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Curious Collectors of Clam Shells; Identification and Interesting Facts

Updated on June 24, 2019

Clams Through the Timetables

Clams Seashells Through The Timetables
Clams Seashells Through The Timetables | Source

What is a clam and how do they live?

Clam can be a term that covers all bivalves. Bivalves such as oysters and mussels attach themselves to hard objects, and scallops can free swim by flapping their two valves together. Some clams bury themselves in wet sand and breathe by extending a tube to the surface. Those varieties usually possess a stronger foot for digging that looks like a tongue. Clams feed by filtering food particles such as algae and plankton from the water with their adapted gills, although the digging varieties extend their tubes to siphon food and oxygen. More primitive species used special tentacles. Bivalves lack a head or brain and usually have no eyes, although scallops are a notable exception. All bivalves possess a heart, kidneys, a mouth and anus, as well as a circulatory system.


Clam Variety

A Variety of Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast Clam Shells
A Variety of Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast Clam Shells | Source

Why should we care about clams?

First, we should care about clams because they have been an important part of Earth's ecosystem for at least 500 millions years as one of the first ever complex organisms, not to mention a delicious part of modern day cuisine and a major food industry!

Second, upon their death, they leave behind their hardened calcium carbonate remains and after millions of years their shells break up, get buried under layers of ocean bottom, then heat and pressure cement together with other sediments to form limestone, the building blocks of many a fine city building!

Third, their shells are amazing and beautiful. Humans have found countless uses for their shells beginning from first man until modern times, but this could be another article entirely!


Short Video of a Clam Burrowing

Clam Euphemisms

With the use of two abductor muscles, clams can open and close their shells quite tightly. Very fittingly, the word “clam” gives rise to the metaphor “to clam up”, meaning to stop speaking or listening.

"Happy as a Clam" originally "Happy as a Clam in high water" began as a euphemism for a clam who was safe from predators, including humans, during high tide when it was too difficult to dig them up. The term has a long history, likely originating off the east coast of North America where clam hunting was and still is a popular pastime. In 1840, it was further popularized in a poem written by John G. Saxe, Sonnet to a Clam.

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When identifying bivalves look for color, size, shape, number of ribs and the wings or ears that project at the hinge. So without further ado, time to get started identifying the clams I have in my generous collection, all of which are native to the Atlantic Coast of North America, west to the Gulf of Mexico and as far south as Brazil.

Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle

Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle Shells - Dinocardium, robustum
Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle Shells - Dinocardium, robustum | Source

Cockles or Heart Shells of the U.S. Atlantic coast are close relatives to the edible cockles of Europe, although, there are approximately 250 species worldwide. They are known by shell collectors for their sturdy, heart-shaped shells when both valves are clamped together, and for their attractive appearance. Many cockles are taller that they are wide. They use a strong foot to burrow into the sand or propel themselves across it by pushing off and jumping several inches.


Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle

Notice the heart shape of the cockle turned sideways
Notice the heart shape of the cockle turned sideways
Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle Seashells - Dinocardium, robustum
Atlantic Giant Cockle or Great Heart Cockle Seashells - Dinocardium, robustum | Source

The Atlantic Giant Cockle, also known as the Great Heart Cockle, Dinocardium robustum, is a very beautiful bivalve. Their shells are well inflated, sturdy and large. They display 32 to 36 radiating ribs and are commonly colored tan with reddish brown patches on their outer shells and a deep pinkish interior.

The Atlantic Giant Cockle is also known as Van Hyning's Cockle, especially if you live in the state of Florida. In 1914, the Florida Museum of Natural History's first director, Thompson Van Hyning, attempted to document Florida’s varied animal life. Today the museum houses a collection of 3 million mollusks including clams, snails, squids and octopus.

  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Habitat: In mud or sandy shallows often in brackish inlets.
  • Range: Virginia, south to Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Texas and the Caribbean


Yellow Prickly Cockle

Yellow Prickly Cockle Shells - Trachycardium muricatum
Yellow Prickly Cockle Shells - Trachycardium muricatum

The Yellow Prickly Cockle or Yellow Cockle, Trachycardium muricatum, is a small, cherry round cockle with 20-40 radiating ribs. The ribs near the beak area are smooth; those farther out from the beak have small spines. The shell is yellowish-white with a delicate white to yellow tinted interior.

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Moderate shallow water
  • Range: Native from North Carolina to Florida to West Indies, Brazil, and Texas

Florida Prickly Cockle

Florida Prickly Cockle Shells - Trachyardium egmontianum
Florida Prickly Cockle Shells - Trachyardium egmontianum

The Florida Prickly Cockle, Trachyardium egmontianum, is well inflated, medium size, has white to tannish to light brown exterior and a salmon or pinkish color or sometimes purple interior. The 27-31 radial ribs on the outer shell are more scoop shaped than the Yellow Prickly Cockle.

