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

How To Find Wentletrap Shells On Sanibel

different wentletraps

WENTLETRAP shells are very hard to find if you don’t know where to look for them or you don’t realize how small they are. I can always spot another “wentletrapper” when I see one on the beach because they have perfected the Sanibel Stoop….and it’s a specific Sanibel Stoop. Clark and I were at Lighthouse Beach the other evening where I met Sailor’s Valentine artist Constance (Connie) Miller. I knew she was looking for WENTLETRAPS the moment I saw her because of her posture -heehee.

searching for wentletrap

She and her husband just arrived on Sanibel from Delaware then headed right straight to the beach for wentletrapping. I asked her if she was having luck so she opened her hand to show me her WENTLETRAPS…

different wentletraps

Would you like to find them too? Okay! I’m going to give you some tips! First of all, let me show you a video I made a while ago that will show you where  and how I found oodles of WENTLES near the east tip of Sanibel.

I found the WENTLETRAPS in the video very high on the beach in the high tide line along with lots of other minis, BARNACLES and bits and pieces of other shells. In this next video, you’ll see the same thing… minis, BARNACLES, bit of other shells and also you’ll see another clue for good wentletrapping. I always look for what looks like coffee grounds washing in with the surf. Once you find those “coffee grounds”, get in position using the Sanibel Stoop method to get low to the ground to see these little jewels. Adjust your eyes to focus on the smalls then follow that line until you start seeing BUBBLE SHELLS and other minis to lead you to your first WENTLETRAP. Watch this next video to see what I’m talking about…

So as you can see, they will show up in different places but that’s why it’s so much fun when you find them! You follow the clues for your treasure hunt then practice the stoop until you find one. Normally when you find one, you’ll find a several more.

Okay, so the reason I’m back on this WENTLETRAP kick is because when I was talking to Connie and she showed me her shells, I realized that she had 3 different types of WENTLETRAPS in her hand. Look back at the photo of connie’s hand and you’ll see that the one on the left is longer and thinner than the others. So when I got home, I went through all of my WENTLETRAPS to inspect the differences in mine. I’m not an expert in the different types…yet (heehee)… but I believe (with the help of our good friend MurexKen!) that the first one is a LEAL’S WENTLETRAP (Epitonium leali) named after Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum’s director Dr. Jose Leal.

leali wentletrap

leali wentletrap aperture

The second one from the left in Connie’s hand I believe is a HUMPHREY’S WENTLETRAP (Epitonium humphreysii). My photo doesn’t really show the tannish color in between the ribs but when you put it beside the others, you can see the difference like in her hand.

humphreysii wentletrap

The third and fourth ones on the right are the most common to find on Sanibel, ANGULATE WENTLETRAPS (Epitonium angulatum). 

angulate wentetrap

So when I went through our 4 x 4 jar of WENTLETRAPS with hundreds of gems…

pam seashell table

I found another type as well… the MATTHEWS’ WENTLETRAP (Epitonium matthewsae). If you look at the top photo in this post, this is the 4th one over and you can see just how delicate and beautiful this one is.

mathewsae wentletrap

mathewsae wentletrap aperture

I found one more too! It’s the BROWN-BAND WENTLETRAP (Gyroscala rupicola)

brown banded wentletrap

brown band wentletrap

Okay, so I know this is a lot of info to just find a sweet little old WENTLETRAP… so I dont want you to get overwhelmed if you are trying to find your first one (Traci ;)). Don’t worry, one day you will find one. Then after you find a few, you can come back to this page and see if you have any of the more uncommon ones. There are two others that are found in SouthWest Florida but I haven’t found them or figured out those differences yet so I have to keep searching too. So get out to Lighthouse Beach, get your Sanibel Stoop on and get focused on your clues.  I hope this helps you find those precious WENTLETRAPS!

UPDATE January 22, 2013 : There was another WENTLETRAP species found for southwest Florida. A PLASTERED WENTLTRAP (Family Epitoniidae
Cirsotrema dalli) . Read the story CLICK HERE

plastered wentletrap

Wentletrap staircase


  1. i have found these little fellas on the beach & wondered what they were called!! Thanks for my continuing beachacation!!!

