Tag Archives: horse conch

cleaning horse conch

About The Florida Horse Conch Mollusk and Seashell

The horse conch is the Florida state shell. It is one of the largest shells to be found around the coastline and is the largest snail in North America. The horse conch is one of the spindle shells. They are thick and elongated. It looks like someone stretched the shell from both ends. It can grow to be nearly 2 feet in length!

hermit crab inside horse conch shell
Small horse conch with hermit crab inside

The small horse conchs I’ve come across have all had hermit crabs inside.  As can be seen in my photo, they are not very pretty while living in the wild. Usually shells are slimy and brown or green when found out in nature.

One day, while we were boating, I noticed this big shell just under the water on a sandy flat covered in about a foot of water.   The water was clear that day and the tide was going out.  I walked over to the dark spot in the water and discovered that it was a living horse conch!  I was so excited.  This was the first one I had ever seen in the wild.  My son is holding it so I could get a photo.  We immediately put it back down in the water  and left him alone.

living horse conch
Live Horse Conch – approximately 14 inches long

A little later in the day we saw another one, just like this one. The water was clear and the tide was going out, which is a good time to see these living monster mollusks. Read my post about finding this living horse conch.

Florida horse conchs (Triplofusus giganteus) live in sandy shallows, and that is exactly where we found this one.   Supposedly, they can be found all around the Florida coastline living in the sandy shallows.  I rarely see them.  Maybe it’s because the dig down into the sand… as I discovered later on.

The photo below is of a live horse conch found along the Intracoastal Waterway near Oak Hill, Florida.  The water was murky that day, as you can see.    This guy was dug down into the sand so far that I didn’t know what it was until I pulled it up – hoping for an empty shell, but expecting a piece of debris or coquina rock.  I didn’t realize that horse conchs bury themselves!  So I left him alone and got an underwater photo with the Go-Pro.

underwater horse conch mollusk
Underwater Photo of Live Horse Conch
live horse conch under water
Big living horse conch under water

Sometimes juvenile shells are hard to identify, but the long spire (top spike) on the horse conch makes it relatively easy to recognize. The little one in the photo below had no mollusk inside, just a hermit crab. It was fun to find, since horse conchs are not easy to spot where I travel – large or small.

horse conch
Tiny horse conch with hermit crab inside

A picture of a horse conch egg shell casing can be seen on this post at the “i love shelling” blog, which is written by a woman who lives on Sanibel Island. Click the link and scroll down the page. Sanibel Island is on the Gulf coast, where beautiful shells of all types are easy to find.  I do not live in such a place. The wonderful big seashell finds are few and far between over here on the East coast.

The search is one of the best parts of beach-combing.
One day I got lucky and found a big horse conch sitting on the sand in the backwaters. Nothing was inside. The shell was too large for hermit crabs, so it was something I could collect.
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The shell had a film of dark brown stuff called periostracum all over it and some hard barnacles. I chipped off the barnacles and got some of the periostracum off, but I decided it looked just fine with some of the brown left on.

florida horse conch
Ready to clean the shell

This horse conch sits on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. I love to look at it and wonder about the life of the mollusk that made it. Where did it travel and how old was it when it finally died, and how did that happen?  The large snail can eat many gastropods and bivalves.  This snail is huge.

florida horse conch shell
My big shell find – this horse conch is 10 inches long

The video is of a big horse conch eating a tulip snail and the scurrying hermit crabs who fight over the empty tulip shell.

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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.  I couldn’t measure it, but I am guessing it was around 14 inches long.

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.

crown conch seashell

Shell Inside a Shell, Could it Be a Baby Horse?

crown conch seashell
Tiny Shell Inside Crown Conch

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.

tiny seashell
Identifying the Little Shell

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.

tiny broken horse conch seashell
Baby horse conch ?

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.

Cleaning the Big Horse Conch

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“.

florida horse conch
Florida Horse Conch – 10 Inches

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 empty seashells are a rare find.

I do however find them living! And that is an awesome sight. Read more about Finding A Living Horse Conch, with photos.

As of this writing, the photo below this 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 in plain water, 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.

cleaning horse conch
Slowly Making Progress

Pam’s Tutorial For How To Clean Horse Conch Shells contains lots of great information. I notice that her black / brown shell was not totally cleaned up. But she had two others that ended up beautiful.

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.

horse conch aperture
Aperture, 10-inch Horse Conch

FYI: The sea snail who created 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!

Also, I found a tiny broken horse conch lodged inside one of the crown conchs I collected and you can see pictures of that in this post.

florida horse conch shell

Found a Big Horse Conch to Take Home

horse conch big seashell
Horse Conch

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.

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Dosinia shell

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