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Gulf and bays, sometimes found in sea grass beds, although more common in south Texas
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida, and Texas

Egg Shell Cockle

Egg Shell Cockle Seashells - Laevicardium laevigatum
Egg Shell Cockle Seashells - Laevicardium laevigatum

The Egg (or Egg-Shell) Cockle, Laevicardium laevigatum, shells at first glance may be mistaken for an egg by its elongated oval shape and smooth surface. The shell is rather thin and inflated. Its fine radial ribs are delicately etched undetectable by touch, giving the shell's surface a smooth and polished appearance. The color is white, often tinged with brownish orange, yellow or a hint of purple; interior is white sometimes slightly tinged with pink.

A fun note about this mollusk is that it has the ability to jump rather well. A shell collector reported that a live specimen in his boat even leaped to its freedom.

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow water sand or mud
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida and as far south as Brazil.


Scallops

Live Chesapeake Bay Scallop
Live Chesapeake Bay Scallop | Source

The name, "scallop," aptly describes the fluted edges of the animal's circular fan-shaped shell. Scallops otherwise known as "pectens" have rows of tiny eyes along the edge of the mantle making them unique among bivalves. They are jet-propelled. To explain, as their valves open, the space fills with water then the powerful muscle contracts and the valves pull shut shooting the water out sending the scallop forward rather rapidly. This large muscle is edible. They lack the stretchy foot for digging, unique from most bivalves. Scallops are more common along the Atlantic than on the Pacific shores.

Early Native American used scallop shells in their ceremonial dances and some tribes used them as ornaments.


Short Video of Scallops Avoiding Predator

Bay Scallops

Bay Scallop Seashells - Argopecten irradians
Bay Scallop Seashells - Argopecten irradians

The Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, fan shaped exterior shell color ranges from bluish gray, purplish, to yellow, white, brown or reddish brown. The lower valve is commonly white and flatter. The interior of their valves are whitish, but often purplish near the hinge. They have inflated upper valves with 19-21 ribs which are squarish compared to Calico Scallops and may be banded. The wings are fairly even, but may be worn off.

When bay scallops are young, they attach themselves to objects such as eelgrass. This helps them avoid bottom-feeding predators, such as sea stars. As bay scallops grow, they drop to the sediment surface and move on to tidal flats to feed at high tide.

Bay scallops are the most commonly edible shellfish.

  • Size: Up to 4 inches
  • Habitat: Subtidal zones, eelgrass beds, sandy and muddy bottoms, and offshore in shallow to moderately deep water, such as bays and harbors.
  • Range: Maine to Florida and Gulf of Mexico


A note about the various color of same species shells

Some shells turn a variety of colors after they die. These colors depend on the shells afterlife environment. Black shells were likely darkened by iron sulfide if buried in sulfurous muck. Pink, rust or brown are colors most shells turn after decades of exposure to air and sun.

Florida White Scallp

Florida White Scallops Seashells
Florida White Scallops Seashells

The Florida White Scallops are bay scallops described above. One other feature about bay scallops is that their shells are not the most sturdy compared to the thick shells associated with cockles and especially the ark varieties described below. Their shells may be found with or without their wings.

Zigzag Scallop

Zigzag Scallop Seashells - Euvola ziczac
Zigzag Scallop Seashells - Euvola ziczac

Zigzag Scallop, Euvola ziczac, have varying colored rounded ribs from white to orange, yellow, gray and purple. The lower valve is somewhat cup-shaped, whereas the upper valve is fairly flat. The ear/wings are uneven. They exhibit a zigzag pattern (ENLARGE PHOTO) of tiny or distinct stripes on their outer shells which gives the name. They also move in a zigzag pattern when jetting. The interior valve is whitish and purple brown half way to the outer edge.

  • Size: Up to 4 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow waters near the shore and form beds in sandy areas
  • Range: North Carolina, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and as far south as Brazil.


Lion's Paw Scallop

Lion's Paw Scallop Seashells - Nodipecten nodosus
Lion's Paw Scallop Seashells - Nodipecten nodosus

Lions Paw, Nodipecten nodosus, formerly Lyropecten nodosus, differ from Nodipecten subnodosus. It is an ancestor to this Pacific species. It's also often confused with another Western Atlantic species, Nodipecten fragosus. Nodipecten nodosus does not have the tendency to develop nodes on the ribs like the species, Nodipecten fragosus. The right valve never shows nodes. The Lions Paw can be colored white, brown, reddish and sometimes mauve to purplish showing some spots. They have 9 -10 broad radiating deep ribs with additional fine lines. Look for the wide copper interior banding around the perimeter. .

