Conchs, Top Shells, Moon Shells, Cone Shells, Whelks and More Univalves
If you have ever walked the beaches along the Western Atlantic Coasts or Gulf Coasts of North, South and Central America, or the Indo-Pacific Regions, all of which are sub-tropical to tropical, you have likely come across various seashells, lovely and irresistible to pick up!
The following photo essay features the univalves, otherwise called gastropods or sea snails which have a single shell, typically spiraled. All for the curious collector with easy to follow descriptions for identification while also providing some interesting facts and beautiful photographs from a variety of shells in my personal collection!
Note: When identifying shells, size and location are important along with the obvious features such as shape, textures, markings and color.
Important to know: Many of the species are protected and threatened because of over fishing, over collecting or careless destruction by beach-goers, tourists or fisheries.
Queen Conch Snail
Conch (pronounced "conk") is a tropical marine mollusk sea snail with a spiral shell that may bear numerous knobs, a long spire and have a flared lip. Conchs, as with all sea snails, have a well-developed head with eyes, tentacles and a mouth, a broad muscular foot for crawling, and a soft body mass which is protected by their shell.
Big, heavy and impressive shells house a tasty animal known as the Queen Conch, Strombus gigas, which may find itself loved out of existence. They are eagerly collected by shell enthusiasts and fisheries alike, but it is a protected species in the U.S. State of Florida. Whether dead or alive, collectors are warned to keep hands off. Their slow growth rate, occurrence in shallow waters and late maturation make the Queen Conch particularly susceptible to over-fishing.
Much has been written about this species with its beauty, size, many uses and popularity. They are the ones you see in the movies of native islanders blowing into to call on the Gods, or little kids putting them up to their ears to listen to the call of the ocean.
Look for a sharp apex and thick triangular knobs on the whorls. The outside is brownish yellow with a bright pink opening and lip. Only as adults, the lips of the shell are thick and flared. But their large size may be the best identifying feature.
They feed on algae and other plant material distinguishing them from the carnivorous whelks or helmet sea snails.
- Size: Up to 8-12 inches, 15-31 centimeters; living up to 40 years
- Habitat: Sandy, shallow, warm waters in coral reefs or sea grass beds
- Range: Western Atlantic Coast from Florida, west throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico Zone and Greater Caribbean Tropical Zone, and as far south as Venezuela
Subtropical-Tropical Regions of Western Atlantic USA, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and South American Coasts
Florida Fighting Conch
The Florida Fighting Conch, Strombus alatus, is another favorite among collectors and one of the more common finds along the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines.
Look for an attractive thick orange-brown conch with darker brown blotches, sometimes light tan blotches over creamy white. Knobs may be present on larger whorls. The interior is darker brown with a wide, thick lip bearing a distinct indentation near the posterior end and slight ribs.
They eat algae and other tiny marine plants
- Size: Up to 3-4 inches
- Habitat: Sandy and muddy bottoms in shallow water
- Range: North Carolina to Florida, west to Texas
Jungle Pete Corradino sheds some light why they are called 'Fighting Conch'.
Dog Conch or Yellow Conch
Dog Conch or Yellow Conch, Laevistrombus canarium canarium, better known as Strombuscanarium, is from the family Strombidae, the true conchs. Colored golden brown to yellow sometimes with darker-brown zig-zag pattern. Body is inflated especially at the shoulder; atop with a few spiral grooves and a pointy top spire. Has a thick flared outer lip. Interior is white, mature specimens present a metallic gray on the margin of the outer lip.
Although valued as a collectible, is also used as bait because of its heavy "sinkable" weight for fishing nets.
It grazes on algae and detritus
Is commonly fished for human consumption.
- Size: Up to 4 in, 10 cm
- Habitat: Sandy bottoms.
- Range: Indo-Pacific from India, Australia, north to Japan
The Spider Conch, Lambis lambis, is in the family, Strombidae, the true conchs. A very ornamented species with its flared out lip decorated further with six or seven spiked digits. Males and females differ here with the male showing the three innermost digits shorter and bent towards the posterior, whereas the female demonstrates longer and laterally curved digits. The spikes improves the snails stability and prevents it from toppling over as it hops. Juveniles lack the spikes.
