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Shelling In The Rain

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Alicia's one hour September Sanibel shell collection

We found darling little treasures rolling in the surf near Lighthouse Beach this week. In just an hour or so, our friends Gail and Alicia (Sanibel locals) had a nice walk along the water’s edge to find all these sweet minis including Alicia’s first perfect juvie red TRUE TULIP. It’s a beauty! Well, and the two HORSIES, OLIVES and that awesome SHARKS EYE.

Gail and Alicia with Sanibel shells

My fave find was an itty bitty LACIE MUREX with a bright pink “nose”…

Sanibel shells and sand

I’m always tickled when I find “firsts” too like Alicia finding her first TRUE TULIP. This one may not be as lovely as her bright red treasure but this is the first time I’ve found a double CUT-RIBBED ARK with the PERIOSTRACUM (the skin) still on it. Yes, I’ve found hundreds of single CUT-RIBBED ARC valves but to find both sides like this on the beach is cool to me. It’s what we call a “FRESHIE”. This one hasn’t been empty long. ( I know, I’m touch a shell geek! haha)

Cut Ribbed Ark Anadara floridana with periostracum

Clark found about the same mix as Alicia and Gail (minus the TRUE TULIP) but I love it because he has acquired a taste (not literally) for bivalves… EGG COCKLES, DUCK CLAMS, BUTTERCUPS and DOSINIAS. Did you see the BABY’S EAR as well?

September evening Sanibel seashell collection

As we were shelling, it began to rain so we picked up the pace and headed for the beach access ramp… that’s when Clark found the BABY’S EAR. Right before he found it, he mentioned how unusual it was to not be finding BABY’S EARS lately. By the time he finished his sentience, he looked down and there it was… pretty as a picture. Ha!

Clark finding Sanibel shells

Because we spend so much time on the beach, we are constantly checking radar for storms and lightning. If we get caught in the rain, it’s because there are no signs of lightning strikes in the area or no sounds of thunder so its just a light misting of rain. As I always say… Mother Nature might punish you with a lightning bolt for shelling during a storm after her warning system has been sounded…. her cracks of thunder and her scary dark skies. She has given us time and time again HER rules and regs. We should respect them. Safety first!

Sanibel beach with shells

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Sanibel Sea Squirt Spectacle

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Blind Pass Sanibel beach covered in sea squirts

As I walked down the beach path from the parking lot at Blind Pass Sanibel (Turner Beach) to get a glimpse of what treasures would be left on the beach after 2 days of nice west winds coming off the Gulf Of Mexico…. I stopped in my tracks when I saw the beach covered in brown “Beach Bling“. My first instinct was to laugh. I was reminded of the funniest scene EVER in the movie Caddy Shack… you know it…. “Doooooodie!”

Sea Squirt Tunicates cover Sanibel beach

My second thought was “Cool! SEA SQUIRTS!”. So no, it wasn’t “doodie” or “turd balls” as someone called them but at first sight they sure do look like it heehee. They are SANDY-SKINNED TUNICATES (Molgula occidentalis) commonly called SEA SQUIRTS because they squirt out sea water when you touch or squeeze them. FYI- They won’t hurt you!

Sandy Skinned tunicate sea squirt

SEA SQUIRTS are common to see in our waters of SW Florida but this was very unusual to see the masses like this…. even after high west winds. Of course we normally see masses of shells littering the beach after a good west blow but Mother Nature always has a way of teaching us to always expect the unexpected. This is what keeps me beach combing! I loooooove to see and learn about new things that wash up on our beaches because we get a peek at what’s on the bottom of the Gulf Of Mexico and in our estuaries. These are in the same family as SEA PORK- they are both TUNICATES. Even though this may not be as pretty as one of our Sanibel seashells, TUNICATES are important creatures for our natural waters… theY are tasty treats for TULIPS SHELLS, STINGRAYS and SEA TURTLES.

Sandy-skinned tunicates Molgula occidentalis

Speaking of pretty Sanibel shells, I combed through the spectacle of SQUIRTS just as a few other “unafraid” beach combers did…

sifting through beach drift sea squirts Sanibel Island Flordia

… to find a few lovely treasures. Yes! I found a gorgeous double FALSE ANGEL WING and a sweet juvie STIFF PEN SHELL among the SQUIRTS.

false angel wing, pen shell and sea squirts

Ooooooh and I found a pretty purple SEA WHIP… with a bonus!

one-tooth simnia, sea whip, false angel wing, sea squirts

There was a dried ONE-TOOTH SIMNIA attached to it.

