Murex Snails

This past Saturday, we had an awesome experience!  We had a once in a life time opportunity to see how the Borucans “milk” the Murex snails for their secretions.  The secretions produce a beautiful purple dye that the Borucan’s use in their woven crafts.

Eddie and I accompanied our friend Susie and Doña Marina (the matriarch of the Borucan group, Artesanos Naturales) to the treacherous rocks of Costa Ballena. It was a long and hot walk there and back, but definitely worth it!  There, we saw Marina and her son collecting the secretions of the snails to dye their yarn.  Eddie was right there with them on the rocks taking photographs!  The following is a brief description of the history and process:

The milking of the Murex snail, originating in the 4th century B.C. is a process passed down thru the generations. The Murex snail provides a milky-white secretion that upon the exposure to air and light, changes color, at first yellow, then greenish and finally after a day’s time in the hot sun, a pretty purple called Royal Tyrian purple. The women of the Borucan community use this special purple extract in the dyeing of their cotton yarn which will be used for the weaving of their beautiful products. During the waning moon (menguante), the Borucans visit the rockiest beaches of Costa Ballena in the months of January and February, knowing they will find the Murex snails hiding and mating along the rocks. It is dangerous and treacherous work to find and “milk” the snails.  Doña Marina and others pull the snails off of the slippery rocks.  Next, they softly blow on them so that the snails release their secretions, which drip onto the yarn that they are holding. The secretions cannot be stored; the yarn has to be dyed right there. The Borucans are one of two indigenous groups left in the world doing this process, but they are the only group keeping the snails alive by returning them back to the rocks.”

Marina pouring the snail secretions on her yarn.

Marina pouring the snail secretions on her yarn.

Marina's son collecting the snails.

Marina’s son collecting the snails.

Marina mixing her yarn with the snail secretions.

Marina mixing her yarn with the snail secretions.

Close up of the Murex snails. Notice the yarn is turning green.

Close up of the Murex snails. Notice the yarn is turning green.

4 thoughts on “Murex Snails

    • Your comment surprises me as you eat all sorts of things when you are in Mexico! You only have to look at these photos and they aren’t that bad at all. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Purpura patula | Journal of a Colourist

  2. Hi there,
    I work for the University of St Andrews in Scotland, (see –, and I’m putting together a video of the Borucan Women’s Group telling of their history in textiles, the museum, etc. During our filming of the group in Costa Rica, the ladies discussed the milking of the Murex Snails and the process they use to preserve the snails whilst getting the amazing purple colour from the snails secretions.
    I was hoping to use your ‘close up’ photo of the snails in our production, attributing this photo to yourself of course. You can contact me either through my email or in reply to this post.

    Many thanks,

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