Horse Conch Called “Knobless Wonder”

When a reader left me a comment about my big horse conch photo, saying that it looked unusual, I began to look more closely at the horse conch photos I had taken and compare them with photos online. Apparently the horse conchs I usually find are called “knobless wonder”. This is because they lack the large bumps many horse conchs have.

Many horse conchs are very knobby, as in the photo below, which come from Wikimedia Commons. In this vintage photo it’s clear to see the bumps at the top of the shell.

Chad Wade Brome holding a horse conch shell- Sanibel Island, Florida (3251676272)

Photo credit: Creative Commons attribution photo at Flickr and State Library and Archives of Florida.

Photographed Big Shells: Horse Conchs Found on The Muddy Flats

Check out this horse conch photo from the Bailey Matthews Museum showing how knobby a horse conch usually looks and compare the image to my photos below. At the museum they go on to mention the “knobless wonder” on that same page which “lacks nodules” and can be found in southwest Florida. Well, I don’t live in southwest Florida. I live on the central East coast. I don’t think I’ve ever found a large horse conch shell with big knobs.

The horse conchs above were photographed and put back into the water where they were found. The one on the left has a snail inside and lots of barnacles and such on the outside. The second photo was one of the first horse conchs I found while boating. It had living creatures attached to the outside of the shell and was encrusted inside with all kinds of things, but the snail was gone. I got some photos and left it there. Neither shell seemed to have the obvious “knobs”.

I don’t usually get to collect horse conch shells, and only have two, and they are big. They measure 10 and 16 inches in length (in photos down the page). It was just lucky that I have those because most big horse conchs we come across while boating are alive. I love to see the living snail. Sometimes they are buried in the mud awaiting the incoming tide, like in the photo on the right below.

Juvenile Horse Conchs

The small horse conch juveniles usually house hermit crabs. By the way, most small horse conchs I see out on the mud flats do seem to have the knobs. Maybe they are more pronounced when the snail is young, or maybe they are in fact the knobby kind. I will have to pay closer attention.

Horse Conch Comparison – Dirty / Clean (Somewhat)

The brown or black coating (called periostracum) that encrusts the shells is difficult to remove. It’s best to let it dry up and flake off on it’s own, which takes time. This is what I did for the two shells here. Below are comparison images from when the shell was found to now. In both instances it’s been a couple of years since they were collected and some coating remains.

big horse conch seashellhuge white knobless horse conch

The ten inch horse conch shell below has some bumps farther up the spire, but they are not as pronounced as some horse conchs. I cleaned this shell the best I could and eventually the coating peeled off, but not all.

florida horse conchhorse conch shell

How the Horse Conch Snail Moves

The huge, orange snail, which would have lived inside this shell, would be moving forward using the smaller end of the shell. When I look at a shell, I think of the pointed spire at the “front”, but that is really the back as he moves. This video is a good one for many reasons, but you can see a big horse conch moving as it chases down a tulip shell for it’s lunch.

The snail’s foot is used to maneuver. The shell I have is quite heavy, weighing in at 3lbs. 2oz. which is pretty amazing when you consider it’s carried by a snail! But the horse conch is no ordinary snail, and they do have the buoyancy from being underwater. For more horse conch information, watch this short video by the Whitney Laboratory at the University of Florida.

I love the beautiful texture of the shells. This largest shell has become quite white, but it also has some mold from sitting outside in my Florida garden. I’ll attempt to clean it up and get more photos. The periostracum is still flaking off.

In the video link above, I learned that horse conchs can live to be 30 years old. This shell is about 16 inches long and the maximum is about 24 inches. I think this conch had a pretty long life in order to create a shell this size. Read the story about how I came to be the caretaker of this shell.

Keep Reading: Recent Posts

Why Are You Interested In Seashells?

