Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

The Killer Kiss of Kohn’s Snails

Venomous cone snails may be slow, but they’re deadly.

Authored by

by Ashley Braun, Meigan Henry, Gord More

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Cone snails may be the slowest of any ocean-going snail, but when it comes to dinner, they are speedy and thorough: their venom is among the world’s most effective and deadly.

These marine mollusks stab and poison their faster prey—worms, other mollusks, and fish—in ocean habitats around the world. It’s their venom, with its complex and varied compounds, that makes these snails a valuable part of medical research today. Alan Kohn, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, pioneered research into cone snails as a Yale graduate student in the 1950s. The result of his studies was a seminal moment in marine and medical science.

In this video, Kohn explains how cone snails use their neurochemical arsenal and some medieval-looking hardware.

Special Thanks
Alan Kohn
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Jon-Paul Bingham, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Thomas F. Duda, Jr., University of Michigan
Jeff Milisen
Baldomero Olivera, University of Utah
Joseph R. Schulz, Alex G. Norton & William F. Gilly