Shells

I cannot say I am a collector of shells, since that would require a knowledge I do not have. However, I am a great appreciator of the extreme beauty shown by the "external skeletons" of some animals of the phylum of Molluscs (Mollusca). Thus, I have been acquiring, without definite plan or purpose, specimens that impress me either by their odd look or by their beauty.

GASTROPODS (GASTROPODA)

The class of Gastropods include more than 3/4 of all Molluscs, from which about a half are marine species.

During my childhood and youth, in the beaches here around Porto, many small shells could be found: mussels, limpets, several types of small whelks, of bivalves similar to cockles and, of all the most appreciated, the "beijinhos". "Beijinho" (little kiss in portuguese) is the popular name given in Portugal to the bean cowry - see below.

I, and I dare say, almost everyone else, was enchanted by the "beijinhos"! Small, rarely exceeding 10 mm, of a delicate and perfect shape, they are like small jewels, a kind of poor man's pearl!

At low tide, many people could be seen wandering the beach, curved, picking up shells, specially "beijinhos". Even when lying on the sand, it was easy to find "beijinhos". I wonder if this name comes from some sweethearts's game,in which the prize was a kiss for each "beijinho" found, or was simply suggested by its shape of lips ready to kiss?

The "beijinho" was so popular that one beach in Leça (near Porto) is still named "Praia dos Beijinhos" or "Beijinhos" beach. The "beijinhos" themselves have almost completely disappeared. Are they perhaps nearly extinct in the beaches around Porto? Are they victims of the pollution that we spread everywhere?

The "beijinho", whose scientific name is Trivia monacha is a gastropod of the TRIVIIDAE family. Its English common names are bean cowry, spotted cowry or common European cowry.

It occurs from the Mediterranean to the British Islands and its size varies between 7 and 12 mm.

Family TRIVIIDAE is very close to another, the family CYPRAEIDAE, and for this reason the gastropods now classified in the first have been included in the second, for a long time.

For a non-expert like me, the most noticeable difference between the two families is the fact that the TRIVIIDAE shells have wrinkles and the CYPRAEIDAE ones do not. Besides, TRIVIIDAE shells are usually smaller.

The brilliant surface of the cowries (CYPRAEIDAE family) led the Portuguese sailors of the XVI century, which found them abundantly in the African coast, to think that it was from these that the Chinese made porcelain. For that reason, they are commonly called as porcelains. The family include about 200 different species, some very common, mainly in the tropics.

The cowries' popularity is so big that, during thousands of years, one of these shells, the coin-cowrie (Cypraea moneta) on the right), has been used as money.

This shell presents a large variation; therefore there are specimens with different colours and different shapes, as well.

My shell has 2.1 cm, a bit below the average, which is 2.5 cm.

The beautiful, although small, snake-head cowry has several subspecies through the Indo-Pacific tropical region.

This one I believe to be the Cypraea caputserpentis kenyonae, native of Austral Africa where lives in the coral reefs.

This specimen is 2.7 cm long, being the normal size between 1.5 and 4.3 cm.

 

One of the most beautiful cowries is certainly the tiger-cowrie (Cypraea tigris), despite being very common and therefore very easy to obtain.

Its habitat is in the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region and the average size of the adult specimens is 9 cm (mine is 7.5 cm).

Giant and entirely black forms are known.

 

Another remarkable cowrie is the mole-cowrie (Cypraea talpa). Very brilliant and beautifully coloured easily seduces any shells lover.

It can be also found in the coral reefs of Indo-Pacific, between 5 and 10 m deep.

My specimen is 6.3 cm long, a little bit above the average that is 5.6 cm.

 

The Arabian cowry (Cypraea arabica) has numerous subspecies living in the Indo-Pacific region, from Eastern Africa to Tahiti, and from Japan to Australia, with sizes between 3.3 and 6 cm. This one has 5.5 cm.

 

The lynx cowry (Cypraea lynx) is also native of Indo-Pacific and its size is between 2.7 and 7.8 cm. My nice specimen is 5.1 cm long.

 

The eglantine cowry (Cypraea eglantina) is certainly not one of the prettiest cowries, but being a porcelain it is at least quite interesting.

