While out on the boat the other day, I came across a large, empty horse conch just lying in the sand at low tide. It was a super hot day, and most shells were under water and inhabited by hermit crabs. I was thrilled to discover a big shell that was a keeper because nothing was living inside!
But it wasn’t pretty. Interesting, for sure, but not pretty. Barnacles encrusted most of the top (spire area) and most of the 10-inch long seashell was covered in black “skin” called periostracum. That info came from my seashell book, “Florida’s Living Beaches“.
I’ve never had such a messed up shell to clean, so I searched for a way to remove the coating and maybe see the shell colors underneath. I began by using my son’s toothbrush and scrubbing at the coating. (He’ll never know – haha, just kidding. Of course I bought him a new one).
At the best shell blog (besides my own, hee-hee) I found that Pam at I Love Shelling had written a nice article (see the link below) about cleaning her horse conchs. She has a lot of shells. She lives on Sanibel Island, where finding awesome shells is a daily thing. I don’t have that luxury, but we both love collecting seashells and I often refer to her experience to share. We both live in Florida, but she is on the Gulf coast and I am on the Atlantic / east coast where nice big empty seashells are a rare find.
I do however find them living! And that is an awesome sight. Read more about Finding A Living Horse Conch, with photos.
As of this writing, the photo below this is what my horse conch looks like. The barnacles have been chipped away and some of the periostracum has been removed. After I soaked the shell overnight in plain water, the barnacles could be chipped off with a butter knife – it’s all I had. I find that letting the shell dry out makes the brown stuff flaky so I can brush it off. But this process is going to take a while.
Pam’s Tutorial For How To Clean Horse Conch Shells contains lots of great information. I notice that her black / brown shell was not totally cleaned up. But she had two others that ended up beautiful.
I may have to invest in some dental tools to scrape mine down. It may not end up very colorful, but I’d love to see what’s under there. If I don’t find any good color, I will leave it outside in the hot Florida sun to bleach white. It will still be a unique shell to add to my collection.
FYI: The sea snail who created this shell is bright orange! A ten-inch shell seems pretty big to me, but the horse conch can grow to be almost twice as large as this one!
Also, I found a tiny broken horse conch lodged inside one of the crown conchs I collected and you can see pictures of that in this post.