Monday, October 19, 2015

Mediterranean Cowry

Visiting the beach after storms can be very rewarding. Waves can throw up interesting creatures and deposit them on the sand or in rock pools. A few days ago while looking in a rock pool at Pembroke I found a Mediterranean cowry trapped inside.

This species of cowry has very specific needs and would definitely have died in the pool after a few days so after photographing it I threw back to the sea from where it had come.
The Mediterranean cowry is not easy to find. It does not like light and spends the daylight hours hidden under a rock or in a cave.

Not much is known about its feeding habits. It feed on sponges possibly on just one species – the yellow tube sponge. 
This species is restricted to the Mediterranean Sea and to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to it namely along the Cape Verde, the Azores, and the Canary islands and West African coast south to Senegal and Angola.

Cowries have very shiny shells which have fascinated humans by their beauty. In many parts of the world they were used as jewellery and as currency.

The Mediterranean cowry is one of several species of cowries that can be found in the seas around the Maltese islands.

In the Maltese islands Mediterranean cowries were used to cure ringworm. A live cowry was dipped in oil and then rubbed on the affected part of the skin while a few lines that sounded like an incantation were recited. If a live cowry was not available a shell was dissolved in vinegar or lemon juice and the resulting liquid spread over the affected part.

In Maltese the Mediterranean cowry is known as baħbuħa tal-għajnejn. Għajnejn could mean a pair of eyes because of the cowry’s shape but more likely it refers to a belief in the ability of this mollusc to protect against the evil eye.

Many years ago in Tunisia I saw a young girl who had a cowry attached to her shirt with a safety pin. When I asked her why she was wearing the shell she replied that her mother put it there to protect her from the evil eye (għajn).

In Malta a caged blue rock thrush (merill) was sometimes protected from the evil eye by placing a cowry in its cage. 

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 19 February 2015.

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