Olive shells are easy to identify. They are long and smooth measuring from tiny to 2.7 inches in length. The shell on the right in my photo below is nearly as large as they get. Their spire (top swirl) is small and the opening (aperture) is a slit all along the side of the shell.
The Lettered Olive (Olive sayana) is the one I am showing in my photographs on this page. It is the largest of the olives. The other types are the Netted Olive (Oliva reticularis) and the Variable Dwarf Olive (Olivella utica). The Netted olive is found in the southeastern part of Florida only.
My shells were collected (empty – nothing living inside) from Florida beaches. Most of my olives are dull, worn and broken, but pretty ones can be collected from the Gulf beaches where the lack of waves tends to preserve the beauty of seashells (see my last photo on this page).
Other Types of Olive Shell
The Netted Olive (Olive reticularis) is smaller and is named for it’s net-like markings. It is more often found in the Caribbean or southeastern area of Florida. See a photo here at the Marine Species Identification site.
There is also a small seashell called the Variable dwarf olive (Olivella mutica) which is less than an inch in length. To my knowledge I have never seen one. But you can see it on the Conchology Inc. page.
The Shells I Have Found
Where I live, on Florida’s east central coast, I rarely see the olive shell, so when I come across one, it’s a big deal to me!
The one below was alive, and found just above the water line at Ponce Inlet. You can see the mollusk just peeking out in the photo on the right. The shell was a beautiful dark purple-brown color. I took some photos and put this one back.
Living shells or recently abandoned ones will have the best color. Once they are rolled with the waves, continuously scratched by the sand, or washed ashore to sit in the hot sun, their color will fade and the shells can break.
Because finding an olive in any form is fairly rare where I live, I collect all of them, except the ones being used by the owner! Then, I take a photo and let it be. Broken and old worn shells have their own appeal because they have a history. I always wonder what broke the shell? How did the snail die? How old is this shell and where has it been?
Olive shells can be found along southern US coasts including all around the state of Florida. It is the state shell of South Carolina where this shell is prolific.
Recently I was visiting an island beach while out boating and as I walked the shore I saw these two beauties only a few feet apart. The tide was low and still going out and there they were.
Yes, they are worn and in less than perfect shape, but finding them made me so happy! (Also see them next to the tape measure in my first photo on this page.) That photo was taken after I cleaned them. (See my post on how to clean seashells.)
These shells don’t appeal to hermit crabs because of their shape – not enough space for the crab. Because of this, it is one of the few gastropods I can collect without worrying about having a crab tucked down inside. Those pesky critters can duck inside a shell and hide really well.
The shape of the olive shell most resembles that of a cone shell, but cones are shaped more like their namesake. The olive is nearly the same width from top to bottom. The best place to collect a cone shell is on the southwest side of Florida, on and near Sanibel Island, which is where I found the pretty Olive Shells in my photo below.