It lives in Central Pacific, Philippines and Indonesia and its size can vary from 3.5 to 8.5 cm. My shell is 5.9 cm long.

 

Very beautiful and very rare, the golden cowry (Cypraea aurantium) is one of the most desired shells by collectors.

Its habitat is outside of the reefs of Southwest of Pacific, from Philippines to Solomon and Fiji Islands.

Its size varies from 5.8 to 11.7 cm and my shell has 9.3 cm.

On the right one can see the particular aspect of this shell spiral and its white colour.

It is also noticeable the big development of the margin around the upper channel.

 

I ignore the reason why the minstrel or histrio cowry (Cypraea histrio) has received this name, but I guess that Nature has had great fun on creating this fantastic shell!

In fact, only an artist with a delirious imagination could produce such a work! On the back, the pattern looks like a delicate mosaic of some ancient civilization, over which a few of mysterious spots are superposed! Beyond the mantle line the pattern changes to a mosaic of smaller and scattered tiles! Finally, the base presents dark spots on an almost white background, as we can see on the ventral zone of several felines like the leopard and the jaguar, for example! Incredible!

It is native of the Indian Ocean, though there is a subspecies in Australia, and its size varies from 2.3 to 8.8 cm. My shell corresponds to the Maldives endemic variety and is 5.3 cm long.

 

Family OVULIDAE is close to family CYPRAEIDAE and includes thin and light shells, usually very attractive.

The flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) is a small shell, with a curious shape and mainly very beautiful.

It inhabits in a wide region that spreads out from Southeast of Florida, Caribbean to Brazil.

My specimen, which I brought from Cuba, Provincia de Oriente, is 2.5 cm long, precisely the average size of this shell.

 

The abalones, sea-ears or royal-limpets (HALIOTIDAE family) have flattened shells with holes in the final circumvolution used by the animal for breathing. They live on submerged reefs over which they slide easily. The internal surface is iridescent, showing in the centre the scar of the muscle.

 

 

The rainbow-abalone (Haliotis iris) is exclusive of New Zealand, where it is known as black-foot or paua, in Maori language. Actually, the natural shell's external surface is black, although my specimen has been polished to show the beautiful iridescence of the inner layer. Its size can reach 20 cm, though mine is only 14 cm.

 

The top shells belong to the TROCHIDAE family, which include hundreds of species spread over the entire world. Colourful outside, they have the internal surface striped of nacre.

As the inner layer is nacreous, frequently the sellers polish them to make the most of their hidden beauty. The problem is that for non-expert people like me, to classify these shells becomes a very hard task! The following shell is a perfect example.

Before, I thought it would be a strawberry/cone-shaped top shell (Tectus or Trochus conus); however now I feel more inclined to think it is the commercial trochus/top shell (Tectus or Trochus niloticus). Naturally, I will thank a better opinion.

The commercial trochus owes its name to have been intensively used to make buttons and, even today, it is still fished in small quantities with commercial purposes.

It is a very common shell in the tropical region of Indo-Pacific, near the coral reefs.

Its original colour is white or pink with red or grey stripes in the circumvolutions and spots in the base, as the left image allows seeing, at least partially.

My specimen is about 7 cm long, but one can find shells from 5 to 15 cm.

 

The following shell, partially polished, has been easier to classify although with some luck.

It is the magpie-shell (Cittarium pica) native of the Caribbean region. This specimen has been brought, actually, from the province of Holguín, Cuba.

It is about 9.5 cm long, being the normal size of the adult specimens between 5 and 10 cm.

The partial polishing still allows its natural colouring, white with black spots, to be seen. This is more evident in the left photo showing the base, which has not been polished.

 

The TURBINIDAE family include the shells known commonly as turban shells. The South African turban (Turbo sarmaticus) is one of the most appreciated by collectors especially after having been polished to reveal the attractive nacre of the inner layer.

It lives on submerged reefs of the South Africa seashore and its average size is 7.5 cm. My beautiful specimen is almost 7 cm long.

Indeed I feel this shell so interesting that I decided to show here several photos of it!

     

 



These shells are a very good example of the difficulty, for an amateur like me, of classifying shells that have been polished! I believe I am not wrong thinking that both specimens belong to the TURBINIDAE family. However, which ones I do not know!

