How to Identify Types of Shells

Written by sara harvey
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How to Identify Types of Shells
Identifying seashells is a beautiful and educational hobby. (sunbathing seashell image by timur1970 from Fotolia.com)

A seashell on a kitchen table can be a simple and natural decoration or a shell hunter's trophy. If it's a rare variety or colour, for a particular type, what would otherwise be sea debris can turn into a conversation piece. They tell a story about the marine animals that once took shelter inside the exoskeleton, nicked and worn by the waves and sand. Beachcombers who enjoy hunting for and identifying shells always find treasure in the sea.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Container or bag
  • Seashell reference book
  • Notebook

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Gather rare and quality shells early in the day, before the crowds arrive. Scan the beaches at the high-water line to pick out potential treasures others may miss, and wander over the entire beach after a storm. Heavy waves toss up wide varieties of shells.

  2. 2

    Rinse the shell. Identify the shell's colour and shape more clearly by rinsing off sand and debris in the ocean. Rinse it again in a sink and scrub with a toothbrush to remove any organic matter to keep your suitcase from smelling like old fish. "The natural colour of seashells are often quite different from what you find at the beach," according to SeaShells.org. "A good cleaning is all that is needed."

  3. 3

    Examine the shell. Identify seashells as the exoskeletons of mollusks, crabs, sand-dollars, or other marine animals, by a few broad characteristics. For example, what people most commonly consider "seashells" are mollusc shells, like clam shells, where two shells once connected to shelter an animal inside.

  4. 4

    Check reference materials. Carry a pocket reference guide, check online materials, or examine entire shell encyclopedias to determine whether the shell, more specifically, is an Atlantic Kitten's Paw or a strawberry conch. For example, the "Compendium of Seashells" by R. Tucker Abbot and S. Peter Dance is a colour guide to more than 4,200 of the world's marine shells.

  5. 5

    Classify the identification. Once you've identified a shell, make a note of it in a beachcombing journal, and display the shell on a tray with numbers or labels. Since digital cameras are so prevalent, it would probably be wise to label a photo collection of the finds, or post it online as a seashell blog. Seashells by Millhill is an example of a photography and beachcombing blog.

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