  2. Hmmm – bended knees, butt protruding, standing a foot or two back so you aren’t stepping on the shell line….yep! She has excellent form! I give her 9.5! Wentletraps are my very, very, very, very, VERY favorite shell. In the 6 or 7 years I’ve been going to Sanibel, I have a small jar about 3/4 full – which is about 40-50 wentletraps. Now I’m all “hyped up” seeing that video – I think I will dump them out on my sandy colored carped and “find” them all over again!

  3. Pam is like a WT magnet. She finds the WT’s everyone else walks over :D I got my coffee ground lesson a few years back & it is the best indicator the little guys are around.

    • I didnt know about the coffee ground tip so Ill be lookin for it now!!

  4. Pam makes it look so easy! I am amazed at the number of little shells this woman can hold in one hand and still pick up more while of course filming informative video for all us cyber-shellers! That’s talent! Maybe I’ll get a chance to pursue the elusive wentletraps on a future visit– but between bad knees and bifocals I doubt that I’ll ever match Pam’s level of expertise!

    • yea – me too. She went behind me once and showed me the ones I missed. They were microscopic! I would need bi-focals more like a magnifying glass on each eye to see those!!

      • This shows how nuts I am about shells, but once I find a promising patch of “grunge”, I get down on my hands and knees and put on high power magnifying glasses (like from the drugstore but more powerful than I need to read). Then I can see EVERYTHING! I find not only the really minute tiny baby wentletraps, smaller than you can imagine, but all kinds of other micros that never get any bigger than minute. It’s another world, believe me.

        Again, I am totally nuts, but I wear soft little volleyball knee and elbow pads so I can kneel and crawl around for hours on end without scraping my knees and elbows on the shell fragments! :)

        I love micros.

        • My family and friends think I’m shell crazy as it is! And my non-shelling husband is very patient when we walk the beaches at snailpace so I can shell. But I think they might have me committed if I don elbow and knee pads and magnifying glasses for a beach visit. Not to mention the possibility that I would need a forklift to get me back on my feet!
          I did plop myself in a shell pile last March when we were on Sanibel- found that shells do not make a comfortable seat nor is it easy to get upright in shifting shells and sand and no handrail. I’m sure I was not a graceful sight ;)

          • Well bless you for trying! I personally find it easier to get up from all fours on sand compared with standing up after sitting on a shell pile, where everything you are sitting on just slides around!

          • OMG Susan..seriously..knee pads!!! I swear I was just thinking the other day about buying a pair of knee pads so I can get down on my knees to get closer looksie but I thought that would be to shell “crazy” to do…lol…but now I have officially heard someone else doing that so Im gonna go buy me knee pads. Lol..thanx for letting me know what type…soft volleyball!!! :-D

          • Yes or you can use karate (or other martial arts) knee and elbow pads. The cheap ones are just fine. If you get down on your knees and get really keen about what you are seeing, you may want to get down onto your elbows too, and that’s where the elbow pads come in!

            I have never yet seen anyone else wearing them so if I do I will be delighted!

            I think on Sanibel, anything goes when it comes to shelling! I mean it is one of the world’s top shelling destinations, and everyone knows shellers are already crazy anyway, so what difference does a few knee pads make?? Ha ha!

        • I also LOVE micros….would love to know some ideas on how to display them…..

          • I don’t know if you ever go to a shell show? Because a few collectors do specialize in displaying micros at shell shows. To do that they usually glue one or more of each kind onto a card and then mount a small magnifying glass over each one, and then put all of that in a glass topped box… but that’s a great deal of work, and expensive too!

            It’s also possible to buy very small plastic boxes that have a simple magnifying glass built into the lid, and place the micros onto something (like maybe black velvet or a black cotton ball) beneath the lid.

            Or you could buy glass vials with lids and put them all in some kind of a rack?

            I am not the best person to ask about displaying things though, maybe someone else would have some ideas?

    • Ha, you guys hit on the two comments I made to my husband after reading the blog, One, how in the world do you shell with one hand and take video with the other with such a steady hand??? If I did it it would go up, down, and all akimbo.
      Two, I said I need to get polarized readers. Been thinking about that for a while, but maybe I’ll get some strong readers for now. Thanks Susan H!
      It’s almost high tide right now, so I’ll walk down there in search of some of those babies with baggy in hand. I’m just across the street, so to speak, from the lighthouse. Shell Island Beach Club.

