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.

Advertisements
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.

beach sand at low tide

Collecting New Types of Shells in a Deserted Area

Our beaches on the East coast of Florida are not as well known for shell collecting as they are over on the Gulf Coast. Visit Sanibel Island and you are likely to go home with a fabulous assortment of beautiful seashells.

We have to work harder to find shells on the East coast beaches, and then, many shells are the same. Arks, clams and coquina shells can usually be collected in the New Smryna Beach area.  But, travel off the beaten path – out to the islands and backwater – and it’s possible to find something more unique.  Only boats can reach this place, and tourists don’t come out here.  It’s the best part of Florida.

beach sand at low tide
An island created by low tide

We took the boat out toward Ponce Inlet and stopped at a sandy island which appears when the tide is out.  The water was just beginning to come back in when we dropped anchor in the shallow water.

I love to be out here, away from people… as you can see, we had the place to ourselves.  It helped that the weather forecast was cloudy with possible storms – and it was the middle of the week.  Most boaters stayed home….lucky us.

Across the waterway, to the left of this photo (above), is Disappearing Island.  It’s like this place, only larger, and the name says it all.  At high tide these islands “disappear” beneath the ocean, with only some of the scrub trees left above the waterline – or so I think.   I’ve never been here at high tide.

I waded ashore and began to scour the shoreline, searching in all that grass, hoping to find a cool shell.

seashells in marsh grass
I found most of these shells up along this grassy edge of the island.

I found a lot of large clams, partially buried in the sand. In fact, most of the shells were either whole, or pieces of big clams.   Also the Southern quahogs were numerous, which are white with vertical lines along the shell.

clam shell in sand
Big clam shell buried in sand

But I did find a nice Dosinia shell. It’s the flat, roundish shell at the bottom of the photo below.  I also happened upon that cute little shark’s eye which was partially buried.  It was pure luck that I noticed it!  I’ve come across much bigger ones, but they always have a hermit crab inside.

I do collect broken shells, because they are unique in their own way.  In my photo below you can see a broken crown conch… if it was whole, there would be a hermit crab inside, no doubt.  Crown conchs are everywhere in areas like this, but they are always inhabited.  (I found a live Fighting Conch, and hermit crab inside a little shell I couldn’t identify.  More to come about those, on a later post.)

Florida seashells
Broken Crown conch, mussel, clam, tagelus, dosinia, little shark’s eye, and tiny marsh periwinkles (one sits on top of a penny).

The little shark’s eye shell (below) has a hole drilled into the side. That is how the mollusk inside was killed. Something came along and bored into the shell to eat what was inside. The thing is, Shark’s eyes ARE predatory, and this guy would have done the same to another shell!

 

tiny sharks eye and periwinkle
Tiny Seashells (and a penny)

As the water came up, I headed up onto the sandy dune area to search among the scrub brush.  I wondered if I’d find some sort of seashell treasure up there.

And I did!  This is where I found those three little white Marsh Periwinkles (photo above) – or at least I think that is what they are.  They were all found close together and nothing was inside except sand, so I picked them up.  I’ve never seen these before, so I had new shells for my collection.  Nice….  I had to be careful not to lose them, as they are tiny!

mourning dove in sand
Mourning Dove

I found some trash, of course, and what looked like an old campfire pit, and saw some mourning doves – that was a surprise!  I really thought that all I would see were shore birds.

I came across the remains of a coconut.  It had traveled from the mainland or beach peninsula, because there were no coconut palm trees on that island.

coconut shell
Remains of a coconut, with partial outer and inner shell.

We left later in the day when the clouds were thickening up. The water had come in quite a bit by then. Soon the all that sand would be covered, until the tide began it’s journey back out to the sea.

I wonder what treasures it will leave behind.  Can’t wait to return here.

marshland island florida
Looking toward the Ocean, with a view of high-rise condos beach-side.
crown conch seashell

Shells I Found on The Muddy Flats

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but all the shells I found were occupied by hermit crabs, so the best I could do was get some photos.

While traveling the backwaters of the Indian River, we came up behind the islands known as Three Sisters. Since I love to walk along the sandy flats when the tide is out, my son dropped me off and he went out fishing.

