One pretty seashell you may find if vacationing along the Gulf coast of Florida is the lightning whelk. It’s scientific name is (Busycon contrarium) and it’s commonly found along the southern U.S. beaches from the Carolinas to Texas. In fact, it is the official state shell of Texas.
I found mine (pictured) on Sanibel Island which is on the Gulf side of Florida. There were a lot of live lightning whelks walking along the sandy bottom, so it’s obviously a good place for this mollusk to live.
This whelk can grow to be very large – over a foot in length. The one I found is only about 5 inches long. They are recognizable by the tan color and dark stripes, but if you are still not sure what you have, hold the shell upright by the end of it’s long swirl, with the opening (or living area of the mollusk) facing you.
The lightning whelk has a left-handed opening whereas most gastropods have openings on the right (as in the picture at the top of this page).
The lightning whelk lives in shallow, warmer water and searches the sandy bottom for it’s food. This is probably why they can be found in abundance on southern and gulf coast beaches in Florida. Larger whelks – such as the horse conch– will eat the lightning whelk.