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

Not A Day Late And A Sand Dollar Short

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Horse Conch, Sea Squirt, Tunicate | 26 comments

shells on the beach at Sanibel Island October 2014

There were lots of shells on the beach and “Bling” at Gulfside City Park to comb through this morning… Yay!  Since we had some nice winds from the Gulf Of Mexico this past week, the beach is littered with lots of white clam shells and there are some nice colorful treasures in there too like these WHELKS, CONCHS, MUREXES and purple SEA WHIPS.

shells with a sea whip

Along with finding some beautiful shells today, you might just see mounds of SEA SQUIRTS too. The winds pushed these TUNICATES (to learn more CLICK HERE) up on the beaches along with plenty of seashells. The birds were loving it! They had a feast at this SEA SQUIRT salad bar…

birds eating sea squirts on sanibel beach

Even if you combed through the SEA SQUIRTS, there are hidden gems like this double SUNRAY VENUS…

double sunray venus clam shell in sea squirts

Look how this double SPINY JEWELBOX is camouflaged in the SEA SQUIRTS…

double jewel box shell in sea squirts

I placed a few of the beauties I found on top of a cool SEA SPONGE but unfortunately I covered most of it with shells… oops!

horse conchs with shells

Gwen from Texas was thrilled to find a few goodies on the beach to fill her shell bag.

shell collector on Sanibel

As always, its such a pleasure to run into Smitty on the beach to hear about his latest finds. He told me he found a huge empty HORSE CONCH, a SCOTCH BONNET and so many other great finds yesterday. Yep… yesterday. We missed it! Thats ok, I am so content with my finds this morning and it tickled me so much to see him and all of his shelling paraphernalia- he’s Smitty The Shelling Machine.

FYI- Clark’s been wanting a collapsable picker upper shelling tool for traveling (in Smitty’s right hand) so if I find one, I’ll let you know how Clark likes it too. That little blue scoop is great but its just a weeee too long for a travel bag and the last one broke when we took off the basket.

Smitty with shelling paraphernalia

Last night as I was surfing through the iLoveShelling Facebook age, I saw Arthur Lyon’s photo he posted. Wow! Those are some awesome shells. He said “Cool front pushed a ton of shells onto the beaches today…”. He said he found these near Gulfside City Park so of course thats why I was there this morning. I didn’t see Arthur but I did see his cousins and they told me how crazy the shelling was yesterday. Nice haul!

arthur lyons shell photo

So while Arthur and Smitty were scooping up SCOTCH BONNETS, HORSE CONCHS, FIGS and TULIPS I went to Blind Pass to find thousands of SEA SQUIRTS without the huge shell lines like GULFSIDE CITY PARK had. hahaaha Thats ok- I still found some treasures.

sea squirts tunicates on beach at Blind Pass Captiva

I don’t feel like I was a day late because if I had been there yesterday, I may not have been there this morning to find those sweet baby HORSE CONCHS I showed in the photos above. I looooove those Candy Corns. They are my fave Happy Candy and remind me that we are so very fortunate to be able to comb these beautiful beaches to find so many gifts from the sea every day.

Sanibel shells and beach combers at sunrise

 Let’s go shelling together! This is a perfect week for an iLoveShelling trip to Big Hickory Island.

Join me on Wednesday October 8, 2014 at 8:30am on a spectacsheller shelling adventure! Call 239-765-7272 or CLICK HERE

shelling adventures trips by pam

Dont forget about booking for January 5-8 Shellabaloo- Tickets are selling fast!

shellabaloo January 2015

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Sanibel Sea Squirt Spectacle

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in Sandy-Skinned Sea Squirt Tunicate, Sea Squirt, Tunicate | 18 comments

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 

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.



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