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Money Cowry

Common name for a small sea snail in the family Cypraeidae, with the many different scientific names, including Cypraea moneta, Monetaria moneta, Cypraea annulifera, Erosaria monetoides, Monetaria ethnographica, etc. It name derives from the fact that this tropical mollusc, with a bright shell, was formerly used as money, in Thailand with an monetary unit equal to one-hundredth of an at (fig.). In Myanmar and India, the shells are used to play an ancient board game, which in Burma is known as Kyway En (fig.) and in India as Pachisi. Though not entirely the same, in both games the cowries are used like dices. They are thrown and the way they fall, i.e. resting with the aperture upwards or downwards, will determine the number of spaces the pawns are allowed to move forward on the cross-shaped game board (fig.), of which a giant outdoor version can still be seen in Fathepur Sikri (fig.) today. Money Cowry is also present in numerous other regions, where it lives in intertidal rocky areas and shallow tide pools, especially on rocks in shallow water and on exposed reefs at low tide. It feeds on algae and marine vegetation, growing also on loose rocks and pieces of dead coral. The shells are white to beige in colour, grow no larger than 3 centimeters, and have a wide ventral aperture located centrally, with pronounced dents. See also POSTAGE STAMPS.