      • I love my strong readers, but to use them you do need to have your face only inches from the sand! That’s why I kneel down and crawl around on knees and elbows. No-one seemed to care when I was doing that at Lighthouse; I must have looked weird, but I guess on Sanibel people are used to seeing every possible variety of crazy sheller! :))

        • Talk about looking weird, today when I set out in search of Wentletraps, like a scavenger hunt directive, I wore my polarized sunglasses…. With my readers below them. Haaaa! But with my readers I found a teeny tiny intense orange scallop. A true little gem. It kept its intensity of color when dry, which rarely happens for me. anyway,I did find a few Wentletraps in a pool of water close to the lighthouse fishing pier. I have never seen A pool like that. Did sandy, or the other tropical storm a couple of months ago change the topography?

          My next addition to my kitbag will be volleyball pads. I have zero vanity when on the hunt.

          I am eternally grateful to Pam, and people like you that offer invaluable info on shelling tips.

          • Recently I have been using really inexpensive cloth karate knee and elbow pads at about $9 a pair. The ones I get are very simple, a white soft cushion within an elastic sleeve, and I just pull them on over my beach shirt and/or shelling pants. They don’t look very weird and they are reasonably comfortable if you get the right size for yourself (I personally need small in elbow pads and knee pads). There are similar pads in black with a white back. You can throw them in the washing machine.

            Actually Pam has an image of me from last year in which (if you ignore the black knee brace on my left leg for for a torn ACL) you can see I am wearing white elbow pads and half-black knee pads:


        • I’ve done that too! My regular glasses, which are bifocals, then clip on sunglasses, and then just below that, a pair of readers! And I usually take a “boogie board” to sit or kneel on, because knee pads would leave a tan line – after all, my vanity has to draw the line somewhere! LOL Happy shelling!

          • Happy shelling to all!

    • I watched the video again and paused it when Pam showed her treasures!
      She has more than 20 shells in her hand– that’s talent!

  5. When we went to Sanibel in June my husband really wanted to find a Wentletrap but at first we didn’t have any luck. But then we went shelling past the pier and my husband would scoop a net full of shells out of the water and the kids and I would look through it and low and behold, we found a lot of wentletraps! (We also found a lot of other minis!) We can’t wait to come back to look for more!

  6. Awwwhh, my sister will be there at Thanksgiving, wentletrapping her little heart out. So jealous!

  7. Ahhh, virtual shelling on Sanibel! Can’t wait to get back!

  8. Pam, your presentation and video are excellent, as usual. I love collecting wentletraps, which are easily found at both low and at high tide. Although they are present on all the Sanibel beaches, the Wentletraps seem to be more commonly found around the Lighthouse beach. Seven wentletraps are known to live around Sanibel Island. You have shown five of them. Four of the wentletraps are relatively easy to identify, the Angulate, Humphreys’, Matthews’ and Brown-banded. The remaining three, the Tollin wentletrap, , the Bladed wentletrap, and Leal’s wentletrap, are more difficult for me to identify, especially to differentiate from juvenile specimens of the others. The variation in the morphologic features of each species also adds to the challenge of correct identification, but does not diminish the fun of collecting them.

    • Hi MurexKen, Using good directional light and viewed through a hand lens, Leal’s wentletrap has spiral sculpture. That ‘s a very distinctive feature.

      • Susan, thanks for the ID info. Yesterday I went to the BMSM and looked at some of the E. leali under a lens and saw the spiral lines. Now I need to look at all the “unidentified” Epi’s I have from Sanibel.

        • I would guess that the one shown here identified as Leal’s wentletrap is actually Tollin’s wentletrap.

    • Seven types of wentletraps…o.o….I haven’t even found one!! Gesh…I really got to find these babies. Great info Murexken.

  9. Thanks, Pam, for the video – it was fun “shelling” with you for a few brief moments! And thanks for physically showing me a few months ago, how to find them. I can’t believe that vase full of WT’s!!!! Save some for me – I’ll be there in 4 days!!!!! (Staying a month) Can’t wait. Johnnie

  10. Another informative post. Really enjoyed “the hunt” but loved the piano music on the video. Can you share the artist/album? thanks, carol

  11. Heard you on the Peter Greenberg show on Saturday Pam. I love to travel and I love shelling, so it was a great combination!

