Sanibel Island, Florida is home to world-renowned shelling. Its unique geography gently draws shells in abundance to the shore,
thrilling shell seekers of all ages. Last week I visited this sunny, easy-going destination with my high school posse and discovered the joy of shelling. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn about shells.
For instance, did you know that gastropod (single-shell) shells are either right-handed or left-handed?
Depending on how the shell grows, it either spirals left (sinistral) or right (dextral).
Much of what I learned about shells was garnered from a knowledgable marine biologist at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. If you visit Sanibel Island, put this destination at the top of your list. What else did we learn?
Do Mollusks Ever Trade Shells?
They don’t trade up as they grow, nor do they downsize as they get older. They stick with the abode they were given.
How Do the Shells Get Holes in Them?
The hole is “drilled” by a gastropod seeking food. It uses its radula (knife-like tongue) to drill into the shell and scoop out the mollusk for dinner. It’s lovely how nature prepares its treasures to be strung on a necklace, earrings or a mobile.
What Causes the Black Stuff on the Shells?
We saw loads of bivalves with the black coating that looked like oil spill residue. Turns out it is a protective skin secreted by the mollusk. So glad to know Exxon isn’t responsible.
Looking at a Sea Star Right-Side Up
A nine-armed sea star is bright on its underside
and dark on the top
to camoflage itself in the water and blend with the sand or light, depending on the viewpoint of its prey. It uses its oodles of arms on the underside to burrow into the sand and disappear.
Watching the Movement of a Mollusk and its Shell
Have you ever seen a mollusk moving in the surf? I can say at last I have. Click the short video below to see a fighting conch make its way.
Revealing Our Mystery Shell’s Identity
When the four of us graduated high school, we celebrated on a 7-day cruise of the Caribbean. One private island stop yielded a large shell for each of us. My conch has long since gone the way of a yard sale, but aCa held on to her gorgeous specimen but never researched what type of shell it is.
When we visited the National Shell Museum her mystery was solved.
It’s a Trident Trumpet shell, commonly found in the Caribbean. The museum profiles shells from all over the world.
For all of my adult life, I’ve carried around a collection of shells my grandfather brought back from his tour of duty in WWII in the South Pacific.
Inspired by my trip to Sanibel, I have a new-found interest in trying to identify them. Looks like another trip to Sanibel Island is in order. Between the knowledgeable shell seekers on the beach and the National Shell Museum, I know I’ll be in good hands.
April 12, 2016