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Discover 8 beautiful shells

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What are sea shells?

Shells are mainly composed of calcium carbonate or chitin, usually from marine invertebrates. They can be found on the beach. Often, these shells are empty because the animal has died and its soft parts have decomposed or been eaten by another animal.

Some common examples of shells include those from molluscs, barnacles, horseshoe crabs, brachiopods, sea urchins, and molted shells from crabs and lobsters. There are also inner shells of some cephalopods.

Seashells have a long history of being used by humans for a variety of purposes, both in prehistoric times and in modern times. In addition to shells, many different species of shells are found in freshwater habitats, such as mussels and freshwater snails, as well as terrestrial snails.

How are shells made?

The process of shell formation begins in the mantle, the outer layer of tissue that connects molluscs to their shells. Specialized cells in the mantle form and secrete the proteins and minerals necessary to build the protective layer. These proteins help create a framework on which the rest of the shell can grow. At the same time, calcium carbonate helps interlayer bonding by providing strength and stiffness to the structure as it grows.

These components take weeks or months to assemble into a cohesive unit. When intact, the shell provides essential protection from predators, parasites, and environmental stressors such as temperature changes or pollution. After their formation, certain species can also use their shells to camouflage themselves in different habitats by changing their color or shape.

How many types of shells are there?

Between 70,000 and 120,000 species of animals live in shells. Here, we'll highlight eight beautiful shell species that you can find on your local beach.

1. Abalone shell

Abalone shell
All abalones have natural holes on one side through which seawater can be drawn in for breathing.

© Pi-Lens/Shutterstock.com

Abalone shells are often seen as a beautiful addition to any home decor. They are used in various ways such as tableware, jewelry and buttons. The shell's spiral pattern is one of its signature features, which sets it apart from other shells.

All abalones have natural holes on one side through which seawater can be drawn in for breathing. These molluscs cling to rocks with large, muscular feet that are also edible and revered. Creative minds can use these cases for projects; they make lovely knife handle decorations, or even inlay designs on furniture or artwork. Abalone shells are also used in spiritual practices such as anointing rituals.

Common types of abalone shells include green abalone, red abalone, pearl abalone, white abalone, butter abalone and abalone.

2. Shells

cowry
The mother-of-pearl is oval and smooth to the touch, but is lined with tiny teeth around the lips on either side of the opening.

©Klaus Vartzbed/Shutterstock.com

Seashells are some of the most beautiful and unique shells on Earth. They come in about 200 different varieties, each with its own unique color, pattern and texture. Native to warm coastal waters, these shells can be found glistening in sand beds or coral reefs.

The mother-of-pearl is oval and smooth to the touch, but is lined with tiny teeth around the lips on either side of the opening. While shells were once used as currency by the people who lived near these coastal areas, today, they are mostly appreciated for their beauty. People love using them as jewelry, charms, or collectibles—sometimes called "sailor lovers"—and even incorporating them into craft projects. However you choose to use them, it's hard not to be captivated by the vibrant colors and intricate patterns of these amazing sea creatures!

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Common shells include tiger shells, deer shells, money shells, purple top shells, and egg shells.

3. Melon shell

melon shell
Melon shells belong to the genus of volutes, but are slightly different.

© Meshutt/Shutterstock.com

Melon shells or volutes are attractive sea shells with distinctive markings and wide holes. The name voluta means "to form one or more spiral curves" in Latin. These colorful shells have an inner lip with three or four braids (grooves, teeth, or folds). They also have an initial bulbous thread at the tip of the shell, which looks like a shiny nub.

You can find volutes on the sandy or muddy bottom of corals, mainly in deep water in tropical seas, and they are all carnivorous. Melon shells belong to the genus of volutes, but are slightly different. They are rounder and fatter, taking on the shape of a melon. These sea creatures get their name "fishing shells" because of their ability to hold large amounts of water, which allows them to be used to salvage boats in times of need.

Common melon shell types include royal volute, noble volute, volute lapponica, and Philippine melon.

4. Murex Hull

Murex Hull
While some Murex shells are bright and vibrant in color, most shells tend to be more muted in color.

