All posts by Dustytoes

About Dustytoes

I grew up in New England but spent most of my life living in central Florida and blog about seashells, beaches, gardening, boating, fishing, hiking, photography, PKD, and my work as a designer for Zazzle. I move around a lot and try to discover the best in all places I live. Life may be tough, but it's not boring.

hermit crab in seashell

Hermit Crabs and Why They Must Fight For Those Seashell Homes!

hermit crab in seashell
Tiny Hermit Crab at Beach

If you read this blog, you have probably grown tired of me talking about hermit crabs, but here I go again!   Usually I am complaining that every awesome shell I come across out in the backwater is inhabited by a hermit crab.

This time I am going to tell (and show) you just how crazy things can get when hermit crabs fight for those seashell homes. It’s a crab vs. crab world down under the sea.

First of all, if you know next to nothing about crabs, here’s a bit of info.

Hermit crabs are not like regular crabs you find along the beach.  We don’t eat them.  Regular crabs scurry across the sand without taking their home along on their back.  It’s difficult to ever see the entire body of the hermit crab, as it is usually hidden within a shell.  A hermit crab will “hang” out of the shell sometimes (like in the photo above), but he will not come all the way out.  If you are lucky enough to be present when he swaps his old shell for a new one, you can get a quick glimpse of the back end of his body.

That shell it carries with it used to belong to a snail – land, or marine.  The hermit crab did not make the shell he lives in, and will stay in it only as long as he fits well inside.   Once the fit is too tight, he will have to find another shell to occupy.  His life depends on it.  The shell will have to be already empty… they don’t kill snails or mollusks to take a shell.  And they don’t fight other hermit crabs that are already inside a shell.

hermit crabs

Imagine that your present home will have to be abandoned as you grow.  You can’t stop growing, so it’s a constant hunt for a new place to live.  Without a shell to hide in, a hermit crab’s life is in peril.

In this NatGeo video, deceptively entitled “Hermit Crab vs. Conch”, a large Horse Conch chases down a tulip snail (banded tulip) and digests it. But the main story is about the hermit crabs who need to find new and larger real estate for their growing bodies. They realize that the horse conch will spit out the left over shell when he’s done eating the snail and they all want that house!

Did you see the shells those hermit crabs are scurrying around in? One was a pear whelk (yellow shell), and one was a shaped like a shark’s eye, or moon snail.

Here’s another amazing video of a hermit crab changing shells, but this one takes her “friends” with her!  Smart creature!  (This shell looks like some kind of knobbed triton.)

You may wonder why the crab doesn’t just find a big shell to live in so he won’t have to worry about trading out his home.  That won’t work because if the shell is too big, he can’t carry it around as easily.

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(Photo credits: Pixabay)

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various Florida seashells

Found Some Great Shells, But Not On the Beach

new fishing pier
New Fishing Pier

My son and I headed over to the beach today, which is an unusual thing for us to do on the weekend.   Weekends are too busy.  We did go early, and still hit traffic, but it was a lot of fun. I love living so close to the seashore.

I’ve been debating on whether or not to buy a year pass for Smyrna Dunes Park. It’s an awesome place to walk with nice boardwalks that lead out to the beach on all sides of the peninsula. The cost is $20 for county residents and it’s $10 for each visit. If I go twice I will have paid for the pass. But… the pass is only good from now until the end of the year… not a full year, really. Still, it seems worth it because it’s a wonderful place to visit.

At 9Am on a Saturday the place was packed with cars! The woman who put the sticker on my car (yup, I bought the pass) said it’s turtle season (and the beach doesn’t open until 8am) so the surfers come here to surf early in the morning.

It’s also a place where everyone goes to walk their dog! Almost everyone we saw had a dog…. or 2 or 3 with them!   We saw all kinds of dogs…. from Corgi’s and Shepherds, to big and small Poodles and mutts .  Even so, the place is clean as can be. Locals respect the area and dutifully clean up after themselves.

