What kind of shell is that?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When I jump on the boat, I usually have a specific group of shells in mind that I want to collect for the day.  Not that it lasts too long.  Lately though, I have been coming across some awesome shells that I either didn't anticipate finding, or, that I have never seen before.  Crazy!  (I just realized how big of a dork I am - or was reminded because I know I am a dork).  So, I thought today I would post some pictures of my shell collection and tell you what the shell is.

I have a shell book (I am just going to not worry about how dorky I am) and when I find a new shell or want to know more about certain shells, I go through it, find it if I have to, and learn more about them.

Sea Urchins

Sea Urchins are enchinoderms in which the plates are joined to form a firm sheel.  A five-rayed pattern of pores for the tubefeet shows the close relationship to Starfish.  Many Sea Urchins live on rocks in shallow water.  Those that live in deeper water occur in groups and sometimes carpet a large area of sea bottom.  Live Sea Urchins are covered with movable spines-long short delicate or heavy, depending on the species.

Easiest to find them after a storm, washed up on the ocean or barrier islands, best if they are dead without the spines, but not likely.  They will stink if you find them alive or dying, but worth the work.  Leave them outside until dry and soak in a Clorox and water mixture.  Keep an eye on them while you soak them:  if you keep them to long they will deteriorate. 

Sea Urchins
Sand Dollars

Sand Dollars are flattened relatives of Sea Urchins with the movable spines greatly reduced in size.  The animals live in deeper water, half-buried in sand, feeding on organic material and plankton.

Easiest, again, to find them after a storm.  When I refer to storms, I mostly mean hurricanes, although good storms will also produce a bounty.  You can also find them in inlets at low tide by wading in water and digging them up with your feet.  Of course then, they are alive and you will have to deal with the smell and the soaking in Clorox and water, which may deteriorate the skeleton.

Atlantic Sand Dollars

Sand Dollar Fossil

Atlantic bay scallop - In North Carolina lives only in sounds and estuaries, but can be found washed up on the beach in varieties of colors.  I always say, no scallop is alike, similar to a snowflake, but honestly, no shell is alike.  Scallops like these are a major commercial fishery in North Carolina sounds and estuaries, they can be collected by draggina a rake or small oyster dredge through eelgrass beds.  But, the loss of eelgrass, has caused a decline in the bay scallop.

Rough Scallop -  Small, scallop-shaped shell.  It has about 20 strong ribs with many erect scales or small spines near margin.  Lives offshore and is rarely found on ocean beaches.

Atlantic Calico Scallop

Rough Scallop
white baby-ear & brown baby ear

These shells have a flat, smooth, ovate shell.with a large, round aperture.  Commonly found in shallow offshore waters and washed onto ocean beaches.

Baby Ear's
brown-band wentletrap

Lives in sounds and just offshoe.  Occasionally washed onto sound and ocean beaches, usually in drift at the tide line.  Easily overlooked because of its small size.  I found this one on Masonboro Island, NC.

brown-bank wentletrap

Cat's Paws

I have found most of my collection on Bald Head Island, NC.  And, as you see below, I have found a variety of them.  The ribbed texture is so interesting to me.  These are all oyster shaped, with colors ranging depending on species.  I haven't found a lot of information on them except that they live offshore, cemented to shell or rock and are common.

Cat's Paws
common nutmeg

Although the name proclaims it, this is not a common find.  I have never found one until this year, and it was in February after a nice thunderstorm hit the area.  Bundled up in my wellies and heavy boat coat, I made my way to the beach side of barrier Masonboro Island, NC.  I had to look the shell up since I had never seen it. 

Common Nutmeg

Common Nutmeg

Common Nutmeg


Most of the coral we see in North Carolina and surrounding areas is Star Coral. Corals are closely related to sea anemones and Star Coral is a type of stony coral that form great reefs, atolls, and islands.  Cells at the base of each polyp take lime from the sea water to build up their skeletons.  Most corals are colonial, thriving in warm, fairly shallow water.

I find coral washed up on barrier islands often.  Every find is a gem, and they look great in glass containers decorating any abode.

Star Coral

Star Coral

dark cerith

This shell looks like a Coney or Ice Cream Cone, but it's more knobby on it's spiral lines.  Occasionally found washed onto beaches.  I found this one on Masonboro Island, NC.

dark cerith

dark cerith

Horseshoe Crab

About the coolest thing in the ocean since it's been around for over 450 million years.  Commonly called a living fossil, these cool animals have been around long before Dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Fascinating! These are only found along the Atlantic beaches and are quite common.  They are harmless, but you could hurt your feet if you stumbled across a large one; their shells have some pointy horns.  The female is larger than the male, and many times you find them mating on the shore.  I found the following baby ones washed up on Masonboro Island, NC.  I have found much larger ones on Bald Head Island after a storm, but the smell is always so potent that I haven't had it in me to bring one that large home.  (The smaller ones don't carry the same terrible smell).

Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe Crab

Julia cone

A rare species usually found by divers, the Julia cone lives in deep offshore waters in rubble and sand.  I found this on the ocean side of Masonboro Island.  It obviously has been weathered by the sea and shells.

Julia cone

Julia Cone

Keyhole Limpet (Chinaman's Hat)

Personally, a favorite!  Found on inlet sound beaches near inlets and near jetty's, the Chinaman's Hat is always a joy to find.  They attach themselves when they are alive to jetty rock or other permanent fixtures in the ocean from the bottom of their shells and retrieve nutrients from the "keyhole".  I found most of my Chinaman's Hats on Masonboro, Bald Head Island, and Figure Eight Island.

Keyhole Limpet - Chinaman's Hat


Scotch Bonnet

North Carolina's State Shell, and the hardest shell to find.  I haven't actually found one.  The pictures below of one my Mimi found years ago.  After a storm is the best way to find them on barrier islands.  Although I hear that Portsmouth Island, and the Outerbanks are always good bets year round.  I'll be heading their shortly! 

Scotch Bonnet

Scotch Bonnet
Scallop Fossils

I found the first scallop fossil below on West Beach, BHI.  I assume any fossil find is a rarity, which makes it complete joy to come across a find like these (and the Sand Dollar fossil above).  It amazes me what we don't know about the ocean, the vastness, and the ecosystem and life down below.  Perhaps that is one reason I am so passionate about shells and the salt life.

Scallop Fossil

Bottom of above Scallop Fossil (in the Bivalve entirety!)

Back of another smaller Scallop Fossil

Top of smaller Scallop Fossil

These shells resemble cones, and up until this year, I have never found them.  I have seen them in tourists stores, but had no idea I could find one in my state.  Topsnails have an effervescent color to their shell, almost like mother of pearl.  I found these on the beach side of barrier Masonboro Island!

Topsnail Medley


There are so many shells in the ocean.  I will post more, but this compilation has taken me almost a week to put together.  Get out there and shell!  And, if you find any shell, I would love for you to share a picture with me.  Email me at margaret.h.turner@gmail.com.

Happy Shelling!


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