    What I enjoyed the most though, was that I could identify the worm shell you were talking about on a radio show, and I did not even have to see the shell to know what it was! Learned about that shell and many others from reading your wonderful blog the past few years. I have a shelling book, but watching your videos and looking at the pictures and descriptions on your blog are sooo much better. Not to mention very relaxing. Love your blog!!

    • Deb, Oh good! You heard it! Peter Greenberg was so much fun to talk to- he’s really funny and so quick witted (of course). I was really nervous but he made me feel right at home once I sat down. I’ll try to get a copy as a podcast to share here. Thank you so much for letting me know!

  12. Is that a jar of junonia behind your wentletraps? :)

  13. Your videos are really great Pam! Just like being there! And yes, wentletraps are so beautiful.

    Can you believe I have found 16 different species of wentletrap on Nevis? Some of them are VERY hard to identify: you have to do things like count the costae (the ribs) and look at the surface sculpture under a microscope.

    Did you use a hand lens to see the spiral sculpture on your Epitonium leali? Isn’t Jose lucky to have such a beautiful wentletrap named after him? Wow.

    I can’t believe you manage to carry those very small shells in your hand without dropping any. I use a plastic vial about the size of a regular pill tube for the really tiny shells; a flip-top vial is the easiest, if you can find one.

    However… we are all so grateful that you are able to shoot video and hunt shells at the same time! Yeah!

    You are the best :)

    • Wow- 16 different WTs! Thats patience. I love that you called it “grunge”… I might have to borrow that. ;) I used my strongest readers to see the differences in the costae. They are really amazing shells.

      • They sure are! They have always been a favorite of mine. They look so pretty against the yellow of the sand when you find them.

  14. I will try my luck today. Thanks for the great lesson Pam.

  15. While I was watching the videos I found myself going “Ooh, Pam, you missed one!” and “Ooh, go back and get that cool shell I just saw” and then I’d see you zoom in on them and pick them up and I felt relieved. Talk about Cybershelling! I wanted to jump through the laptop and pick up shells! Too fun and funny!

    • Me too! I was just the same!

  16. Pam,
    Thank you for your wonderful videos; it’s like I’ve been instantly beamed to the beach! I once ran into Constance Miller there on the beach and she later showed me some of her beautiful work. Of course I had her book on Sailor’s Valentines so I was just thrilled to meet her! I hope you can feel all the joy you bring to your followers! I’m planning on being there in three weeks, can hardly wait.

  17. We got hoe from Sanibel yesterday after a 2 week stay. We found 1 wentletrap near the lighthouse. Thyaks for the post, wish I was still there.

  18. I sat down to do some work on the computer and saw that you had a new post. After reading the post (I cannot get the videos to work, my problem not yours) I pulled out all of my shells and started going through them looking for my wentletraps. Then I decided to sort the shells into small containers by type. Hours later I realized that I never did the work I intended to do on the computer. I guess that confirms that I am truly a shelling adict! MEM

  19. Pam:

    Thanks for your interesting posts. We have used them to find out:

    1. That we have a brown olive, found at Blind Pass, from two years ago.

    2. We used your cleaning solution to dress up our large whelk and Florida horse conch shells. They look much better as a result.

    3. Now we sorted through our forty or so Wentletraps and found we have one Mathews wentletrap with it’s delicate ribbing.

    It’s a delight to learn more about the shells that we already have from your website.

    In four weeks we will return to find more treasures.

    Thanks again. Mike & Susan

  20. Thank you so much for the videos, sooooo much fun!!

  21. Pam, last year you gave me a lesson on looking for Wentletraps. This year I spent an afternoon at Lighthouse Beach and didn’t find any. Looking at your jar of wentles I now know why——you’ve got them all!

  22. Weeeee! Each and every one of you have made my day soooo much fun by reading your WONDERFUL comments!!! You have no idea how yall warm my heart and then make me laugh so hard. I loooove we are crazy shellers together!

  23. Can’t wait for the sat after thanksgiving as i will be staying at oceans reach for a week of shelling bliss!! So looking forward too it!

