Because I live on the east, central coast of Florida I feel that I can identify the most commonly found seashells in this area. Not all will be found on beaches frequented by tourists. In fact there are relatively few shells to be found along our beaches and they are mostly small bivalves.
These shells came from the New Smyrna Beach area and Ponce Inlet. The inlet has a different type of beach and it’s a better place to shell-seek, if you are into collecting shells.
Florida’s west / gulf coast is the place to find an abundance of seashells in many more varieties so what can be common to find over there, may not be common on the East.
The arks and tiny coquina shells are the only two types I can pretty much guarantee you will see on Florida East coast beaches. I don’t collect coquina, so I linked to a photo at another site. Arks can be very interesting and I have many.
Ark shells are a type of clam and this is the most common shell I see along the beaches where I walk (aside from maybe coquina). Even among the “Arks” there are varieties which contain various names. The differences are slight, such as ridges on their ribs or longer hinge area and max size. All the Ark shells in my photo above may not be exactly the same, but the most common are named: Incongruous, Blood, Ponderous and Transverse. Because they are quite thick, they can survive the waves and surf on beaches like New Smyrna without breaking up. They have a wonderful variety of colors from bleached white to black and are fun to collect.
The Jingle shell is less common, but can be found if you look closely.
Jingle shells are easy to identify and can be found in beautiful colors like in my photo above. However, the shells in my photo above were collected on the West coast of Florida.
On the East coast I mainly find black or gray jingle shells (below) and they are not plentiful. (Read about black seashells here.) These flat, bumpy bivalves are thin but sturdy. They are easily buried in the sand so you may have to look closely to find one.
Pen Shells and Jackknife Clam
Pen shells do wash up on shore and large pieces can sometimes be found. Sometimes they will be a bit hairy looking. Usually they are iridescent but it is rare to find a whole piece in tact.
The long jackknife clam shell is what we used to call “fingernails” because they look like very overgrown nails. In my area of Florida they are Minor jackknife clams.
Tagelus, Stout and Purple
There are two types of Tagelus shells. One is long and wide and can look like the ones in my photo above, or they can be smaller and purple in color. I set these two shells next to my eyeglasses as a reference for size.
You may be fortunate enough to come across slipper shells on the beach. An easy way to identify this shell is to look for the little shelf on the underside of the shell. Although I always thought this was a bivalve, it is listed in my seashell book as a gastropod. The Atlantic slippersnail can grow to be 2.5 inches long.
Lettered Olive Shells
I truly love to find an olive shell because I don’t find many where I live. They are shiny and long and usually have a living mollusk inside so can’t be collected.
The olive shells below were not found on a tourist beach, but while out on our boat. Many shells I find are worn and / or broken due to the rough nature of the water on the East coast. The Gulf Coast is where the best shells can be found, but the secret is out, and these days I avoid the crowds of the Sanibel Island area. Besides, it’s fun to hunt for things that are rarely found.
Occasionally I find worn or black scallop shells near the Inlet. My collection of scallops in the photo below also contains two kitten paw shells. I’ve never found a kitten’s paw on the East coast that I can recall.
Angelwings and Channeled Duck Clam
Above you will see broken angle wing seashells. They are always broken when I find them because they can’t withstand the wave action. The same is true for the two channeled duck clams in my photo below (photographed with a jingle shell, jackknife clam shell and a barnacle clump). These shells are very thin and you are more likely to find fragments than whole shells.
If you come across some lumpy, bumpy and often ugly shells they are probably oyster shells. Oysters are oddly shaped and can vary wildly in appearance. Oyster colonies abound around mangrove islands where we go boating. Oysters can damage boats and there is a section of the Indian River known as “Oyster Bay” which we avoid.
The Horse Conch
The horse conch is one shell I find in small and very large sizes, but only while boating and walking the flats. The small ones always have a hermit crab inside, like the one below. The larger and older conch shells are usually inhabited by the mollusk who made the shell.
See a living horse conch here, and the large empty horse conch shell that now sits in my garden. The large specimens are truly impressive.
I’ve never found one of these on the tourist beaches in my area. They all live out in the saltwater Indian River.
More Shells We Find While Boating
A lot of shells I feature on this blog come from our boating and fishing trips which take us away from typical beaches and into the backwater of the Intracoastal Waterway. That is where I find beauties like the Florida horse conch, lightning whelk, sharks eye, pear whelk, and tulip shells. I enjoy sharing those photos because many people never get out to those places.