Useful Seashells: The Baler
The Family Volutidae
The Baler seashell belongs to the family called Volutes, or Volutidae. These are large, colourful gastropods and while they are useful they are also popular with collectors, sometimes commanding quite high prices. Altogether, there are over two hundred different types of Volutes. Most of them live in shallow, tropical waters, but some come from deep seas and even colder climates.
Volutes are univalves of the Order Neogastropoda, which means that they are often known simply as sea snails and like other sea snails, they are carnivorous. Most of them can crawl along surprisingly quickly.
The Baler Seashell
The Baler seashell grows to quite a size. They are usually found in the range from six inches (15 cm) to 14 inches (36 cm), but have been found up to 16 inches. They are often used as decoration in a bathroom or under a tap in the garden, although as they can now fetch as much as around $100, the latter is not seen so often today.
The Baler seashells in my photographs have not been polished, as I rather like them in their natural state, but they do polish up very well.
Useful Baler Seashells
Have you ever used a Baler Seashell for baling?
Types of Baler Seashells
There are only a few types of Baler seashells and they are fairly easy to identify. I have read that they are sometimes called Melon seashells, but I have never heard them called that.
- The Mammal Volute, Livonia mamilla Gray, is found in South Australia. It grows to about ten inches.
- The Indian Volute, Melo melo Sol, is found in Southeast Asia. It grows to about eight inches.
- The Ethiopian Volute, Melo aethiopicus Linné, so-called because it was first named in that area, but it is found in the wide Indo-Pacific area, and that, of course includes Papua New Guinea.
Uses For the Baler Seashell
The Baler has been useful to humankind for hundreds of years.
- Balers were used by Australian aborigines and other indigenous peoples for storing water.
- Balers were used by many Pacific Islanders for baling out their canoes, which is how they received this name when this use was noticed by English speaking settlers.
- Balers were found to be both useful and ornamental by the newcomers, too, as explained above.
Baler Seashells as Balers
When we were living in Papua New Guinea, I discovered the use of baler seashells at firsthand. I was travelling with a group of three small canoes to another part of the island. We took a short cut through mangroves for part of the way.
The sea was calm and as it was daytime the crocodiles were asleep, or we hoped they were, anyway.
How the Above Baler Was Useful
However, on our return journey it was beginning to become dusk and that does not last long in the tropics. We could not risk returning through the mangroves and needed to go out into the sea. A wind had sprung up and the sea was choppy.
The inevitable happened, and our small dugout outrigger was taking in water. As my companion was one of the Teacher Training College students, he was strong, so we decided that he would paddle and I would bale.
It was dark and we were very weary when we all beached the canoes and plodded back up the jungle track to our homes.
I was given the Baler shell as a keepsake and still have that memento of our adventure.