  • Size: Up to 4 inches
  • Habitat: Fairly shallow water moderately exposed to sheltered reef systems, attached to corals and loose rubble
  • Range: Atlantic coast of North America, ranging from North Carolina to Florida, the West Indies, including Brazil and Bermuda.

Calico Scallops

Calico Scallop Seashell - Argopecten gibbus
Calico Scallop Seashell - Argopecten gibbus
Calico Scallop Seashells - Argopecten gibbus
Calico Scallop Seashells - Argopecten gibbus | Source

The pretty Calico Scallop seashells, Argopecten gibbus, are a favorite with shell collectors striving to get the greatest variety of shadings. Some collectors have a hundred Calicos, all of different color combinations. Their mottled purple, orange, pink or even brown hued shells commonly wash ashore providing beach goers with colorful treasures. They're often found with their wings/ears broken off. They have 19-21 roundish ribs over their fairly dome shaped valves.

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Although closely related to bay scallops, calico scallops live in deeper, offshore waters. Calico scallops are found on sandy or shelly bottoms.
  • Range: Native from the coast of North Carolina to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies.

Calico Clam or Checkerboard Clam

Calico Clam or Checkerboard Clam Shells - Macrocallista maculata
Calico Clam or Checkerboard Clam Shells - Macrocallista maculata

Another popular shell among collectors is the Checkerboard Clam (also called Spotted Clam or Calico Clam), Macrocallista maculata. It has an exterior of creamy white with a checkerboard pattern of brownish red. The interior is polished white with splashes of yellow or faint lavender. It has a moderately strong shell that is oval with very fine radial lines. They are edible.

  • Size: Up to 2 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow sandy bottom waters
  • Range: North Carolina, Florida to the West Indies, Bermuda to Brazil

Sunray Venus

Sunray Venus Shell - Macrocallista nimbosa
Sunray Venus Shell - Macrocallista nimbosa

Sunray Venus, Macrocallista nimbosa, has also been called Giant Callista. Its outer valve is violet gray to tanish with darker streaks radiating out from the hinge. Interior is dull white with a tinge of red over the central area. Fresher specimens are more pinkish. It has an elongated oval shaped shell with a glossy, smooth surface. They are edible.

Native Americans used the Sunray Venus shell as eating utensils.

This Venus Shell is named for the Goddess Venus and is noted for its graceful lines and beauty of color and sculpture.

  • Size: Average 3 inches, Up to 4 inches
  • Habitat: Sandy ocean bottoms in shallow water
  • Range: Native to Florida West Coast, St. Petersburg to Marco, or beginning of the Everglades Islands. Also as far north as North Carolina and west to Texas.

Cross Barred Venus Clam

Cross Barred Venus Seashells - Chione cancellata
Cross Barred Venus Seashells - Chione cancellata
Cross Barred Venus Seashells -  Chione cancellata
Cross Barred Venus Seashells - Chione cancellata

The Cross Barred Venus, Chione cancellata, is a small, roundish triangular clam marked by distinct radiating and crossover lines, giving it a miniature lattice-work appearance. The slightly inflated shell is whitish often with brown markings. The inner surface of the shell also displays a pretty purple color. Gathering enough of the living clams can make a delicious chowder.

  • Size: Up to 2 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: More abundant in vegetative areas of bays
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida south to the West Indies and east to parts of Gulf of Mexico

Lady In Waiting Venus

Lady-in-Waiting Venus Clam Shell - Puberella intapurpurea
Lady-in-Waiting Venus Clam Shell - Puberella intapurpurea

Lady-in-Waiting Venus Clam, Puberella intapurpurea (formerly, Chione intapurpurea), has a triangular, concave sturdy shell with distinct concentric ridges and vertical beads or ridges giving it a cross-hatched look. The lower margin, or edge of the shell is serrated similar to teeth, notably visible from the interior. They have a prominent inward beak and are colored a pale yellow to off white, sometimes with brown patches or freckles.

Wish I knew how this pretty little Venus clam was named. A "lady-in-waiting" is a female companion or personal assistant to a royal or noble woman of higher rank.