Like many other sea snails, it has large eyes on long stalks, a thick siphon and a curved "operculum" meaning "little lid" attached to a strong foot. This is used by the animal to hop along the surface and as a trap door concealing it into its shell.
The color of the shell is highly variable, with the base being white or cream and often presenting, tan, brown, purplish or bluish black patches. The interior appears polished and may be pink, orange or purple.
The Spider Conch is another favorite for crafters and collectors.
It thrives on red algae.
- Size: Up to 11.5 in, Average 7 in (29 cm, Average 18 cm)
- Habitat: Mangrove areas, reef flats and coral-rubble in shallow water from low tide levels to depths of 5 m
- Range: Widespread in Indo-Pacific from Africa to Australia, including India, Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, north to Southern Japan
Queen (Emperor) Helmet Snail
The Queen Helmet also known as Emperor Helmet, Cassis madagascariensis, may be one of the larger sea snail species, but regardless of the fact, today they are not easy to find due to over collecting.
Heavy, large, triangular, thick lipped and varied, Helmet Shells are used in making cameos. The thick shell and variable colors suit them well for this purpose.
Queen Helmet shells may vary from whitish color to light yellowish brown. Their undersides are darker and have a wide opening with markings that resemble teeth. They feed on sea urchins and sand dollars.
- Size: Up to 12-14 inches 3-5 centimeters
- Habitat: Sandy shallow warm water in coral reefs up to 30 feet deep
- Range: Western Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea regions. The specific name "madagascarensis" literally means "of Madagascar", but this was a misunderstanding of the locality by the original author.
The Cameo Helmet, Cypraecassis rufa, also called Bull Mouth, Grinning Mouth or Red Helmet. Thick heavy shells are used in making cameos. Colors may vary from light pinkish to deeper pink with dark stripped markings. The helmets snails are distinguished from the conchs by their flipped up rims along their openings, and short spires. Usually, their knobs along the whorls are blunt. The undersides have markings that resemble teeth and a wide lid bears faint wide stripes. They feed on sea urchins and other echinoderms at night.
- Size: Up to 7.5 in, 19 cm
- Habitat: Tropical sandy coastlines as deep as 40 ft or 12 m
- Range: Indo-Pacific Southeast Africa Coastline to Northern Australia and New Guinea
The elegant big whelks that wash up on the Western Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches are yet another favorite of collectors. When alive, they are edible, especially on European menus. All whelks are predators with a rasping tongue like structure to siphon into mostly clams or scavenged carrion. Near the base of the siphon is a taste/smell receptor that can detect and locate food at a considerable distance.
The Lightening Whelk, Busycon contrarium, previously, Sinistrofulgur perversum, is one of the loveliest. This particular species acquired the name "Lightning Whelk" because the white shells of the juveniles have chestnut brown stripes with a zig-zag pattern reminiscent of lightning bolts. Colors fade on older, larger shells. Texas lightening whelks are darker brown than lightening whelks from other locations.
The opening is always on the left holding it so that the spire is at the top. This sets them apart from other univalves. Their shells are elongated with triangular knobs and the opening extends along their entire length.
- Size: Up to 10-15 in, 25- 38 cm
- Habitat: Sandy bottoms in shallow water
- Range: Western Atlantic Coast far North as Cape Cod, south to Florida and west to the Gulf of Mexico
Knobbed Whelk Snail
Knobbed Whelk next to Channeled Whelk
The Knobbed Whelk, Busycon carica, is the second largest species of the "Busycon" Whelks. Distinguishing features, of course, are the protruding knobs or spines along the shoulder of its wide whorl, but they can become worn down by sand and surf, as seen in the example above the video. Their shell opening is right sided and elongated.
As with other whelks, the shell color varies depending on geographic locations: the outer shell ranges from grayish white to tan, while the inner shell ranges from pale yellow to orange.
This animal feeds on clams, oysters, mussels and other bivalves. To feed, the snail uses its foot to hold prey while the lip of its shell chips and pries at the bivalve. Once a big enough hole has opened, the snail inserts its foot and begins to feed.
Historically, Native Americans used the Knobbed Whelk to make their beaded wampum belts in exchange for trade.
