The Florida rock snail is part of the murex family. This is only the second rock snail shell I’ve collected, so they are not seen regularly by me, although they are a fairly common mollusk found all around the coast of Florida.
They tend to live on jetties, where they have rocks to cling to. And this shell was found on the shore near the jetty at Ponce Inlet. It makes sense that it would have washed up there.
My shell shown here is a little less than 2 inches long. My go-to reference book claims that their max length is 3 inches. When I picked it up and saw the orange inside I knew what it was. Not all rock snails (Stramonita haemastoma) have to be orange inside, but the two I have collected do have this coloring.
Here I have taken a photo of my shell sitting on the page where the writers have shown a photo of the same type of shell. You can see they look very similar.
The shell is gray and brown and not super colorful. Mine had some barnacles which chipped off when I cleaned it.
There are three ways to get to the beach at Ponce Inlet. Drive on the sand to the end of the beach at the jetty, park and walk to the inlet, or if you live close, simply walk there. Pay to park at Smyrna Dunes Park and walk the boardwalk (it’s not finished yet) and sandy paths that lead to the beach. Pull up to the shore in a boat. This area of beach is one of my favorites to visit.
(All photography on this site is not free to use and is copyright protected.)
The other day I parked at the Park (I have a pass) and walked out to the shore. Because the tide was low, I had lots of little tide pools to explore. I have to really look to find shells here, but I did find a few keepers. One was a rock snail which I rarely find.
It was late in the day and the park closes at 6:00PM this time of year. I walked down to the jetty and then made my way back.
My walk was a nice break from sitting at the computer working. The peace and solitude of the beach this time of year can’t be beat. It’s still warm enough to get wet without being cold and some of the little pools were fairly deep.
There were people out strolling around and this is one place that dogs are allowed, so I saw a few of them. One couple was being photographed – maybe engagement pictures? It’s a beautiful spot for that.
The horse conch is the Florida state shell. It is one of the largest shells to be found around the coastline and is the largest snail in North America. The horse conch is one of the spindle shells. They are thick and elongated. It looks like someone stretched the shell from both ends. It can grow to be nearly 2 feet in length!
The small horse conchs I’ve come across have all had hermit crabs inside. As can be seen in my photo, they are not very pretty while living in the wild. Usually shells are slimy and brown or green when found out in nature.
One day, while we were boating, I noticed this big shell just under the water on a sandy flat covered in about a foot of water. The water was clear that day and the tide was going out. I walked over to the dark spot in the water and discovered that it was a living horse conch! I was so excited. This was the first one I had ever seen in the wild. My son is holding it so I could get a photo. We immediately put it back down in the water and left him alone.
A little later in the day we saw another one, just like this one. The water was clear and the tide was going out, which is a good time to see these living monster mollusks. Read my post about finding this living horse conch.
Florida horse conchs (Triplofusus giganteus) live in sandy shallows, and that is exactly where we found this one. Supposedly, they can be found all around the Florida coastline living in the sandy shallows. I rarely see them. Maybe it’s because the dig down into the sand… as I discovered later on.
The photo below is of a live horse conch found along the Intracoastal Waterway near Oak Hill, Florida. The water was murky that day, as you can see. This guy was dug down into the sand so far that I didn’t know what it was until I pulled it up – hoping for an empty shell, but expecting a piece of debris or coquina rock. I didn’t realize that horse conchs bury themselves! So I left him alone and got an underwater photo with the Go-Pro.
Sometimes juvenile shells are hard to identify, but the long spire (top spike) on the horse conch makes it relatively easy to recognize. The little one in the photo below had no mollusk inside, just a hermit crab. It was fun to find, since horse conchs are not easy to spot where I travel – large or small.
A picture of a horse conch egg shell casing can be seen on this post at the “i love shelling” blog, which is written by a woman who lives on Sanibel Island. Click the link and scroll down the page. Sanibel Island is on the Gulf coast, where beautiful shells of all types are easy to find. I do not live in such a place. The wonderful big seashell finds are few and far between over here on the East coast.
