Key West Conch
Scuba diving in Key West opens the door to an entirely new world. The biodiversity of the marine plants, animals, and habitats are unlike those of anywhere else on the planet. From sharks to coral reefs to conchs, there are enough amazing sights to satisfy the highest expectations. The Key West Conch is one animal in particular that is both similar and completely unique from its landlocked relatives. No Key West diving tour would be complete without a glimpse of this fascinating animal, from which Key West got its nickname, the Conch Republic.
Key West Conch Appearance:
The Key West Conch is a giant snail that can grow up to a foot long and lives under the water. There are several species of conch that can be found in the area, including the Queen Conch and the Florida Fighting Conch, which is quite a bit smaller. Though many people know the conch better as a tasty meal, it is actually also quite beautiful to look at in its natural habitat. The shell of a full grown conch can be covered in colorful algae and coral, and has a spiral pattern. It also has horny growths protruding out of it, adding to its appeal. Its shell is made by the conch itself, who creates it by secreting calcium carbonate. The shell develops a flared lip as the conch matures, which it uses to keep it from rolling over or to dig into the sand as it forages.
The outside of a conch shell can range from a yellowish to a reddish color, but the inside is a pale pink, which can be visible in the flared lip as well. Though conchs are born without their shell and have to burrow down into the the sandy bottom of the ocean for the first year of their life, they start to develop it when they are a few months old and are more or less full grown at about the age of three. They can live up to thirty or forty years, but usually live a much shorter life. Due to overfishing and degradation of its environment, the Key West Conch is endangered and cannot be fished in Florida.
Key West Conch Eating Habits:
Both the Florida Fighting Conch and the Queen are herbivores and eat the algae and other plant life in the ocean, including the algae they find living on seagrass in their preferred habitat. In aquariums they are used to help keep the tank clean, as they also eat the detritus that floats to the bottom. They actually can move fairly quickly and cover quite a bit of ground in their quest for food.
Key West Conch Habitat:
The conch prefers to live in warm tropical or subtropical waters. The Queen Conch, for example, is primarily found near Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, though its range can extend as far south as northern Brazil. The Florida Fighting Conch has a similar range, and generally sticks near the Caribbean Sea. Conchs like to live in sandy, shallow water and seagrass beds, where they can easily find food. The Key West Conch also can often be found near coral reefs, making them a fairly common sight for divers.