The Florida rock snail is part of the murex family. This is only the second rock snail shell I’ve collected, so they are not seen regularly by me, although they are a fairly common mollusk found all around the coast of Florida.
They tend to live on jetties, where they have rocks to cling to. And this shell was found on the shore near the jetty at Ponce Inlet. It makes sense that it would have washed up there.
My shell shown here is a little less than 2 inches long. My go-to reference book claims that their max length is 3 inches. When I picked it up and saw the orange inside I knew what it was. Not all rock snails (Stramonita haemastoma) have to be orange inside, but the two I have collected do have this coloring.
Here I have taken a photo of my shell sitting on the page where the writers have shown a photo of the same type of shell. You can see they look very similar.
The shell is gray and brown and not super colorful. Mine had some barnacles which chipped off when I cleaned it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lightning whelk seashell is one of my favorites, with it’s stripes and long shell opening. It can grow to quite a big shell also. I have seen many of these shells, and have some in my collection, but this is the first time I have found a live mollusk inside a lightning whelk shell.
I have a little video below.
This shell had a particularly white spire – top swirl – and there was no hermit crab inside. Honestly, I had expected to see one when I found the shell moving around on the soft sand of the river bottom.