They are edible and have lived on Mother Earth for 30 million years!
- Size: Up to 12 in, 30 cm
- Habitat: Sandy tidal zones, but can be found off shore up to 150 ft, 45 m.
- Range: Massachusetts to Florida, west to the Gulf Coast of Georgia
Common Northern Whelk Snail
The Common Northern Whelk, Buccinum undatum, has a stout pale shell from white, yellowish or reddish-brown in tone. In life, the outer shell is covered in a bright, yellowish-brown protective cover called periostracum, as with many other marine bivalves and univalves. The spire contains seven to eight whorls. There are wavy folds crossed by numerous prominent spiral lines. The opening is white and broad.
It does not adapt well to life in the intertidal zones. If exposed to air, it may crawl from its shell, risking desiccation.
They are widely eaten sometimes referred to by its French name bulot.
- Size: Up to 3 in, 8 cm
- Habitat: Off shore beyond high watermark in continuous submerges zones
- Range: Preferring colder water widely distributed from North America as far south as New Jersey, west to European Northern Atlantic Coastlines as far north as Iceland
Giant Eastern Murex
Murex shells and their kin include over a thousand species, counting the Drills, which have become serious pests in oyster beds. All of this group are carnivores, feeding mainly on bivalves. Their outer shells are heavy, ridged and spiny, and very attractive to collectors.
Very uncommon compared to other species, the Giant Eastern Murex also know as, the Giant Atlantic Murex, Hexaplex fulvescens, as the name suggests, are big sea snails, the biggest of the Murexes. So to have one in your collection is very lucky. They possess several rows of ridges with glorious protruding spines. Their outer shell may be colored whitish, grayish or pale brown, the aperture is oval with hollow spiny edges.
- Size: Up to 9 in, 23 cm
- Habitat: Most commonly in deeper waters 250 ft, 80 m.
- Range: North Carolina to Cape Canaveral, Florida, west to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico
The Lace Murex, Chicoreus florifer, is highly ornamental with up to 7 whorls and 10 hollow decorative spines. The colors vary from yellowish, light-brown, or brownish black in mature specimens, to pink or white in young specimens.
The Lace Murex and Apple Murex are very similar, except the Lace Murex has hollow spines along the outer rim of its aperture or opening, lacking in the Apple Murex. Also, the Lace Murex opening is on the smaller side.
- Habitat: Shallow sand and rubble
- Size: Up to 3 1/2 in, 7 cm
- Range: North Carolina, south to Florida, the Caribbean and the Bahamas, west through the Gulf of Mexico
Apple Murex, Phyllonotus pomum, is mostly tan or light brown with darker brown markings and white highlights. The shell is thick and the surface is rough and ridged with wrinkly columns. The aperture is glossy and either white, tan, or peach.
The samples above are immature and the spires are not as pronounced as with an adult size. It measures to only about an inch and a half.
- Size: Up to 5 in, 13 cm
- Habitat: Shallow bottoms to deeper waters up to 70 ft, 20 m, burying themselves during low tide
- Range: North Carolina to Florida, far south as Brazil, west through the Gulf of Mexico.
Pink Throat Murex
The Pink Throat Murex, Hexaplex erythrostomus, has a light tan shell with yellowish brown patches and a number of blunt spines along several ridges. The aperture is large and round and bends backwards over the outer shell. The interior is usually pink and glossy, but sometimes it's white depending on its location and especially maturity level, only adults have the deep pink.
- Size: 3-6 in, 7-15 cm
- Habitat: Moderately shallow water
- Range: Western Mexico, south as far as Peru and parts of lower Gulf of Mexico
Atlantic Oyster Drill
Atlantic Oyster Drill, Urosalpinx cinerea, related to the family of Murexes, have sturdy, longitudinal ribbed shells with prominent spires. Color is grayish, brownish over dull white, sometimes yellow or light brown. Outer lip is slightly thick inside.
A vicious enemy to oysters, has the ability to bore a hole and suck out the oyster; a serious problem in commercial oyster beds, and it has been accidentally introduced well outside its natural range. Is non-edible.
