While boating around the backwater, looking for some fish to catch, we pulled up to a muddy area covered with about 6 inches of water. While the boys played around with the boat, I walked the flat area in search of seashells. I saw many crown conchs, all of which had hermit crabs moving them around.
When I came to an odd looking thing, and realized it was a sting ray, which are common in these areas. But this one, about a foot in size, wasn’t moving away. He was “watching” me as I approached. It was a little creepy, so I turned and walked back toward the boat.
On my way back, I saw an odd shape in the mud and touched it with my foot (which was inside my water shoes, of course!). It felt hard and I thought it must be a shell that was buried in the sand. I began to hope that it might be a great find.
I reached down and pulled up a big True Tulip shell! You can see it next to my glasses below, and it measured about 5.5 inches in length.
According to my Seashell Book, the True tulip reaches a size of 5 inches max. So this one was a big shell.
(By the way, the photo at the top was of a smaller tulip I found in another spot. I included that picture to show the colors and bands a little better.)
So this was not the first Tulip shell I had found, but I haven’t been able to collect any because they are always occupied by hermit crabs.
This one was buried down under the sand. I saw no sign of life inside the shell. How exciting… I had not only found a Tulip to keep, but it was a huge Tulip! I brought it over to the boat and set it inside to take home.
It was late by the time we got home so I rinsed the shell and set it out on the back patio for overnight. Some time later I looked outside and noticed that the shell was not there. Hmmmm… this could be disappointing.
I found it up next to the house and my suspicions were correct. A HUGE hermit crab was living inside the shell. This happened to me not long ago, when I collected a broken white whelk and it ended up being a hermit crab home too.
So I put the beautiful shell into a bucket and the next morning when we went out on the boat again I put the shell, with the hermit crab inside, back into the water.
One question that arises most often when talking about collecting seashells is, how to clean them. And before we get into that, let me say that I strongly suggest collecting EMPTY, UNOCCUPIED SEASHELLS ONLY. I actually came across an article at a certain site (I will not link to) that tells you how to kill the living animal inside so you can keep the shell. THERE IS NO NEED TO COLLECT SHELLS CONTAINING LIVING CREATURES!! It’s easy enough to find loads of empty seashells. Also, in many areas it’s against the law to collect occupied shells.
Back when the kids were little, when we came home from the beach our pail of shells stayed in the garage for a while. We were busy cleaning off the chairs, cooler and car, so the shells didn’t get cleaned until a later date. I didn’t collect shells to display in my home. They were mostly collected by the kids, and I kept them because that is what moms do – hold onto the children’s treasures. Usually I would put them in the garden outside or in the top of potted plants as decor.
But, if you want to display seashells in the house, or use them in crafts or jewelry making, they do need to be cleaned. Cleaning will bring out the color and prevent unwanted odors.
How I Clean my Seashells
Now that I live near the beach again, I have often collect shells and have been experimenting with cleaning them.
But I’ve found that they really don’t need cleaning. Empty seashells (and the key here is EMPTY) will only need a rinsing or two in plain old water to remove the sand. My shells never smell bad. That will happen if there is something dead inside. Don’t collect living shells and you won’t have that problem!
White shells can be set outside in the sun which will bleach them whiter. Don’t do that with shells that have pretty markings or they will fade. Using bleach, even in tiny amounts, will fade colors too.
So there it is, simple as can be. Rinse your seashell collection in plain old water to remove the sand. Let them dry and display them! Need some ideas on what to do with all those seashells?
How to Tell if a Shell is Occupied or “Alive”
If the mollusk is still inhabiting the shell you want, you will see a flap covering the opening. If you see claws poking out, it’s probably a hermit crab that is using the once empty shell as it’s home. Even if you see nothing at all, place the shell on the ground, or in the boat (wherever you may be) and wait a bit to see if it “walks away”. Hermit crabs can hide way inside the shell and be difficult to spot. Sometimes they can hide for a long time!
Living things can also be attached to the outside of the shell. I once found an enormous horse conch that was no longer home to the mollusk that made it, but weird moving things were attached all over the outside. So I took a photo of the shell and put it back in the water.
If You Do Want to “Clean” the Shells, Here Are Some Tips
When I found a big, uninhabited horse conch (not the same one in the link above), I wanted to see if I could find some pretty colors underneath the blackish coating that was all over it, so I began by soaking it and using a brush to scrub away the black. That cleaning job was ongoing, and I never did get all the black off. It was enough to see the shell beneath which didn’t seem to contain a lot of color anyway. It sits on my kitchen shelf and I think the black coating adds interest.
Ideas for cleaning your seashells usually include soaking them in some sort of solution. Bleach and water – very small amount of bleach – is the common thinking. Shells that are white, or are supposed to be white can withstand a bit more bleach, or a longer soak. But, after trying the bleach thing a few times recently, I have decided NOT to use bleach. Ammonia is stinky but it will clean them without removing their colors.
I would never use anything but water on delicate things like sand dollars and sea urchins.
To bring out the colors on seashells many people apply some mineral oil once they are cleaned. It could leave them oily, and I prefer a natural look, so I usually don’t use that either.
Pam (i love shelling) has a post about using muriatic acid to restore color to shells. She lives on Sanibel Island so just imagine the shell collection! Her post claims the solution will restore color to a ruined or calcium covered shell. But, the acid is dangerous stuff and caution is required when using. As an acid, it eats away the unwanted covering and reveals the colors underneath. Personally, I will never use it.
If you know of a good way to clean shells, please leave a comment. Happy beachcombing!
I recently came across a picture on Pinterest and thought it looked familiar. I clicked on a picture of six tropical seashells with the title “The Sanibel Six” hoping it would lead me to the blog I thought it was associated with, and it did.
Blogger Pam writes the “i love shelling” blog and she has a great post about the six top shells she has discovered that people collect while visiting Sanibel Island in Florida. She would know, because her blog is all about shelling (as you may have guessed), but not only the shelling she does, but the shelling vacationers to “her” island do. She lives there (don’t let your jealousy show), and has decided to share with the world what she sees going on at the beaches. Mainly what the tourists are collecting.
She has a wonderful blog and it’s the perfect idea since she spends lots of time on the beaches too. Why not get to know the people who are sharing island space with you? It’s such a great idea and I always learn something when I read her blog. She includes awesome videos too.
She is my hero, and when I retire to live on the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), I plan to be spending my time shelling too. It’s not the same as Sanibel, but the little islands up and down the ICW in Florida contain some great stuff too. I may not blog about it since I won’t be running into many tourists out in the boonies of the Indian River, but I know I will discover and maybe collect some great stuff too.
Back to the story at hand. Of the six seashells she chose, I only have two of them. So what are the six shells that are most widely collected on Sanibel? I’ll give you a hint, one of them is pictured here. As for the others, well according to Pam, they are these.