The lighting whelk seashell (Busycon sinistrum) is commonly found along Florida’s gulf coast. The mollusk lives all around Florida so it could be found just about anywhere, but the Sanibel area has an abundance of the shell. Don’t collect shells with living mollusks inside, like the one pictured. Take a photo and put it back where you found it.
(I’ll admit that I am not entirely sure how to spell the name of this seashell. Most often I’ve seen it spelled with the “n” – lightNing. However, I’ve also seen it without the n – lighting, and with “en” – lightENing. Even my seashell reference book spells it two different ways on the same page! I’ve decided to use the n from here on out until I discover otherwise.)
On with the story. The lightning whelk is one of those shells that grow to be very large, up to 16 inches in length. It has a long opening down the entire side and some shells that have a similar appearance are the knobbed whelk, channeled whelk, and pear whelk. But the lightning whelk has a unique characteristic.
The lightning whelk is sinistral, or left-handed. The aperture, or opening, is on the left side which differs from most every other gastropod. Hold the shell from the pointed bottom with the whorls, or spirals, at the top – as seen in the photo here. In comparison most other gastropods, or shells without two parts, will have their opening on the right side.
In my photo below I compare a juvenile lightning whelk (right) to another seashell. That little lightning whelk was a mystery to me until I realized it had a left side opening… then suddenly it dawned on me what it was! Hello…..
See my own pictures of this seashell at the Lighting Whelk page.