Decorating the shallow, rocky shoreline area with its cone-shaped black and white shell, the West Indian Top Shell is a large marine snail that was originally very common here. Today, however, it is a protected species in Bermuda.
The West Indian Top Shell is the largest of the species to inhabit Bermuda’s rocky shoreline, with some growing as big as 5 inches in diameter. The flesh of this large snail was a popular food item among early settlers to the island as they could be collected easily at low tide. Because of this, the species was eventually wiped out. Fortunately, the Top Shells were successfully re-introduced to Bermuda in 1982 and 1989 when a small number were released on Nonsuch Island. Since then, it has made a slow but steady comeback.
The Top Shell is an herbivore, feeding on a large variety of algae. They actively scrape the algal growths off rocks, and this tends to lead to erosion over time. Feeding commonly occurs during the nocturnal period, when the snails are most active.
Interestingly, West Indian Top Shells are considered to be the third most economically important invertebrate species in the Caribbean, after the spiny lobster and the queen conch . It has gone locally extinct in some habitats due to overfishing and overexploitation. Bermuda is the only country where it is 100% illegal to collect these creatures, dead or alive, which has helped the population to steadily grow over the last several decades.