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Collecting seashells on the beaches of Sanibel, Captiva and the world

Brown Olive Shell Mystery Solved!

brown olive gulf coast

This, my friends, is NOT a very different color of a LETTERED OLIVE as I assumed on my September 7 post.  It is FULGURATOR OLIVE (Oliva fulgurator form formosa) which is a species that only recently started to appear on our islands… particularly at Blind Pass Captiva.

oliva fulgurator captiva

We had quite a discussion in the comments section about what kind of OLIVE shell this could be after I showed 2 photos of the shell found at Blind Pass after Hurricane Isaac stirred the Gulf Of Mexico. Since I couldn’t get in touch with Amy who found the original shell, I asked around on the iLoveShelling FaceBook page to see if anybody else had found one of these “brown OLIVES”. Kari Newman who lives in Fort Myers said she found one July 29, 2011 at Blind Pass Captiva too and would love to show it to me.

kari oliva fulgurator

Wow, that’s it! And hers is so beautiful too!

fulgur olive kari

It looks like it belongs in a box of delicious gourmet chocolates with those gorgeous creamy stripes on the aperture side.

fulgurator olive ap

I asked Kari if I could take the shell to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to get a positive identification from Dr. Jose Leal. Yes! She was thrilled… and so was I. So today I took the shell over to the Shell Museum to have Dr. Leal take a look at it and he identified it as the OLIVA FULGURATOR.

Dr Jose Leal Shell Museum

Wahoo! So cool! It turns out that the museum does not have a specimen of a FULGURATOR found in our area. They only have specimens found on the east coast of Florida. This is how beautiful Kari is…. she donated her shell to Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. She told me her whole family was shelling that day but her 3 year old daughter Kadence was actually the one who picked up this shell first. (Ha! Teach ’em to young, Kari!) She wants little Kadence’s shell to be in a museum so she will know how special it is.

brown olive sanibel

 But… guess who else found one this past February. Donnie found a FULGURATOR. LOL

fulgurator olive donnie ap

He didn’t think anything about this shell until he saw the photo in my other post. He said he thought it was a non-native species so didn’t give much thought and threw it in with some other “just okay finds”. I’m sure he will look at this one a little differently now, right? I have obviously never found one of these OLIVES and neither has Clark but I can tell you now, Clark and I will be on a major hunt to find one…. and we will find you Mr. Fulgurator!

UPDATE: I finally found a FULGURATOR OLIVE! Check out my post

pam fulgurator olive

fulgurator oliva donnie

Thank you Dr. Leal for doing such a great job for the Shell Museum and solving this mystery for us! And Congrats to all who have found this luscious chocolate treasure.

UPDATE 11/28/2012: Dr Leal added Kadence’s FULGURATOR to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum website and named her as the collector. Congrats Kadence! Check it out…


  1. Love stories like these!

  2. I’ve got mine !!! Thanks for all the information

  3. Oliva fulgurator is endemic to the Netherland Antilles and is much more bulbous in shape. The shell you have there is Oliva bifasciata, which is widely distributed throughout the Caribbean.

    • Helo Dave,

      Are you the Dave Rolfe who is in the British Shell Collectors Club? Nice to meet you. I am British and I used to be a member of Conch Soc. I currently live in the US and I do some research and publish papers on the Caribbean fauna.

      You are putting forward a point of view that was widely accepted until the publication of Tursch et al (2001), a big new book on olives world-wide.

      “Olive shells: The genus Oliva and the species problem” by Bernard Tursch and Dietmar Greifeneder. L’Informatore Piceno, Italy and Bosque B. M. T., S. A., Costa Rica. pp. 1- 569 (including numerous b&w plates, text photographs, & drawings) + x + 48 color plates. 215 x 296 mm. Hard-bound. ISBN 86070-17-9, 2001 (in English).

      You may disagree with what those authors proposed, but their ideas have been widely accepted in the malacological community by several leading taxonomists including Gary Rosenberg of the ANSP, and as you can see, by Jose Leal of BMSM.

      The Tursch & Greifeneder (2001) research indicates that Oliva fulgurator is in reality a vast and variable species which includes: form bifasciata, form bollingi, form circinata, form jamaicensis, form olorinella, and form reticularis.

