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, 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 TROCHUSshell… 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…