Shells from Florida

These shells were found in Sarasota and other areas of West Florida on field trips with the Sarasota Shell Club and others. Field photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 2100 digital camera and aquarium shots with a Nikon D100 with 16MM Macro lens. The camera's flash works well for aquarium shots, since it hits the glass at a point higher than the lens's focus.

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Simnia uniplicata

This lovely little (up to 3/4 inch long) shell lives and feeds on purple gorgonians, or sea whips, which are a soft coral. In Sarasota we occasionally find gorgonians in the bay, and they sometimes carry a Simnia. The mollusk aligns itself with the axis of the coral and its color and body color mimic its host, so it's very difficult to see. Furthermore, the coral has white polyps that emerge from the purple skeleton and the mantle of the mollusk is also purple with white pustules that look exactly like the coral.

In this photo the mollusk has crawled off the sea whip.

Muricantharus multangulus

These shells may be mottled browns, or solid yellow, orange, or bluish gray.

Muricantharus multangulus

An orange specimen.

Muricantharus multangulus

In some seasons these "False Drills" are common in Sarasota Bay, usually on dead clam shells, where they lay their eggs. The male waits while the female lays the eggs.

Prunum apicinum

Very active little animmals that eat the meat left in shells by larger predators, you often see large aggregations of these common marginellas on dead clams or fish.

Columbella rusticoides

A dove shell that lives on turtle grass in the bays.

Pollia tincta

A common Buccinid found on rocks or clam shells.

Haminoea species

"Paper Bubble"

These animals are actually too large to fit inside the shell, which is only about 1/4 inch in length. The wide "head" helps it to burrow in the sand. Note the eyes on top of the head. The animal is spotted with red and black, which shows through the very thin shell.

Haminoea species

"Paper Bubble"

See how small the shell is in relation to my finger!

Urosalpinx perrugata/I>

The Gulf Oyster Drill uses its radula combined with an acid secretion to make a neat hole in the shells of bivalves, allowing it to suck out the meat.

Pleuroploca gigantea

This specimen is a very young example of a species that can grow to nearly two feet in length. When small, they are brilliant orange, with an orange operculum.

Pleuroploca gigantea

In adulthood the body remains orange and the shell is brown with a dark periostracum. This animal is eating another mollusk.

Seila adamsii

Only about 1/2 inch in length, this tiny shell is found in groups inside dead clam shells.

Conus spurius

This beautiful shell was found alive on a peaty shore at very low tide near Marco Island.

Laevicardium mortonii

A small cockle, the interior of this shell is bright yellow with brown lines. As a child I called it the "Scrambled Egg Cockle".

Conus jaspideus stearnsi

When the tide is about to start coming in from its lowest point these small cones emerge from the sand bars to begin hunting food.

Calotrophon ostrearum

Usually a white shell with a purplish mouth. This specimen, however, has no color in the aperture and may be an "albino". Pure white shells are fairly common in the Marco Island area where it was found.

Olivella floralia

Living on beaches in the surf zone, these animals need to be able to burrow quickly when washed out of the sand by waves. For this purpose they have a large foot with a spatulate end which easily plows into the sand. They also secrete a lot of mucus that eases their passage through sand.

Phyllonotus pomum

"Apple Murex"

Buried during the low tide, lots of these animals were popping out of the sand as the tide turned near Marco Island.

Chicoreus dilectus

"Lace Murex"

Found live on a beach near Marco Island.

Murex rubidus

"Rose Murex"

On the same beach. I was delighted to find this shell, since I've only collected live specimens while diving before.

Murex rubidus

"Rose Murex"

Trachycardium egmontianum

"Rose Cockle"

Common in bays in west Florida, this one was near Marco Island.

Oliva sayana


The long siphon of this animal allows it to breathe and sniff from far under the sand where it buries itself during low tide.

Fasciolaria lilium hunteria

"Banded Tulip"

Lots of these animals come to the bays to lay eggs during winter months.

Fasciolaria lilium hunteria

"Banded Tulip"

They lay eggs in pouches that look like lovely pink flowers.

Fasciolaria tulipa

"True Tulip"

Closely related to the "Banded Tulip", the shells found in bays are usually gray-green. This voracious hunter is looking for meat as the tide is coming in.

Perna viridis

"Green Mussel"

A recently-arrived invasive species from Asia, the Green Mussel was first noticed in West Florida only a few years ago. Now it is found throughout Tampa and Sarasota Bays. It's pretty, but it clogs intake pipes and takes up space that native species need. However, it may serve to help clean the water by its filter feeding process!

Hemitoma octoradiata

This limpet has a spectacular turquoise and scarlet colored animal, and it leaves a sticky residue on your fingers! I suspect these are warnings to predators that it tastes bad!

Calliostoma euglyptum

I used to dive these up frequently on rock reefs at 45 feet off Sarasota.

Littoraria angulifera


These air breathers like mangroves above the water.

Epitonium albidum


Sand dwellers, these delicate shells are sometimes found at the low tide line in West Florida.

Janthina janthina

"Purple Snail"

A fascinating lifestyle: making a bubble raft by capturing air in mucous pockets, these animals spend their lives floating on the open ocean where they hunt jellyfish, especially Portuguese Man O' War. Thousands of them might be together in one colony, and they even lay eggs under a bubble raft. If they fall to the bottom they will die.

Naticarius canrena

"Colorful Atlantic Natica"

The animal is more colorful than the shell. Note the large, spatulate foot, which is useful for plowing under the sand, aided also by heavy secretions of mucous.

Cymatium occidentale

As far as I know, this species is not in the Gulf of Mexico. This specimen came from 60 feet deep at West Palm Beach under rubble at a reef.

Bursa granularis

This specimen came from 60 feet deep at West Palm Beach.

Distorsio clathrata

Because the animal does not dissolve the protruding lip of the shell when it "grows" by adding shell material, the new whorl is distorted around it. This specimen came from a place where scallop fishermen dumped the empty scallop shells and bycatch at Cape Canaveral - now a parking lot for cruise ships.

Aspella senex

A lovely little shell, almost flat in side view.

Gemophos auritulus

"Gaudy Cantharus"

Lives among rocks in the Florida Keys and south.

Dibamitra florida

"Florida Miter"

A rare find, unfortunately not mine! From a reef at 30 feet off the Florida Keys.

Conus anabathrum

"Florida Cone"

This one is from the Keys; they can be found from Tampa south.

Conus mindanus

"Bermuda Cone"

From sand pockets on top of a reef at 30 feet off the Florida Keys.

Conus mus

"Mouse Cone"

Common at the shoreward edge of the reefs off the Keys.