Have you ever wondered what are the most common seashells that wash up on Sanibel? We see them every day on the beach but all of those “little white CLAM shells” start to look the same and we tend to look over all of them in search for our favorites like the TULIPS and WHELKS.
If you have shelled the beaches of Southwest Florida several times, then you might not be surprised to hear…
The 6 most common shells found in beach drift on Sanibel, Florida are:
TRANSVERSE ARK (Anadara transversa), CROSS-BARRED VENUS (Chione elevata), PONDEROUS ARK (Noetia ponderosa), KITTENS PAW (Plicatula gibbosa), COQUINA (Donax variabilis) and the JINGLE (Anomia simplex).
They look pretty familiar don’t they?
The TRANSVERSE ARK (Anadara transversa) seashells are literally everywhere on our beaches and this is why it’s hard to find any other shell on the beach because we get so overwhelmed by looking at so many of these “little white clams shells”.
CROSS-BARRED VENUS (Chione elevata) shells always intrigue me because they have so many different interior colors.
PONDEROUS ARK (Noetia ponderosa) normally looks like just a bigger version of the TRANSVERSE ARK but when they are juveniles, it is really hard to tell the difference. Closely looking at the interior is the only way to decipher the juvie PONDEROUS from the adult TRANSVERSE.
KITTENS PAW (Plicatula gibbosa) – How can you walk on a beach in Sanibel and not smile when you see one of these?
COQUINA (Donax variabilis) shells have stolen the hearts of most of us the first time we walked on the beach and saw these sweet little butterfly shells scattered along the beach.
JINGLE (Anomia simplex) shells are like shimmering little beacons calling out from the sand- love them.
So how do I know that these are the most common shells on Sanibel? Well, because Susan Hewitt (our Susan H !) did a comprehensive but simple research study of the most abundance shell species while she was visiting Sanibel in 2011. She took loads of samples all along West Gulf Drive to separate and count each species. (This was not her sample bag in this next photo- she had buckets full)
I helped with her study by scooping up shells for her shell material research on the beach at Blind Pass Sanibel.
I also took samples at Sanibel’s Lighthouse beach for her.
After identifying, separating and counting every single shell collected, she got to work on writing her paper. To read her entire study paper, CLICK HERE
So now we know! It was so much fun being involved in her very cool project to answer the question asked about our beaches of Southwest Florida “What are the most common shells on Sanibel?”. Thanks Susan H for this awesome report!
The beaches of Sanibel and Captiva have been gorgeous this week with plenty of sunshine and warm breezes. But shelling has been hit or miss… to some people. In the past few days, I’ve been asked countless times “Where are the shells?”. That’s hard for me to answer since I saw this at Gulfside City Park beach today…
Uhmmmm. Those look like shells to me? There weren’t many WHELKS, TULIPS or CONES but this is how I look at it… if JUNONIAS and ALPHABET CONES were washing up on the beach every day, we would never see or learn about anything else that washes up on the beach. It would be nice at first seeing an ALPHABET soup of JUNONIAS but after a while it would kinda get old to people who come to the island every year. We do that with FIGHTING CONCHS at times. There’s no denying FIGHTING CONCHS are gorgeous shells but if you already collected 10 of them, you start to look for something else. So I always look forward to the days that make me slow down to look more closely to the shells I normally don’t “see”. Today I saw BROAD-RIBBED CARDITA shells. BROAD RIBBED CARDITAS are always on our beaches. I mean ALWAYS… but most of them have been sun bleached or worn so they look like lots of the other white BIVALVES. They are one of the most common shells in Southwest Florida but today they caught my eye because they were so colorful. Each one has a different color range of orange with some having stripes and some look like polka dots. Beauty is in the eye of the shell holder. These would be great craft shells for frames!
Anyway, there were a few other sweet shells out there too…
I also saw oodles of SEA WHIPS attached to PONDEROUS ARKS in the high tide wrack line. Most of the SEA WHIPS have lost their pretty yellow or purple colors and all that’s left is the black stem left attached to the ARK shell but this one still has a small portion of the golden yellow color still left on the stem like a sheath. Why do SEA WHIPS only seem to like to attach themselves to PONDEROUS ARKS? Of course I have a theory (I always have a theory whether its right or not- heehee). PONDEROUS ARKS have that wonderful thick black PERIOSTRACUM (skin) and they have wide ribs so SEA WHIPS have something pretty substantial to anchor themselves to. Most shells don’t have either of those features so it makes perfect sense to me, how about you? (To see a PONDEROUS ARK CLICK HERE)
Yes, those CARDITAS were pretty orange but this LETTERED OLIVE was my fave find of the day.
