Prof. Dr. Julia Sigwart kicks off the Cone Snail Red List Workshop.
Participants in December 2023 Cone Snail Red List Workshop in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Workshop participants discuss priorities for their work together assessing cone snail species.
Workshop participants review data from the first cone snail assessment in 2011.
Cone snail specimens in the Senckenberg Collection.

Cone Snail Red List Workshop

Cone snails are an incredible group of marine mollusks in the family Conidae, with charismatic features like colorful, patterned shells, a venomous harpoon, and medically important conotoxins. But these features also mean that it’s especially important to understand the current state and ever-evolving threats these animals face.

In 2011, 632 species of cone snails – all the valid species in the genus Conus, at that time – were assessed for inclusion on the IUCN Red List. The IUCN Red list is currently the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species. It is an important tool in the protection and conservation of individual species and global biodiversity by informing policy, influencing resource allocation and shaping decision-making of conservation efforts worldwide. To assess each cone snail species for its global extinction risk, experts considered criteria like the snail’s population size, its geographic range, changes in population or habitat range, and the threats each species faces. Threats to cones snails can include:

  • Shell gathering – a decline in population abundance due to shell collecting
  • Bioprospecting – the collecting of snails for their bioactive compounds for use in pharmaceutical applications
  • Habitat loss – often caused by coastal or port development, pollution, or environmental change

The results of this first comprehensive look at cone snail extinction risk were that three-quarters (75.6%) of species were not currently considered at risk of extinction – largely due to their wide distribution and population abundance; 6.5% were considered threatened with extinction, and 4.1% assessed as near threatened[1]. When there is not enough information to make an assessment, these species are labelled as data deficient, a category that characterized 13.8% of species in 20111.

The initial assessment of cone snail extinction risk is now 12 years old, and thus considered “out of date” by Red List standards and no longer reflects the evolving threats and species diversity of cone snails today. It was time for a re-assessment (and first assessment for newly described cone snail species)!

December 11-15, 17 people gathered from 7 countries to reassess the current state of threat for over 600 cone snail species. This group included participants from the 2011 assessment, new cone snail experts, and experienced Red List assessors. The workshop was sponsored by the Seckenberg Ocean Species Alliance (SOSA) and held at the Senckenberg Research Institute campus in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. A key topic at this workshop was taxonomy. When considering conservation efforts, taxonomy might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the discussions at the Cone Snail Red List Workshop show just how entangled the issues of taxonomy and conservation actually are. The group also wrestled with issues around the entanglement of taxonomy and conservation; discussing species group stability, taxonomic inflation and its impact on conservation status. Find out more here.


[1] Peters H, O’Leary BC, Hawkins JP, Carpenter KE, Roberts CM (2013) Conus: First Comprehensive Conservation Red List Assessment of a Marine Gastropod Mollusc Genus. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83353.


Source: Florida Museum; CCbySA
Cone snails are a group of marine mollusks in the family Conidae, with charismatic features like colorful, patterned shells, a venomous harpoon, and medically important conotoxins. Photos: Florida Museum, CC-by-SA 4.
Workshop participants examine snail specimens in Senckenberg’s extensive mollusc collection.
Experts from around the world gathered to assess the extinction risk of cone snails.
Workshop participant perusing the mollusc specimens.