Identifying and Comparing the Cockle Shells

This quest began when I found two pretty, yellowish seashells on a recent beach-combing trip to Ponce Inlet.

yellow prickly cockles and gray shark’s eye shell
Shark’s eye and prickly cockle
yellow pricklycockle gray shell spiral
Yellow prickly cockle and graying whelk spiral

They are shaped a bit like scallops and / or arks but they contain bumps around the sides and bottom of their shells. I knew they were not scallops.

Both new shells (top two in the photo below) were yellow underneath. I also noticed that they had distinct ridges where the shells would have connected. When I looked up these beautiful shells in my identification book, I found that they are both Yellow Pricklycockles.

scallop shells, dosinia, pricklycockles
Top – 2 Pricklycockles, Bottom – 3 scallops

The Yellow Pricklycockle

These shells are a unqiue and rare find for me, but they are not rare shells. According to my reference book, they can be found on beaches all around the state of Florida. Because they look similar to most of the beach bivalves I see, I may very well have passed them over in my beach-combing travels. After all, those ridges would be easy to miss. And the shells I find are not always in great condition.

In the photo below I tried to get a better shot of the ridges on this shell. There are two other types of pricklycockle mentioned in my Seashell ID book and are the “Even” and “Florida” pricklycockle. This yellow type grows to a max of 2.5 inches.

This Shell Got a Brush Cleaning

As I dug through my shells, looking for more cockle shells, I came across this rather ugly, but rough shell. It was a pricklycockle alright, but it was caked with sand and had been hiding in the bottom of my shell dish.

I began to photograph it and decided it really needed a cleaning. Usually I clean off my shells when I get home, but this one somehow got put away dirty. So, I brushed the mud off with a stiff brush and the yellow began to show up!

This is the same shell as in the six photos above! It cleaned up nicely. To my knowledge I now have a total of three yellow pricklycockle shells.

The Atlantic Giant Cockle

Sometimes the underside of bivalves can give better clues as to what type of shell I’m looking at. Often they can look very much alike on the outside.

I noticed that the yellow pricklycockles have distinct protrusions up at the top where the shells attach. When I flipped over the Giant Atlantic cockles in my collection, they had the same unique feature. They are also cockles.

underside of the giant Atlantic cockle shell
The underside of the Atlantic cockle
yellow pricklycockles
See the underside similarities in the cockle shells

I see the big Atlantic cockles quite often and they are usually quite large. Often they are open in the sand where they have most likely been dropped by a predatory shore bird. Usually they are tan in color with splotches of darker brown. The underside can be brown-purple to pretty pink. I always thought they were some kind of clam. Cockles are not clams.

large cockle shells
Giant Atlantic cockles and yellow pricklycockles

I don’t color my photographs when I get them ready to share on this blog. The colors you see here are very close to actual shell colors.

Once I noticed the similarities, I began to dig through my shell collection to see if I had any more unidentified cockles. Turn your bivalves over and it may help with identification.

Digging Through My Seashell Collection

As I began to search through my seashell collection, I got carried away. I began organizing by piling similar shells together. My next venture is to identify the various arks because many of those look a lot alike. I also found a few one-of-a-kind shells which means I rarely find them where I live.

seashell collection
Digging through my collection of shells
yellow pricklycockle shell
The Pricklycockle is the newest addition to my collection