Oh wait- I take that back! This 33 inch, 15 pound SNOOK was my fave find of the day! I love everything there is to do on the beach and fishing is just one more thing I think is very cool. Just like shelling, you just never know what you’re gonna find. Some days you catch the big one and some days its just a nice excuse to be out in the sunshine.
Errrrrr…..Okay, I’ll fess up. This is kinda a fish tale…. “my fave find” was actually caught by a guy named Steve but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that beautiful fish. I “found” it in Steve’s hands. Hahahaha. i Love Fishing too so next time I wanna reel one in!
Hey, Dont forget… Monday March 16, 2015 – Congress Jewelers are showcasing my Shellography with a wine and cheese gallery reception from 11am- 3pm. I’d love to meet y’all! Bring your fave finds in if you want me to ID them.
i heart seashells. Shells have a way of talking to us, don’t they? They make us feel deeply connected to the vast sea and pull us towards it. This PONDEROUS ARK shell washed up at my feet with a heart carved in it. Awwwwe, so sweet! I love you too! But hmmmm… other than being an oh-so-sweet message from King Neptune, how did this happen?
We see natural holes drilled in all sorts of shells, so it’s time to find out how they are made. The hole in this SHARKS EYE tells me a little secret of what happened to its life. The clue? It has a perfect countersunk borehole with a beveled edge twice the diameter as the inner diameter. Because of the shape of that hole, you can bet that he was eaten by another SHARKS EYE! OMG They are cannibals!
We have to guess what happened to this next guy because it looks like a fellow predator SHARKS EYE started carving up his next meal but stopped before he tasted victory.
By looking at the hole in this DISK DOSINIA, I’m going to assume that a SHARKS EYE made a meal out of this guy too.
Geez, SHARKS EYES have a smorgasbord of choices for their buffet. Looks as though they like BUTTERCUP LUCINES too.
A straight hole with only a slight beveled edge like this LADY-IN-WAITING VENUS CLAM …
…was most likely drilled by some sort of MUREX… like GULF OYSTER DRILLS. Aha! That’s why they are called “DRILLS”!
The grooves in these CROSS BARRED VENUS CLAMS and TRANSVERSE ARK aren’t the handiwork of the SHARKS EYE or DRILLS. These grooves were most likely made by a BRISTLE WORM. It uses a rasping technique with its bristled body while secreting acid to etch a groove in the shell to make a nice cozy place to rest.
If you have never seen a BRISTLE WORM, click on the video to watch the first time Clark and I came across a BRISTLE WORM…. and then come back to see what cute tokens they make. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCQpylW-x8E[/youtube]
Last May, Lisa from Shellabaloo 2 was having a great time sifting through shells at Blind Pass Captiva and found a few messages on shells she shared…
After Shellabaloo, she sent me this sweet CROSS-BARRED VENUS shell with a smiley face on it (made by a BRISTLE WORM). I keep it by my desk!
She also found a “K” on a CROSS BARRED VENUS…
Lisa was so thoughtful, she gave it to another Shellabaloo-er… Kendra. K for Kendra!
So let’s get back to that heart I received from King Neptune … these bigger holes most likely were drilled by a STIMPSON CHIMNEY CLAM. Oh, What? You’ve never heard of a STIMPSON CHIMNEY CLAM before? LOL Well, neither had I before I got so curious about what made that heart shape and found out that two separate drilled incidences by these clams are the most likely culprit. When I find a STIMPSON CHIMNEY CLAM, you will be the first one to know about it and I will post a photo. I already have an appreciation for them since they are quite the artists!
I just assumed that a shell with lots of little holes in like this was just from regular wear and rear by the salt and wave action… like when you wash and wear your favorite shirt too many times. One day, you’ll start to see holes in it! But some times shells that look like this tend to be “holey” because BORING SPONGES have invaded it as a living space.
I’ve always been drawn to shells that have holes for stringing them for crafts….
For gift tags…
And I always love to see someone string them for jewelry…
I would have never known where to start finding information on these cool holes in shells if Lisa from Shellabaloo 5 (OMG I just realized… both Lisas from different Shellabaloos are fascinated with holes in shells too! Ha! They need to know each other, wouldn’t you say?) anyway… I wouldn’t have known there was such a term as “Shell Bioerosion” and such if she hadn’t shown me where it was in this book Living Beaches of Georgia and the Carolinas .
There’s all kinds of fun to be had in exploring the common shells if you just give them a chance. They may even tell you a secret!
I spied thousands of ARKS at Gulfside City Park on Sanibel Island this morning. Most days you can find TRANSVERSE ARKS scattered along the beach since they are one of the most common shells on Sanibel.
