Hey, Did you see that wild Elephant on Sanibel’s beach last week? No? How about that Bengal Tiger on Captiva? No… Of course you didn’t- heehee. We all know that those wild animals aren’t native to Southwest Florida but you can still find them in their natural habitat if you travel to the other side of the planet. It’s the same way with shells. Different species of MOLLUSKS live in different parts of the world so when you see these non-native species of shells wash up on our beaches, you know they didn’t get here naturally. Water currents could never sweep these shells around the world without breaking apart so I have a theory of how they wash up on our beaches.
I made up the phrase “Wedding Shells” because people buy bags of shells to decorate the beach for weddings and parties. Brides want lots of shells for their beach wedding so they purchase cheap bags of foreign shells at a local shell shop (it’s way more expensive to buy local shells). They scatter them along the beach for the beautiful ceremony but since most folks think all shells look alike they think they are doing others a favor by putting more shells on the beach… so they get left behind. Since these store-bought shells don’t always get picked up, the high tide comes in to carry them out into the Gulf Of Mexico to be washed up on the next tide then found by an unsuspecting sheller.
Earlier this month while investigating Jordyn’s CONE (a Wedding Shell) at Sanibel Seashells (Seashells.com), I asked if I could see their best seller of bagged shells. Bill showed me bags and bags of shells just like this and said folks buy these all the time for weddings and parties but wait… Wanna know what he said the most popular reason for folks buying these bags of shells? They spread them on the local beaches for their kids or grandkids to find them. Huh? We already have beautiful shells to find on our beaches. In my humble opinion (and I hope I don’t sound like a spoil sport), I think we should encourage kids to explore the natural gems that wash up on our beaches and find something beautiful in each local treasure…. but also teach them what other shells around the world look like. (I know, sorry, this is coming from a mom of kids with 4 furry legs) Shall we move on? LOL
In January, Sarah The Shellanimal was so excited to find one of these TELESCOPE SHELLS wash up at Blind Pass during Shellabaloo 4 . I hated to tell her she hadn’t found a rare SW Florida shell but after I explained it was a shell from the Indo-Pacific region and how it may have gotten on the beach (a Wedding Shell), she was still happy she found it and said “It’s still a cool shell”. She has such a good attitude.
Susan from Wisconsin found a shell at the lighthouse Beach in March that looks similar to a Caribbean shell so I thought she had a rare find.
It turned out that it was an Indo-Pacific TROCHUS shell… oops! Another Wedding Shell.
Large TURITELLA SHELLS are very common shells in other parts of the world… but not in SW Florida. At Shellabaloo 2, Murfy (from Texas) found this COMMON TOWER SHELL (Turritella communis) … another Wedding Shell.
The number one mistaken identity in shells found on SW Florida beaches is the BABYLONIA shell. This is not a JUNONIA and this is not a shell species that can be found in the Gulf, Atlantic or Caribbean. We did found oodles of beautiful BABYLONIA shells naturally scattered on the beaches on our shelling trip to Thailand since they are very common on the other side of the planet. But if you find one on Sanibel or Captiva…. it’s a Wedding Shell. :)
There are many other stories I’ve heard for reasons folks wanting to “return shells to the sea” and most are innocent ceremonies or well-meaning ways to get rid of an old collection instead of dumping beautiful shells into the trash. So if I happen to run into you on the beach and you show me a shell or you post that shell on the iLoveShelling Facebook page and I call it a “Wedding Shell”, now you will know why. It may be a pretty shell but it’s not a Southwest Florida local (not that there’s anything wrong with that) :)
PS- Isn’t it amazing how many conversations Jordyn’s shell has brought up?
PSS- I am sooooo excited for our Shelling Cruise tomorrow! This one is sold out but check out other dates HERE…
I would be so upset to find out that i found a wedding shell. And i think it is a dumb idea to put shells on a beach when we already have plenty of beautiful shells to pick from. Just like its illegal to take a live shell from the beach, it should be illegal to place wedding shells on the beach…just saying. I like to find my shells, i dont like to buy them.