The boardwalk is being replaced, so the first part is torn down and you must walk in the sand. I assume they will do the second part after the first part is finished, but I don’t know.

construction
Construction on Dunes Walkway

No matter. It’s still a wonderful place to visit. They have a new long fishing pier (see it in my first photo above) and my son and I went there first. He has a new metal detector and is dying to find buried treasure. So while he searched for treasure I cooled off in the wonderful ocean water.  It was clear and refreshing.  Fabulous!

little coquina shells in beach sand
Little coquina shells in beach sand

Of course, I also kept my eyes open for seashells. I saw some of the usual arks and many tiny coquina in the sand. Found an orange jingle shell, a bit of coral, and a little crab climbing up one of the pier’s pylons.

little crab
Little crab climbing up the dock pylon

The best shells I found were not on the beach though, they were up near the construction site!  Look at this wonderful Lettered Olive!  It’s small, but so pretty once I rinsed the dirt off.

lettered olive shell
Lettered Olive Seashell – 1.25 inches

Yup… I found this Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip along the fence which blocks people from entering the construction area. All that digging moved the shells around I guess, and there was not a single hermit crab to be found!

Hallelujah..!

The tulip shell is not in great shape. It’s encrusted with something that is gradually flaking off. It may end up being sorta pretty.  The bands tell me it’s not the True Tulip like I’ve found before, but the Banded Tulip.
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I also got this little gem of a shell, even though it’s somewhat broken, I love it.  I think it might be a little Knobbed Whelk.
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On the way back to the mainland we had to wait for a boat to go by and the traffic was building while the north causeway bridge was lifted.

bridge up at north causeway
Bridge up for tall boat to pass

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lettered olive with other seashells

Why So Many Black Seashells?

Seashells come in many lovely colors, but it’s odd to find all black seashells. Certain shells have dark lines or spots and are made that way by the snail inside, but this is different. One day while collecting shells, I found an unusual number of all-black shells.

Sometimes out in the wild a living shell, or shell still under the water, will be covered in a dark, sometimes fuzzy, coating. That is the periostracum, or skin, which creates an outer layer over the shell. I have a horse conch which I cleaned, but never removed all that layer. The shell underneath was still light colored.

But some shells, like these Jingle shells, are all black.   They may have begun as some pretty orange or white color, but have turned black due to the sediment where they were buried. It has to do with sulfur content in the sand, or something. I am no scientist, so I won’t try to explain the process – I would just confuse myself and you! My message here is that they don’t begin black.
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These jingle shells were collected near Ponce Inlet on the East coast of Florida.  You can see that one of them (in the photo above) is just beginning to turn from it’s light orange color.  It may not have been buried as long as the others.  Constant wave action is bound to unearth shells and eventually wash them ashore.

Below, I have worn oyster shells and piece of something that was probably a whelk among the ridged jingle shells.
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The partial whelk shell below has also turned black.  These shells do not start out this way.  Whelks are generally tan with brown stripes or light in color.  The one in my photo below is probably either a Lightning Whelk or Knobbed Whelk.  It’s too broken for me to tell.

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Shells are often not pretty when found. Especially if they are found in the water. They can be dark or coated with green, with barnacles or oysters attached. Shells found up on the sand can be white, or much lighter in color that they were when inhabited. The sun can bleach them. This makes seashell identification harder. It can be just as difficult when collecting shells that have turned totally black.

Fighting conch shell with mollusk inside

The Beautiful Florida Fighting Conch

shallow ocean water shoreline
This type of mollusk likes calm, shallow water with a sandy bottom.

One of my favorite shells to see up close is the Fighting Conch, or the Florida Fighting Conch (Strombus alatus) as it’s known.  It is in the family Strombidae.

The Fighting Conch can be found on all Florida shorelines, but they prefer sandy, shallow water where wave action is minimal.   That’s exactly the type of place I discovered this one.

Before I came across this living mollusk, I had collected an empty fighting conch shell while visiting Sanibel Island.    On the Gulf coast, this shell is more common than where I am on the East coast.

