A Brief Guide to the Classification of Conches and Sea Shells
How do we decode the enchanting things we find while strolling the beach...
No matter where you are in the world, every beach offers visitors rewards. The fact is that sea shells, conches, and the remains of other marine animals, though shipwrecked on the seashore, retain a very special magic. Once part of the living beings inadvertently inhabiting the oceans, as corpses, few can resist collecting them. This is perhaps because of their worn and polished qualities, or for their strange shapes and faint colors. But these skeletons can’t help but fascinate us and invite us to know a little more about them, about their classifications and their former owners. It’s an encounter with the life that blooms beneath the sea.
There are many types of graphic guides (like this one) to give you more information about the shells found on the beaches of the world. This short guide, courtesy of Atlas Obscura, offers expert advice on invertebrate sea animals and on finding, recognizing and classifying them…
Identify the Habitat
Are you facing a body of fresh or salt water? Are there strong currents or is the water still? The answers to these questions will give you clues as to the origins and types of animals you can find there. Sandy beaches, for example, are often home to bivalves, animals of the Mollusca phylum, and who have two lateral valves. They normally live buried beneath the sand. Rocky beaches, on the other hand, are home to chitons (or “sea cradles”), snails, and limpets —all of them capable of adhering themselves to the surface of rocks.
Count the Valves
The number of any marine animal’s valves gives us many clues about the species, so it’s important to count them. Among the most common, gastropods have a single shell and bivalves have two. For their part, the shells of chitons, or sea cradles, have eight linked parts.
Note the Color
In general, tropical shells will have brighter colors than those of animals from colder waters. In particular, those from intertidal zones in regions like Alaska, Siberia, Canada, and Greenland, all have dark and sometimes black shells in order to conserve heat. The tone of a shell can also give information about the depth of the waters and the region from which it came.
Shells can also vary in coloration despite being from the same species. There are some which change their appearance over time and lose their color with age, as is the case with the Icelandic clam (Arctica islandica), which, in its youth, has brown and white patterns; these disappear as the clam ages. Usually, the older a shell is, the less striking is its appearance.
Some shells are simply unmistakable for their beauty. The queen conch (Lobatus gigas) with its pearly lip and wavy edges, and the shell of the spider conch (Lambis lambis) with its pointed protuberances, are but two examples of how a striking style can be an indicator of age. The queen conch, for instance, stops being rolled by the waves when it reaches sexual maturity, after which its outer lip will thicken.
The size of the shell, though, does not necessarily denote age. For example, the giant clam (Tridacna gigas) reaches an enormous size from a young age, and its shells can weigh more than 200 kilograms. Some smaller clams may even grow up to one centimeter a month under the right conditions. On the other hand, an Icelandic clam specimen found recently, and named “Ming,” measures five centimeters and is estimated to have lived for between 400 and 500 years.
Some recommendations for finding sea shells
- 1. Choose a good time. There will always be opportunities for finding conches and shells when the tide is low. A low tide allows for better visibility of what’s recently been expelled by the sea and it’s much easier to find shells than when they’re under the waves. Before setting out on your search, it’s also good to check a map of sea currents, as these will indicate in which regions of a beach you’re more likely to find shells. Storms can also send many marine animals to the beaches, especially during the winter.
- Bring the right tools. Many enthusiastic collectors use them when searching. Tools can include a magnifying glass and knee pads to be able to kneel more comfortably, especially if you’re looking for small shells. If not, a bucket, or bag, a small metal shovel and a sieve will suffice.
- Check out the area. You can divide it into a grid before you start searching.
- Take some with you. After all, they’re some of the most beautiful things in the world.
Pictorial spiritism (a woman's drawings guided by a spirit)
There are numerous examples in the history of self-taught artists which suggest an interrogation of that which we take for granted within the universe of art. Such was the case with figures like
Astounding fairytale illustrations from Japan
Fairy tales tribal stories— are more than childish tales. Such fictions, the characters of which inhabit our earliest memories, aren’t just literary works with an aesthetic and pleasant purpose. They
A cinematic poem and an ode to water: its rhythms, shapes and textures
Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. - John Keats Without water the equation of life, at least life as we know it, would be impossible. A growing hypothesis holds that water, including the
Watch beauty unfold through science in this "ode to a flower" (video)
The study of the microscopic is one of the richest, most aesthetic methods of understanding the world. Lucky is the scientist who, upon seeing something beautiful, is able to see all of the tiny
To invent those we love or to see them as they are? Love in two of the movies' favorite scenes
So much has been said already, of “love” that it’s difficult to add anything, much less something new. It’s possible, though, perhaps because even if you try to pass through the sieve of all our
This app allows you to find and preserve ancient typographies
Most people, even those who are far removed from the world of design, are familiar with some type of typography and its ability to transform any text, help out dyslexics or stretch an eight page paper
The secrets of the mind-body connection
For decades medical research has recognized the existence of the placebo effect — in which the assumption that a medication will help produces actual physical improvements. In addition to this, a
The sea as infinite laboratory
Much of our thinking on the shape of the world and the universe derives from the way scientists and artists have approached these topics over time. Our fascination with the mysteries of the
Sharing and collaborating - natural movements of the creative being
We might sometimes think that artistic or creative activity is, in essence, individualistic. The Genesis of Judeo-Christian tradition portrays a God whose decision to create the world is as vehement
John Malkovich becomes David Lynch (and other characters)
John Malkovich and David Lynch are, respectively, the actor and film director who’ve implicitly or explicitly addressed the issues of identity and its porous barriers through numerous projects. Now