When I began writing this blog about seashells I did so hoping to sell paper products containing my seashell photography, like the card below. I lived in New Hampshire at the time, which is funny because my shells had been collected when I lived in Florida. But my Zazzle business, and especially my seashell and beach-related store, needed promoting and I figured a blog was the way to go. What I discovered right away was that my blog was turning into something else.

In the beginning I wanted to promote my store.

The blog quickly became a learning experience.

People reading my blog wanted information about seashells. At the time I knew very little about the shells I had randomly collected while living in Florida. Now, it was time to learn. For some reason I had never thought much about how those empty shells got there or where they came from. The mollusks, or sea snails, which made them were amazing creatures. I wanted to share what I learned with others who wanted to know.

Big horse conch seashells found locally
Two horse conch shells and Skittle the cat

A move back south made writing easier.

The first years of writing were spent in the North, far from tropical beaches, but now that I am once again in Florida, writing has become easier. It’s always better when you have access to the subject. With the purchase of our boat, I have even better access to remote spots where I may come across fun nature photos to share. And I have my camera with me in the form of the iPhone now too.

shells in the sand
The wind was covering, or maybe uncovering, shells along the beach

Discovering local species is most exciting.

Starfish and sand dollars were my first focus because it was easy to find information about them, and I knew what they were called! It’s been a journey, and I’ve made mistakes along the way, but my writing has improved and so has my knowledge of marine snails and the homes they carry on their backs.

Large living tulip shell with Mollusk inside, found in the backwaters of the Indian River in New Smyrna Beach / Edgewater area
My guesstimate at the size of this living tulip is 7 inches in length. It’s a biggie!

Getting out in the Florida wilderness.

Now I would say that I am interested in shells because their lives fascinate me. Sizes, shapes and colors of seashells vary because of the snail which made them. I am lucky enough to get to see those living creatures now and then and share photos here on my blog. Usually I have far too many photos to deal with and not enough time to write, but it’s fun. I hope my readers can learn something which makes them appreciate the beauty of shells.

The Crown Shell is a Perfect Home for Hermit Crabs

The crown shell is beautiful and a nice addition to a seashell collection, if it is not inhabited by the mollusk or a hermit crab.

The crown conch shell is one I see a lot while boating and walking in the river at low tide. Usually they are not very pretty and are covered in mud and green stuff. The larger ones tend to be broken, but they make nice homes for hermit crabs when the snail dies.

IMG_0607 hermit crb

The crown conch shell, sometimes called king’s crown, is recognizable by it’s pointy ridges and horizontal stripes.  When cleaned up, it’s a beautiful specimen.  When found in the wild, it may only be recognized by the points along the top of the swirls.

While visiting the intracoastal waterway (Indian River) backwater area this summer, I saw many crown conch shells in a variety of sizes.  They were often inhabited, not by the snail that made them, but by a hermit crab.

Many years ago my kids had hermit crabs as pets. This was mostly due to the fact that my daughter wanted to have one of every kind of animal on earth as her pet. We had to buy gravel to put in a small container for the crab and we had to provide empty seashells for it to move into when it grew.

Now I wonder how the hermit crabs we had as pets lived at all, since the ones I saw in the wild stay completely under water. And it’s salt water. They are walking all over the shallows and could be in deeper water too I suspect.  Apparently, after learning more about hermit crabs, there are different types, including my run in with the Giant Red Hermit Crab.

I would have come home with quite a nice collection of shells if not for the fact that hermit crabs had taken up residence in every one available!

hermit crab

Besides the beautiful striped crown shell, I found pear whelks and lightning whelks. The unique round shark’s eye was another I couldn’t collect. You can’t see the hermit crabs, but they are tucked down inside these shells.

Crown conch and shark’s eye postcard
Buy this image as a postcard in my Seashells by Millhill store.

Then, I finally found a crown shell with the snail inside (photo below). I took it out of the water for a moment to snap a photo and then I put him back. One day his shell will most likely be a hermit crab home.

crown shell and mollusk inside

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