      So, in the Caribbean faunal zone, according to this research (which seems to have been widely accepted by serious taxonomists) we have only three species of Oliva:

      O. sayana, O. fulgurator and O. scripta, and that’s it. Take a look at these links:

      All good wishes to you,

      Susan Hewitt,


      • Thanks for the info. I found one, yesterday, off Navarre Beach. The water was rough and it was close to one of the cuts in the sandbars we have. As always this page is fun, informative and beautiful. I am trying to find someone in my are to positively identify my fulgurator olive. Thanks.

      • Susan, DNA sequencing and many other methods including shell morphology and early stages study have proved Tursch et al completely wrong in their coverage of Caribbean Olividae. SInce that book was published 15 years ago study in Olividae by various people such as Pierre Rerecourt and Ed Petuch has made many advances. It is now known that there are many different species and subspecies in the Caribbean olives of the subgenera Cariboliva and Americoliva and thet the true Oliva fulgurator looks nothign like the species here and is also only found in the extreme south of the caribbean, particularly in the Netherland Antilles.
        Oh, and yes I am he LOL

        • Ah well Dave… times changes and theories come and go! We will see what people say in another 15 years. :)

          I do tend to take a lot of Petuch taxa with a grain or two of salt.

    • I have a few of these beautiful shells that I found in Cancun about 2 spring breaks ago. I found many good shells there, so we went back the following year but there were no shells that year… It was one of my favorite finds. I’m pretty sure it is what you have here. Pam, I will send some pics to see! Gorgeous pics! It would be hard for me to give up, that’s for sure!!
      Sherri from MN

  4. Oh wow, neat—one more to put on my want list. (as if it wasn’t long enough)

  5. WOW, Just fascinating!! It really is a beautiful shell. Thanks for posting!!

  6. Pam, thanks for your post and all your efforts in getting a positive ID on the “brown Olive”. With all the “brown Olive” specimens washing onto Sanibel and Captiva Islands, these have to be an endemic species, possibly a deep water one, but why are they only starting to arrive now, in 2012? That is the part of this mystery that I still have not figured out. I will look for these in the BMSM collection, but Pam reports that none of them are there. Although dredging is now occurring at the west end of Sanibel, there was similar dredging occurring 3-4 years ago, and no brown olives were reported at that time. It is all very interesting.

    Dave Rolfe, I too have collected the Fulgurator Olive in the southern Caribbean (Venezuela) in shallow water and probably in the Florida Keys at 80-90 feet. Mine are also more bulbous and not the dark brown color. Unfortunately, the taxonomy of the Caribbean olives has been changing during the past 10-20 years, which has complicated the naming of Olives from various locations. My guess is that there will continue to be changes in the scientific names of these Olives, as more research and DNA testing are done. However, I would defer to Dr. Leal and accept this olive as being the Fulgurator Olive. All of this is a little frustrating to those of us who enjoy just collecting the shells and putting an accurate name of them, but what else are you going to do? Again, thanks to Pam, Keri and Dr. Leal. It is special to identify a species new to a location. I believe that malacologists call this a “Range Extension”.

    • Pam, MK has received the six shells (I have seven) I sent him from my collection. He will take them with him on his next Sanibel trip. I have picked mine up over lots of years on Sanibel,Captiva and one on No. Captiva. Two of them were found last winter at Blind Pass and happened to be the ones in the best condition. This is so interesting. I love that there will always be new discoveries. Jeanne

  7. Exciting find for the Sanibel area! The brown olives are found here in SE Florida in the Ft Laud/Hwd area, always a fantastic find on the beach or in shallow water. Most are banded, some are solid brown. They’re a prize!

  8. This shell’s been around the area since at least August 2004. I found my first of two right after Hurricane Charley. It was found on West Gulf around beach access #2. Good to know what they are!

    • Yes Diane, I would imagine these brown olives have probably been living in deep water in this area for a very, very, very, long time.

      Do any of us perhaps know any really dedicated older shell collectors who were collecting seriously in this area 40 or 50 years ago?

