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Mollusk Stings

By Robert A. Barish, MD, MBA, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago
Thomas Arnold, MD, Professor and Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine, LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport

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Mollusks include cones (including cone snails), cephalopods (including octopi and squids), and bivalves.

Conus californicus

This type is the only known dangerous cone in North American waters. Its sting causes localized pain, swelling, redness, and numbness that rarely progresses to paralysis or shock.

Treatment is largely supportive. Local measures seem to be of little value, and reports that local injection of epinephrine and neostigmine are helpful are unproved. Severe Conus stings may require mechanical ventilation and measures to reverse shock.

Cone snails

These snails are a rare cause of marine envenomation among divers and shell collectors in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. When the snail is aggressively handled (eg, during shell cleaning, when placed in a pocket), it injects its venom through a harpoon-like tooth. Multiple neurotoxins in the venom block ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors, resulting in paralysis, which is usually reversible but has resulted in some deaths.

Treatment is supportive and may include local pressure immobilization (eg, by wrapping wide crepe or other fabric bandages around the limb), immersion in hot water, and tetanus prophylaxis (see Table: Tetanus Prophylaxis in Routine Wound Management). Severe cases may require respiratory support.


The bites of North American octopi are rarely serious.

Bites from the blue-ringed octopus, most common in Australian waters, cause tetrodotoxin envenomation, with local anesthesia, neuromuscular paralysis, and respiratory failure; treatment is supportive.


The large (up to 1.5 m), aggressive Humboldt squid is present off the west coast of the Americas; it has reportedly bitten fishermen and divers. Other squid species are of less concern.

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