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

How To Identify Differences Between Live and Dead Sand Dollars

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 in Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar Video, Video | 12 comments

keyhole sand dollar mellita isometra

It’s thrilling to see a live SAND DOLLAR at low tide half buried in the sand and water, isn’t it?

cilia showing on a live sand dollar

It’s also thrilling to see bleached out SAND DOLLARS washing in with the tide as well, right?

sandy sand dollar CLW beach

But how do you know if a SAND DOLLAR is alive or not when it is isn’t bright white?

sand dollars in the surf ft myers beach

If a SAND DOLLAR is dark in color and half buried in the sand and/or water, it is most likely still alive and we should let it stay in its place in the water.

Little Hickory Live Sand Dollar

There have been times I have posted photos of SAND DOLLARS in my bucket that were grey in color. This has been a concern to folks who were worried about whether or not I collected live SAND DOLLARS. First of all, I would never collect a live SAND DOLLAR. But I completely understand the concerns from anyone who wants to make sure nobody takes a living creature out of its habitat – especially just to take it home for a souvenir.

sand dollars and shells in a blue bucket

So here’s the way to tell if it’s alive or not… Look for the CILIA and velvety skin. These are the things that keep the animal alive and on these SAND DOLLARS… they are missing so they are not alive any more. These are now just the TESTS of the animal… like the shell (although its not technically a shell).

dead sand dollars without cilia

Do you see how the edge and surface of this SAND DOLLAR looks like it has fur?

sand dollar cilia

SAND DOLLARS have short SPINES covered in CILIA (tiny hairs) so it can move along the sand and grasses. Along with those “hairs” are TUBE FEET (which look like “fur” to me too – heehee) which is actually how the SAND DOLLAR breathes.

live sand dollar with cilia and tube feet

I bet now, you can look at this next photo and see that all of these baby SAND DOLLARS in Clark’s hand are alive. After I snapped this photo, he put them back in the water.

live sand dollars sanibel Clypeasteroida

You can see it here too, right? These need to go back into the water where they belong.

baby sand dollar

So now take a look at this next photo…. is this still alive? No. Even though this SAND DOLLAR is still gray in color, there’s no possible way it could be alive since there are no SPINES nor CILIA nor TUBE FEET. It has no way to breathe or move without those things.

sand dollar without cilia

Julianna shows us that the SAND DOLLAR to the left of the photo is still alive and the other one on the right side of the photo has no “fur” whatsoever. She is a good steward of the earth so she put the live one safely back in the water and she gave the other “hairless” one to her mom for safekeeping.

how to tell if a sand dollar is alive

Most days you will see sun bleached SAND DOLLARS just like this…. Hairless! Furless! Completely “Bald”! haha

sun bleached sand dollar without cilia

So next time you see a SAND DOLLAR while walking the beach, remember to leave it alone if it’s dark and hairy but if you are unsure if it’s alive… take your time to inspect this amazing creature before you assume it’s a “keeper”. Look for any signs of hairs, fur or velvety skin.

Sand dollar sanibel

Now you can bet your bottom DOLLAR you’ll know when to leave those sweet living SAND DOLLARS alone…

low tide sanibel sand dollars

and when you can jump for joy when you find that keeper almighty DOLLAR.

sand dollar on a Sanibel beach

Oh, and I took a short video of a cutie little juvie LIVE SAND DOLLAR to show you how they move those little hairs around. I hope this helps!

PS- Most of these photos are from articles I’ve published in the past, just click on each photo to be linked to those posts.

pam rambo shelling trips



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Uber Cute Sand Dollars to Dimes

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar Video | 45 comments

one sand dollar piece

Uber Cuteness! If “they” named SAND DOLLARS because of the similar size of a one dollar coin piece, then I found me some SAND DIMES this morning! LOL

sand dollar dime quarter

But then, they are even smaller than a dime.

itty bitty sand dollar

I know some of them are still a little dark in color but don’t worry, they weren’t still alive. They were all in different stages of losing their “fur” (that’s what I call it but they actually have fine hair or cilia that cover their bodies) so that’s why they are all different colors as well. In probably one more day they will all turn white… if they don’t break apart first.

two miniature sand dollars

 Tara (St Louis) was showing her daughter Vivian something she just found and I got very curious because they looked so excited…seashell family tradition

So I had to ask what they found. She had a few mini shells and lots of these mini SAND DOLLARS!

tara juvenile sand dollars

tara vivian collcting sand dollars

Tara introduced me to the gal who found this little treasure trove of gems first this morning, Kay from Iowa. Kay’s daughter was cleaning some shells she brought back to their place yesterday and one of these little SAND DOLLARS dropped out of another shell. Wow! So Kay went back this morning about half a mile east of Gulfside City Park (Sanibel) to see if she could find a few more. Yes! She found the spot and shared this little seashell honey hole with all of us that walked by. So sweet! Kay was a little shy of the camera but she showed me the little darlings that she had in her hand…

tiny sand dollars

Kate and Ken from Michigan were finding the bigger shells on the same beach.

kate ken sanibel shelling

Ken was especially happy he found that awesome baby LIGHTNING WHELK and the rich colored LETTERED OLIVE (grrrr… I wish you could see that one better because it is gorgeous). I know, that’s a gorgeous PAPER FIG too, right? It’s a keeper even though it has a tiny hole on the other side of the shell. It’s always a good day to find a PAPER FIG!

ken seashells sanibel

I met them just before we found the SAND “DIMES” (heehee) so they joined in on the fun too.

juvenile sand dollar

It was like we were finding real money out there! I actually think is was better than finding money (hmmmm, well, better than finding pocket change … let’s be honest! ;)) I got so excited to see this adorable BLING, I figured you would too. So I took a video for a CYBERSHELLING hunt for a few minutes so you could go with me. Enjoy!


small sand dollar colors

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