Holy Crap, Conch Eyes

Every once in a while, the internet remembers that conchs have eyes, wild looking coloured things sitting at the ends of stalks like a creature watching you on behalf of Jareth the Goblin King as you navigate The Labyrinth. The internet remembered this fact again this week.

Image: Tam Warner Minton/Flickr

I don't think much about molluscs, their morphology, or how they experience the universe. When I eat an oyster or mussel, it's usually in a single bite without appreciating its body. When I find a shell on the beach, even a conch's or a snail's, it's usually missing the inhabitant. But yes, an animal once lived in that shell. Some of those animals need to see.

One 1976 paper dug into the specifics behind these animals' alien eyestalks. Sitting at the tips of long stalks, they contain retinas with both sensory cells and coloured pigment cells. But the story gets weirder, because obviously it gets weirder. After amputating the conchs' eyes, a fully-formed replacement took its place 14 days later. Humans, we really are losing this evolutionary game.

Conchs aren't the only gastropods with wacky eyes — you've seen snails' silly little eyestalks, of course. And giant clams have hundreds of tiny pinhole camera-like light detectors on their shells. Hundreds of eyes to watch you from the deep.

I suppose there's not much else to say, and inevitably, the internet will forget about conch eyes again. Until then, holy crap, conch eyes.


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