The first one, 7 cm long, had a label with its common name, jade turbo, but this is all I know! It can be the silver-mouth-turban (Turbo argyrostomus), or maybe the Turbo olearium, or even the Turbo stenogyrus!

The second shell, 5.5 cm long, according to a commercial site I have visited, could be the golden-mouth-turban (Turbo chrysostomus), but only by the photo existing there, since the common name does not seem to fit its look! I will keep on investigating but, meanwhile, if someone could elucidate me ... I would be very grateful!

 

The turritellas, gastropods of the TURRITELLIDAE family, are especially attractive by its very elegant shape.

The specimen, on the right, is the common-turritella (Turritella communis), abundant in Western Europe and Mediterranean. It lives in the sand, under shallow or deep water, and its average size is 6 cm. Mine is 6.5 cm long.

The largest of the turritellas is the screw turritella (Turritella terebra), very common in the muddy sand of the tropical region of Indo-Pacific. My specimen, on the left, is only 8.8 cm long but the size of adult specimens can reach 17 cm.

 

The STROMBIDAE family comprises six genera, each one with its characteristic shape.

The conches can be recognized by its protuberant lip, as one can see, on the right, in the pink conch, also known as queen conch (Strombus gigas).

It is common in the entire region from the southeast of Florida to Brazil, and lives in the sand. The animal is eatable and its shell has an average size of 23 cm, which is the case of my specimen.

 

The West Indies fighting conch (Strombus pugilis), on the left, has the same habitat as the previous shell and can be found abundantly on the sand of the beaches. Its name comes from the energetic movements of the animal.

My specimen, which came from a beach of the Northeast of Brazil, brought by my son Rui, is 6 cm long, a little smaller then the average that is 7.5 cm.

 

The shells of the genus Lambis, also belonging to the STROMBIDAE family, are commonly called spider conches. They have long extension-fingers, as one can see here, on the right, in my specimen of Lambis chiragra.

The Lambis chiragra have several subspecies, therefore shells can be found with noticeable variations in size, colour and pattern. It lives in the sand of the Indo-Pacific seashore, where it is common.

This beautiful shell belongs to subspecies Lambis chiragra arthritica and its normal size is between 11 and 19 cm.

During years I have owned a specimen with the three upper fingers broken but in 2004, I got this nice shell with 13.3 cm.

 

Before, in 2003, I have already got another specimen, this one of species Lambis chiragra chiragra, with the impressive size of 22 cm, since the average varies between 8.5 and 33 cm:

 

The common spider conch (Lambis lambis), also native of Indo-Pacific, is large, heavy, and its size is variable from 9 to 27.5 cm. My specimen is 19 cm long.

As we can see, the large and wavy aperture has six extension-fingers (or thorns), almost of them curved upwards. The siphon channel (below) is symmetrical to the upper thorn.

The extension-fingers allow the spider conches creeping on the sand, around the reefs, without being dragged by the marine streams. The female have longer thorns than the male! Why?

Besides, young animals do not have thorns!

 

Also from the STROMBIDAE family, the tibias (genus Tibia) are spindle shaped with a more or less long siphon channel. The most impressive is certainly the shin-bone tibia (Tibia fusus), since it has an incredibly long siphon channel, as long as the rest of the shell. The channel is smoothly curved at the end.

My specimen is perfect and, with its 24.5 cm, is far larger than the average that is 20 cm. It lives in the deep waters of the Southwest of Pacific and is relatively rare.

The delicate tibia (Tibia delicatula), below, although more discreet than the former, is also very pretty.

It is not a very common shell, since it lives in the deep waters.

There are several subspecies and accentuated colour variations, living in the whole Northern zone of the Indian Sea, from the Gulf of Aden and Eastern Africa to the Sumatra Island.

My specimen is 9.5 cm long, being possible to find shells with sizes between 4.5 and 11 cm.

 

The more than 80 species of helmets belong to the CASSIDAE family and are recognized by their thick external lip and by the wide protection of the columella. The animals live in the sand and feed on sea-urchins.

One of the most remarkable species of the family is the Cypraeacassis rufa, commonly known as bullmouth helmet, a large and splendid shell, that was utilized in the past to make medallions and cameos.

