You’ve just returned home from a vacation at the beach and each day you added to your collection of treasures amassed from walks along the shore. As you clean the shells and carefully add them to a glass bowl, you begin to wonder just what they are called. Is it possible there is a rare seashell in your bucket? To begin a search for names of shells, I have a few pointers to pass on.
Besides this blog, I have written an article about Types of Shells where I include photos and descriptions of some of my seashells. I am not a seashell expert, so although I will try to help you identify something, I usually find helpful information in my favorite seashell ID books.
My favorite Florida beaches ID book is Florida’s Living Beaches by Blair and Dawn Witherington. It covers more than seashells because Florida beaches also contain bugs, birds, turtles, driftwood, sea glass, animal tracks, flowers, plants, dunes, and even rocks. It is a complete beachcombing guide.
Most people don’t realize the abundant variety of shells out there. To make it easier to identify the shell in your possession, first narrow down the field. If you search for “seashells” you will be overwhelmed – mostly with photos and not too much info. The truth is that most people love seashells but that is where it stops. Most, I believe, don’t ever give much thought to what lived inside and how the shell was created, or how it got to the spot where you picked it up, much less what it might be called. So photos online will be easy to find, but where is that picture (and info) you need to identify what you have?
Gastropod or Bivalve?
The first thing I suggest when searching online is to narrow the field by searching for either “gastropod” or “bi-valve“. If your shell was made all in one piece it is a gastropod (univalve), and if it’s in two sections hitched together, like a clam, (even if you only have one half) then it’s a bi-valve. That should give you a bunch of pictures to view. Also mention where it was found.
Sometimes shells with the same name will vary in appearance. For instance, the gastropod you found may be a juvenile (baby seashell) and doesn’t look at all like the large shell it would have grown into. See my Lightning Whelk picture, with mature and juvenile shells side by side. It took me a while to figure out what that little one was!
Scallops and clams are found in a variety of colors and sizes as are many other types of shells. Shells which are covered in periostracum (a flaky black substance) may look nothing like the beautiful photos you find online. And shells that have been worn, broken and filled with tiny holes (like my photo above) may be tough to identify.
Search Using the Scientific Name of the Shell
I suggest buying a good seashell identification book. Buy one that is specific to your area, or the area you plan to visit, because the same types of shells are not always found everywhere in the world. The great thing about having a book to reference is that it should give you the scientific name of the shells. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells (National Audubon Society Field Guides) is the book I started with. Once you find the scientific name of a shell, it’s easier to search online for a picture.
The more you learn about seashells, the less you will take them for granted, and the more you will appreciate each shell you collect for the diverse and amazing animal that created it.