black and silver jingle shells

The Mermaid’s Toenails Turned Black

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 9.56.28 AMThe common jingle shell (Anomia ephippium) is easy to identify, but maybe not from a distance.  While walking along the shoreline, spotting a black shell could mean you’ve found just about anything.  Any shell can end up turning dark gray or black in color if the conditions are right.

On my latest visit to the beach, I gathered some jingle shells, of which most were black, as you can see in my photo. One is somewhat silver, and another has bits of lighter tan, which means it still retains some of it’s original color.

But jingle shells don’t start out as black.  Just like the lightning whelk below, shells turn black because of sea and sand conditions.  According to a comment left on another blog, The Ocracoke Island Journal, shells that have been washed into a low oxygen area will turn black due to the presence of iron sulfide.  Click the link to see photos of an impressive collection of shells that were washed up on the beach after Hurricane Irene, many of which are black in color.  Scroll down the page to read the comment about black seashells.

Jingle shells can be orange, yellow, white or off white, and gray.   Because of the coloring and their flat shiny surface they are sometimes called “Mermaid’s toenails”.   Once you hold a jingle shell, the difference between it and other shells is readily apparent.  It’s a bivalve, but there is nothing to suggest it was attached to anther piece.  The shell is irregular and somewhat flattened.  They are rarely over 2 inches across in size.

In fact I did collect quite a few black shells that day. I’m not really sure what that black one is in the photo below. It was too thick to be a jingle shell, but had the right shape.

cross-barred venus clam
One of the black shells I found

This piece of a whelk and the pointed bit of shell caught my eye also because of the unusual dark color.  I have decided it is a Lightning Whelk.  It is my best guess as the other side looks like the opening would be on the left.

I don’t think it’s rare to find a black seashell, but the shell was washed up from a place that had the right conditions to turn it into this, from it’s natural beautiful state.

black seashell
Black Lightning Whelk
Lightning Whelk
Lightning Whelk
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east coast florida beach shells

Take A Closer Look When Seashell Collecting

If you are not a regular beach-walker and seashell collector, it may seem that the good seashells (usually we think they will be big too) will be easy to find.  If only you find them first.   But heading to the right beach, at the right time, is not all it takes to find unique and wonderful shells.  Often a closer look at the sand beneath your feet will give up surprises.

In my photo below, it seems as if there are few shells here to find.  But that is not true.  All the seashells in my photo (next one down) were collected in one day here.  But I had to look closely, and I picked up a lot of stuff I didn’t want, in order to find them.  I also walked back and forth along the breakers more than once.

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The water was gorgeous, but it was very windy with rough seas

As I walked the beach at Ponce Inlet yesterday afternoon, I didn’t see many people looking down at the sand. Most people were hanging out in chairs, or walking and talking, or in the water fishing. It occured to me that searching for unique shells takes some intense looking. I had to closely scan the sand around me in order to collect some unique, smaller keepers.  It made me wonder if anyone ever looks closely at the shells beneath their feet.  I know they would scramble to pick up a whole starfish or sand dollar, but I doubt many people give much thought to other inconspicuous shells, or the creatures who made them.

 

The beach was full of shells, with more being exposed as the tide went out quickly. Most were the commonly found arks and cockle shells. They are thick bivalves, which make them easy to find in one piece. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice looking, but can be found all over this area. I was looking for something that would be relatively rare to add to my collection.

My sons and I spent nearly three hours on the beach, fishing and beachcombing (they fished), and today my back aches from the constant bending and standing. Who knew that shell collecting could be a workout?

I found many beautiful shells, and a few I have not collected before. Unfortunately the surf is rough and finding whole shells is difficult. So I collected some shells that were nearly whole, knowing that I may never find a perfect specimen.

east coast florida beach shells
The collection, pre-washing

A few of the shells I found were easy to see, just beneath the waves, or stuck in the soft sand. The big, white Angelwings immediately attracted my attention, and although pieces were missing along the tops, I took them home.

I also brought home three Channeled Duckclams, which I see a lot, but are always broken. Usually I only find bits and pieces not worth collecting. Yesterday I did take the big broken ones. Their shells are thin, like the Angelwings, so finding a perfect shell is tough.