One-tooth simnia on sea whip

Before I answer some of those questions you have about the TUNICATES, you can see for yourself what it looked like on the beach since …. I have video so you can see the SEA SQUIRT squirt! I said some obvious and stuff so I got embarrassed and had to make fun of myself- so ignore the “Duuuhh”. I was in a mood, I guess – eeeek! LOL YouTube Preview Image

Cool, huh? I’m glad we don’t have smell-a-vision yet because, yes… it was stinky. Some of them were in the sun too long so they were dried out and smelly- just like what happened to STARFISH and MOLLUSKS when they start to decay. It’s just what happens in nature. And no, TUNICATES are not something that is left over from an oil spill. I have seen lots of SEA SQUIRTS on Sanibel after different storms like this past April when my friend Lori and her daughter Hayley came to visit. Hayley loved to pick through all of that Beach Bling but especially loved the little SEA SQUIRTS.

Hayley with sea squirt tunicates

sea squirt tunicate at gulf side city park sanibel

Of the 5 years I’ve been documenting Blind Pass, I’ve never seen them in mass quantities like this there- only on the mid to east end of Sanibel… but then I’ve never experienced such a long spell of constant east winds during the summer before either. My theory? And remember, I’m no scientist! But I have read that TUNICATES are filter feeders and the Molgula occidentals habitat is inside decaying mangrove roots or on a vertical bank of roots and sediments. To me, that sounds like the Pine Island Sound side of Blind Pass which makes sense because if you think about it… for over 2 months of constant east wind, they were probably pushed around from the sound side towards the mouth of Blind Pass then bottle-necked through it to the Gulf from the sound. Then finally the west winds came and their light and “watery” bodies get tossed back in that same area on the beach. Dunno, but does that make sense? Its exactly how different beds of shells get tossed back on the beach. We see that all the time!

But one last fun fact to leave you with… TUNICATES have a lot in common with humans. Yep! During early development of both humans and TUNICATES, we both have a rigid notochord (early stages of of a spinal cord!) and a hollow nerve cord. So that means TUNICATES are more closely related to humans than to a STARFISH or SEA URCHIN. Food for thought, huh? LOL

Sanibel beach with strandings of Sandy skinned tunicates

I have been in close contact with research scientist Dr. Richard Bartleson at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab (who gave me the positive identification of SANDY-SKINNED TUNICATE) to learn more about them and where they may have come from. So when I know more, I will add to this post.



Hidden Treasures Found on Cayo Costa

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sea shell beach treasures

Finally. After weeks of calm, hot weather in Lee County waiting to see treasures wash up on our beaches… we found them in Cayo Costa on our iLoveShelling cruise with Captiva Cruises.

beautiful shiny shells

Shellers were finding BANDED TULIPS, LIGHTNING WHELKS, PEAR WHELKS, NUTMEGS, FIGHTING CONCHS and the shiniest most colorful LETTERED OLIVES I have seen in a while.

rachelle and justins shells

And then there’s this… James from Kentucky found a big beautiful HORSE CONCH completely intact. Shellzam! What a find!

James Kentucky vacations in Sanibel finds big shell

Not only were there shells, we saw plenty of wildlife and beautiful scenery on our secluded island.

island beach bling

Our boat was filled with shellers from all over the world who got to know one another and share experiences AND share the shells they were finding.

boating to shell island

It was so much fun to meet beach explorers like Dominic finding treasures with his family from Ohio.

Cayo Costa cruise

And to see hawk eye shellers Rachelle and Justin again (they were on our May cruise too!) not only finding amazing shells but I think they gave away more than half of the shells they found. Shellers are awesome!

rachelle justin iloveshelling cruise

We were finding shells just at the water’s edge…Cayo Costa shell collecting

as well as on the beach and wading waist high.
collecting shells on cayo costa 4

Shelling Sister Susan and Jerry from Panama City were thrilled to find beautifully patterned double SUNRAY VENUS shells half buried in the sand.

Susan Jerry Panama City visit Sanibel for shells

Kathy from Tulsa was on our cruise too! She still has her lucky Margarita bucket but since this one is on its last leg, I guess more margaritas are on order- whoohoo! I’m positive the next bucket will be lucky too.

kathy from Tulsa with big bucket of shells

Its so much fun to hang out with other happy shellers and especially to see the excitement when there are lots of treasures piling up in all sorts of shell bags and buckets.

bucket of shells

And of course…. everybody on the cruise got an unbelievable $25 gift certificate to Sealife By Congress!!! Sealife By Congress thinks shellers are awesome too!


Join us on one of our next Captiva Cruises to Cayo Costa on one of these dates…

captiva cruises dates -02-2015

Or join us for other iLoveShelling shelling adventures CLICK HERE

shelling adventures trips by pam