Living Sand Dollar Found at Low Tide

We finally went boating and luckily it was low tide along the river. This is the best time to search the sand bars for sea life. Today, I found a living sand dollar! I believe this is the first time I have ever come across such a thing.

Keyhole sand dollar alive
Live sand dollar!

Because I can’t see in the bright sun when taking my iPhone photos, I take a few hoping that some will be okay. This sand dollar was such a wonderful sight. The color was a purple brown. The bottom had little bristles I could feel. I only held it for a few seconds to get the pictures, then put him back in the same spot.

Later, after I walked away to the deeper water, I saw this sand dollar slowly moving closer to the river. The water was flowing in that direction so maybe he was riding the current. That is good, because if he was beached, he would dry up and die in the hot August sun.

Former Finds in This Area

This Three Sisters area has been especially good for unique sea life sightings – for me. Low tide is the best time to search the area and it helps if the water is warm and fairly clear.

You can see the difference in my photos of the same area at the islands when the tides change.

We visited Three Sisters a few weeks before this and I could barely walk around because there were many stingrays. The water was at just about high tide, which means the sand is covered, but the water is still shallow enough to walk around. I know all about shuffling my feet while walking in the sand here, but sometimes these stingrays are not easily scared off! That was a good day to stay on the boat.

In years past I have found the giant red hermit crab – 2017 (the only one I’ve ever seen), a big living horse conch nearly buried in mud, a big sea star, a tiny sea star, and a friend found an empty, huge horse conch seashell.

Keep Reading the Blog

Shells that Look Alike: About The Tulips

Tulip shells are pretty shells with splotches of reddish-brown, orange or dark maroon pink color.  Both the True tulip and Banded tulip have horizontal lines on the shell surface.

About the Tulip Shells

This Banded Tulip (Fasciolaria ilium) was found at a construction site near the water.  I assume that over the years as sand was moved around the shell ended up inland.   This is the only tulip shell in my collection.

banded tulip shell
Banded Tulip Shell – 2.5 inches
tulip shells
Tulip shells – both have hermit crabs inside.
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This is how they look underwater in the wild.  I found these two together (hermit crabs inside) with the smaller riding piggy-back on the larger.
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The gorgeous color of a true tulip shell

The True Tulip (Fasciolaria tulipa) is one of the bigger shells I see out on the islands.  I was out boating recently when I found the two shells in the pictures above.

The one I am holding in the picture below measured around 6 inches long, although my seashell ID book says they grow to only 5 inches. I found it in the backwater of the Indian River near an oyster bed at low tide. It had an oyster shell attached inside, and was home to a hermit crab. These photos show some of it’s color beneath all that muck, and the size.  It was a beauty.

Even in these less desirable states, the markings on the shells obviously differ.  The lines (bands) going around the True Tulip (smaller shell in photos above) whereas the shell below is much more splotchy.  If I’d been able to collect it, the colors after cleaning would have been beautiful.

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Big True Tulip Shell, about 6 inches long

The shape of the shells are similar, but the True grows larger.  The True has ridges at the top of each whorl and the lines are not as distinct and wide-set.  This one will eat the Banded.

Both types of tulips live on sand, and there is plenty of that around here.  I see the True more than I see the Banded, but don’t have one in my collection. Because they are the perfect home for hermit crabs, I was excited to find an empty shell once and brought it home, but then….read more.

true tulip shell
Big True Tulip Shell

I found this amazing video made by Pam Rambo who writes the blog “i love shelling”. She lives on Sanibel Island, and when you watch her video, you will see why it’s one of the best places in the world for shell collecting. All those shells……!!!!!!!

On Sanibel Island (Florida’s Gulf coast) she can find more beautiful shells in one day than I will find in a lifetime of beach combing over here on the East coast.

I go nuts over finding one Dosinia shell (the white bivalves in her video), and she bypasses tons of them! The black shells are pen shells, and she even sees starfish (sea stars) on shore. In her video you will see lots of tulips, alive and not, and watch her add some beauties to her collection (which must be huge). Apparently empty seashells outnumber the hermit crabs in Sanibel.

Hermit Crabs in the Wild

Hermit Crab
Image by goingslo via Flickr

My kids had hermit crabs as pets at one time.  They lived in a little box and we provided various size shells for them to change into as they grew.  (Hermit crabs live in the empty shells of mollusks.)

We fed them peanut butter and provided water in a little shell for them to drink.  They would molt as they grew and we considered ourselves lucky to be present when they actually came out of the shell to scoot into a larger one.

They didn’t live very long and that was due to the fact that we didn’t really know what they needed to survive.  Back then, I admit to being ignorant of keeping wild animals as pets.  These days, I would have explained to my daughter that these animals belong in the wild.

When we got our pontoon boat, our family would cruise up and down the Intracoastal along the  Indian River and stop at various little islands to explore and fish.

One of the islands we visited regularly was an island which I named “Broken Palm Island”.  We noticed there were many very tiny hermit crabs roaming the beach there.  I have a picture some place of my son with a little hermit crab crawling on his foot.

The kids thought it was awesome to find so many little crabs living in the wild as they were meant to.    No one had to provide empty shells for these guys, they were finding plenty on the sandy shore.

Since this time, I’ve been out to the backwater areas and have discovered there are many more types of hermit crabs – and they are everywhere!  I’ve even found a Giant Red hermit crab, which is rare for the area where I travel.