  24. I am so jealous! One day I hope to get there in person.

  25. Hey Ms.Rambo is there still red tide at Sanibel?? I am coming in two weeks (surprise from my mom)!!! Also, will the Wentletraps be “in” the brown “coffee grounds” or up higher in the wrack line?? Also, if the shell “god” didn’t happen to make it a good shelling day that day with piles of shells, is searching for “candies” and “mini”s a good next step, I mean are they always there?

    • Emma, I havent found WTs every time I have looked but I would say 80% of the time I have searched for them, I have found them… that’s what makes it a treasure hunt and so exciting when you DO find them. The Red Tide is getting pushed back out in the gulf with the east winds we are experiencing now.

  26. I was on Sanibel on Friday and only found 1 WT. I usually find 25 or 30. Any advise? I love you site.

  27. Hahaha Pam….Yeah I will find wentletraps in January. After watching ur video and reading your tips I think I know a bit more now. I didnt realize there are so many types though. Now Im on a mission to find at least the four you posted! Hahaha…especially the brown one!

    I will have to review this post a couple times before shellabaloo week! Thanx so much for this post. I was so looking forward to it!!

    Your the best!

    • Oh and I forgot to tell you that my husband was laughing at me cause I was watching your video and Id see cute little shells you didnt pick up and Id say to my smart phone..”no go back theres barnicles..oh theres a wormie..oh look at the little welk and then you grab it and I say YES she got it.” My hubby laughs and says “it may be a smart phone honey but its not going to talk back and Pam cant hear you.” Lol…lol…

  28. Woah!!! Finally!!! Somehow something cocked up in my Internet connection and I spent 2 days trying to enter the blog! But it’s worthwhile… :) beautiful shells and what a great variety of them. We only have 2 to 3 species on our island… Thanks so much again pam! :)

    • Me too, I have had a lot of trouble getting to Pam’s blog the last day or two… I don’t know why.

      Joash, you are in the Singapore area aren’t you? That’s tropical and Indo-Pacific; I am certain that you have more than 2 kinds of wentletraps in your area! You need to try to find an area where there are lots of sea anemones of different kinds living underwater. I say that because wentletraps feed on sea anemones, and live very near them hidden in sand most of the time. So a beach that faces onto a nice lagoon area behind a fringing coral reef might be a good place to find the shells.

      Of course I have to say that in most parts of the world wentletraps are rather rare and therefore finding even one of them can be a big deal.

      Good luck with your shelling! :)

  29. Was down by the lighthouse yesterday and OMG I found 3. One of them was the second one, the tannish one. While I was walking, I met someone sitting in the sand, right at the point. I asked her if she was looking for wentletraps. Her answer, “yes, I saw a demonstration on this website, Iloveshelling”. I just had to laugh, so immediately we had a connection. She was pretty pooped from walking from her condo, so we gave her a drive back. I told her if her husband tells her that she shouldn’t ride with strangers, just tell him, they weren’t strangers we were shellers.

  30. Pam!!! I found a different kind of wentletrap!!!! Not a real one of course, but in a book! I was researching finding shells for when I visit Sanibel. It is called the Wroblewski’s Wentletrap (opalia wroblewskii) This wentletrap only lives In the Pacific (California to Alaska). It has 6 to 8 axial ribs and grows to be about 1 inch long. Just wanted to let you know about another kind of Wentletrap. I thought it was kinda cool!

    • Hi Emma,

      There is a cool book called “The Wentletrap book: Guide to the recent Epitoniidae of the World”, and in that book it says that worldwide there are more than 600 different species of wentletraps! Each part of the world has its own species.

      Cool, right? :)

      • Wow….I never imagined there being so many! Thank gosh for books right? I love reading…especially if it has to do with shells haha!

        • I love my shell books. Those and Pam’s blog keep me on the beach even when its winter and I am stuck at home!

  31. Yesterday, I found many wentletraps on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and I was so excited! On our last visit to Sanibel in the spring of 2012, I spent a lot of time looking for them and was not able to find any. But, of course, we found many precious shells on Sanibel and look forward to our next visit! Thank you, Pam, for your amazing website and your kindness to all of us who are also passionate about shelling! :)

  32. Hello, I really love your website, and I am from Virginia Beach and i am trying to become a sheller like you. I have found many microscopic shells at Virginia Beach and had no idea what some of them were called, and ended up here. I identified all of them. Thank you Pam, I even found two wentletraps.

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