Top Rare Seashell Finds in Florida

The casual seashell collector gathers whatever looks good as they stroll along the shore, but some people are die hard searchers for that elusive rare shell.  It should be in close to perfect condition too!  Those could actually be worth some money – to a collector.

I don’t know much about buying and selling seashells and if you are serious about knowing how to spot a rarity, buy a good book or join a seashell collector’s forum.

The three top rare shells to keep in mind while beach-combing in Florida are the ones listed below, and this is only my advice from my research.

  • The Junonia – a spotted shell found in the Gulf area beaches
  • The Lion’s Paw scallop, which is much larger than an ordinary scallop shell
  • The Scotch Bonnet shell

Rare shells can also include a shell that is built differently than the norm. A Lightning Whelk twists to the left and has a left side opening, but finding one that opens on the right would be a rare find.

A shell or creature found outside of it’s natural territory can also be considered a rare find. The Lined Sea Star photo at the beginning of this page is one such creature. I’d never seen one on the beaches of east, central Florida so when I discovered it (dead I believe) it was a wonder. This was a rare sighting… for me!

Go Where the Shells Are to Begin Your Search

I’ll admit that I’ve never personally seen any of the shells listed here. I live on the central, east coast of Florida. There are a couple of pages on this blog showing the more common shells to be found in my area.

Sanibel Island is the one of the best places to find shells here in Florida. It ranks among the top shelling spots IN THE WORLD. Because of the abundance of shells, finding rare shells is more likely, such as the pretty, spotted Junonia shell.

Scaphella junonia
Junonia seashell – Public Domain image / Wikimedia Commons

The Junonia shell is unmistakable. With it’s ivory colored background that is covered with blocks of brown spots. According to my reference book, roughly one Junonia is found each day on Sanibel Island, Florida. And considering all the people on those beaches, this truly is a rare seashell find.  (Junonia coloring page – print it out for free!)

I could search for a Junonia all my life over here on the east coast and probably never find one. But if I lived near Sanibel, or vacationed there often, my chances of finding a junonia would increase greatly. Then again, many people in the Sanibel area also search for shells like this so there is competition.

The Lion’s Paw Scallop Shell

The Lion’s Paw shell (Nodipecten nodosus) is coveted by collectors.  It can be as large as 6 inches across.   Large shells are often what people want to find while roaming a beach.  I have never found one of these amazing seashells.  In fact, where I live on the East coast of Florida, I rarely find any type of scallop shell, but when I do, they usually look like the one below.  The Calico scallop can be found on all beaches in Florida, and is not considered rare.  I added the image here to show the similarities with the Lion’s Paw.

An outstanding feature of the Lion’s Paw scallop shell is that the ridges are wider and more widely spaced than a normal scallop.  Also, the shell can be brightly colored, like the orange seen here, or even red.
The image below, from Wikimedia, with creative commons license to share, is an orange scallop shell called a “Lion’s Paw”.

Bright orange Lion's Paw scallop shell
Huge Lion’s Paw scallop

The Lion’s Paw is a Scallop

calico scallop shell
Atlantic Calico Scallop shell – a common shell found on many Florida beaches.

The Scotch Bonnet Shell

The pretty little Scotch Bonnet (Phalium granulatum) seashell has a short, pointed spire and horizontal grooves all around it’s thick shell.  Maximim length is 4 inches and coloring can be white to yellow or butterscotch.  It has a curled lip along the opening and can have a check pattern, like in the shell image below.

Scotch Bonnet seashell shown from all angles.
Scotch Bonnet seashell (Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Other Rare Seashell Suggestions

I will admit that I knew about the scarcity of the Junonia shell for years. And many people have heard of the rarely collected Lion’s Paw. I didn’t know that it could be found on Florida beaches until I did some digging.

I do not have any of the top rare seashells in my collection. I’m grateful to the people who share their photos on photo sharing sites, like Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay, which I used on this page.

For the third shell listed here, the Scotch Bonnet, I visited the “I Love Shelling” blog which is written by a woman who lives on Sanibel Island.  I figured she would know which shells the locals consider to be “rare” and the Scotch Bonnet was mentioned.  The Sanibel blogger has a page entitled, The Elite Three Shells.

Florida Beaches and What You’ll Find

An east coast beach will contain different shells than a Gulf Coast beach. I suspect the Keys and the Panhandle beaches will also give up an even different selection of shells.

My beach-combing usually takes place in the backwater areas of the Indian River where shells differ from what I’ll see along the Atlantic ocean beaches. Anyone boating and walking the muddy sandbars in the lagoons will probably find some shells that are completely different.

Hermit crabs in crown conchs and shark's eye
Hermit crabs in crown conchs and one shark’s eye

Most shells I come across are caked with mud and / or green with algae. Often they are broken, and nearly always they are occupied either by their mollusk creator, or hermit crabs. I don’t collect many shells, but do get some interesting photographs for my blog.

I’m more likely to find “rare” creatures, like the red hermit crab, a scary spider crab, and lined sea star (photo at top of page).

Whenever I find something to bring home (namely an empty seashell), then it is cleaned off and either added to the dish on the coffee table, or put into the flower garden.

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