There are a few different species of ARKS so let me show you the difference. Top row left to right- a MOSSY ARK and a TURKEY WING. Bottom row left to right- CUT-RIBBED ARK, TRANSVERSE ARK and a PONDEROUS ARK.
It’s a little easier to identify bivalves and see the difference (and the likeness) between them by looking at the interior of the shell.
I only had a few minutes to walk the beach today so I just wanted to look for minis in some of the wrack lines I pointed out the other day in my Shelling 101 video. I found TUSK SHELLS (there were thousands of those too), a KEYHOLE LIMPET, WENTLETRAPS, CERITHS, AUGERS, a TURRID, juvie CONCHS, juvie OLIVE, and a piece of CORAL.
I also found a somewhat beat up LINEATE DOVE SNAIL.
If you need any help identifying any of these shells, check out my Seashells Identification Page…
As I walked this morning, I couldn’t help but notice this amazing village sand sculpture on the beach- with its own arena and swimming pool. I was inspired to write about ARK SHELLS because so many artists like to use these sweet little white shells as embellishments for their pieces of art- just like this beach artist did. ARKS are perfect decorations for so many projects. Inspiring!
After several weeks of east winds, the west winds have finally arrived to drive some shells on to our beaches. Today was only the first day of the westies but since it was a really low tide this morning, I figured I’d find some goodies. It’s always a good day when you find an ALPHABET CONE and you’ve got to see just how darn cute this little juvie HORSE CONCH is…
I couldn’t believe I found this ANGEL WING sitting in the high wrack line…
I love when I find shells like this BANDED TULIP lying on the beach like this.
Tonya, Beth and Max from Ohio had their bags filled with all sorts of treasures.
Wanna look in their shell bags? I sure wanted to too! COCKLES and CONCHS and CLAMS…
Max found this live LIGHTNING WHELK in the high tide wrack line so he walked it down to the water and gently put it in the water. Good for you Max! You helped save this beauty.
I found local Sanibel sheller Lynn walking her very happy standard poodle Alexander with a pocket full of seashell treasure too.
Look at those pretty those COLORFUL MOON shells along with those candies and a mini TURE TULIP.
There was all sorts of bivalves scattered along the beach. I found this ATLANTIC COCKLE, PONDEROUS ARK and SOUTHERN QUAHOG together on the beach just like this…
This is the biggest DARK CERITH I’ve ever found. It’s one and a half inches long!
I was pretty pleased with what we all were finding on the beach near Donax Street today after the first day of west winds. Tomorrow might be even better!
Yellow Prickly Cockle
There were lots of YELLOW PRICKLY COCKLES
still together scattered around the beach off West Gulf Drive access #6 yesterday. I always seem to overlook these because the ATLANTIC GIANT COCKLES
catch my eye first. I’m looking closer at the bivalves (a shell with 2 halves) now since I’ve always favored univalves (snail shells like CONCHS and CONES).
See? I even gave this PONDEROUS ARK a second look when I normally would have passed right by it. Since the names are somewhat new to me (I would have normally named it an “ARK” shell but now I’m trying to learn the different categories too), we can learn these things together. So that means if I misidentify a shell, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
I think Alan favors the univalves (or gastropods) too since he is showing off a FLORIDA CONE and some OLIVES. Check out his home made shelling rake!
Sanibel Anne (Sanibel... of course!)
I found Sanibel Anne working that same pile and watched her pull out that beautiful HORSE CONCH that she’s holding in her left hand. She makes shell mirrors and candlesticks from the shells she finds. Fun!
Over 20 mph north west winds washed up this pile of STONE CRAB pots on the beach two weeks ago. No wonder there are so many PIG’S FEET on the beach. These were the same winds that blew in the excellent shelling last month. We are expecting some good north west winds today “they” say about 16 mph (I’m not seeing anything yet) but maybe that’s enough for my JUNONIA to wash up. (?)
We had a little NW wind yesterday so I ran up to Blind Pass to see the shells were washing up on the Sanibel side. You can see in this picture how close that point of the sand bar on the Captiva side is to Sanibel now. Maybe we should do a pool on who gets to the closest date that when the Captiva exposed sand touches Sanibel exposed sand.
Yesterday there were more shells on the Sanibel side than on the Captiva side. Like I always say ….the beach changes by the day. You never know where the shells will show up.
Snowy Egret shelling
I took this next picture as I walked the entrance to the beach where there are sea grape trees lining the walkway. I had to stop to take in the beautiful palette of colors the leaves painted on the path.