- Size: 1/2 to 1 in, 1.25 to 2.5 cm
- Habitat: Intertidal rock and oyster beds as far as 25 feet
- Range: Nova Scotia to Southern Florida
Florida Rock Snail
Florida Rock Snail, Stramonita haemastoma floridana, is in the Murex family and may be also called an Oyster Drill, Red-Mouthed Rock Shell or the Florida Dog Winkle. It has a solid elongated shell with tall spire. It's sculptured with longitudinal ribs sometimes with nodules on the shoulder and weaker concentric growth lines.
Colors variable creamy white with brown, tan or blue gray bands sometimes creating a checkered almost plaid-like pattern. Inner most interior is deep brown or purple outlined with orange and often grooved on the outer lip.
Rock Oysters are known to feed on other Oysters and Mussels and may be able to attack those prey in groups, to maximize feeding efficiency. Their feeding behaviors include chipping away at the shell margins of prey using their teeth (called radula) and acid secretions.
- Size: Up to 4 1/2 in, 11 cm
- Habitat: Rock beds, oyster beds
- Range: Widespread Western Atlantic from North Carolina to Florida and Caribbean far south to Brazil. Also Eastern Atlantic European Waters and Mediterranean Northern Tip of Africa.
Incredible closeup footage of how a snail attacks and eats. You'll never look at snails quite the same way after viewing!
Triton's Trumpet - Giant Triton Snail
Triton's Trumpet also called Giant Triton, Charonia tritonis, is a very large species of sea snail; one of the biggest mollusks in the coral reef named for the son (Triton) of the Greek God of The Sea (Poseidon).
Tan with darker brown markings, Triton's Trumpet is heavily beaded with a pointed spire and large body whorl with spiral shelves. Interior opening has notched edging and is white.
It's one of the few animals that feeds on the Crown of Thorns Starfish, a large and destructive species having killed extensive areas of coral on the Great Barrier Coral Reef of Australia. This Triton has a reputation of tearing apart the starfish to pieces with its file-like radula.
A decorative treasure sometimes modified to a trumpet such as the Japanese "horagai".
It's a protected species in Australia and other countries such as India but is illegally traded and found in shops around the world and on the internet for sale!
- Size: Up to 2 ft, 60 cm
- Habitat: Coral reef
- Range: Widespread Indo-Pacific from Red Sea to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Mediterranean from East Africa to Hawaii
Girdled Triton Snail
Girdled Triton, Linatella caudata, robust figure is sculptured with small spines arranged along deeper cut ribs. The tail is turned to one side. Color varies with white background, light-gray and brownish markings, or rarely greenish.
- Size: Up to 2 3/4 in, 7 cm
- Habitat: Seagrass meadows on soft substrates
- Range: This species is very widespread (but uncommon). In the Western Atlantic from South Carolina to Brazil, across to the Canary Islands. It is also present in European waters, in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean along Tanzania and in the Indo-Western Pacific as far north as southern Japan.
Banded Tulip Snail
The Banded Tulip, Fasciolaria lilium, is whitish to orange-yellow. The dark distinct spiral lines are less crowded than with their relatives, the True Tulip. They are shaped like a spindle which opens in the middle and forms a pointy spire on the ends. They prey on other mid-size gastropods.
- Size: 3-4 in, 7-10 cm
- Habitat: Sandy or muddy shallow water less than 100 ft, 30 m
- Range: North Carolina, south to Florida, west to the Texas Gulf
Alphabet Cone Snail
Alphabet Cone, Conus spurius, are medium size and obviously shaped like a cone as with all the cones from which there are about a dozen species in the Florida corals and rocks. The opening lip is narrow and extends the length of the outer shell.They are creamy-white with rows of reddish brown splotches, some resembling letters of the alphabet. Top of cone or spire has a small pointy apex.
All cone snail stings are toxic, always use caution when collecting their shells.
- Size: Up to 3 in, 8 cm
- Habitat: Sandbars and grassy flats in shallow water
- Range: North Carolina to Florida
The Nutmeg Snail, Cancellaria reticulate, is small and resembles the shape of a nutmeg seed with the same roughness and texture. Background of white with various shades of brown arranged in spiral bands and longitudinal stripes. Both ends are pointy. It's a vegetable feeder.