The search is one of the best parts of beach-combing.
One day I got lucky and found a big horse conch sitting on the sand in the backwaters. Nothing was inside. The shell was too large for hermit crabs, so it was something I could collect.
The shell had a film of dark brown stuff called periostracum all over it and some hard barnacles. I chipped off the barnacles and got some of the periostracum off, but I decided it looked just fine with some of the brown left on.
This horse conch sits on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. I love to look at it and wonder about the life of the mollusk that made it. Where did it travel and how old was it when it finally died, and how did that happen? The large snail can eat many gastropods and bivalves. This snail is huge.
The video is of a big horse conch eating a tulip snail and the scurrying hermit crabs who fight over the empty tulip shell.
Hurricane Irma came right up through Florida on September 10th, and caused me lots of stress. I don’t live on the water, but after traveling around on land and water, I have seen all the damage to those who live or work right on the water.
Then Hurricane Maria devastated the islands, and namely Puerto Rico, but missed Florida – mostly. On land we were safe, but the seashore and waterways had to deal with high waves and tides which eroded shorelines.
The damage here from Maria came as huge waves, which the surfers loved. Rip currents and high tides meant the beaches were not safe for swimming. High tide meant no driving on the beach, as there was no beach to drive on. All this, even with Maria being almost 500 miles offshore!
The Orlando Sentinel reported on the effects of hurricane Maria on the East coast of Florida in this article – which has video of the devastation in Puerto Rico.
Yesterday we went out fishing and saw the effects of the storms ourselves. Many docks are still unusable and some are being fixed, like the docks at JB’s Fish Camp. It’s one of my picks for eating on the water in New Smyrna Beach.
As you can see the water level is super high – it was high tide, but going out. The workers were literally at water level while re-building the docks. We saw a few kayakers (JB’s rents kayaks) and people eating under the umbrella tables on the patio, but there is no place to dock a boat. Soon, I hope.
The water is muddy and murky with lots of leaves and Black mangrove seeds – green pods which look a little like lima beans.
I also saw the long Red mangrove seeds which float vertically in the water. I never knew what those odd looking things were. Mangroves are all over the backwater area where we fish. Mangroves, basically, are plants that can live in salt water. The ones we see are most likely the Black mangroves, but we must have Red too, since I see the seeds. All those green plants you see on the horizon, in my muddy water photo above, are mangroves.
In the photo above you can see a few long Red mangrove seeds on the beach with many green seeds. These were floating everywhere in the water too.
Along this island it was apparent how high the water had come. Large sections of sand were cut away and I’m guessing that some waves washed over the top of the island to the water on the other side. This is a camping island, and I found black charcoal briquets in the water too!
The tide was high when we were out fishing, which meant there were not many sandy areas or beaches to explore. We stopped on this island (which is one of my favorite to explore) and I went in search of treasure. Mostly I found oyster shells – yuk. But among a bunch of shells which were washed way up under some mangroves I did pick up a worn knobbed whelk.
I collected another larger knobbed whelk which was green and broken. It will go into my garden. Photos of the rest of my finds on another post to come.
We did catch some fish – redfish, trout and snapper – but no keepers. My son was keeping an eye out for George of Reel Time as he was staying in New Smyrna Beach to film for his fishing show. We didn’t see him, but we did have to run from a quick moving rain storm late in the day!
Often I will pick up interesting pieces of seashells while beach-combing. I’m getting better at identifying the pieces. The more variety of shells I collect, the easier it becomes. If the bit of shell baffles me at the seashore, I search it out in my favorite seashell book, or look through my seashell collection.
Seashells break for many reasons and some shells are more fragile than others. The Channeled duck clam is thin and most of them are broken on top. (It’s the white shell in the left-hand photo below.)
Usually it’s the surf and wave action that tumbles the shell until it breaks. Birds can be the culprits too. Whatever the reason, it can challenge the mind to picture bits as whole shells. Usually I am sorry I missed seeing it as a whole, beautiful specimen.