The horse conch is the Florida state shell. It is one of the largest shells to be found around the coastline and is the largest snail in North America. The horse conch is one of the spindle shells. They are thick and elongated. It looks like someone stretched the shell from both ends. It can grow to be nearly 2 feet in length!
The small horse conchs I’ve come across have all had hermit crabs inside. As can be seen in my photo, they are not very pretty while living in the wild. Usually shells are slimy and brown or green when found out in nature.
One day, while we were boating, I noticed this big shell just under the water on a sandy flat covered in about a foot of water. The water was clear that day and the tide was going out. I walked over to the dark spot in the water and discovered that it was a living horse conch! I was so excited. This was the first one I had ever seen in the wild. My son is holding it so I could get a photo. We immediately put it back down in the water and left him alone.
A little later in the day we saw another one, just like this one. The water was clear and the tide was going out, which is a good time to see these living monster mollusks. Read my post about finding this living horse conch.
Florida horse conchs (Triplofusus giganteus) live in sandy shallows, and that is exactly where we found this one. Supposedly, they can be found all around the Florida coastline living in the sandy shallows. I rarely see them. Maybe it’s because the dig down into the sand… as I discovered later on.
The photo below is of a live horse conch found along the Intracoastal Waterway near Oak Hill, Florida. The water was murky that day, as you can see. This guy was dug down into the sand so far that I didn’t know what it was until I pulled it up – hoping for an empty shell, but expecting a piece of debris or coquina rock. I didn’t realize that horse conchs bury themselves! So I left him alone and got an underwater photo with the Go-Pro.
Sometimes juvenile shells are hard to identify, but the long spire (top spike) on the horse conch makes it relatively easy to recognize. The little one in the photo below had no mollusk inside, just a hermit crab. It was fun to find, since horse conchs are not easy to spot where I travel – large or small.
A picture of a horse conch egg shell casing can be seen on this post at the “i love shelling” blog, which is written by a woman who lives on Sanibel Island. Click the link and scroll down the page. Sanibel Island is on the Gulf coast, where beautiful shells of all types are easy to find. I do not live in such a place. The wonderful big seashell finds are few and far between over here on the East coast.
The search is one of the best parts of beach-combing.
One day I got lucky and found a big horse conch sitting on the sand in the backwaters. Nothing was inside. The shell was too large for hermit crabs, so it was something I could collect.
The shell had a film of dark brown stuff called periostracum all over it and some hard barnacles. I chipped off the barnacles and got some of the periostracum off, but I decided it looked just fine with some of the brown left on.
This horse conch sits on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. I love to look at it and wonder about the life of the mollusk that made it. Where did it travel and how old was it when it finally died, and how did that happen? The large snail can eat many gastropods and bivalves. This snail is huge.
The video is of a big horse conch eating a tulip snail and the scurrying hermit crabs who fight over the empty tulip shell.