©Akira II/Shutterstock.com

Murex shells are renowned for their incredible decorative and sculptural range. From intricate leaf spines to webbed wings, lacy frills and knobby threads, these shells have a lot to offer collectors. While some Murex shells are bright and vibrant in color, most shells tend to be more muted in color. However, they still possess an undeniable beauty that makes them sought after items by collectors worldwide.

These molluscs inhabit a variety of habitats in the world's oceans — from the tropics all the way to near the poles — where they feed on other mollusk species, such as bivalves. They often live in muddy, sandy areas where they blend in easily.

Common types of murex shells include murex ramosus, pink murex, endiva spine murex, and virgin murex.

5. Nautilus shell

Top 10 Shellfish - Coelom Nautilus
The coeloid nautilus is found all over the world, but is most common in the central Philippines.

©kikujungboy CC/Shutterstock.com

Nautiluses are unique among cephalopods in having an external spiral shell. This remarkable structure is made up of many chambers and is mathematically perfectly proportioned, a testament to natural engineering. The air in these chambers helps them control buoyancy as they hunt for prey such as lobsters, crabs, hermit crabs and other creatures on the seafloor.

Chambered nautiluses are found all over the world, but are most commonly found in the central Philippines, where fishermen use chickens as bait to set traps to catch them for food. These molluscs date back 500 million years, making them one of the oldest living species alive today, earning them the title of "living fossil."

Common nautilus shell types are natural nautilus, pearl nautilus, and heart-cut nautilus.

6. Turbine housing

turbo shell
Turbine housings tend to be very durable, but can crack if handled too roughly or exposed to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time.

© Lost Mountain Studio/Shutterstock.com

Turbines, also known as turbans, are top-shaped shells with a wide opening and a pointed top. They belong to the large Turbinidae family consisting of hundreds of species mainly found in tropical oceans. These molluscs are vegetarian and feed mainly on seaweed.

Depending on the type, the shells range from smooth to spiny, and can be brightly colored or muted shades such as brown, white, and gray. They tend to be very durable, but they can crack if handled too roughly or exposed to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time. Additionally, some species have been known to live up to 40 years in the wild, making them ideal shells for collectors looking for rare or unique items!

Common turbo shell types are pearled jade turbo, green jade turbo, polished silver mouth and spotted turbo.

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7. Clam shells

clams
Clamshells can be found along beaches and shorelines, making them easily accessible to many people.

© Shanshan 0312/Shutterstock.com

A clam is a mollusk found in the ocean that has two shells that can open and close. They differ from other bivalves in that they bury themselves in the sediment rather than clinging to the substrate like scallops, oysters or mussels. Clams can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, fried or made into a chowder.

Clamshells can be found along beaches and shorelines, making them easily accessible to many people. Their beautiful and unique shapes make them great home or office decorations. Collectors may also find themselves drawn to clamshells because of their wide range of sizes, colors, and patterns, which create interesting displays when placed together.

The clamshell has a long history, too. Aboriginal cultures have traditionally used them for tools such as jewelry, weapons, utensils, and more. So they are not only visually pleasing, but also symbolic!

Common types of clam shells are whole pearl clam, bear's paw clam, Cardium heart, jumbo ark, and heavy cockle.

8. Scallop Shells

Scallop shells are bivalve molluscs with a fan-shaped shell consisting of two hinged halves.

© Top view of 20 scallop shells stacked in a metal tray / Shutterstock.com

The scallop shell is a marine bivalve mollusk related to oysters and clams. What distinguishes scallops from other shellfish is their ability to swim. By opening and closing their shells in rapid succession, they can propel themselves in a zigzag direction.

You can find scallops in tropical and polar waters, but most species thrive in warmer climates. Scallop shells are bivalve molluscs with a fan-shaped shell consisting of two hinged halves. The exterior of the scallop shell is usually brown, white, or pink and has ribs radiating along its edges. Scallops are usually between 2 and 5 inches wide. They live in shallow water habitats all over the world.

Common types of scallop shells are orange lion's claw, Irish deep sea mussel, purple pectin, yellow pectin, and palladium pectin.

