AskDefine | Define conch

Dictionary Definition

conch n : any of various edible tropical marine gastropods of the genus Strombus having a brightly-colored spiral shell with large outer lip

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A marine mollusc of the family Strombidae which lives in its own spiral shell.
  2. The shell of this sea animal.
  3. A musical instrument made from a large spiral seashell.
  4. A machine (rather like a rotating pestle and mortar) used to develop the flavour and texture of chocolate by warming and grinding; a concher or concher machine.


a marine mollusc
  • Hungarian: kagyló
the shell of this sea animal
  • Hungarian: kagylóhéj
a musical instrument
a machine


  1. To refine the flavour and texture of chocolate by warming and grinding, either in a traditional concher, or between rollers.
  2. To play a conch seashell as a musical instrument, by blowing through a hole made close to the origin of the spiral.


to refine the flavour of chocolate
to play a conch seashell

Extensive Definition

A conch (pronounced in the U.S.A. as "konk" or "conch", or /ˈkɒŋtʃ/) is one of a number of different species of medium-sized to large saltwater snails or their shells.
True conchs are marine gastropod mollusks in the family Strombidae, and the genus Strombus.
The name "conch" however, is often quite loosely applied in English-speaking countries to several kinds of very large sea snail shells which are pointed at both ends, i.e. shells which have a high spire and a noticeable siphonal canal. These other species include the crown conch Melongena species; the horse conch Pleuroploca gigantea; and the chank shell, Turbinella species. None of these are true conchs; they are all in other taxonomic families.
True Conches The true conch species within the genus Strombus vary in size from fairly small to very large. Several of the larger species such as Strombus gigas, the pink conch or queen conch, are economically important as food sources. Strombus gigas is also capable of producing (very rarely) a pink, gem quality pearl.
At least 65 species of Strombidae are extinct, and a much larger number of species exist only in the fossil record. Of the living species, most are in the Indo-Pacific Oceans. Six species live in the greater Caribbean region, including the Queen Conch, Strombus gigas, and the West Indian Fighting Conch, Strombus pugilis. .
Many species of conch, such as the Queen Conch, live on sandy bottoms among beds of sea grass in warm tropical waters.
Strombus gigas is included in Appendix II of the UNEP's CITES list of endangered species, and international trade is heavily restricted.


Conches have spirally constructed shells. This spiral shell growth is usually left but on very rare occasions it can be right handed.
True conchs have long eye stalks with colorful ring-marked eyes. The shell has a long and narrow aperture, and a short siphonal canal, with another indentation near the anterior end called a stromboid notch. This notch is where one of the two eye stalks protrudes from the shell. The animal also has a foot ending in a pointed, sickle-shaped, operculum. The animals grow a flared lip on their shells only upon reaching sexual maturity.
Conchs have a characteristic leaping motion, using their pointed, sickle-shaped, horny operculum to propel themselves forward. They lay eggs in long, gelatinous strands.

Human use

The mollusk inside the shell is used as food, either eaten raw, as in salads, or cooked, as in fritters, chowders, gumbos, and burgers. In East Asian cuisines, the seafood is often cut into thin slices and then steamed or stir-fried. In El Salvador, live conch is served in a cocktail of onion, tomato, cilantro, and lemon juice. Lemon juice is squeezed onto the cocktail, causing the conch to squirm, and then the whole thing is slurped down whole, as in the manner of oysters. Conch meat is also often confused with "Scungilli", which is more accurately whelk meats. All parts of the conch meat are edible. However, most people only find the white meat appetizing.
Conch shells are sometimes used as decoration, as decorative planters, and in cameo making. In classic Mayan art, conchs are shown being utilized in many ways including as paint and ink holders for elite scribes, as bugles or trumpets, and as hand weapons (held by combatants by inserting their hands in the aperture). The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the sea and often depicted conch shells in their art. Some American Aboriginals used cylindrical conch columella beads as part of breastplates and other personal adornment. See Hair Pipes.
In popular folklore, it is believed that if one holds an open conch shell (or any other large marine snail shell) to the ear, the ocean can be heard. This phenomenon is caused by the resonant cavity of the shell producing a form of pink noise from the surrounding background ambiance.
In some Caribbean and African American cemeteries conch shells are placed on graves. (The Last Miles of the Way: African Homegoing Traditions, 1890-Present, edited by Elaine Nichols).
In some countries, cleaned Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) shells or polished fragments are sold, mainly to tourists, as souvenirs or in jewelry. Without a permit, however, export is a breach of CITES regulations and may lead to arrest This is most likely to occur on return to the tourist's home country while clearing customs. In the UK conch shells are the ninth most seized import. Conch shells are occasionally used as a building material, either in place of bricks or as bulk for landfill.

Conch shell as a musical instrument

Conch shells can be used as wind instruments, by blowing into one end of the shell. This is common in some Hindu sects (see below).
The American jazz trombonist Steve Turre also plays conches, notably with his group Sanctified Shells.
A partially echoplexed Indian conch was featured prominently as the primary instrument depicting the extraterrestrial environment of the derelict spaceship in Jerry Goldsmith's score for the film Alien. Director Ridley Scott was so impressed by the eerie effect that he requested its use throughout the rest of the score, including the Main Title.

Religious symbolism of other conches

Hindu tradition

A Sankh shell (the shell of a Turbinella species in the gastropod family Turbinellidae) is often referred to in the West as a conch shell, or a chank shell. This is a major Hindu article of prayer. It is used as a trumpet, as a part of their religious practices, blowing on it during worship at specific points, accompanied by ceremonial bells and singing.
In the story of Dhruva the divine conch plays a special part. The warriors of ancient India would blow conch shells to announce battle, such as is described in the beginning of the war of Kurukshetra, in the Mahabharata, the famous Hindu epic.
The god of Preservation, Vishnu, is said to hold a special conch, Panchajanya, that represents life, as it has come out of life-giving waters.

Buddhist tradition

Buddhism has also incorporated the conch shell into its symbolism. See: Buddhist symbolism.


William Golding's Lord of the Flies features frequent references to "the Conch". In the book the conch is used as a trumpet to call everyone together and held by whoever is speaking at meetings, symbolically representing democracy and order. When a boulder released by Roger, Jack's lieutenant, smashes the conch, it is a sign that civilized order has collapsed and Jack's domination has begun.
The famous Old English riddle Ic wæs be Sonde describes a conch: "I was by sound, near seawall, at ocean-stream; I dwelt alone in my first resting place. ... Little did I know that I, ere or since, ever should speak mouthless over mead-benches."



conch in German: Fechterschnecken
conch in Spanish: Caracola
conch in French: Conque
conch in Scottish Gaelic: Spairneag
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