Other shells that were fairly easy to find were the black ones. Black stands out against the beach sand, and against the others. Happily, most of the black shells I went for ended up being Jingle Shells! One black shell was a piece of what looks like a whelk of some kind, but I loved finding all those jingle shells.

But some of the most awesome shells I came across were very small and could only be found by looking closely at the sand. They blended in with all those arks, but every now and then something different would catch my eye. It helps to know a little about seashells. They are not all the same, although at first glance they may seem to be.

I was able to add two Dosinia shells to my bag. I love the feel of their smooth flat surface. And I rarely see them. A little gray sharks eye was sitting on the sand, and although it was broken, I collected it. I’ve found big beautiful sharks eye shells while out boating but they are always inhabited by hermit crabs.

Other unique (to me) shells were the Stout tagelus, slipper shells, cross-barred venus, a black scallop, and two lettered olives (one alive).  And I found some things that have baffled me.  I’m still researching photos in my seashell book, Florida’s Living Beaches, to discover what they are.

As I write about each of the shells I found, I will link back to this page so you can click to see the photos of the shells.

sharks eye with hermit crab

Almost Got A Gorgeous Sharks Eye

sharks eye with hermit crab
Bottom of Sharks Eye shell with hermit crab showing

The sharks eye seashell is easy to identify with it’s round, swirled shape. I have a few of them, but the big ones (they can be up to 3 inches across) are truly gorgeous.

The shell is smooth and usually a gray-brown color. It’s a chunky round shell and I’m always on the lookout for one when I am near the ocean.

While walking along a deserted beach on a little island I found a gorgeous shark’s eye! It was big and so lovely. Then, my excitement lessened as I went to pick it up and it moved. A hermit crab had taken up residence inside. Just like all the other awesome shells I had found that day, it was a home for the spider-like crabs.

Photos were all I could take with me, as I put the shell back on the sand. Darn, it was a beauty!  I lightened up the image above so you could see the hermit crab tucked up inside the shell.  They usually don’t come out unless left totally alone.  Some of them are up inside the shells so far that they can’t be seen at all (which is why I took one home by accident).  And almost every shell I find out on the Indian River has a hermit crab inside it!

sharks eye
Sorry for the blurry shark’s eye photo

I only had my cell phone camera and it’s difficult to see anything in the bright sun.  I basically have to take the shots blind and hope for the best.  This one didn’t come out so great, but I figured I’d share so you can get an idea of that “eye” in the center top.

If it had been empty, I’d have collected it in a minute!  I think it would have cleaned up nicely.

While beach-combing in another area I managed to find a tiny shark’s eye shell in the sand.  It was broken, but I snatched it up anyway.  No crab inside this one!

I also found more interesting seashells that day.  If you are interested, go read that post.

sharks eye
Little Sharks Eye Shell
horseshoe crab seashell beach

Big Whelks, Oysters and Something Unexpected

One of the shells in my photo below contains a creature hiding within. He was so secretive that I never knew he was there for a full day after bringing these shells home. So here’s the story…

broken whelks big seashells
Big Whelks found along Indian River

My sons and I went boating in our little Gheenoe a couple days ago. It was not windy at our house, but once we got over to the River we saw whitecaps and knew we would be dealing with wind. Windy conditions and rough water are not a big deal unless you happen to be traveling in a canoe with a motor. With three of us in the little boat it won’t go fast, and because it sits so low in the water, we tend to get wet.

Because of this we didn’t travel far. The closest big island is where we stopped, and I got out to search for seashells. The boys used the trolling motor and went just offshore to do some fishing.   We had the place to ourselves.

The shell hunt began. First I walked the inner side of the island which was extremely windy. I saw a lot of horseshoe crabs – alive and dead, and of course oysters. More than once I’ve been faked out when I think I’ve discovered a big shell in the shallows only to find it’s a nasty clump of oysters!

oysters attached to tree roots
Oysters growing on tree roots along the island coastline

All the cute little shells along the shoreline were moving. Hermit crabs take up residence and steal all the good seashells for themselves. Each beautiful specimen I came across was inhabited, so I took photos and had to be happy with that. Those seashell finds I will share on my next post.