  • Size: Up to 1 1/2 iches
  • Habitat: Sandy bottom in fairly shallow water
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida, far south to Brazil and east to Texas Gulf Coast

Princess Venus Clam

Princess Venus Clam Seashells - Periglypta listeri
Princess Venus Clam Seashells - Periglypta listeri

I love this little seashell for its deep brown color against its striking white interior, often with purplish stains. The Princess Venus Clam, Periglypta listeri, is heart shaped with numerous fine concentric rings and fine radial ribs on the exterior. It has a fairly inflated sturdy shell with a distinct serrated edge reminiscent of fine teeth, observed from the interior.

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Buries in gravel, sand and mud in mid-intertidal zones
  • Range: Florida to the Caribbean


Northern Quahog

Northern Quahog Seashells - Mercenaria mercenaria
Northern Quahog Seashells - Mercenaria mercenaria | Source

Pronounced “Co-hog”, the Northern Quahog, Mercenaria mercenaria, is a large, thick, hard-shelled clam, also known as a type of Venus Clam. It's often round to oval and may be very plain or decorated with ridges of thin concentric, colorful lines or rays. The Northern Quahog is more colorful than its southern cousin with a beautiful interior decorated with white and deep purple swirls.

Northern Quahog were prized by Native Americans and were an important part of their diets. They used the shells to painstakingly make the colorful beads for "wampum" belts which served to bind treaties. The Native Americans also called the smaller ones "Littleneck" or "Cherrystone" clams.

The name "quahog" comes from the Native American name "poquauhock," meaning horse fish. The Latin name Mercenaria mercenaria is derived from a word that means wages and was given to the quahog due to the Native American use of wampum as money and jewelry.

  • Size: Up to 6 inches
  • Habitat: Offshore burrowing in sand or mud in shallow water
  • Range: Nova Scotia Canada to Florida and east to Texas

Southern Quahog

Southern Quahog Shells - Mercenaria campechiensis
Southern Quahog Shells - Mercenaria campechiensis
Southern Quahog Shells with Boreholes - Mercenaria campechiensis
Southern Quahog Shells with Boreholes - Mercenaria campechiensis

The Southern Quahog (pronounced Co-hog), Mercenaria campechiensis, are a type of Venus Clam known as hard shell clams having large, thick, sturdy, inflated shells with concentric ridges over their entire surface. The Southern Quahog beaks grow inward toward the anterior. Their outer shells are grayish to brown to white. Their interior shell is chalky white, and lacks the purple characteristic of its cousin, the Northern Quahog, but can have hints of purple. There are two muscle scars on the interior surface of each valve.

Quahogs are extremely efficient filter feeders, and large quahogs can filter about a gallon of water per hour.

Quahogs are prized as food for humans and constitute one of Rhode Island's most important fisheries.

  • Size: Up to 7 inches, slightly larger than their cousins, the Northern Quahog
  • Habitat: Burrows offshore intertidal zones under sand or mud to a water depth of 120 feet. They also may be found in salt marshes
  • Range: Cape Cod, Canada, to Florida, as far south as Cuba and west to Gulf of Mexico to Mexican Coastline


Buttercup Lucine

Buttercup Lucine Seashells - Anodontia alba
Buttercup Lucine Seashells - Anodontia alba

Did you know the Lucines are named for Lucina, an aspect of the Roman Goddess, Juno, who represented light and childbirth? Lucines are common in warm waters on both Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of North America.

The Buttercup Lucine or Lucina, Anodontia alba, is a circular bowl-shaped, small bivalve with a fairly sturdy white outer shell and creamy to butter yellow interior. The exterior has numerous fine concentric lines and a somewhat wide hinge plate. Is non-edible

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Deep to shallow water
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida and West Indies and U.S. Pacific Coast

Chalky Buttercup Lucine

Chalky Buttercup Lucine Shells - Anodonitia philipiana
Chalky Buttercup Lucine Shells - Anodonitia philipiana

Chalky Buttercup Lucine, Anodonitia philipiana, is slightly thicker and also larger than the Buttercup Lucine, Anodontia alba,. The valve color is white with only pale yellow interior and possesses numerous concentric lines with a dominant furrow.

  • Size: Up to 2 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Deep water reaching the beach when tidal flow washes it up.
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida, to Gulf states and south to the West Indies

Florida Lucine

Florida Lucine Seashells - Pseudomiltha floridana
Florida Lucine Seashells - Pseudomiltha floridana

The Florida Lucine or Lucina, Pseudomiltha floridana, shows weak growth lines but sturdy shell. Both exterior and interior valve colors are white. The shell is fairly inflated, very round with a beak that turns forward and is small, but prominent. They have been called the Face Shell, because they are used for faces of shell dolls. They are non-edible

  • Size: Up to 1 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Moderate shallow water
  • Range: Florida to Texas and U.S. Pacific Coast

Pennsylvania Lucine

Pennsylvania Lucine Seashell - Linga pennsylvanica
Pennsylvania Lucine Seashell - Linga pennsylvanica

Pennsylvania Lucine or Lucina, Linga pennsylvanica, is white with distinct concentric ridges and a distinct diagonal furrow about the posterior region. The shell is sturdy, heart shaped and inflated with a beak inclined forward. Beach worn specimens are smooth and shiny. They are non-edible.

