition. To this very day, all Hindus use the conch as a part of their religious practices, blowing it during worship at specific points, accompanied by ceremonial bells.
See also: Krishna
The Conch in Buddist Tradition
Buddhism also has incorporated the conch into its symbolism. See: Buddhist symbolism.