On the inland side of the island, where I was more sheltered from the wind, I found something that made my heart race. A big yellow seashell was up on shore and looked to be buried in the sand.  A shell on the shore means the mollusk is not inside.  Sea snails live in the water.   The fact that it was not moving gave me the impression that a hermit crab was not inside. I was excited, but I should have known better.  I took this photo before picking it up.  Doesn’t it look like it could be a great find?
yellow w WM
Unfortunately the underneath of that shell (which I believe is a knobbed whelk) was completely broken open, so what I saw in the sand is all there was to the shell.   The mollusk had died and the broken shell did not give shelter for a crab.  In other words it was useless to sea life.  I took it home, along with the other broken shells I found.

But the big surprise came the day after our trip to the island, when a hermit crab appeared in the opening of one of the broken shells! Can you guess which shell, from my first photo above?

When I got home I soaked all the shells in water with a small amount of bleach to clean them off.  I left them on the cement deck outside all night and then cleaned them one at a time the next day.  When they were dry, I set them on the table and that is when my son noticed a big hermit crab emerging from the one below!
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Yup, a good size hermit crab is inside the top of this broken, faded and worn Channeled whelk shell.  The inner top of this shell must be hollow and he had scrunched himself into that area.  We could see a bit of his legs through that top broken piece.

We did the only thing we could do to help the crab survive.  We drove over to the River and tossed the shell back into the sea water.

You can see pictures of the Channeled Whelk as it is before it becomes as destroyed as mine is on the “i love shelling” site, where Pam (the blog owner) is fortunate to live and travel to great shelling places.  She writes from the fabulous Gulf Coast, Sanibel area, where gorgeous seashells are everywhere.

I have to work hard just to find these broken ones!  But it’s fun, and who knows, one day I may find something spectacular out there.

jellyfish on beach

New Smyrna Beach Jellyfish, Seaweed, and a Bumpy Beach Drive

We are still waiting for the boat we ordered to come in and I’m dying to get out on the water.  For now I must be content with visiting the beach and river.

This morning I headed over to Flagler Ave. to see how the ocean looked.  There have been beach advisories lately because of the high winds, which cause high tides and rip currents. And sure enough, the waves were crashing and the beach was a mess.

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Messy Beach and Rough Surf

The tide was going out, so I decided to drive down Penninsula Ave. and get onto the beach from one of those drive-on spots.  The one I chose had a big puddle of sea water at the bottom of the ramp.  The toll-collector and I watched the car ahead of me navigate it along the edge, and he made it.  I have a 4-wheel drive Subaru, which always handled very well in the snow, so I was not afraid of a sea puddle (it was a BIG puddle).  I slid around a bit but made it out to the beach traffic lanes fine.  But the driving was very bumpy because of all the ruts in the sand.  For that reason I didn’t go very far before parking.

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Portuguese man-o-war 

The first thing I noticed, besides all the seaweed, was the blue jellyfish.  Yes, man-of-war jellyfish were scattered along the beach.  I got a couple of pictures and didn’t know what type they were until I got home and showed the picture to my son.  He knew right away it was a man-of-war.  Believe it or not, people (tourists?) were still going in the water!

I walked the high tide line of sand hoping to find some cool shells, but all I found was the regular variety.  My goal was to get close to the jetty and boardwalk of the Smyrna Dunes Park down by Ponce Inlet, but it was too far to drive on that bumpy sand.  I may end up getting a pass so I can drive to the park and walk along the boardwalks.

sea bird on beach
Sea Bird in the Sand

I did see something odd though.  A sea bird was plopped down in the sand.  At first I thought it was dead, but it wasn’t.  I’ve never been to the beach when a bird was nestled in the dune area.  I snapped a photo without getting too close.

beach shells

The shells I found were the regular arks.  I was hoping to find some unusual seashells because of the high tide and rough surf.  I didn’t find any super unique shells, but I did collect a little slipper shell, a black rock, and a Sea Purse Bean (photo below).

There are a lot of sea beans mentioned in my “Florida’s Living Beaches” book.  Some have a much thicker ring, but they are all hard and roundish in shape.  This is the first time I have collected a sea bean.

sea bean