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow water
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida and West Indies and Pacific Coast

Ponderous Ark

Ponderous Ark Shells -  Noetia ponderosa
Ponderous Ark Shells - Noetia ponderosa

Ponderous Ark, Noetia ponderosa, is a very thick triangular shell with strong flat ribs and a large beak that turns back to the rear of the shell. These arks have a dark velvety skin worn to white after beaching and the calcareous shell can later stain to rust or gray. Their robust shells make them and their relatives, such as the Blood Arks, among the most common beach finds where other bivalve shells are otherwise pulverized in high energy wave zones.

Ponderous Ark and its relatives are a family of small to large-sized edible saltwater clams in the family Arcidae.

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: A sand dweller in shallow shores
  • Range: Virginia to Key West and Gulf of Mexico


Ponderous Ark with protective "Periostracum"

Ponderous Ark With Dark Brown Covering Called Periostracum
Ponderous Ark With Dark Brown Covering Called Periostracum

Camouflaging Layer Over Arks - The Periostracum

The shell of many ark species have a thick layer of a dark brown velvety covering called the periostracum. The photo about clearly shows this covering layered over the Ponderous Ark which has partly been worn away. It serves as a protective camouflage over the harder calcareous part of the shell. After beaching, the periostracum begins to ware off and in time can completely disappear.

Blood Ark

Blood Ark Seashells - Anadara, ovalis
Blood Ark Seashells - Anadara, ovalis

The Blood Ark, Anadara ovalis, derives its name from its uncommon red blood; most mollusks have clear blood. Like their close relative, the Ponderous Arks, the Blood Arks have very thick shells, only to a slightly lesser degree. At first glance, it's hard to tell them apart, but the Ponderous Ark has more of a triangular shaped shell with an inflated high crease from the beak, whereas the Blood Ark has a more elongated oval shape. You can plainly see the boxier shape of the Ponderous Ark from the comparison photo below. Their hinge lines are slightly different as well, longer and less arched on the Blood Ark.

  • Size: 2 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Sandy shallows
  • Range: Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Florida and east to Texas

Ponderous Ark (left) compared to Blood Ark (right)

Comparison: Ponderous Ark Shells (left) and Blood Ark Shells (Right)
Comparison: Ponderous Ark Shells (left) and Blood Ark Shells (Right)

Tranverse Ark

Tranverse Ark Seashells - Anadara transversa
Tranverse Ark Seashells - Anadara transversa

The Tranverse Arks, Andara Transversa, are a fairly sturdy, elongated oval and small bivalves. Their valves are fairly inflated bearing a relatively long straight hinge line. They have squarish ribs and are usually colored white once the periostracum covering wares off after beaching. Like many seashells, they can stain rust or gray after long exposure to the sun and air.

Note: On Florida beaches they litter the shores with abundance

  • Size Up to 1 1/4 inches
  • Habitat: Gulf and bay sandy bottoms or hard substrates
  • Range: Massachusetts to Florida, east to parts of Gulf of Mexico and south to the West Indies

Incongruous Ark

Incongruous Ark Shells - Scapharca brasiliana (formerly) Anadara brasiliana
Incongruous Ark Shells - Scapharca brasiliana (formerly) Anadara brasiliana

The desirable Incongruous Ark, Scapharca brasiliana, formerly Anadara brasiliana, is a sturdy shelled ark well distinguished by obvious beading on its strong radial ribs. They grow in a triangular shape with well inflated valves and a strong beak turned back. Color is white with brown furry covering while alive and may discolor after being beached.

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Gulf and bay sandy bottoms
  • Range: North Carolina to Brazil

Cut Ribbed Ark

Cut Ribbed Ark Seashells- Anadara floridana
Cut Ribbed Ark Seashells- Anadara floridana

The Cut Ribbed Ark, Anadara floridana, otherwise known as, Anadara secticostata, have fairly inflated shells with an elongated, slightly uneven oval shape. Their hinge is long and straight. Usually colored white, but like other arks, are susceptible to staining rust after beaching. The valve consists of 30-38 radial ribs flattened on top with a groove down the center of each rib and concentric ridges between the ribs.

