Category Archives: Bivalves

Shells that come in two pieces are bivalves.

Seashell collection

Gathering Photos to Compare Seashells That Look Similar

It’s tough to write a seashell blog without photos of seashells.  The best way to have those photos is to take them myself.  This was impossible for me to do when I lived in New Hampshire, where I lived when I began this blog.  Well, not totally impossible.  I had a seashell collection from my 27 years of living in Florida, and I would photograph those shells for this blog.

I could not go out and collect or photograph new finds. I never went to the beach in the eleven years I lived in the North. In summer, beaches in the north are crowded and the water is cold. Parking is a pain, and there are really not many cool shells to find anyway.

When I first began really looking at shells and paying attention to the way they were made, I sometimes had a difficult time telling certain types apart. I had a tiny Lightning Whelk for a long time before I knew what it was. When identifying seashells, we need some good photos to go by. That is one thing I try to provide here on my blog, but I still get confused, or forget the names of shells.

I rely on my seashell books a lot.

Now I can go out and collect and photograph shells. The beaches are close by and we go out fishing and boating and find shells in the backwaters as well.

Seashells That Look Similar Can Have Different Names

Often a shell is easy to identify right away. The Arks are so common around here that I see them everywhere.  You can find these along the beach, in the backwater, at the Inlet, and jetty.  They are heavy-duty shells, which manage to survive rough wave action.

arks
Ark shells

When I collect ark shells I may think they are all the same, but in reality arks come with a variety of names, and only tiny differences separate them.   I need to try and figure out which ones I have.  They also look like cockle shells.

This is true for other shells as well. The scallops, tulips, slipper snails and certain clams come to mind. Each variety has a sub-variety, so I need to be able to tell them apart. In some cases, certain shells may be more rare than others.

You can be general and say, “I found a scallop shell.”, or be specific and say, “I found a Lion’s paw!”

Some Shells Are Easy to Identify

And then there are some shells that are not confusing at all. They have their own specific shape and / or coloring and I will know right away what it is.

The Jacknkife clam comes to mind and the Stout tagelus. Both are long shells. The Jackknife is long, like a big fingernail. That’s what my kids and I used to call them. The Tagelus is also long, but wider.

On the West coast of Florida, the spotted Junonia certainly stands out.

I found this Turkey Wing shell on the west coast. With it’s brown stripes and odd shape, is another type of shell that is easy to identify.

Turkey wing shells
Turkey Wing, my photo

But more on that later. For now I want to get started writing pages to help identify shells that look the same but are really not. I’m doing this to help myself as much as anyone.

I’ve been collecting lots of my own photos to do this, so lets get started! 

 

Identifying Pieces of Seashells Found on the Beach

Often I will pick up interesting pieces of seashells while beach-combing.  I’m getting better at identifying the pieces.  The more variety of shells I collect, the easier it becomes.  If the bit of shell baffles me at the seashore, I search it out in my favorite seashell book, or look through my seashell collection.

Seashells break for many reasons and some shells are more fragile than others.  The Channeled duck clam is thin and most of them are broken on top.  (It’s the white shell in the left-hand photo below.)

Usually it’s the surf and wave action that tumbles the shell until it breaks.  Birds can be the culprits too.  Whatever the reason, it can challenge the mind to picture bits as whole shells.  Usually I am sorry I missed seeing it as a whole, beautiful specimen.

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While visiting Ponce Inlet, I brought home this large, smooth, brown bit of shell, and a smaller piece like it.  I wondered what it could have been originally. Continue reading Identifying Pieces of Seashells Found on the Beach

seashells

Collecting Shells in the Heat of a Florida Summer

It’s summer in Florida and not my favorite time of year. We go out on the boat about once a week, and it’s been high tide at the times we recently traveled the waterways. High tide means fewer beaches and exposed sand out in the river. The normal places to find big living conchs, like the horse conch, are under water at high tide and more difficult to see.

seashells
Tiger lucinia (or dosinia?), Spectral bittersweet clam (or venus clam?), white and black jingle shells.

The shells in my photo above confuse me. Many shells look A LOT ALIKE… So sometimes I am guessing as to the exact name.  The flat white shell with concentric rings is probably a Dosinia, but the Tiger lucinia is almost identical looking – except that my reference book says that the underside can be pink and yellow.  The shell I found is white underneath – it’s the one with the crack in the shell.

The jingle shells are pretty easy to recognize.  Their thin shells remind me of the mineral mica.

At high tide, island beaches become scarce and small, but there are still plenty of hermit crabs scurrying around in their beautiful crown shells, pear shells and shark’s eyes in the shallow water offshore.
My little video here is of a big Tulip shell inhabited by a hermit crab. I don’t know which type of tulip it is because the shell is black and covered with barnacles. This is only one of the many hermit crabs I found near the shore.

This is a screenshot of the temperature where I live at 7:14 in the evening… as you can see it FEELS LIKE 100!  So at noon, you can just imagine the oppressive heat… it’s why we don’t go out on the boat all that much these days.   The heat and humidity here in Florida is stupid.  And there is little relief when evening arrives.

florida heat index
7:14 at night and it feels like 100 degrees!

Being right on the water means a sea breeze can cool things off, and my favorite time to visit the beach is later in the day. I don’t live on the beach, but I live close enough to visit any time.
However, I do look forward to Fall, when it will be less crowded and less humid on and near the water.

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.

black and silver jingle shells

The Mermaid’s Toenails Turned Black

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 9.56.28 AMThe common jingle shell (Anomia ephippium) is easy to identify, but maybe not from a distance.  While walking along the shoreline, spotting a black shell could mean you’ve found just about anything.  Any shell can end up turning dark gray or black in color if the conditions are right.

On my latest visit to the beach, I gathered some jingle shells, of which most were black, as you can see in my photo. One is somewhat silver, and another has bits of lighter tan, which means it still retains some of it’s original color.

But jingle shells don’t start out as black.  Just like the lightning whelk below, shells turn black because of sea and sand conditions.  According to a comment left on another blog, The Ocracoke Island Journal, shells that have been washed into a low oxygen area will turn black due to the presence of iron sulfide.  Click the link to see photos of an impressive collection of shells that were washed up on the beach after Hurricane Irene, many of which are black in color.  Scroll down the page to read the comment about black seashells.

Jingle shells can be orange, yellow, white or off white, and gray.   Because of the coloring and their flat shiny surface they are sometimes called “Mermaid’s toenails”.   Once you hold a jingle shell, the difference between it and other shells is readily apparent.  It’s a bivalve, but there is nothing to suggest it was attached to anther piece.  The shell is irregular and somewhat flattened.  They are rarely over 2 inches across in size.

In fact I did collect quite a few black shells that day. I’m not really sure what that black one is in the photo below. It was too thick to be a jingle shell, but had the right shape.

cross-barred venus clam
One of the black shells I found

This piece of a whelk and the pointed bit of shell caught my eye also because of the unusual dark color.  I have decided it is a Lightning Whelk.  It is my best guess as the other side looks like the opening would be on the left.

I don’t think it’s rare to find a black seashell, but the shell was washed up from a place that had the right conditions to turn it into this, from it’s natural beautiful state.

black seashell
Black Lightning Whelk
Lightning Whelk
Lightning Whelk