Shell Seekers

Regardless of the beach, there are particular times that are better than others for finding truly unique shells. After a storm, collectors may find spectacular shells, as the shells are pulled from their ocean floor fossil beds and washed ashore. Additionally, during anew moon or a full moon, the rise and fall of the tides increases, producing more shells on the beach.  Don’t forget to search through seaweed found on the beach—often shells are entangled in the seaweed, and small but perfect shell specimens can be found.

the collection
Most of the shells found on the beach are fairly young. Occasionally, though, an older ecto-skelton from the late Pleistocene era may be found on the shore—approximately 10,000 years old. How can you determine the age of your treasure? Color is a key factor—a dark gray shade may indicate a rare or old specimen. A true treasure you may find during your shell searching is the lettered olive shell. This shiny little shell resembles an olive and was first documented by Edmund Ravenel, a     19th century naturalist who donated a collection of shells to the Charleston Museum that is still on exhibit today. If you find this shell, you’ll have a special
memento —the lettered olive is also the state’s official shell.


how to preserve sea shells
Shells found on the beach need to be thoroughly examined to ensure there is no creature living within. If the shell is empty, soak the shell for several days in a solution of half water and half bleach. Rinse well with fresh water and dry the shell in the sun. If algae is present, it can be removed by gently rubbing the shell in fresh water after bleaching. To add more luster to your shell, polish the shell with mineral oil. Sand dollars can be preserved by placing them in fresh water. The water may turn brownish in color— change the water until the water remains clear. Replace half the water with bleach and leave the sand dollar immersed for 15 minutes to bleach the sand dollar white. Do not use too much bleach or leave in the solution for too long, as the bleach will cause the sand dollar to crumble. Rinse the sand dollar well with fresh water to remove the bleach, and allow it to dry in the sun. If your collection includes sea horses or sea stars, you’ll need to carefully preserve them, as their odor can become quite foul. Soak the sea horse or sea star in 70-percent rubbing alcohol for one or two nights. Allow to dry on a paper towel in the sun. With sea stars, you’ll need to flatten the arms with a small weight while drying or they may curl.   



Things You Always Wanted to Know About Shells


  There are between 50,000 and 200,000 mollusk species alive in the world today. Estimates vary depending on who's guessing the number of undiscovered species!

  Mollusk evolution began more than 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period.

  Paleontologists use fossil shells to tell what the climate might have been like millions of years ago. Comparing fossil shells with their living relatives that only live in cold or warm climates can give some clues.

  Some oysters may shed over one million eggs in a season! Only about one out of every million of these oyster eggs lives to adulthood.

  Female cowries sit on top of their eggs to protect them from enemies!

  Some oysters alternate their gender: Male one year, female the next!

  A snail grows a bigger shell by getting calcium carbonate and other ingredients from the water and food it eats, then uses its fleshy mantle to add the new materials to the shell.

  When a hermit crab needs a bigger shell, it seeks a larger empty snail shell and moves in! Without a shell provided by a snail, it's naked!

  A young abalone that eats red seaweed produces a red shell! Color pigments from food can affect the shell color of some mollusks.

  Nudibranch is a mollusk family that doesn’t have a shell. Most are beautifully colored, too!

  Ninety-nine percent of all snail species have shell whorls that coil in a clockwise direction.

  Scallops have dozens of eyes. They help a scallop to see predators, so it will know when to swim away or clam-up!

  Carrier shells attach other shells or stones to their own shell for protection and camouflage.

  Shells have been used throughout history for art, jewelry, money, scientific study, buttons, ink, road gravel and chicken feed (for stronger egg shells!).

  Some cone shells obtain food by harpooning, paralyzing and eating fish!

  We hear the sound of the seashore inside large shells because the shell echoes surrounding sounds, jumbling and amplifying them.

  Many land snails can lift ten times their own weight up a vertical surface.

  Mr. Thomas Green of La Plata, Maryland, consumed 350 edible snails in eight and a half minutes.

  Mike Racz in Invercargill, New Zealand, opened 100 oysters in 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

  The ocean quahog Arctica islandica can live to be 220 years old!

  The deepsea bivalve Tindaria callistiformis grows only one-third of an inch (8.4mm) in 100 years!

  Boring clams can sink a ship! One of them, the misnamed Teredo Shipworm, earned its name by ruining wooden boats. It's actually a clam, and can bore through a six-inch thick plank of wood in less than one year!

  Many species of snails and clams breathe through a snorkel, or siphon, when they bury themselves in the mud or sand.

  Most mollusks are capable of making pearls when foreign substances enter their shells! They coat the foreign substance with shelly material.

  It takes about two years to grow a pearl. Some clams can grow pearls as big as golf balls in ten years!