Many of us remember childhood vacations spent along the water's edge, shoulders hunched, eyes glued to the ground. We were looking for seashells. Those shells that remind us of the dog days of summer are probably sitting in a jar or on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. Put them to good use by learning to identify them. Then, when your children are spending their time at the water's edge, you'll be able to teach them a thing or two while making memories.
Most seashells are the external skeletons of slug-like creatures in the Mollusca family. Also in this family are common snails that are the bane of many gardeners' existence and most of the shellfish typically found on the menu. In fact, there are at least 50,000 species in the mollusc family. On the seashore, some of the more easily found shells are the fighting conch, jujube top-shell, coquina and calico scallop. They are categorised according to whether they are hinged (bivalve) or not (gastropod).
Famous for holding the sound of the ocean, this animal is harvested for its shell and its meat, which is a delicacy is parts of the Caribbean and Florida. It has many names, including the queen conch, Strombus Gigas, pink conch and Caribbean conch. It is also known as the Trumpet of the Ocean for islanders' use of the shell as a hornlike instrument. The animal grazes on algae and sea grass, earning it another moniker: sea cow of the shell world.
Sand dollars belong to the Phylum Echinodermata, class Echinoidea. They move by utilising small hairlike spines on their bodies and are often found lying under a layer of sand. Usually round in shape, the animal has no arms or legs. Common types include the arrowhead, flat round, sea biscuit, pancake and sea gopher.
Starfish are not fish; they belong to the same phylum as sand dollars. Voracious predators, starfish are responsible for claiming the mollusks that inhabit the seashells commonly found on beaches. Generally depicted as having five legs, there are species that have more. Further, starfish are divided into two classes: brittle stars and sea stars. Among the brittle stars are the basket star and the aptly named brittle star. Sea stars include the more familiar types--beaded star, brown star and sugar star--and the less common sunflower star, nine armed star, common North Atlantic starfish, netted and Bahamas star.
Other sea creatures commonly found along the shore include sea urchins, sponges, crabs, sea fans, egg casings, seahorses, trigger fish and mermaid purses.