Cowries (Cypraeidae) are marine gastropod mollusks with large egg-shaped shells. Unlike most gastropods, the exterior of the cowrie is cloaked by its dorsal body wall, called a mantle, during most of its lifetime. The mantle secretes calcium carbonate and conchiolin that makes shells shiny and smooth.
The use of cowrie shells as currency can be traced back for centuries in Africa, though some believe it was initially introduced there by Arab traders. During the slave trade in the 15th century the shells became widely accepted as payment, when western slave owners found Africans skeptical of paper notes.
The use of shell coin currency was also commonplace in the Maldives as far back as 1200 A.D., where cowries were abundant for easy collection and trade. Over time the small shells made their way into many cultures where their traces can still be found. One example of this is in China, where several characters for trade and money still contain the symbol for the cowrie 貝
We spotted this cowrie during a night dive at the Well Beach house reef in Zamboanguita, Philippines. Read more in our post, Pristine Reefs and Macro Critters: Scuba Diving Apo Island, Dauin, and Zamboanguita, Philippines.