We have found a number of these since 1976. Thought maybe kids dropped them while making sandcastles. Funny, we use to say someone was seeding the beach with the wrong shells…:) We also use to say the hotels were seeding the beach in front of their property with junonias….;-))
This really makes me so sad. Just another form of pollution in my opinion. People who choose to “decorate” (as if it really needs “decoration”) on the beach should pick up after themselves. And don’t even get me started on putting them there for their children to find – just utterly ridiculous. This just proliferates the I have to have it NOW attitude that society seems to be endorsing and it teaches them nothing of the natural processes of the beach and tides and critters. My son has learned in his 11 years that we enjoy natural places for what they have to offer at the moment and we respect and do no harm. Sometimes we find great empty shells at the beach and sometimes we just make memories. Just my personal opinion! :)
With all of the weddings there it makes perfect sense, but had not thought about it before. Of course I sometimes line our beach here at South Padre Island with shells from Florida after friends go through and pick out what they want. It’s a win win for everyone. I love the hunt of the shells more than finding them, though I do love to find them too. But I’m very picky on what I keep. So excited becoming a Florida resident next month at Marco!
Can I recommend something? Although South Padre Island in Texas is on the Gulf of Mexico (way on the other edge of the Gulf), and therefore it is true that many of the shells are the same species as one can find in Sanibel, nonetheless quite a few of them are different. It actually would be better not to place your Sanibel shells on the beach in Texas, because it is potentially very confusing to any scientist who is trying to record the shell fauna in an individual locality.
I often record shells from beach drift in various places, and publish lists of what I find; shells added to the beach from somewhere else would really throw off my data.
If people are not sure what to do with left-over shells, I would recommend offering them to a pre-school, elementary school, senior center or similar. One or more of those place will be quite grateful to have them.
If I find a “wedding shell” I think I will just enjoy it for it’s romantic name and it’s joyous etiology to Sanibel. Maybe someday I will have a jar just for “wedding shells”.
I was sooo excited when we found that shell Pam!!! Great memories!! We will be there I July! Hope to see you:)
I’ve found a couple of those Babylonia shells over the years. Kinda annoying, but sorta fun to find something different. When our daughter was married at Casa Ybel a few years back, we had a shell theme, but used white jingle shells for the flower girl to toss instead of flower petals. Each table was named after a local SW Florida shell and was adorned with those shells for the guests to take. It was lovely, the out of town guests got bags of local shells to take home, and best of all I got my garage emptied (temporarily!) of massive amounts of collected shells!
I had no idea people do this! Especially for Florida. Now I’ve heard it all!
People have to explore and discover for themselves.
Clearly, finding a “wedding shell” or any other shell on this lovely island, is still #shelling. #iloveshelling
Yes, this business of moving shells around to places they don’t naturally belong is a big peeve for many of us. At least we know Florida vs foreign.
TO THE PERSON FROM TEXAS who mixes S Padre shells with her florida shells. NO its NOT a win win. There are scientists (I can name several) who study what shells are found on SPI and in TX…the fauna from Florida is quite similar and putting FL shells on TX beaches can lead to incorrect scientific conclusions being drawn , for example how species’ natural ranges can expand or contract naturally (from climate change, or natural dispersal) vs an artifact of human activity dumping shells on beaches.
The worst offense is releasing live animals at weddings, like butterflies. Places breed and sell butterflies for that purpose/ Some species that get released are the same as local species, and when they start flying around that can mess up surveys and counts that take place in many places over the summer, species will appear to be occurring in places they may not, oe in greater numbers than they really do…. Its even worse when non-native species are released. They cant survive or find the food plants they need to reproduce. And they can also confuse people who look at this scientifically whether the trend is natural ( a lot of species have been naturally expanding or contracting their ranges very noticeably) vs another artifact.