  • Size: Up to 4 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Off shore sands, but closer to shore in Southern Florida
  • Range: North Carolina, Florida and Gulf of Mexico to Texas and West Indies

Zebra Ark

Turkey Wing, Zebra Ark or Noah's Ark Seashells - Arca zebra
Turkey Wing, Zebra Ark or Noah's Ark Seashells - Arca zebra

Zebra Arks or Turkey Wing Arks, Arca Zebra, have an unusually elongated oval shape with a long straight hinge. The surface of the valve is uneven with rough textured ribs, but their most distinguishing mark is the attractive zigzag alternating brown and white stripes resembling a zebra or, obviously, a turkey wing. This ark shell has also been called “Noah's Ark” because of its shape when the valves are connected. Like many of the arks in general, living examples are covered with a thick and bristly “carpet” or periostracum that wears away after beaching.

  • Size: Up to 3 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: The mollusk attaches itself by its byssus (threadlike filaments) to rocks and other solid objects in shallow water.
  • Range: North Carolina to the West Indies, and also on Bermuda's shores, as well as in the Mediterranean.

Ark Angel Just For Fun

Ark Angel Made From Various Ark Shells
Ark Angel Made From Various Ark Shells

Broad Ribbed Cardita

Broad-Ribbed Cardita Seashells - Carditamera floridana
Broad-Ribbed Cardita Seashells - Carditamera floridana

The Broad-Ribbed Cardita, Carditamera floridana, is also known as the Bird Wing. The exterior shell is white with purple or chestnut blotches with a white interior. The shell is oval, small, thick with 20 strong raised and beaded radial ribs.

Jewelry makers love this little shell which washes ashore commonly on the Florida beaches.

  • Size: Up to 1 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Attaches itself to the substrate by means of its byssus (threadlike filaments) in sand or mud 3 to 25 feet deep.
  • Range: Florida east to Texas and Mexico

Angel Wings

Angel Wing Shells - Cyrtopleura costata
Angel Wing Shells - Cyrtopleura costata

Angel Wing clams, Cyrtopleura costata, have lovely elongated, winglike valves with 26 radiating ribs finely sculptured which intercept with a series of concentric growth rings parallel with the margin. Angel Wings are typically white and sometimes tinged pinkish. The muscles on their hinges are rather weak so it's uncommon to find the left and right valves connected. Also, their valves are rather thin and brittle so they're often found damaged from rough seas.

Cyrtopleura costata Angle Wing shells will glow if exposed to ultraviolet light.

They can extend a long siphon which protrudes from the burrow used to circulate water and draw in food particles with enough strength to also bore into clay, wood, even shale.

  • Size: Up to 7 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow water burrowing up to three feet deep in mud, clay or peat
  • Range: Cape Cod to Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, east to Central America and as far south as Brazil


Short Video of Angel Wing Clam Being Dug Up and Returned

Disc Dosinia Clam

Disc Dosinia Clam Shell - Dosinia discus
Disc Dosinia Clam Shell - Dosinia discus

Disc Dosinia clam, Dosinia discus, exterior valve is yellowish white with a pure white interior. The valves are moderately thin and circular in outline with a small dominant beak. A distinct feature of Disc Dosinia is the fairly even concentric ridges about 20 to 25 per inch. Another species is Elegant Dosinia which has about 50 ridges to the inch.

  • Size: Average 2 inches, up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Just off shore in moderately shallow water and paired valves are often commonly found
  • Range: Virginia to Florida, east to the Gulf States and south to the Bahamas


Atlantic Surf Clam

Atlantic Surf Clam Shell - Spisula solidissima
Atlantic Surf Clam Shell - Spisula solidissima

The Atlantic Surf Clams, Spisula solidissima, also known as Hen Clam, Bar Clam, Skimmer Clam, or Sea Clam, prefer the surf environment on sandy shores feeding on minute plant and animal life washed back and forth by the waves. Their valves outer surface are colored white to yellowish white sometimes with added gray. They are triangular shaped and possess thin concentric growth lines. They grow fast and large and are prized by humans for their sweet flavor.

U.S. wild-caught Atlantic Surf Clam is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

After Severe storms, beaches are sometimes covered with millions of these clams and people often pick up a large empty shell to dig in the sand with, or take home as a decorative dish.

