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.
While out on the boat the other day, I came across a large, empty horse conch just lying in the sand at low tide. It was a super hot day, and most shells were under water and inhabited by hermit crabs. I was thrilled to discover a big shell that was a keeper because nothing was living inside!
But it wasn’t pretty. Interesting, for sure, but not pretty. Barnacles encrusted most of the top (spire area) and most of the 10-inch long seashell was covered in black “skin” called periostracum. That info came from my seashell book, “Florida’s Living Beaches“.
I’ve never had such a messed up shell to clean, so I searched for a way to remove the coating and maybe see the shell colors underneath. I began by using my son’s toothbrush and scrubbing at the coating. (He’ll never know – haha, just kidding. Of course I bought him a new one).
At the best shell blog (besides my own, hee-hee) I found that Pam at I Love Shelling had written a nice article (see the link below) about cleaning her horse conchs. She has a lot of shells. She lives on Sanibel Island, where finding awesome shells is a daily thing. I don’t have that luxury, but we both love collecting seashells and I often refer to her experience to share. We both live in Florida, but she is on the Gulf coast and I am on the Atlantic / east coast where nice big seashells are a rare find.
As of today, the photo below is what my horse conch looks like. The barnacles have been chipped away and some of the periostracum has been removed. After I soaked the shell overnight, the barnacles could be chipped off with a butter knife – it’s all I had. I find that letting the shell dry out makes the brown stuff flaky so I can brush it off. But this process is going to take a while.
I may have to invest in some dental tools to scrape mine down. It may not end up very colorful, but I’d love to see what’s under there. If I don’t find any good color, I will leave it outside in the hot Florida sun to bleach white. It will still be a unique shell to add to my collection.
FYI: The animal who lives in, and makes this shell is bright orange! A ten-inch shell seems pretty big to me, but the horse conch can grow to be almost twice as large as this one!
Yesterday, while walking the low tide sands around Three Sisters Islands, I came across a big seashell that was empty! I saw a lot of nice crown conchs, small pear whelks, and a nice big sharks eye shell, but all were occupied by hermit crabs. Until I saw the horse conch, all I had collected were bivalves, which were filled with sand, and not living creatures.
I found a giant Atlantic cockle which is joined, so I have two perfect, connected halves, and a pretty flat white shell which I believe is a dosinia.
We piled into the Gheenoe – three of us – which was a tight fit, and headed out in the heat to do some fishing and island hopping. Being the middle of the week, we had the river pretty much to ourselves. Since the tide was just beginning to come in, there was plenty of exposed sand to explore.
The only types of shells that are abundant are the clumps of oysters which are the bane of boaters. So finding some collectable shells means searching. It was a 95 degree day (actually cooler than what we’ve been having), and even the water was hot – yes, like a hot tub – but I shuffled around the edges of the island in search of something good that was close enough to see and reach. Continue reading Found a Big Horse Conch to Take Home→
One question that arises most often when talking about collecting seashells is, how to clean them. And before we get into that, let me say that I strongly suggest collecting EMPTY, UNOCCUPIED SEASHELLS ONLY. I actually came across an article at a certain site (I will not link to) that tells you how to kill the living animal inside so you can keep the shell. THERE IS NO NEED TO COLLECT SHELLS CONTAINING LIVING CREATURES!! It’s easy enough to find loads of empty seashells. Also, in many areas it’s against the law to collect occupied shells.
Back when the kids were little, when we came home from the beach our pail of shells stayed in the garage for a while. We were busy cleaning off the chairs, cooler and car, so the shells didn’t get cleaned until a later date. I didn’t collect shells to display in my home. They were mostly collected by the kids, and I kept them because that is what moms do – hold onto the children’s treasures. Usually I would put them in the garden outside or in the top of potted plants as decor.
But, if you want to display seashells in the house, or use them in crafts or jewelry making, they do need to be cleaned. Cleaning will bring out the color and prevent unwanted odors. As I said in the beginning of this post, never bring shells home that have something living inside. If the mollusk is still inhabiting it, you will see a flap covering the opening. If you see red claws poking out, it’s probably a hermit crab that is using the once empty shell as it’s home. Even if you see nothing at all, place the shell on the ground, or in the boat (wherever you may be) and wait a bit to see if it “walks away”. Hermit crabs can hide way inside the shell.
Sometimes living things will be attached to the outside of the shell. I once found an enormous horse conch that was no longer home to the mollusk that made it, but weird moving things were attached all over the outside. So I took a photo of the shell and put it back in the water.
When I found a big, uninhabited horse conch (not the same one in the link above), I wanted to see if I could find some pretty colors underneath the blackish coating that was all over it, so I began by soaking it and using a brush to scrub away the black. That cleaning job was ongoing, and I never did get all the black off. It was enough to see the shell beneath which didn’t seem to contain a lot of color anyway. It sits on my kitchen shelf and I think the black coating adds interest.
Ideas for cleaning your seashells usually include soaking them in some sort of solution. Bleach and water – very small amount of bleach – is the common thinking. Shells that are white, or are supposed to be white can withstand a bit more bleach, or a longer soak. Be careful with delicate shells like the sand dollar, starfish and urchins. To bring out the colors after soaking, apply mineral oil and let dry.
Pam (i love shelling) has a post about using muriatic acid to restore color to shells. She lives on Sanibel Island so just imagine the shell collection! Her post claims the solution will restore color to a ruined or calcium covered shell. But, the acid is dangerous stuff and caution is required when using. As an acid, it eats away the unwanted covering and reveals the colors underneath.
If you know of a good way to clean shells, please leave a comment. Happy beach combing!
My recent trip to Florida gave me opportunity to do some shelling, or seashell hunting. The Three Sisters Islands are in the backwater area of the intracoastal near Edgewater and that is where we dropped anchor one day. It was hot and we needed to take a dip in the very warm water (80’s at least) to try to cool off. The area around one of the islands was very shallow so I took a walk looking for shells.
The east coast of Florida is not exactly the best place to find shells, and most of the shells I saw were inhabited by hermit crabs. Those things are everywhere! But suddenly I spotted something large in the murky brown water and when I got up close I saw it was a big shell. When I lifted it out, this is what I saw.
The horse conch is the official Florida shell, and I’m pretty sure this is one. I wanted to keep it, and it had no living thing inside, but something attached to it was alive.
Those bumps you can see on the left side in my photo, were squishy and obviously living. I don’t know what they are – maybe some sort of coral? – but I had to put the shell back. So I took my own advice and took some photos and left nature alone.
The only shells I brought back home were collected along New Smyrna Beach, and they are not super impressive. But this horse conch was definitely my favorite find.