It lives near the coral reefs of the tropical Indo-Pacific and its average size is 15 cm. My beautiful specimen is 16.5 cm long.

 

Another member of the CASSIDAE family, the king helmet (Cassis tuberosa), is as quite beautiful as the previous, in spite of its more discreet colouring.

It lives in the Western Atlantic, from North Caroline to Brazil and in the Cape Verde Islands.

My specimen is about 15 cm long, whereas the average is 19 cm.

 

Smaller but not less pretty than the formers, the flame or princess helmet (Cassis flammea) lives under shallow water, from the Caribbean to Brazil.

My specimen is 8 cm long, being possible to find shells from 7 to 15.5 cm.

 

Still smaller than the later, the Senegal cowry helmet (Cypreacassis testiculus senegalica) lives in the coast of Senegal and Angola. Its size varies between 3 and 10 cm and my specimen is 4.5 cm long.

 

Tritons and whelks are common names for the shells of animals that are included in different families. One of these is the RANELLIDAE family, which like the former CASSIDAE family, belong to the TONNOIDEA superfamily.

The tritons of the RANELLIDAE family have thick shells with very variable size, from a few centimetres to several tens! They are carnivorous, feeding on other molluscs and sea-urchins.

The specimen on the right is certainly a triton of this family. I believe it is the knobbed triton (Charonia lampas nodiferum), which occurs in the Canaries, the Mediterranean and from Mauritania to Angola. Its size can vary from 11.5 to 39 cm, but mine is only 18.5 cm long.

 

Contrasting with the former huge triton, this relative of him is a small, but very pretty shell, with only 2.5 cm, although specimens reaching 10 cm can be found.

It is called maple leaf or winged frog shell (Biplex perca) and lives under deep water of the tropical region of Indo-Pacific, from Somalia to Philippines and Japan.

 

The precious wentletrap (Epitonium scalare), from EPITONIIDAE family, is perhaps the most famous and desired shell for collectors.

In the nineteenth century, its beauty and rarity made of it object only reachable by the rich and mighty, to such an extent that the Chinese merchants sold counterfeits made of rice-paste. Today, it is relatively common but anyway not easy to get.

It lives in the sand and shallow water of the tropical region of Indo-Pacific. Its size is between 3 and 7 cm, being my specimen 3.5 cm long.

 

The murex, of the MURICIDAE family, though some times exhibiting beautiful colours, stand out mainly by its ornamentation, really impressive in some species. From some members of this family it is used to extract a purple pigment. The Phoenician were the first to develop this technique and their purple textiles were worn by the noble Romans as a sign of wealth.

 

The murex pictured on the left is, certainly, one of the gems of my small collection.

It is the extraordinary Murex pecten, known commonly as Venus comb murex. It lives in the sandy seashore of the Eastern Indic Ocean, of the Pacific and of Japan. It is supposed that the thorns can be a protection against predatory fishes.

It is not a rare shell, but it is very difficult to get a specimen with entire thorns.

My specimen is quite exceptional since it has no broken thorns. It is 13 cm long, which is the average size.

 

The MURICIDAE family is a very numerous group, since includes more than 380 species, some of which have very significant variations. Usually, they are very beautiful shells therefore very demanded by the collectors. For an amateur as I am, classifying the murex is not easy since only the genus Chicoreus comprises about 180 species. Anyway, it seems undoubted that the species pictured below is the ramose murex (Chicoreus ramosus), a common shell of the coral reefs of Indo-Pacific.

 

 

For a long time ago I have had two specimens about 11 cm long. Recently, I have got this one, with 14 cm, much prettier and perfect. Although the average size for this species is 20 cm, specimens from 5 to 30 cm can be found, depending on the age of the animal.

 

The uncertainty referred above also applies to the murex on the left.

Given the big variability of colour and size of the Chicoreus ramosus, I thought it could be a variant of this species. I was wrong!

After all, it is the firebrand murex (Chicoreus torrefactus), also native from the Indo-Pacific.

My specimen is 9 cm long, and there are shells with size between 6 and 12 cm.