They can live up to 35 years

  • Size: Up to 3 inches
  • Habitat: Warm coastal water near shore typically in surf waters
  • Range: Predominantly from Nova Scotia Canada to North Carolina and as far south as Florida to portions of the Gulf States

Eastern Oyster

Eastern Oyster - Crassostrea virginica
Eastern Oyster - Crassostrea virginica
Eastern Oyster - Crassostrea virginica
Eastern Oyster - Crassostrea virginica
Eastern Oyster
Eastern Oyster
Eastern Oyster Interior
Eastern Oyster Interior

Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, can go by several names, including, Wellfleet Oyster, Atlantic Oyster, Virginia Oyster, or American Oyster. The shell is heavy and teardrop-oval shaped varying greatly; interesting note, they can grow to any shape necessary. Sometimes they have scaly concentric layers over their outer surface, sometimes with concentric rings, sometimes with vertical irregular ribs. Eastern oysters reach three to five inches in length, but can reach up to eight inches.

The Eastern Oyster vary in color from white to gray to tan, or with pinkish markings. The right or top shell is flat with a purple muscle scar on the interior side, while the bottom shell is cupped, with a dark muscle scar inside.

Eastern Oysters are very popular commercially. Today, less than 1% of the original 17th-century population (when the original colonists arrived) is thought to remain in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The Eastern Oyster is the state shellfish of Connecticut, its shell is the state shell of Virginia and Mississippi, and the shell in its cabochon form (polished) is the state gem of Louisana.

  • Eastern Oysters have fast growth and reproductive rates.
  • First mature as males, then later develop female reproductive capabilities.
  • An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day
  • During cooler months, oysters can live out of the water for extended periods of time
  • These oysters often attach to one another, forming dense reefs that provide habitat for many fish and invertebrates.
  • They are sought after for their creamy white meat and firm texture with a mild, sweet flavor

Size: Average 3-5 inches, Up to 8 inches

Range: Brackish and saltwater from shallow bays 8 to 35 feet deep, often concentrated in oyster beds or rocks.

Habitat: From Nova Scotia Canada, south to Florida east to Gulf of Mexico and further south as far as Venezuela

Digitate Thorny Oyster

Digitate Thorny Oyster Shell - Spondylus tenius
Digitate Thorny Oyster Shell - Spondylus tenius

The Digitate Thorny Oyster, Spondylus tenuis is often mistaken for the Atlantic Thorny Oyster, Spondylus, americanus. Thorny Oysters from the genus Spondylus have many species varying considerably in appearance and range, also known as Spiny Oysters. However, they are not true oysters, yet they do share some habits such as cementing themselves to rocks rather than attach themselves by a byssus, as most bivalves. Also, the two halves of their shells are joined with a ball-and-socket type of hinge rather than with a toothed hinge, as is more common in other bivalves. They have thick lumpy shells most often with thorns, although the Digitate Thorny Oyster has fewer than most. Some varieties are whitish, pink, reddish or orange. Interior is whitish with darker band around the perimeter.

Note: The example above of the Digitate Thorny Oyster has a tubeworm casing attached to it.

  • Size: Average 3 inches, up to 5 inches
  • Habitat: Attach to coral reefs or rocky reefs depending on species in shallows or in deeper waters.
  • Range: North Carolina around Florida to Texas, southwards to Venezuela and Brazil

Atlantic Thorny Oyster

Thorny Oyster Shell - Spondylus americanus
Thorny Oyster Shell - Spondylus americanus

Atlantic Thorny Oyster, Spondylus americanus, normally shows the telltale protruding thorns, but some lose their thorns due wind and surf so this could be a possible explanation for the above sample. It's a rather pretty specimen with the telltale reddish and yellow coloring. It has a pitted surface with an oval shape and is quite sturdy.

  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Habitat: Deep water reefs especially in areas with high sedimentation. It is often lodged in a crevice or concealed under an overhang
  • Range: North Carolina and Texas southwards to Venezuela and Brazil

Kitten's Paws

Kitten's Paws Seashells - Plicatula giblosa
Kitten's Paws Seashells - Plicatula giblosa

Kitten's Paws, Plicatula giblosa, are related to oysters and are sometimes called Cat's Paws, but I prefer the former as they are tiny little seashells no bigger than a penny and too cute to be associated with the mighty hunter. Their valves vary in color and are almost flat, tough, with a bumpy texture and have an irregular triangular shape resembling their name. They typically attach themselves to rocks using the left valve so it's more common for seashell hunters to find the right valve on shore.

