Jingle Shells aka Mermaids’ Toenails

bivalve shells

Jingle shells (Anomia ephippium) are not hard to find on the beaches of Florida.  They can also be found from Massachusetts to Brazil according to my seashell ID book.

They have been given the nickname “Mermaid’s Toenails” and I can see why.  They are wrinkled and polished looking and come in a variety of translucent colors from shades of orange to dark gray, with white and off-white being common as well.

Jingle shells in pretty peach, yellow, white and silver colors
Jingle shells come in pretty colors.
black and silver jingle shells
Jingle shells which have turned black due to being buried in sediment before eventually washing ashore. Read more about black seashells here.

The “jingle” part of their name comes from the fact that they make a jingling sound when a group of them is collected and shaken around in your pocket or pail.  Their thinness does not mean they are fragile, in fact they are very sturdy little shells that measure around one to two inches across.  The pretty variety of colors makes them perfect for display or creating crafts and they add interest in a jar of shells.

The mollusk that makes the shell usually attaches itself to something – a rock or even another larger shell – in the ocean.   It also takes the form of the item it attaches to which would explain it’s bumpy appearance.   Then, when the bivalve shell splits apart – for whatever reason, only one half washes up on shore.  The other half is still attached to the place where it lived, or breaks since it is the thinner part of the shell.  You will most likely not find a jingle shell in two parts on the beach and the part you do find is probably the left half.

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23 thoughts on “Jingle Shells aka Mermaids’ Toenails

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  3. ileen roos

    I found a great many jingle shells in Fairview, MA back in August. In fact, they were the shells that pushed me over the top of opening an etsy store where I sell jewelry made from shells. I’ve had some early success & need to make more with my arc, cockle & clam shells, but there are still several options if anyone is interested in jingle shell earrings. When I first discovered your blog, I was just an ordinary shell collector. Now I’m trying to be creative with my finds. Please check out my store & let me know what you think. By the way, I don’t like mermaid toenails as a descriptor since mermaids don’t have toes! https://www.etsy.com/shop/ShellDesignCreations

    1. Pam

      Etsy contains many stores that sell items made of seashells, and I wish you luck with your jewelry store. Selling anything online takes a lot of commitment. As for the “mermaid’s toenails” I suppose when the mermaids are washed up on shore their tails turn to legs and feet and maybe their toenails fall off when they turn back? Haha… I am reaching here!

      1. ileen roos

        Thanks Pam. I did search quite a few shops, but haven’t found other etsy sellers with similar designs to mine. I added a bunch today & will continue to do so until I run out of viable shells. It’s amazing how I’ve gone from wanting to find complete & perfect shells to shells with a hole in exactly the right place!

      2. Pam

        Isn’t it funny how sometimes shells have those holes right at the top where they should be? Have fun with your craft, and I wish you success with your Etsy store.

  4. BlkSwan56

    Thanks for the info. I just found one of these on Huntington Beach, CA, 1/27/18. I thought it was abalone since it was translucent and so different fromthe other shells I was collecting. I had no idea that they aren’t typically found on the Pacific coast. I will definitely treasure it.

    1. Dustytoes

      Congrats on your jingle shell find! I believe they are typically found along the East coast only, so if you do have one, it is rare. Do you have oysters over there on the West? Sometimes bits of oyster shells can look a lot like a jingle shell.

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  6. Timothy McLaughlin

    Thank You for your article. I collect these Jingle shells and make earrings with them as gifts to people mainly. Your article would be a to include.

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  9. Karen Broderick

    I just moved to Naples, Florida and there are Jingle Shells all up and down the Coast here from Marco Island to Ft. Myers. I had no idea what they were called when I first arrived here so i just called them the glass shells lol

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  11. Sharon Lovejoy

    Love reading this.

    Can you please tell me where the “mermaid’s toes” are commonly found.
    I adore the name.

    At our summer cottage in Maine we collect “mermaid’s tears,” which are small, sea sanded pieces of colorful beach glass. I treasure each piece.

    Thanks for your writing!

    Sharon Lovejoy

    1. seashellsbymillhill

      Hi Sharon,
      thanks for viewing my blog!

      I replied to your question in my post – and there are other shells on the west coast called Jingle shells, but they look different according to the pictures in my reference book. Mine were found in Florida.
      Your “mermaid’s tears” sound beautiful. I don’t have any beach glass, just lots of shells!
      Glad you stopped by.

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