Recently I decided to clean up my seashells. Honestly, I’ve never made a big production out of cleaning my seashells – just rinsed them well in fresh water and let them dry. I have collected a few good ones while out on the Gheenoe and the few times I’ve been over to the beach.
Finally I got my Florida driver’s license… which was a bigger ordeal than it needed to be, but it means I can buy a beach pass and get a fishing license. Hallelujah! It’s a little thing, but it means I can go to the beach whenever I want as a resident and pay one low fee for the rest of the year.
Okay, back to the shells. After soaking my seashells in a bleach and water solution – I didn’t measure it, but just added a little bleach to a pail full of water – over night, they are looking clean. They also look a bit duller. The next time I get to Lowe’s I will get some mineral oil which is supposed to make them brighter again.
I have two pretty crown conchs, which are hard to find without a hermit crab living inside, and one had a tiny shell wedged in the opening. I was trying to figure out what type of shell the tiny one was, when I decided to take it out for a better look.
My best guess is that it’s a broken horse conch. The Florida horse conch has a long spire like this little guy, but the tiny shell is missing the bottom half. In fact I have a large horse conch shell which I found out on the Indian River which I am in the process of cleaning. I don’t know if I will ever get all the black stuff off it, but I’m trying.
You’ve just returned home from a vacation at the beach and each day you added to your collection of treasures amassed from walks along the shore. As you clean the shells and carefully add them to a glass bowl, you begin to wonder just what they are called. Is it possible there is a rare seashell in your bucket? To begin a search for names of shells, I have a few pointers to pass on.
Besides this blog, I have written an article about Types of Shells where I include photos and descriptions of some of my seashells. I am not a seashell expert, so although I will try to help you identify something, I usually find helpful information in my favorite seashell ID books.
My favorite Florida beaches ID book is Florida’s Living Beaches by Blair and Dawn Witherington. It covers more than seashells because Florida beaches also contain bugs, birds, driftwood, sea glass, animal tracks, flowers, plants, dunes, and even rocks. It is a complete beachcombing guide.
Most people don’t realize the abundant variety of shells out there. To make it easier to identify the shell in your possession, first narrow down the field. If you search for “seashells” you will be overwhelmed – mostly with photos and not too much info. The truth is that most people love seashells but that is where it stops. Most, I believe, don’t ever give much thought to what lived inside and how the shell was created, or how it got to the spot where you picked it up, much less what it might be called. So photos online will be easy to find, but where is that picture (and info) you need to identify what you have?
The first thing I suggest when searching online is to narrow the field by searching for either “gastropod” or “bi-valve“. If your shell was made all in one piece it is a gastropod (univalve), and if it’s in two sections hitched together, like a clam, (even if you only have one half) then it’s a bi-valve. That should give you a bunch of pictures to view. Also mention where it was found.
Sometimes shells with the same name will vary in appearance. For instance, the gastropod you found may be a juvenile (baby seashell) and doesn’t look at all like the large shell it would have grown into. See my Lightning Whelk picture, with mature and juvenile shells side by side. It took me a while to figure out what that little one was!
Scallops and clams are found in a variety of colors and sizes as are many other types of shells. Worn and faded shells, and shells full of bore holes, won’t resemble similar types which are in good condition.
If you have a lot of shells you want to identify, or if you plan to continue your collection and will visit a beach often, then you may want to buy a good seashell identification book. Buy one that is specific to your area, or the area you plan to visit, because the same types of shells are not always found everywhere in the world. The great thing about having a book to reference is that it should give you the scientific name of the shells. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells (National Audubon Society Field Guides) is the book I started with. Once you find the scientific name of a shell, it’s easier to search online for a picture.
The more you learn about seashells, the less you will take them for granted, and the more you will appreciate each shell you collect for the diverse and amazing animal that created it.
This is a picture of my spiny jewelbox seashells. I don’t have many and they are simply call Spiny Jewelbox (Arcinella cornuta). They are white with spikes or ridges (if the spikes have worn down) and the inside is pinkish. These are found on both Florida coasts, but mainly along the Gulf Coast and Keyes area. Many may not have spines because they get broken and worn off by the action of the sea.
This shell is a bi-valve, which means it comes in two parts. It is rare to find any bi-valves that are still attached along the beach because the action of the waves tends to break the shells apart. Also, some bi-valves live attached to something, like wharf pilings or rocks, and that part stays put as the upper half may break off. This is the case when you find a kittenpaw shell.
Other types of Jewelbox shells, which I may have collected at some point when I had no idea what I was picking up, look a bit different than mine. In fact, some do not have spines or spikes, but are still rather bumpy looking. The Leafy Jewelbox (Chama macerophylla) has many flattened, thin ridges (unless they are worn – then they are bumpy) and can be colorful purple and orange or bright yellow.
There is also a Corrugate Jewelbox (or Little Corrugated Jewelbox) which is small, growing only to around one inch in size. It is a flatter, bumpy shell without such distinct ribs as in the spiny variety. Both of these can be collected on most Florida coastlines, although you may have to search harder on the east coast where shells are more sparse. These shells are small, whereas the others can be up to three inches in size.
The Atlantic Left-Handed Jewelbox (Pseudochama radians) is also known as the False Jewelbox and I really don’t know much about that one except that it is found from North Carolina to Brazil.
If you live on the west coast of the U. S., you may find the Clear Jewel Box (Charma arcana) seashell along your coastline. It looks a lot like the Leafy Jewel Box except that it is not as colorful but may be tinged with pink or orange.
What are the spines and “leafy parts” for? It helps protect them from other seashell predators who may want to drill into the shell and eat what is inside. Yup, that’s what they do!
The Florida fighting conch shell is a thick and heavy feeling shell. It can vary in color from almost white on the outside to brownish purple. Contrary to it’s name, it does not like to pick fights. The animal inside uses it’s long foot to “hop” and pull itself along in the sand or to try to escape the hand that has captured it.
Below is a coloring page, free for you to use (personal use only – no selling), of the Fighting conch. Click the picture and print it out and enjoy.
The Whelk shells of Florida are widely collected and they can be some of the largest shells you’ll find on Florida beaches. (Don’t collect them if they are inhabited.)
The Knobbed Whelk (Busycon carica), Channeled Whelk (Busycon canaliculatum), Pear Whelk (Busycon spiratum) and Lightning Whelk (Busycon contrarium) can all be quite large. In fact the Lightning Whelk can grow to a length of 16 inches. Common characteristics include their long shape with a wide opening.
Of these four, the Pear Whelk is least common. It is pear shaped (imagine that!) and grows to a length of 5 1/2 inches. (Here is a beautiful picture of the Pear Whelk.) All four whelks live in the sand intertidally (between the high tide and low tide marks) and the Knobbed Whelk is also common on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and abundant in southern New England.