Gorgeous True and Banded Tulip Shells

Tulip shells can be some of the prettiest I ever find, but I rarely find them! Then, the other day when we boated up to a new (for us) little sand bar, it turned out to be the ‘island of tulip shells’.

Tulip snails can be found all around the coastline of Florida, or just about. The tulips are elongated shells which are similar in shape to the Horse Conch but don’t get as large. They are all “spindle” shells. The top and bottom of the shell is long with a rounded center part. Horse Conchs are bumpy at the top whereas Tulips are smooth.

True tulips, like the one pictured here, grow larger than the banded variety and they have less distinct horizontal bands. Both types have beautiful splotches of color that can be gray, brown, orange, pink or maroon.

I spotted this beauty and moved in for a closer look.

The big tulip was moving (because a hermit crab was living inside) against the flow of the water quite fast. Mollusks move slowly, so I knew it was a crab that had taken over. I called my son over to see the shell and the crab just kept moving along. He wasn’t bothered at all by our approach!

True tulip barnacles hermit crab
A large hermit crab moves this Tulip shell along just under the surface

My Super Short Video of This Hermit Crab in a Pretty Tulip Shell

Even covered in barnacles, this True Tulip coloring was hard to miss. The maroon and pink colors were just stunning and the shell is quite large. True Tulip’s grow to be 5 inches according to my reference book, but this one is at least six inches long.

true tulip, seashell, pink, maroon, barnacles,
Large true tulip shell

Top and bottom of the True Tulip

This masterpiece of a seashell has pretty blue-green coloring inside. I did not notice this until I looked at my photos! I was careful how I held this one because that hermit crab was big. Usually the hermits stay tucked up inside, but sometimes I find a brave guy who likes to come out. I wasn’t taking any chances.

large true tulip shell with barnacles

True tulips will eat banded tulips! There is no mercy in the animal kingdom.

A Beautiful Dark Banded Tulip Shell

On the same muddy island I also came across this gorgeous banded tulip. Banded tulips are generally smaller than the True type and the bands are clearly seen. The dark coloring is striking and a hermit crab was tucked up inside.

The banded tulip below is partially covered by hardened sand. The elements of salt and sun can do some damage. And then there are the barnacles that will attach themselves in clusters. When I find shells like this there is always something living inside so I move the shells as little as possible to get photos.

With a whole island to explore, I gave each sighting a bit of time and moved on to see what was coming next. On this day, there turned out to be a whole lot to see. In fact, I rarely find Tulip shells at all. But, as you can tell, this day was different. None of them held the snail that made the shell, which was unfortunate.

Also view the Shell Guide pages at Bailey Matthews Shell Museum to see more about this marine snail.

tulip shell crown conch hermit crabs

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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.

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Banded Tulip Shell – 2.5 inches
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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.

Shells I Found on The Muddy Flats

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but all the shells I found were occupied by hermit crabs, so the best I could do was get some photos.

While traveling the backwaters of the Indian River, we came up behind the islands known as Three Sisters. Since I love to walk along the sandy flats when the tide is out, my son dropped me off and he went out fishing.

I found so many interesting shells in this area that I went back out to the boat to get my camera.

Here’s what I found in this marvelous area of Florida which is mostly untouched by man.

A pretty little yellow Pear Whelk shell. It is similar in looks to the Lightning whelk (second photo), but the opening is on the right, not the left, as in the Lightning whelk.

yellow pear whelk seashell
Little Yellow Pear Whelk Shell – Home to a Hermit Crab

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Little Lightning Whelk

This crown conch is not an unusual find, but I did like the nice size of it’s spikes. Often the spikes can be worn down from all the tumbling about in the ocean, but these spikes were long and sharp. Had to get a photo before the crab inside scampered away.

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Crown Conch with Great Big Spikes

I wasn’t too sure what this little gray shell was, but I think it’s a faded pear whelk. It’s my best guess.

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Little gray shell – a pear whelk I think

And here’s a real beauty… Yes, this is a seashell. It’s round, and mud covered, but it’s one of my favorite shells. Any guesses? Click to see a good photo of the Shark’s Eye shell.

mud covered round sharks eye seashell
Yes, it’s a seashell!

And my favorite find of the day was this awesome big True Tulip shell. My book says max 5 inches for this one, but this one is more like 6 inches. It has a broken opening with an oyster attached to the inside, and of course, a hermit crab has taken up residence.

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Big True Tulip shell, next to my foot

All these shells and many many more were living in close proximity on this sandy bottom surrounded by oyster beds.  Shells could be seen scurrying along just under the water at low tide, but the crab would stop and hide once I approached.  They tuck themselves all the way up inside these shells, so it looks unoccupied, but I know better.

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Oyster bed along the mucky flats at low tide

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