A few years ago my sister, father and I all found a babylonia shell on three consecutive days. We thought we were pretty lucky for all of us to find such a rare treasure on Sanibel. I decided to find out what kind of shell it was and went to one of the shell stores. What a surprise, and a little disappointed, to find out that it was not from this area. It was still kind of fun that we all three found one on three different days.
This is such an important article. Who knew. I have found several types of “wedding shells.” Pam, you taught me about this practice last year. I felt so informed after being so confused. Ha! You’re the greatest! :))
I for one don’t care where they come from, being realistic, I am never going to be on the beach in Thailand, so what the heck if I find one on Sanibel I would be thrilled no matter where it came from. I just plain and simple love shelling!
Kim, you’re definitely not a spoil sport for thinking it’s ridiculous to put (more) shells out for kiddos to find. They should absolutely be finding things that are naturally occurring. It makes it more of a challenge plus there’s the added benefit of being able to teach them things!
And I agree with the other posters who mentioned that dumping shells from other places is almost the same as littering. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now….
Couple of years ago I found an indo-pacific shell… looks similar to the flamingo tongue shell…only very white with pinkish – purple ends. Even though it didn’t originate here on our beaches… I was tickled to find such a cool shell in the surf. I’ll never get to travel there so I like that my collection has a unique addition that I didn’t buy.
This whole idea of leaving store-bought shells behind never occurred to me…I have a few shells that I had a hard time identifying; now I’m sad to think they’re probably “wedding shells”. Oh well.
If you ever read the children’s book “Junonia” by Kevin Henkes…the main character is on a quest to find a Junonia for her 10th birthday. She finally does, but turns out it was planted by some well-meaning friends who didn’t want her birthday spoiled. When you find out that your special find was actually faked, it takes away from the thrill. :(
But for the most part, there are so many wonderful shells to find on the west coast of FL, there really is no need to do anything to ensure your kids find something neat!
ha! I have this book in my (19 mo old) daughter’s book shelf…we haven’t read it yet. I hope we find our own junonia someday!
Good post – this seems to be a pretty common phenomenon, as people keep asking about “wedding shells” on the shell ID forums. I don’t seem to see them in San Diego much for some reason. And I agree about kids getting exciting about “natural” finds – I became a biologist in part due to the excitement of finding shells on the beaches in Maryland, California, etc., and loved looking them up in the shell field guides of the day…! Have never stopped since ; – )
I agree that this does not seem to happen very much at all in the San Diego area. Thank goodness!
I did one time find some shells that were clearly from Mexico on the beach in Encinitas in San Diego North County. And back in 1970 I remember someone showing me a very pretty small shell from the Gulf of California that they had found on the beach in La Jolla (I am certain it dropped out of someone’s pocket who had just bought it at the Scripps Aquarium gift shop, where they sold that species back then).
Perhaps it happens partly because Sanibel is so well known for its numerous shells, and also because there are a couple of shell shops right there on Sanibel, not very far from the beaches, and those shops do sell the bags of exotic shells that Pam shows in her images here.
Couple of years ago, I met a lady on the beach and she had found a BABYLONIA shell. She was sure it was a very rare shell.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but now I have an answer if it happens again.
“What a beautiful Wedding shell”.
I like that; If you don’t mind, I will use the same line when I need to! :)
Funny that you should mention the scattering for children, Pam. Just last week the lady who runs a local establishment called the Kooky Coconut told me the same thing.
I had two of my grandsons with me last fall searching for Sanibel shells. They would have been disappointed to find a great shell only to learn it wasn’t native to Sanibel.
Good information and lots of interesting feedback :)
Well, this answers and question I had in my mind from shelling this year. My husband found a shell that I had suspicions about. At first I thought he found a really rare shell for Sanibel, but the more I looked at it, the more suspicious I got. I told him ‘that shell doesn’t belong here’. I even thought I would bring it to the Shell Museum! Can you imagine how embarrassed I would have been!?!?!? Hmmm, I wonder if I kept it? I will have to look in my ‘check what they are pile’!! :0 !!! I don’t like the idea of people ‘littering’ these shells on Sanibel beaches. If I see any, I will pick them as do other ‘litter’ I see as I shell. Now I will have an addition to my collection and call them “Wedding Shells”!