      I would have thought that back in the day, the big commercial shrimp boats that used to bring in a lot of Junonias as by-catch would maybe also have picked up these creatures? (Unless they are just too slippery and streamlined and would fall through the mesh of the shrimp nets.)

      I suspect the reason that we are hearing so much more about them now might just be because of Pam’s blog, and Facebook and so on, which allow shellers to talk to one another and compare notes about rare things that show up every once in a while.

      After all, Donnie the Shellinator had one, but would not have said anything about it if he hadn’t read your blog Pam.

      Hey, you are doing the science of Malacology a favor with your blog! :)

  9. Really great post Pam, with wonderful pictures. As I said in a previous post, Harry G. Lee of the Jacksonville Shell Club says that these olives live at 60 feet depth (and deeper) in Eastern Florida, and he believes that the same thing is almost certainly true of the Gulf as well.

    And as a result of living so deep, the shells only very rarely wash up, as (thank goodness) you don’t often get storms with 60 foot waves that can reach down and pick them up from the bottom and deposit them on the beach!

    So… on the beaches they tend to be as rare as Junonias, or maybe rarer even than that.

    I am sure SS Clark can find one, now he knows to look for them! He has found 4 Junonias after all!

    But in any case, whatever name you want to put on this shell, it is a record of a new species for SWFL, and that is very exciting!

  10. I found a brown olive loike that up here in Pinellas county a few months back… its one of my fave finds… so shiny and fun patterns. :-)

    • So, it also lives about 100 miles further north on the western Florida coast.

      • Yep… since the one I found is still shiny. It can’t have drifted all this way from the Caribbean and stayed so shiny. But mine is nowhere near as dark brown… mine is a bit lighter brown. I’ll post to ILS facebook for sharing.

        • Cool!

          Yes I don’t think a heavy empty shell like this can travel very far really, even in a big storm. Yes, maybe a couple of miles, but not several hundred miles. :)

    • Hiya, Floyd Roberts from Johns Pass here. Where in “North Pinellas” was it found? Do you have a picture to forward. Pam thanks a bunch for posting this. I will be on the lookout here in Johns pass to see if there is some migration? Are there any structural clues to look for or is it a coloration difference primarily?
      THANKS again.

  11. Wow! Gorgeous specimen! Thank you Pam, for educationg us yet again. I was at Blind Pass today with a galfriend. The water was flat, clear and calm. Shells were there but not quite like I have seen in my recent visits. Found a piece of a Junonia…my hunt continues!

  12. All of your added information is fantastic! It is very exciting to learn about a species “range extension” (thank you MK!), information about how this can happen and the different species of Olives.

    Diane Z, (Hi!) I told Jose that you had found a 2 of these shells a few years ago so I’m sure he would love to see yours when you get back into town and know when you found them.

    Leah, Martine and JoJo, Congrats on your great finds!

  13. You never know what you Will find here…very exciting.

  14. Thank you Kari for parting with your beautiful find so that others can enjoy it!!

    • Yes, absolutely! Thanks so much Kari and Kadence!

      We need more people like Kari who are prepared to donate a rare interesting shell they have found locally to the BMSM museum, when the museum wants it and needs it.

      All kinds of cool species show up every once in a while in the Sanibel area and unless one or more shell is either given to the museum, or at least lent to the museum for a few weeks for examination and photography, the official record of that species can’t be added to the wonderful illustrated online SWFL list, here:

      Thanks again! :)

      • You have convinced me to give my sanibel finds to the BMSM when the time comes. And my finds from NY/MA will go to the AMNH. Consider it done. It inspires me to work even harder to build my collections!!

        • That is a very good decision. I would encourage people to think in those terms. :)

          Just be sure, every time you go shelling, to put in the bag or box, a slip of paper that says who collected them, and when and where they were collected. Use pencil, not ballpoint or felt-tipped pen, as those inks fade to invisibility in a couple of decades. Good quality paper is nice to use, like 100% rag paper, which will last forever, but any slip of paper is better than none!

          Another thing is, that museums have to accept your offer to donate a collection, so it’s really good to have a plan, but you have to check with the museum first. They will not want any shells that do not have good enough data with them.