- Size: Up to 1 3/4 in, 3 cm
- Habitat: Grassy bottoms or kelp beds
- Range: North Carolina around Florida to West Coast, mostly around Cape Sable at Florida Southern tip
Cuming's Cerith Snail
Cuming's Cerith, Pseudovertagus aluco, an Indo-Pacific species, is very similar to The Dark Cerith or Florida Cerith (shown below) so I have decided to use it for comparison.
- A little note about Ceriths, you may find them scurrying around in shallow ocean lagoons, but look more closely. There may be a hermit crab occupying it, so when you collect the long slender Ceriths, make sure they are empty of living creatures.
- About 30 species of Ceriths are found on North American coasts in warm or temperate waters. They feed on mostly waste matter or algae and people like to put them in aquariums as cleaners.
Florida (Dark) Cerith Snail
Comparing Florida (Dark) Cerith to Cuming's Cerith Snail
So after observing the above two Cerith species, I'm sure you can see their similarities and differences. One main difference is in their size, which you can't tell by the photos. The Florida Cerith, Cerithium atratum, is much smaller, about 1 1/2 inches while the Indo-Pacific Cuming's species is 3 1/2 inches. Both are at full adult size. The Florida species is lighter tan with stripped bands while the Cuming's has a more speckled pattern. Also, the Cumings has distinct knobs while the Dark Cerith is beady. The point is when you're identifying species, you learn to be a much more careful observer. One can be easily mistaken for another.
- Habitat: Both species like sand-bars at the high tide level, sandy shallows or coral rubble
- Range: The Dark Cerith is found mainly from North Carolina to Florida and west to Texas
- The Cuming's Cerith can be found from a wide range in the Indo-Pacific Region from the Eastern Africa Coast to Philippines and Northern Australia.
Common (Atlantic) Auger Snail
The Common or Atlantic Auger also called Eastern Auger, Terebra dislocata, can be colored from gray to tannish-white. The Augers are relatives of the Cones.This is the most abundant of the four species of auger snails living on the sandy shores of Southwest Florida. They have a slender triangular shape, with a small aperture and a very long spire. They feed on small crustaceans, clams and worms.
You wouldn't want to pick up a live auger because they have a venomous stinger like teeth to subdue their prey and the flesh may also be poisonous depending on the species.
During mating season, they may be observed in populated swarms.
- Size: Up to 2 1/2 in, 6 cm
- Habitat: Muddy sand or sand flats in intertidal shallows up to 25 feet.
- Range: Florida to Texas
Adam's Miniature Cerith
Adam's Miniature Cerith, Seila adamsi, has a slender conical shell with flat whorls sculptured with 3 strong, spiral cords distributed evenly on whorls. Typically colored orange to dark brown.
- Size: 1/2 in, 13 mm
- Habitat: Shallow waters
- Range: Massachusetts to Florida south to West Indies
Boring Turret Snail
Towering Boring Turret Snail, Turritella acropora, is not as commonly found because it remains off shore farther than most. Colors vary from whitish tan, with pinkish and orange-brown irregular mottling. Adults may have up to 15 whorls that bulge with fine concentric lines.
The Turritelline gastropods are moderately diverse and abundant.
- Size: Up to 4 in, 10 cm
- Habitat: Off shore moderately shallow waters
- Range: North Carolina, Florida, much of the Gulf Coast, south to Cuba and Bahamas
- Turbo Snails are found in tropical regions around the world. They were in existence as early as the Upper Cretaceous period approximately 100 millions years ago.
- Empty turbo snail shells are a favorite choice of hermit crabs and favorites among collectors who love to polish them beautifully and put them on the market for sale.
- All turbo shells have round to semi-circular apertures with inflated, thick shells topped with swirling spires, giving them the appearance resembling a turban (a wrapped around headdress).
- Most young feed on algae, while adults feed on seaweed.
- Majority of species live in shallow warm coastal waters and reefs up to 90 ft . . .(30 m) deep
Chestnut (Knobby Top) Turban, Turbo Castanea - I actually don't have one of these in my collection (shown above in the drawing) but wanted to describe it since it's one of the most common Atlantic Coast species. I included below, five other beautiful varieties from my collection native to various Pacific shores .
