Identifying Seashells; The Murex Family

This is an old blog post, re-purposed, re-written, and hopefully more interesting, about identifying Murex seashells.  Murex shells have a variety of appearances.  They are of the family Muricidae.  

I will only write about the Florida shells here except to mention the shells I have in my collection, which are not from this area.  I don’t personally have any of the Florida-found murexes   so I will include links to online sites where you can see pictures.

pink mouth murex
Pink-mouthed murex seashell in my collection

I’ve had a “pink murex” for a while now, but I believe the true name is “Pink-mouth Murex” (Phyllonotus erythrostomus).  The seashell collection I inherited contains more of these same Murex shells along with a black murex, or Nigrite Murex – see more about that one at the end of this page.

That pretty white shell with the pink inside is not a species found near Florida. The only book I have which mentions it is my Seashell Compendium and the notes say it is found from Western Mexico to Peru. I have no idea where the previous owner acquired it.

Murex Shells Found in Florida

But, you can find other types of murex shells in Florida. They are listed below.

  1. The Giant Eastern Murex (Murex fulvescens) can be found in Florida along the Eastern seaboard but especially in northern Florida. It eats bivalves and prefers oysters and lives on sand in deep water.

Patricia B Mitchell has a photo of one here which was collected in South Carolina. And the site has a whole page of great shell photos from small and juvenile to old and scarred. When and if you find one it may have spikes or they may be worn down.

Identifying features are: rounded apertures, or openings. The body has widely separated ridges with hollow spikes. Coloring is white, or off-white to gray, but buried shells can turn more black (Read about black shells here). Juveniles won’t have pronounced spikes, just small bumps. It is the largest of the Florida murex shells and can be seven inches high.

2. The Lace Murex, or Florida Lace Murex (Chicoreus floriferous dialects) is smaller than the Giant Eastern Murex, max 3+ inches high. According to the National Audubon Society shell book, it is the most common murex in Florida, and it can be found all around the state with prominence on the Keys and Gulf coast. Like the other murexes it eats bivalves by drilling into the shell. It is also whitish in color with possibly some brown, but the juvenile shell is bright pink! See some excellent photos of the Florida Lace Murex (including that bright pink baby) at the Baily Matthews Shell Museum site, and be sure to scroll beneath the featured image to see more, including an egg case.

3. The Apple Murex (Chicoreus pomum) seems to be a bit more colorful than the Lace or Giant murex species with dark brown coloring. Max size is 4.5 inches. The Apple Murex is found all around Florida, like the Lace Murex. See a photo of this shell with egg cases at this Baily Matthews Shell Museum catalog page. Also read more about the shell on that page.

4. The Pitted Murex (Favartia cellulosa) is small, max size 1 inch, and whitish in color. See a photo.

5. Also see the Rose Murex which was collected on Sanibel Island. Scroll down to see the living mollusk in its shell. Awesome photos!

6. Another Florida murex which my local shell book does not mention is Cabrit’s Murex. This murex has a long “tail”, or canal, which has little spikes along it. Finding a shell such as this in good shape on a beach is unlikely as the waves and sand will probably break these fragile spines.

More Interesting Info on Murex Shells

The Muricidae family of shells includes the drills which are small, dense little shells, and the Rocksnail – of which I do have a specimen. See it below next to a crown conch.

shells that look alike crown conch and rock snail shells
Crown conch, left and Rock snail
black murex
Black murex with pink-mouth murexes and big horned helmet shell

The black murex, which I believe is called the Nigrite Murex (Hexaplex nigritus) grows to six inches high. The one in my photo is 6 inches long and about 4 inches high. Although it looks very unusual to me, it is common, and found in the Gulf of California. You won’t find this one anywhere near Florida.

For fun see a Pink-mouth murex etching at the Royal Collection Trust site. Someone was greatly inspired to draw the intricate murex.

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