beach sand at low tide

Collecting New Types of Shells in a Deserted Area

Our beaches on the East coast of Florida are not as well known for shell collecting as they are over on the Gulf Coast. Visit Sanibel Island and you are likely to go home with a fabulous assortment of beautiful seashells.

We have to work harder to find shells on the East coast beaches, and then, many shells are the same. Arks, clams and coquina shells can usually be collected in the New Smryna Beach area.  But, travel off the beaten path – out to the islands and backwater – and it’s possible to find something more unique.  Only boats can reach this place, and tourists don’t come out here.  It’s the best part of Florida.

beach sand at low tide
An island created by low tide

We took the boat out toward Ponce Inlet and stopped at a sandy island which appears when the tide is out.  The water was just beginning to come back in when we dropped anchor in the shallow water.

I love to be out here, away from people… as you can see, we had the place to ourselves.  It helped that the weather forecast was cloudy with possible storms – and it was the middle of the week.  Most boaters stayed home….lucky us.

Across the waterway, to the left of this photo (above), is Disappearing Island.  It’s like this place, only larger, and the name says it all.  At high tide these islands “disappear” beneath the ocean, with only some of the scrub trees left above the waterline – or so I think.   I’ve never been here at high tide.

I waded ashore and began to scour the shoreline, searching in all that grass, hoping to find a cool shell.

seashells in marsh grass
I found most of these shells up along this grassy edge of the island.

I found a lot of large clams, partially buried in the sand. In fact, most of the shells were either whole, or pieces of big clams.   Also the Southern quahogs were numerous, which are white with vertical lines along the shell.

clam shell in sand
Big clam shell buried in sand

But I did find a nice Dosinia shell. It’s the flat, roundish shell at the bottom of the photo below.  I also happened upon that cute little shark’s eye which was partially buried.  It was pure luck that I noticed it!  I’ve come across much bigger ones, but they always have a hermit crab inside.

I do collect broken shells, because they are unique in their own way.  In my photo below you can see a broken crown conch… if it was whole, there would be a hermit crab inside, no doubt.  Crown conchs are everywhere in areas like this, but they are always inhabited.  (I found a live Fighting Conch, and hermit crab inside a little shell I couldn’t identify.  More to come about those, on a later post.)

Florida seashells
Broken Crown conch, mussel, clam, tagelus, dosinia, little shark’s eye, and tiny marsh periwinkles (one sits on top of a penny).

The little shark’s eye shell (below) has a hole drilled into the side. That is how the mollusk inside was killed. Something came along and bored into the shell to eat what was inside. The thing is, Shark’s eyes ARE predatory, and this guy would have done the same to another shell!

 

tiny sharks eye and periwinkle
Tiny Seashells (and a penny)

As the water came up, I headed up onto the sandy dune area to search among the scrub brush.  I wondered if I’d find some sort of seashell treasure up there.

And I did!  This is where I found those three little white Marsh Periwinkles (photo above) – or at least I think that is what they are.  They were all found close together and nothing was inside except sand, so I picked them up.  I’ve never seen these before, so I had new shells for my collection.  Nice….  I had to be careful not to lose them, as they are tiny!

mourning dove in sand
Mourning Dove

I found some trash, of course, and what looked like an old campfire pit, and saw some mourning doves – that was a surprise!  I really thought that all I would see were shore birds.

I came across the remains of a coconut.  It had traveled from the mainland or beach peninsula, because there were no coconut palm trees on that island.

coconut shell
Remains of a coconut, with partial outer and inner shell.

We left later in the day when the clouds were thickening up. The water had come in quite a bit by then. Soon the all that sand would be covered, until the tide began it’s journey back out to the sea.

I wonder what treasures it will leave behind.  Can’t wait to return here.

marshland island florida
Looking toward the Ocean, with a view of high-rise condos beach-side.
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crown conch seashell

Shells I Found on The Muddy Flats

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but all the shells I found were occupied by hermit crabs, so the best I could do was get some photos.

While traveling the backwaters of the Indian River, we came up behind the islands known as Three Sisters. Since I love to walk along the sandy flats when the tide is out, my son dropped me off and he went out fishing.

I found so many interesting shells in this area that I went back out to the boat to get my camera.

Here’s what I found in this marvelous area of Florida which is mostly untouched by man.

A pretty little yellow Pear Whelk shell. It is similar in looks to the Lightning whelk (second photo), but the opening is on the right, not the left, as in the Lightning whelk.

yellow pear whelk seashell
Little Yellow Pear Whelk Shell – Home to a Hermit Crab
lightning whelk
Little Lightning Whelk

This crown conch is not an unusual find, but I did like the nice size of it’s spikes. Often the spikes can be worn down from all the tumbling about in the ocean, but these spikes were long and sharp. Had to get a photo before the crab inside scampered away.

crown conch seashell
Crown Conch with Great Big Spikes

I wasn’t too sure what this little gray shell was, but I think it’s a faded pear whelk. It’s my best guess.

seashell in mud
Little gray shell

And here’s a real beauty… Yes, this is a seashell. It’s round, and mud covered, but it’s one of my favorite shells. Any guesses? Click to see a good photo of the Shark’s Eye shell.

mud covered round sharks eye seashell
Yes, it’s a seashell!

And my favorite find of the day was this awesome big True Tulip shell. My book says max 5 inches for this one, but this one is more like 6 inches. It has a broken opening with an oyster attached to the inside, and of course, a hermit crab has taken up residence.

true tulip shell
Big True Tulip shell, next to my foot

All these shells and many many more were living in close proximity on this sandy bottom surrounded by oyster beds.  Shells could be seen scurrying along just under the water at low tide, but the crab would stop and hide once I approached.  They tuck themselves all the way up inside these shells, so it looks unoccupied, but I know better.

oyster bed
Oyster bed along the sandy flats
Live horse conch in ocean water

Found a Big Living Horse Conch, Exciting!