What differentiates the Chestnut Turban is its highly sculptured spiral rows of beads and blunt spines. This abundant species is variable in color and sculpture. Usually colored tan, brown or gray with patches of dark brown, orange, reddish-brown and cream.
- Size: Up to 2 in, 5 cm
- Range: North Carolina, to Florida, south to Brazil, the Caribbean Sea Zone, farther south as Venezuela and west through the Gulf of Mexico
Rough Turban, Turbo setosus - Usually green with brown patches and a pearly white aperture. Texture is beaded.The top spire is acute and pointed
- Size: Up to 3 in, 8 cm
- Range: Indian Ocean east to Northern shores of Australia
Wavy Turban, Turbo fluctuosus - Colors variable from olive, green, brown or grayish with varying patterns. Aperture is white
- Size: Up to 3 1/2 in, 9 cm
- Range: Pacific Ocean from Southern California farther south to Western Mexican Coastline and Peru, further west to Galapagos Islands
Gold Mouth Turban
Gold Mouth Turban, Turbo chrysostomus - A rough textured shell, color patterned brownish or white, marbled with chestnut to red flecks. Of course, the best way to be sure of its identity is its richly golden, shiny aperture.
- Size: Up to 3 in, 8 cm
- Range: Indian Ocean off Madagascar Basin. Also Western Pacific Philippines south to and Northern and Western Australia
Silver Mouth Turban
Silver Mouth Turban, Turbo argyrostoma - Usually green with brown markings and (as with most turbos) varying ornamental patterns. Sometimes the apex is red, others, goldish. The silver glossy aperture is a dead give away for this species. Collectors especially love to polish this beauty and put them up for sale!
- Size: Up to 3 in, 8 cm
- Range: Indo-Pacific Region
Turbo Shell - Common Delphinula or Dolphin Snail
The Common Delphinula or Dolphin Shell, Angaria delphinus, is variable in form, size, color, spine formation belonging to the family of Turbans "Turbinidea". The shell is typically colored pinkish to purple, brown or grayish. It's thick and flattened conically. The shell of a living snail is usually hidden by encrusting lifeforms. The outer shell has spiky projections which may be short or long depending on environment and other factors. The aperture is pearly white.
- Size: Up to 2 3/4 in, 7 cm
- Habitat: Algae covered rock beds
- Range: Indo-Western Pacific
Jujube Top Shell Sea Snail
Jujube Sea Snail, Calliostoma jujubinum, a pyramid cone shaped shell can vary color-wise from chestnut-brown, purple-brown, green-gray or tan mottled base marked with narrow, curved, widely separated longitudinal white elevated streaks. Otherwise finely beaded ribs decorate the surface. It has about 10 whorls on the way up to a pointy spire. The base is flattened with iridescent white interior.
- Size: Up to 1 1/4 in, 3 cm
- Habitat: Among seaweed in shallow water
- Range: North Carolina south to Florida, Bahamas, West Indies and further south to Brazil; also, west to Gulf of Mexico Coast
Pearl Trochus Cone Sea Snail
Pearl Trochus Cone, Trochus lumea, creamy iridescent shells are prized for their Mother of Pearl thick shells crafted into jewelry making, buttons, beads and even crushed for counter tops and flooring. Another favorite in gift shops of Florida and other Atlantic Coast tourist cities; including around the world. Conical shaped with sharp spire with 8-10 whorls and flat base.
- Size: Up to 2.5 in, 6 cm
- Habitat: Isolated ring-shaped coral reefs
- Range: Indo-Pacific Region
Arabic Cowry, Cypraea arabica, name is based on the irregular patterns of thin longitudinal brown lines which are sometimes interrupted by empty spaces, giving an appearance considered similar to Arabic script.
As with most cowrie snails, the shell surface is notably shiny, as if it had been polished. The color is generally cream to light fawn, with shades of brown and blue-gray streaks and/or spots. The under side is cream to grey colored. Both the inner and outer lips are lined with arrays of small reddish brown teeth bordered by dark speckles or spots.
- Did you know in some cultures cowrie shells are a symbol of fertility and are often offered to a bride as a gift to ensure fertility.
- Cowries are nocturnal and feed on algae and seaweed. As a rule their shells are thick and sturdy.