  • Size: Up to 1 inch
  • Habitat: Off shore in sandy substrate up to 300 ft (91m) depth.
  • Range: From North Carolina to Florida, east to Louisiana and as far south as West Indies

Florida Spiny Jewel Box

Florida Spiny Jewel Box Seashells - Arcinella cornuta
Florida Spiny Jewel Box Seashells - Arcinella cornuta | Source
Florida Spiny Jewel Box Shells - Arcinella cornuta
Florida Spiny Jewel Box Shells - Arcinella cornuta

Florida Spiny Jewel Box, Arcinella cornuta, bivalve attaches one of its shells to an offshore rock or substrate. This answers as to why beachcombers rarely find these beautiful bivalves in their full glory with both valves attached. Look for a thick strongly curved shell with knobs or longer spikes along 7-9 rows of spines. They're white outside, pinkish inside. Presumably, the golden colored sample is staining due to exposure to sun and air.

Fresh specimens have extended spikes and resemble the thorny oyster. The spikes become worn down by the surf and sand or can break off entirely.

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Attached to a rock, coral or shell in warm shallow water (sometimes in deep water) exposed to air during low tide. Later in life they become detached.
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida and Gulf of Mexico


Jingle Shells

Common Jingle Shells Seashells - Anomia simplex
Common Jingle Shells Seashells - Anomia simplex | Source

Common Jingle Shell, Anomia simplex, also known as Mermaid's Toenail, and Saddle Oyster, is a bivalve with two different thin, translucent, irregular shaped, pearly valves; one curved, usually yellow, silver, whitish or orange, and the other one is flat and whitish with a hole at the apex. It has a fleshy appendage (byssus) which passes through the hole to anchor itself upon rocks, seaweeds, or old shells. Consequently, usually only the upper valve washes ashore.

Jingle Shells are often attached to submerged objects so thickly that one grows on top of another and oyster dredges will bring them up in quantity.

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow waters, beaches, oyster beds, and mollusk shells.
  • Range: Nova Scotia Canada to Florida, Texas and West Indies

Tampa Tellin

Tampa Tellin Shells - Tellina (Angulus) tampaensis
Tampa Tellin Shells - Tellina (Angulus) tampaensis

Tellin shells belong to a family which is often considered the aristocracy of bivalves. Of several hundred species, a score are found along both U.S. coasts, especially in the warmer waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The family is diverse in size from 1/4 to 4 inches.

Some Tellins are rose colored and attractive with banded patterns, very desirable to collectors, but most are white to creamy. There's plenty of photo samples on the internet for viewing more of the varieties.

The Tampa Tellin, Tellina Angulus tampaensis, is colored opaque white (sometimes tinged pinkish orange) with a shiny white interior. It has rounded, oblong-shaped valves with very thin concentric ridges on the exterior. The valve is fairly symmetrical from its somewhat pointed beak.

The valves are relatively thin and compressed. The hinge is not strong and shells washed up on the beach are often broken.

  • Size: Average 1/2 inches
  • Habitat: Shallow sand and grassy inland bays and lagoons
  • Range: Florida to Panama and Texas

Speckled Tellin

Speckled Tellin or Interrupted Tellin Seashells - Tellina listeri
Speckled Tellin or Interrupted Tellin Seashells - Tellina listeri

The Interrupted Tellin, Tellina listeri, also known as, Speckled Tellin, exterior valve is creamy-white with purplish brown rays or speckling. The interior is white with the colors showing through. The shell is moderately thin, long and oval. The valve has strong concentric lines and a crease extending from the beak to the edge. Is non-edible

  • Size: Up to 2 inches
  • Habitat: Moderately shallow water, but buries itself deeper in the mud and sand than most bivalves
  • Range: North Carolina to Florida and Brazil

Coquina

Coquina Seashells - Donax variabilis
Coquina Seashells - Donax variabilis

The Coquina clams, Donax variabilis, are found in all colors and patterns of the rainbow. The colors can be from yellowish-brown, blue, lavender, green, pink. Many are plaid. Their shells are asymmetrical from their pointed beak, slightly elongated and inflated.

These are little clams which create the activity you see at the tide line of the surf. With the aid of a fleshy foot, they dart about and can bury under the sand in a twinkling. Apparently, they are sensitive to light and rush to get back into darkness under the sand. The are great in soup and crafters desire them for their beauty.

  • Size: Up to 3/4 inches
  • Habitat: Sandy shallow subtitle zones
  • Range: Virginia to both coasts of Florida and Texas

Mystery Shells

I was unable to find information about the mystery shells above, neither from the internet, nor from books. They are creamy in color, extremely smooth, absolutely no ribs or spines, and are super thick. If anybody knows something about them, feel free share in the comments.


What type of clam shells do you admire most for their beauty?

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Comments

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    • Fossillady profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathi 

      6 months ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Glad you liked it, thank you Linda!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing so many interesting facts about clams, Kathi. The photos are beautiful.

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