What's the best way to find all kinds of shells?

Exploring different beaches and tide pools can help you find a great variety of shells. Bring supplies such as buckets, nets and gloves so you don't harm any creatures while collecting shells.

Is there anything I should know before collecting shells?

When collecting shells, it is important to be aware of any local codes and regulations that may exist. Additionally, many beaches are protected areas where shell collection is completely prohibited. In some locations, you cannot collect more than a certain size or number of shells.

Also, never take live beach animals as souvenirs – this can damage the local environment by destroying species in their habitat and disrupting the food chain.

Also, when walking on the beach, always follow designated paths and do not disturb wildlife or vegetation; obey all posted signs regarding access restrictions and respect private property boundaries where applicable. Collecting only dead shells that are naturally separated from their pristine habitat will help ensure that no harm is done to organisms or the environment during your collection activities.

Is anyone home?

In addition to shells, many different species of shells are found in freshwater habitats, such as mussels and freshwater snails, as well as terrestrial snails.

©Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com

When you pick up a shell, it can be difficult to tell if the animal that once lived in it is still alive. To determine if this is the case, place the shell in a container of seawater or a small tide pool and observe it for a few minutes. If all goes well after a while, the animal will begin to emerge from its hiding place within the shell and begin exploring its new environment. Here's your hint that they are indeed alive! At this point, quickly release them back to their natural habitat where you found them so they can continue living without human interference.

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When is the best time to collect seashells?

Low tide is the best time to collect shells, as the shoreline is exposed and more of the seabed is revealed. During this time, you can find shells of different types and sizes on the beach or in shallow water. It's best to look for shells at low tide, as high tide will bring back most of the water, washing away any potentially important finds you may come across. Check online sources such as tide charts or websites for real-time information on local tide times and to find out when the tide is low. Alternatively, you can check your local newspaper or dive shop for printed timetables and other details pertaining to the tides in your area.

Can you hear the ocean in a shell?

The noise you hear when you hold a shell to your ear is actually the sound of air passing through its surface. This noise is similar to what you might hear when you hold any type of bowl or container close to your ear.

To demonstrate, place a hand around your ear and notice the sound coming from it—this is an example of ambient noise in a resonant cavity. The type of sound a shell makes varies with the size of the shell, its shape, and any contours within the shell that cause air turbulence as it passes through or over the shell. In other words, no two enclosures will sound exactly the same, as each enclosure has its own unique characteristics that affect how much resonance its particular design can resonate.

How to clean shells?

These shells are easy to care for as long as they are empty. If you find an animal still living inside, discard it and wash the enclosure with soap and water in a bowl. After cleaning, place them on the paper with the opening facing down so they can dry without leaving any residue or moisture.

To bring out their natural color, apply a small amount of silicone grease or jelly to your finger and rub it around the crust, then wipe it off with a soft cloth or towel. Avoid using any acid-based products, as this can damage the casing over time. If foreign objects are stuck to the shells, soak them in a diluted bleach solution until they loosen and come off easily. Appreciate nature's wonderful creations by taking good care of your shells!

Summary of 8 types of shells

  1. abalone
  2. cowry
  3. melon
  4. Murex
  5. nautilus
  6. turbine
  7. Clam
  8. scallop

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featured image

shell
In addition to shells, many different species of shells are found in freshwater habitats, such as mussels and freshwater snails, as well as terrestrial snails.

© Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com


about the author

Heather Hall


I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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source
  1. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, available here: https://www.whoi.edu/know-your-ocean/did-you-know/how-are-seashells-made/
  2. Marine National Park Headquarters, available here: https://www.marine.gov.tw/ecology-and-conservation/latest-discovery/marine-knowledge/98-Ecological%20Knowledge/614-How%20many%20types %20of% 20sea%20shells%20are%20 have it?
  3. San Diego Natural History Museum, available here: https://www.sdnhm.org/science/marine-invertebrates/resources/faqs-on-marine-invertebrates/
  4. Naples Seashells, available here: https://naplessseashellcompany.com/scallop_seashells.html