- Cowries have egg-shaped, glossy shells and are in high demand for rock aquariums.
- They differs in color depending upon geographical location.
- While the cowries do not have an operculum to shut when it retracts its mantle into its shell, the opening is lined with "threatening" tooth-like structures.
Size: Up to 2.5 in, 6.5 cm
Habitat: Shallow water under rock rubble and crevices in coral reef outskirts
Range: Widespread Indo-Pacific region
Snake Head Cowrie
Snake Head Cowrie, Cypraea Caputserpentis, as with other cowries, is oval shaped, with a raised central area. Its top is olive brown with irregular spots of white, gray or cream colored. Faintly frilled brown band runs along the base of the shell and a white line or mantle line runs from front to back along the shell top.
- Size: 1 1/2 in, 3 cm
- Habitat: Shallow water under loose rock or along shorelines and seawall cracks.
- Range: Indo-Pacific from eastern African Coasts. Also, the Hawaiian coasts. The Hawaiian name is leho-kupa. It is the most common species in the Hawaiian Island chain.
Purple Top Tiger Cowrie
Purple Top Tiger Cowrie, Cypraea tigris, commonly known as the Tiger Cowrie possesses an outer shell light brown to dark brown and black spotted, similar to a tiger, but the purple resides in a lower layer. To reach the purple of the shells, they are dipped into an acidic formula. They are also used in carvings such as cameos due to this uniform color under the top layer.
While small, they eat algae and scavenge for scraps, as adults, they eat anemones, sponges, and soft corals polyps.
- Size: Up to 6 in, 15 cm
- Habitat: Shallow water under coral or rocks
- Range: Indo-Pacific and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
The Wandering Cowrie or Erronea Cowrie, Erronea errones, is usually pale brown, bluish or greenish with variable darker bands and small spots. The base of the aperture is white and extends upwards along the sides. Anterior end tilts right. They feed on algae.
- Size: Up to 1.8 in, 20 cm
- Habitat: Shallow tropical waters at low tide, usually under rocks or stones
- Range: Indo-Pacific Range - East Indian Ocean along South India, Madagascar and Tanzania, West along Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Samoa and Australia.
Atlantic (Striate) Bubble Shell
Atlantic Bubble or Striate Bubble Shell, Bulla Striata, is barrel shaped, light brown spotted with many light and dark flecks and has a white opening.
Bubble shells belong to several closely related families, which differ from other gastropods in several ways. The animal has two pairs of tentacles. The shell is smaller than the animal, loosely curved, thin and brittle. Nearly all are less than 1/2 inch long. The Striate Bubble is among the largest. It grazes on sea grasses and green algae.
- Size: Up to 1 in, 2.5 cm
- Habitat: Shallow, warm water grassy mudflats
- Range: North Carolina to Florida, west to Texas Gulf Coast
Atlantic (Common) Slipper
The Atlantic Sipper, Crepidula fornicata, has been called several names including; Baby's Cradle, Boat Shell, Slipper Limpet, Canoe Shell or Common Slipper.
Creamy white background and curved chestnut-colored stripes variously disposed. Inside is shiny and sometimes colored brown.
A thin translucent shell, with an oval or boat shape. There is a shelf or "seat" in the hinge end, which resembles the stern sheets on a boat or put all together, a slipper.
They can change sex and it is interesting to note that in a large group, they stack atop one another; the top layers will be male, the bottom layers female and the section in the middle will be neuter in the process of changing male to female.
They are edible
- Size: Up to 3 in, 7.6 cm
- Habitat: Shallow muddy bottoms piled in groups of larger empty shells
- Range: New Jersey to Florida and west to Texas
Moon Shell Shark Eye
Moon Shell snails include about a dozen widely distributed species. Their shells are found on all U.S. Atlantic and Pacific beaches. These carnivores feed on other shellfish, which they engulf and smother with the aid of an usually large foot.
Moon Shells build a circular "sand collar", cementing the sand grains with a glue they produce, then deposit their eggs inside the protective ring.
Shark Eye, Polinices duplicata, varied colored from slate-gray to tan or pinkish, blended with creamy-white. The interior is chestnut colored.