While out on the boat just the other day we were fishing the backwaters north of Mosquito Lagoon. It was low tide and my son wanted to fish in Oyster Bay because the oyster mounds would be easy to see and navigate.

As we entered the bay area a large area of very shallow water allowed us to see the sand through the clear, running water. We all noticed, what looked like, a large shell just beneath the surface. I know that the horse conch can grow to be around 2 feet long, and certain other whelks can also be quite large. So we trolled over to the edge of the sandy island and hopped into the water to investigate.

The elongated shape of the shell told me it was a horse conch, and with just a little of the orange part (the mollusk’s body) showing, I knew I had found a living horse conch! My son held the heavy shell for a moment so I could get this photo and we put it right back down onto the sand.

Here you can see the operculum (round hard disk) which closes the mollusk in, and his bright orange body.  It’s such an amazing creature!  They like sand, and this area is nothing but sand, so I’m sure he’s very happy traversing the inland waterways.

living horse conch
Live Horse Conch

It’s not unusual to find little crown shells, lightning whelks and other pretty shells “walking” around on these sand bars. They are never living mollusks, only empty shells taken over by the hermit crabs. So, finding this big living mollusk was an exciting experience for me.

That find alone made my day, but later on we found another living horse conch on the same type of sand bar! It was about the same size as the first, and was up out of the water and encrusted with barnacles.  I didn’t touch the second one, or take a picture, but I could see his orange body down in the mud.  (I am always afraid I will drop my cell phone while walking through the squishy muddy, and sometimes slippery, bottom.) Plus, I already had my photos.

I have a horse conch seashell which I found empty on one of these types of islands.  Perhaps empty horse conchs are too large for hermit crabs to occupy. (But they DO occupy every other type of gastropod out there!)

According to my seashell reference book, Florida’s Living Beaches, the Florida horse conch is “relatively uncommon” along the east coast.  I’ve never seen one along the shore or at the beach, and I’ve only found 3 in my travels in the backwaters.  They are however, “relatively common” on the southern west coast of Florida, where I imagine beautiful large and juvenile empty shells wash up on the beach.  Over here where I live, it takes a bit more searching to find such a wonder.

living horse conch in natural habitat
Where the Horse Conch Lives

We left him on his sandy island, awaiting the return of the tide, and trolled off to try and catch some fish.

A Beach Without Shells

Disappearing Island at Ponce Inlet is a beautiful place to hang out and enjoy Florida nature at it’s best. But it is not the place to go to collect seashells.

Truly, I have only been to this area a few times, but on our recent visit I walked all over the soft sand and found nothing to collect.

The only seashells I found were a crown conch shell being carried along by a hermit crab, and this cute little Florida cerith with the snail still inside.  This photo was taken while the snail was under the water right along the shoreline.  The shell has interesting bumps around it’s tight spiral.

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 11.03.34 AM
Florida cerith

Our boat was anchored at the edge of a narrow canal and this little crab came crawling along the waterline. He just took his time and was unafraid of us.

My son thought he might be a baby Stone crab, and after looking it up in my book, I think he’s right. My book says that juvenile Stone crabs are deep purple in color.

little crab
Little Crab

If this little guy is a Stone crab, he may be caught in someone’s crab trap one day. When that happens, and if he is the right size, his big claw (only one) can be broken off and taken home to eat. The crab will grow a new claw back eventually. The whole crab is not used, just his claw.

For more information on catching and eating Stone crab, read this article at the Florida Sportsman site.

true tulip seashell

The Big True Tulip Shell I Had to Give Back

While boating around the backwater, looking for some fish to catch, we pulled up to a muddy area covered with about 6 inches of water. While the boys played around with the boat, I walked the flat area in search of seashells. I saw many crown conchs, all of which had hermit crabs moving them around.

When I came to an odd looking thing, and realized it was a sting ray, which are common in these areas. But this one, about a foot in size, wasn’t moving away. He was “watching” me as I approached. It was a little creepy, so I turned and walked back toward the boat.

On my way back, I saw an odd shape in the mud and touched it with my foot (which was inside my water shoes, of course!). It felt hard and I thought it must be a shell that was buried in the sand. I began to hope that it might be a great find.

I reached down and pulled up a big True Tulip shell!  You can see it next to my glasses below, and it measured about 5.5 inches in length.

big true tulip seashell
True Tulip Seashell, Measuring 5.5 inches long

According to my Seashell Book, the True tulip reaches a size of 5 inches max. So this one was a big shell.

(By the way, the photo at the top was of a smaller tulip I found in another spot. I included that picture to show the colors and bands a little better.)
So this was not the first Tulip shell I had found, but I haven’t been able to collect any because they are always occupied by hermit crabs.

This one was buried down under the sand. I saw no sign of life inside the shell. How exciting… I had not only found a Tulip to keep, but it was a huge Tulip! I brought it over to the boat and set it inside to take home.

tulip shell covered with dirt
Top of the Tulip Shell

It was late by the time we got home so I rinsed the shell and set it out on the back patio for overnight. Some time later I looked outside and noticed that the shell was not there. Hmmmm… this could be disappointing.

I found it up next to the house and my suspicions were correct. A HUGE hermit crab was living inside the shell. This happened to me not long ago, when I collected a broken white whelk and it ended up being a hermit crab home too.

So I put the beautiful shell into a bucket and the next morning when we went out on the boat again I put the shell, with the hermit crab inside, back into the water.

I still don’t have a Tulip shell.