That is just crazy. Why do this when you have an abundance of naturally found shells on the island anyway. Nature is best. Why can’t they see that? There is just no need in a place so naturally abundant in it’s own beautiful shells anyway.
I just got around to reading the complete post this morning. I never even gave a thought to people “decorating the beaches” with shells for weddings, etc. Though, in this day and age, I guess I am not surprised. Once you really “get into shelling”,
it becomes so much more than finding the most coveted kinds of shells (in my opinion). Every day is different on the beaches … due to weather, time of year, tides and currents. I am learning that whatever you find at the beach on any given day is a “gift from the sea” whether it is a shell you’ve always wanted to find or just the privilege of watching live shells as they grace our tide pools! It’s good to educate people on this “variety” of shells they might find on our beaches. I doubt we can stop them from doing this. But teachable moments like Pam’s blog post will help educate! Thanks so much, Pam.
I like finding Native shells on the beaches they are suppose to be found, and as far as grandparents putting shells for kids to find – that takes all the fun out of it. To this day when I still look for seaglass or shells i want to find them on my own and not have someone point it out to me, if they do i give it to them becasue I need to find on my own same with shells.
If I buy pretty shells from somewhere else in the world I use them at home, would not want to scatter them on a beach
You can find the Trochus here, but I never have. I’ve seen the live creature though.
As for grandparents buying and scattering non-native shells, that doesn’t seem like a good idea. Why not hide them in the condo and have an indoor “shell hunt”. Something to pass the time on a rainy afternoon. :-)
2 points to make:
1. My mom once burried a big shell for me to find while I was digging in the sand at Myrtle Beach. I sat on it, dug it up, and thought it was the best thing in the whole world! When I grew up and found out what she had done, it didn’t diminish the value for me. Granted, it was 1 shell in a controlled environment. I don’t think the grandparents are looking to spoil the environment or make scientists crazy. I think their hearts are in a good place, as I think the brides of Sanibel are also just wanting something beautiful and special. Perhaps Sanibel would consider some educational information on the websites and the Chamber of Commerce about “wedding” and “grandparents” alien shells, and to pick up whatever they put down?
2. I got married on Sanibel, and I picked it because it’s a wild, beautiful environment. I didn’t have more than a few chairs and a table for “decoration”. On our little table were native Sanibel shells that my wedding coordinator picked up. We still have them – a special part of our wedding collected from our special place. Perhaps that’s a good way to sell an eco-friendly wedding?
Sanibel is wonderful. I understand why people are protective of it. :)
Pam thanks for posting this much needed information. I support your point of view completely
Have a confession. When my niece and nephew were little, about 4 years old, I went to the Sanibel seashell shop and bought a bag of seashells. I hid them and we all went to the beach. Their Daddy would go out into the water with a sand bucket and I would dump a few of the shells in it (underwater do they wouldn’t see). He would bring them back to the beach and dump them in the sand. My nephew, who was really into seashells just knew we had some very expensive shells :-). You could hear their shrills of delight all over the beach. I’m sure
we lost a few in the sand but that day will forever be a sweet memory in my life and theirs.
Nooooo! I don’t come to Sanibel to find bagged shells! I’m sorry, but this just isn’t right. I want to find the native shells of Florida and if it happens to be something rare, let it not be a bagged shell please!! Ladies, spread birdseed like we do up North!
The shells in bags on store shelves always look so sad to me. What makes my shells special to me is that I found them myself and they bring back such warm memories of vacations past. Sanibel is beautiful enough on it’s own with an abundance of shells. Why would anyone want or need to sprinkle these foreign shells on a Sanibel beach??