So what is a conch shell? (Pronounced “konk”) By definition it is a large, spiral-shaped seashell.  It is big, but thicker and heavier than other gastropods, like the whelks.   The conch is the living creature inside which is sometimes harvested to eat.  Conch is on the menu in many tropical based restaurants, and the meat can be from any large gastropod shell.

I’ve also come across a broken and worn Fighting Conch shell with a hermit crab inside. This happened while exploring another similar type of island.

broken fighting conch
Broken Fighting Conch Shell with Hermit Crab Inside

Recently, I was lucky enough to come across this living Fighting Conch while walking the beach of an island in the Florida Intracoastal Waterway.  I didn’t think to measure it, but I’d estimate it’s length to be around 4 inches, and they don’t get much bigger, according to my seashell reference book.

Fighting conch shell with mollusk inside
The Beautiful Fighting Conch – this one is alive.

The chunky, wide-bodied shell, with a more compact spire, is a giveaway as to the name of this one.   It is known to “fight” or jump at other shells that could be a danger to it, hence the “fighting” name.

It also has some beautiful coloring.  From the dark purple with orange edges underneath at the aperture, to the light purple on top (it’s spire), even though this one has some green algae and a few barnacles, it was a lovely sight to behold.  I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it would have been all cleaned up.

florida fighting conch and mollusk
Living Florida Fighting Conch – view of the mollusk inside

I saw this shell up on the sand at an island out on the Indian River. I picked it up hoping it was empty so I could take it home, but found a living conch inside.   A fun surprise (at least it wasn’t a hermit crab!)

I took it to the boat to show my son – how often do you find something so awesome?  I got my iPhone to take these pictures, and then left it in the shallow water which is it’s home.

fighting conch seashell

My video of this living conch shell.  Somehow it ended up in Slow-motion (I am not tech savvy), which shows the sea water slowly coming in around the shell.

If you are ever tempted to try “conch” when out to eat at a Florida restaurant, this is the type of thing you are eating. The living shells are collected and the animal is pulled out and killed to bring that meal to you.

The Queen, or Pink, Conch is a threatened species due to over-harvesting. For this same reason I do not buy seashells from gift shops or shell shops. When I am walking the beach, or visiting these islands out on the river, I only collect empty seashells.

Royal Terns

Florida Shore Birds I’ve Seen

I will admit that I am not a big bird-watcher. And I am the worst wildlife photographer on the planet. Taking pictures of wildlife usually makes me mad. Animals don’t cooperate or wait for me to get the shot, so I rarely try to capture anything in the wild – except for mollusks, which move slow enough for me!

While out on the water I have come across typical Florida birds, which have ended up in my photos.  These photos were taken using my iPhone, using the zoom, so they are not very good.  I have made some good guesses as to what these birds are, but then again, they are guesses.

These Terns stood in formation along the sandy island we visited recently. I think they are Royal Terns.

Royal Terns
Royal Terns
Royal Tern shore bird
Royal Terns all lined up

(Below) Late in the afternoon my sons and I were fishing and beach-combing at Ponce Inlet and this white bird ended up beside me. As I walked down the shore, he followed me and stayed close by. Maybe he thought I was fishing, or picking up something yummy from the sand to share with him… I don’t know.
I also have no idea what he is. He looks like a snowy egret without the long legs and neck!

Please help, if you can identify this one.

unknown white bird
This white bird followed me along the beach

The little birds in my video are probably Sanderlings.  They raced around picking at the sand as the sea came back up onto the sand.

(Below) When we pulled up behind Disappearing Island these birds were walking in the shallows. Because the big one has a curved bill, I identified it as a White Ibis. The little one with it could be a juvenile of the same breed.  That other little bird (behind the white one) could be a plover or sandpiper, I suppose.

White Ibis and baby
White Ibis and Baby – My best guess

Out in the backwater we see many other types of birds, but usually we are riding in the boat, which means I am holding onto my hat and can’t get a photo.  I will try to get more pictures to add to this page.

Whenever we pull up to an island and I see birds, I remind myself that I am invading their territory. They are either living there or have stopped to find food or even to rest. There is precious little wilderness left in Florida for all kinds of wildlife, and I don’t want to stress them out by being too close.