horseshoe crab seashell beach

Big Whelks, Oysters and Something Unexpected

One of the shells in my photo below contains a creature hiding within. He was so secretive that I never knew he was there for a full day after bringing these shells home. So here’s the story…

broken whelks big seashells
Big Whelks found along Indian River

My sons and I went boating in our little Gheenoe a couple days ago. It was not windy at our house, but once we got over to the River we saw whitecaps and knew we would be dealing with wind. Windy conditions and rough water are not a big deal unless you happen to be traveling in a canoe with a motor. With three of us in the little boat it won’t go fast, and because it sits so low in the water, we tend to get wet.

Because of this we didn’t travel far. The closest big island is where we stopped, and I got out to search for seashells. The boys used the trolling motor and went just offshore to do some fishing.   We had the place to ourselves.

The shell hunt began. First I walked the inner side of the island which was extremely windy. I saw a lot of horseshoe crabs – alive and dead, and of course oysters. More than once I’ve been faked out when I think I’ve discovered a big shell in the shallows only to find it’s a nasty clump of oysters!

oysters attached to tree roots
Oysters growing on tree roots along the island coastline

All the cute little shells along the shoreline were moving. Hermit crabs take up residence and steal all the good seashells for themselves. Each beautiful specimen I came across was inhabited, so I took photos and had to be happy with that. Those seashell finds I will share on my next post.

On the inland side of the island, where I was more sheltered from the wind, I found something that made my heart race. A big yellow seashell was up on shore and looked to be buried in the sand.  A shell on the shore means the mollusk is not inside.  Sea snails live in the water.   The fact that it was not moving gave me the impression that a hermit crab was not inside. I was excited, but I should have known better.  I took this photo before picking it up.  Doesn’t it look like it could be a great find?
yellow w WM
Unfortunately the underneath of that shell (which I believe is a knobbed whelk) was completely broken open, so what I saw in the sand is all there was to the shell.   The mollusk had died and the broken shell did not give shelter for a crab.  In other words it was useless to sea life.  I took it home, along with the other broken shells I found.

But the big surprise came the day after our trip to the island, when a hermit crab appeared in the opening of one of the broken shells! Can you guess which shell, from my first photo above?

When I got home I soaked all the shells in water with a small amount of bleach to clean them off.  I left them on the cement deck outside all night and then cleaned them one at a time the next day.  When they were dry, I set them on the table and that is when my son noticed a big hermit crab emerging from the one below!
Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 11.19.38 AM
Yup, a good size hermit crab is inside the top of this broken, faded and worn Channeled whelk shell.  The inner top of this shell must be hollow and he had scrunched himself into that area.  We could see a bit of his legs through that top broken piece.

We did the only thing we could do to help the crab survive.  We drove over to the River and tossed the shell back into the sea water.

You can see pictures of the Channeled Whelk as it is before it becomes as destroyed as mine is on the “i love shelling” site, where Pam (the blog owner) is fortunate to live and travel to great shelling places.  She writes from the fabulous Gulf Coast, Sanibel area, where gorgeous seashells are everywhere.

I have to work hard just to find these broken ones!  But it’s fun, and who knows, one day I may find something spectacular out there.

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