          Also the Delaware Museum of Natural History has a very large endowment ($$$) from the DuPont family, so even if other museums may say no if they can’t afford to ship your stuff or process it, most likely Delaware will still be able to say yes, assuming your material and data are reliable and detailed enough.

          • Great info, thanks!!

  15. Pam,

    I, the Shell Magnet, per Capt Brian, have 2 of these. I was going to bring one for you to identify in Oct. Now I will just bring it!!!!

    See you in one month,


  16. We have long time friends called the “3 Sisters” who live in New England and vacation every year twice a year on Sanibel. They typically shell from the West Wind Inn to the far end of West Gulf Drive walking towards Bowman’s Beach. They found a number of these dark brown olives over the years and gave them their own generic nickname, ” Chocolate Olives”. My family has shelled for 30+ years while staying on Sanibel, and we have never found one. They are indeed rare finds!

  17. Toasted olives! Thanks for the great information. That’s one more
    for the shell bucket list!

  18. I too found one about 6 years ago at Blind Pass! So happy to get it identified. I tried to explain it to an expert at the Sanibel Shell show last March….an I guess my description was lacking, so I am very happy to now know. Thanks for the education!
    I LOVE shelling and I can remember perfectly the day I found that olive as it was the only shell I picked up that day. Trust me, not for the lack of trying! Going to Sanibel shelling is a HUGE treat for me, I live in MN. The day I found my lovely olive was the kind of day where the beach is like a cement sidewalk. All sand, no shells:(
    Where the waves had crashed earlier it had created a several foot tall sharp embankment, Very disappointing shelling for my only day at Sanibel…..and then stuck horizontally in the embankment I saw a tiny tip of a shell and pulled it out….ah….that lovely banded olive.
    I have picked many, many olives in my day So I knew this one was special! Amazing how finding even just one treasure can make my day! Love your blog, thanks for all your good work! Can’t wait to get back to FL!

  19. Of course Donnie the Shellinator found one! This is going to be right up there with junonias for “perfect finds” now! How sweet of Kari and Kadance to donate their shell to the museum! I always learn so much on your site, Pam!

  20. Found a large piece of one of these at Indian Rocks Beach (Pinellas County) last weekend. Lots of pieces of shells are there since the recent “renourishment;” kind of sad to see.

    • Cool! Another one from up there!

  21. Sorry, I know this is not about the olive but I was wondering if you ever posted about what the other half of the flat scallop looked like. I’ve been watching for it, but I may have missed it. Thanks.

    • Oh Karen, I am tickled that you have been looking for that! No, I havent posted the right valve of the flat yet because I took that shell in to see Dr Leal to just to make sure of what I had. I was so excited to get the olive info out that I wanted to save the scallop for another post. I’ll get that out soon! Thanks so much for asking!

  22. Pam, I can’t thank you enough for setting this up! I am beyond thrilled to see our little treasure going to the museum. It’s so wonderful to be able to find these little gifts from the sea. Such a pleasure meeting y’all too! Hope to have another shelling adventure again soon! :)

    • Also a big thanks to Dr. Leal for solving the identification mystery!

  23. Now I know not to take these shells for granted. I have one of the “fulgurators”–thought it was just another color variation of our normal olives. Thank you for the information! It’s fun to find something entirely new. It’s also a lesson in keeping a log of finds–have no idea where I found this one, just that it was on the top of the olive pile, so recently, probably on Sanibel or Pass-A-Grille. However, I live in Hobe Sound, so maybe over here?? Thanks, again for the info. cz

  24. I am so happy to report my mom and I found a beautiful fulgurator olive on Indian Rocks Beach just this morning. Perfect condition, about 1.5 inches! Just lovely!

  25. I was interested in the comments on “fulgurators” mentioned. I have found a
    number of the brown olives from Sand Key Park down to Morgan Park and
    beyond in Pinellas. It is not very common like the other olives but if one looks
    for the brown color in the surf they sometimes turn up. I have found them over the
    last two years walking the above area.

  26. I found one of these (perfect specimen about 2.5″ long) shelling in Bimini many years ago. Never knew what it was. Thanks for helping me to identify it! Robyn

  27. I was wondering how I can get help in identifying what olive shell u found in Jekyll Island Georgia this past week???

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