It has a smooth and rounded shell, flatter than the usual Moon Shell. The underside has a button like brown callus in the center. Shark eye is considered valuable to collectors.
- Size: Average 1 in, 2.5 cm, but can grow up to 3 in, 7.5 cm
- Habitat: Sand bars in shallow water
- Range: Massachusetts to Florida, west to the Gulf Coasts
The Lettered Olive, Oliva sayana, is light brown with an overlay of darker brown which resembles lettering and has a glossy finish.
This sea animal is almost always found alive, recognized by a burrowing ridge in the sand at low tide, somewhat resembling a mole in a field. They usually live in colonies. They are non-edible.
The shells have a beautiful polished appearance when cleaned properly.
- Size: Up to 2 1/2 in, 6 cm
- Habitat: Shallow sandy bottom
- Range: North Carolina to Gulf Coast, particularly the Florida Gulf Coast. Largest colonies have been located around Sarasota Bay and near the Gulf passes.
Olive Shells are small (1/2 to 2 1/2 in - 1.25 to 6.5 cm), with the animal dwarfing it, but the family is a large one of many tropical species. I was unable to identify this specific species, but I can tell you what it is not. One might mistaken it for a Purple Dwarf Olive, but I have ruled that out because it has no color change on the whorl or band on the anterior end and it's too big to be another dwarf variety as it measures 1.5 in, 3.8 cm. Feel free to comment if you can identify the species.
Periwinkles are probably better known than any other mollusks found worldwide. Littorinoidea is the super family of both the sea and land snail varieties. This common species has come from Europe, where it is a favored sea food. During the past century, it has spread rapidly along the Western Atlantic Coast of North America, but are rarely eaten in the USA.
The Common Periwinkle, Littorina littorea, is the largest, most common and widespread of the Western Atlantic species. Usually dull dark brown or gray with spiral ridges, and has a solid spiral turban shell that readily withstands the pounding of waves. The outer lip is sharp, strong, slightly flaring and yellowish white.
My sample is a good 2 inches which is rare, also, it's anything but dull and lacks the deep ridges so I don't want to say for sure that its a "Common Periwinkle" species.
- Size: Normally 1/2 - 1.5 in, 1.25 - 4 cm, largest 2 in, 5 cm
- Habitat: Rock pilings between high and low tide; a few are found on mud flats, and some tropical forms are found on the roots or mangrove trees.
- Range: Worldwide
Volutes of the family, Volutidea, elongated shells are typically identified by their distinctively marked spiral shells (to which the family name refers, voluta meaning "scroll" in Latin. The living body can be even more fancier than the shell.
All members of the Family Volutidae are carnivorous. Their prey include other Mollusks and Echinoderms. A Volute seeks out buried bivalves with its siphon and encloses the prey in its huge foot, then waits. When the exhausted bivalve opens up to breathe, which can take several days, they siphon out the flesh with the radula! Volutes may hunt their prey from the surface, but often burrow to eat their prey under the sand.
Most varieties are desired by collectors for their elaborate markings. But the Volutada Floridana, Scaphella floridana, is one of the exceptions to that rule. Distinguished as a Volute by its size, elongated shape and thin shell (some varieties have sturdier shells). The upper anterior spiral whorls of the Volutada Floridana has longitudinal ribs; on the posterior end there are lateral ribs. Like all Volutes, the shells have an elongated aperture in their first whorl. Color is usually white to cream.
Fossils of this Volute have been discovered from the Pliocene Period 5.3 million to 2.5 million years ago. One source claims they are extinct. My shell is not fossilized so perhaps they have made a come back or I have misidentified it, but I don't believe so!
Size: Up to 5 in, 12 cm
Habitat: Sandy shallows
Range: Florida and the Greater Caribbean
The tiny conch shells above have me stumped. They both measure 1 1/2 inches, 3.8 cm, bearing the shape of the conchs that grow large presented in the beginning of this article. There are knobs at the wide shoulders of the whorls. The brown one could possibly by a juvenile Rapana rapiformis Brown Conch, but lacks some of the features. The white one could be a juvenile Milk Conch albino. If I am able to specify this species, I will update, but if anybody wants to make a suggestion, please feel free to comment. . . and this is the end!