A mollusk is the animal living inside a shell. All mollusks begin as tiny creatures with genetic programming telling it how it will look – basically. Just like we have characteristics of our parents, the shell begins life looking like it’s ancestors.
As the snail inside grows, the mantle continues to add calcium carbonate and conchiolin to the outer surface of the shell to expand it. Because the mantle is constantly rubbing the surface of the shell it becomes smooth and sometimes very shiny. The shells hardness and colors come from the calcium layers deposited by the mantle. The mantle is also responsible for creating the shape, spines and grooves in the shell.
The mollusks choice of food and habitat also may contribute to it’s coloring. As it grows and moves about feeding and doing what mollusks do, it is all the while creating a beautiful work of art unlike any we could ever duplicate.
Please respect all living mollusks and observe them in their habit, but leave them alone – as I’ve said in a previous post, take your camera to the beach.
The cowry shell (also spelled ‘cowrie’) is popular on jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets and is found in varying sizes as you can see in the picture from Wikipedia. This shell was widely used throughout the world as a form of currency.
I found another interesting use for the cowry. According to the “Shells in History” site, In China, the number of cowrie’s stuffed into the mouths of the dead was determined by how important that person was. Commoners had rice instead of shells, but the emperor had nine cowry shells in his!
I doubt that the Emperor had shells of this size in his mouth (the one on the left is over 4 inches long!), but Cowries come in all sizes and according to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, Florida, the money cowry was the most widely circulated currency in history.
The shell on the right in my photos is a Tiger Cowry and the one on the left is a Measled Cowry. Both of mine were purchased about 20 years ago.