I found so many interesting shells in this area that I went back out to the boat to get my camera.

Here’s what I found in this marvelous area of Florida which is mostly untouched by man.

A pretty little yellow Pear Whelk shell. It is similar in looks to the Lightning whelk (second photo), but the opening is on the right, not the left, as in the Lightning whelk.

yellow pear whelk seashell
Little Yellow Pear Whelk Shell – Home to a Hermit Crab
lightning whelk
Little Lightning Whelk

This crown conch is not an unusual find, but I did like the nice size of it’s spikes. Often the spikes can be worn down from all the tumbling about in the ocean, but these spikes were long and sharp. Had to get a photo before the crab inside scampered away.

crown conch seashell
Crown Conch with Great Big Spikes

I wasn’t too sure what this little gray shell was, but I think it’s a faded pear whelk. It’s my best guess.

seashell in mud
Little gray shell

And here’s a real beauty… Yes, this is a seashell. It’s round, and mud covered, but it’s one of my favorite shells. Any guesses? Click to see a good photo of the Shark’s Eye shell.

mud covered round sharks eye seashell
Yes, it’s a seashell!

And my favorite find of the day was this awesome big True Tulip shell. My book says max 5 inches for this one, but this one is more like 6 inches. It has a broken opening with an oyster attached to the inside, and of course, a hermit crab has taken up residence.

true tulip shell
Big True Tulip shell, next to my foot

All these shells and many many more were living in close proximity on this sandy bottom surrounded by oyster beds.  Shells could be seen scurrying along just under the water at low tide, but the crab would stop and hide once I approached.  They tuck themselves all the way up inside these shells, so it looks unoccupied, but I know better.

oyster bed
Oyster bed along the sandy flats
Live horse conch in ocean water

Found a Big Living Horse Conch, Exciting!

While out on the boat just the other day we were fishing the backwaters north of Mosquito Lagoon. It was low tide and my son wanted to fish in Oyster Bay because the oyster mounds would be easy to see and navigate.

As we entered the bay area a large area of very shallow water allowed us to see the sand through the clear, running water. We all noticed, what looked like, a large shell just beneath the surface. I know that the horse conch can grow to be around 2 feet long, and certain other whelks can also be quite large. So we trolled over to the edge of the sandy island and hopped into the water to investigate.

The elongated shape of the shell told me it was a horse conch, and with just a little of the orange part (the mollusk’s body) showing, I knew I had found a living horse conch! My son held the heavy shell for a moment so I could get this photo and we put it right back down onto the sand.

Here you can see the operculum (round hard disk) which closes the mollusk in, and his bright orange body.  It’s such an amazing creature!  They like sand, and this area is nothing but sand, so I’m sure he’s very happy traversing the inland waterways.

living horse conch
Live Horse Conch

It’s not unusual to find little crown shells, lightning whelks and other pretty shells “walking” around on these sand bars. They are never living mollusks, only empty shells taken over by the hermit crabs. So, finding this big living mollusk was an exciting experience for me.

That find alone made my day, but later on we found another living horse conch on the same type of sand bar! It was about the same size as the first, and was up out of the water and encrusted with barnacles.  I didn’t touch the second one, or take a picture, but I could see his orange body down in the mud.  (I am always afraid I will drop my cell phone while walking through the squishy muddy, and sometimes slippery, bottom.) Plus, I already had my photos.

I have a horse conch seashell which I found empty on one of these types of islands.  Perhaps empty horse conchs are too large for hermit crabs to occupy. (But they DO occupy every other type of gastropod out there!)

According to my seashell reference book, Florida’s Living Beaches, the Florida horse conch is “relatively uncommon” along the east coast.  I’ve never seen one along the shore or at the beach, and I’ve only found 3 in my travels in the backwaters.  They are however, “relatively common” on the southern west coast of Florida, where I imagine beautiful large and juvenile empty shells wash up on the beach.  Over here where I live, it takes a bit more searching to find such a wonder.

living horse conch in natural habitat
Where the Horse Conch Lives

We left him on his sandy island, awaiting the return of the tide, and trolled off to try and catch some fish.