 

The rose-branch murex (Chicoreus palmarosae) is another species whose beauty let us in troubles to get adjectives! Its sculptured relieves, extremely delicate, make this shell a Nature's rare work of art.

 

 

It lives in the seashore of Indo-Pacific, from the Maldives Islands to the Southwest of Japan, existing small variations depending on the region. Its size varies from 6.5 to 13 cm.

My specimen is 8.0 cm long and is the Maldives' variant.

 

In August 2004, I bought the beautiful shell pictured on the right, which is, obviously, a murex but ... which?

With a "little help" I have got to know that is the endive-like murex (Hexaplex chicoreum), native of Philippines.

The size of this specimen is 11 cm, an average value since shells between 5 and 15 cm can be found.

 

Esta página está em obras!

This page is under repairs!

During the repairs, please, take a look on the Portuguese version!

 

Outro múrice com canal sifonal muito comprido, mas sem espinhos, é o múrice-bico-de-narceja (Haustellum haustellum).

É uma das maiores espécies do seu género e habita os bancos de areia sujeitos às marés, desde o Mar Vermelho e o Índico até ao Pacífico Ocidental.

O meu exemplar tem 12 cm, podendo encontrar-se espécimes com tamanho entre os 6,5 e os 15 cm.

 

Este pequenino e encantador múrice (não chega aos 2 cm) é a drupa-eriçada-do-Pacífico (Drupa ricinus), que habita os recifes expostos às marés da região do Indo-Pacífico Tropical. Existem várias subespécies, em geral todas com as extremidades das agulhas negras. Esta, a Drupa ricinus ricinus, infelizmente, não as tem.

O tamanho deste exemplar é 19,2 mm, podendo encontrar-se conchas entre os 19 e os 32 mm.

 

The mitres, belonging to the MITRIDAE family, are shells with attractive colours, whose name comes from the resemblance of its shape with the mitres of the bishops. They are predatory animals, living usually in the corals, reefs or sand, between the tides.

The specimen pictured on the right is the episcopal mitre (Mitra mitra), a common shell that lives in the sand of little deep waters of the tropical region of Indo-Pacific.

My specimen is about 10 cm long, which is the average size of this species.

 

The HARPIDAE family comprise beautiful shells by its shape, by the refined patterns and by the brilliant colours. The harps are carnivorous animals, do not have operculum and live in the sand.

Within each species there is big variation of patterns and colouring, which makes the identification considerably difficult. However, I believe I am not wrong in identifying my shell, on the left, as the Harpa major.

The major harp lives in the sand, in shallow waters of the tropical Indo-Pacific. Its average size is 9 cm, whereas my specimen is about 8 cm long.

 

A maravilha-japonesa (Thatcheria mirabilis), da família TURRIDAE, pelo seu nome e aspecto, logo indicia tratar-se duma concha muito especial. Sendo uma concha de águas profundas (150 a 500 m), foi no passado muito rara, a ponto de durante muito tempo se ter conhecido apenas um exemplar! Continua a ser uma concha difícil de encontrar, mas relativamente acessível.

Diz-se que o famoso arquitecto Frank Lloyd Wright se teria inspirado na sua bela forma para desenhar o Museu Guggenheim, de Nova Iorque.

O meu espécime tem 6,5 cm, um pouco abaixo do normal que é entre 7 e 12 cm. Ocorre desde o Japão ao noroeste da Austrália.

 

A família TEREBRIDAE inclui centenas de espécies, em geral, com conchas longas, esbeltas e brilhantes. As terebras são animais de águas quentes ou temperadas, alimentam-se de larvas marinhas e habitam, normalmente, águas pouco profundas, na areia, rochedos ou coral.

A terebra-manchada (Terebra maculata) tem uma concha espessa e pesada, pelo que não admira que tenha sido usada, no passado, como ferramenta de perfuração.

Habita águas pouco profundas da região tropical do Indo-Pacífico, onde é bastante comum.

A terebra-manchada tem um tamanho médio de 14 cm, que é, justamente, o tamanho do meu exemplar.

 

The cones (CONIDAE family) are very popular shells among the collectors, given the huge variety of colours and patterns that can exhibit. They feed on other molluscs, larvae and small fish that they capture by injecting poison.
On the left, the beech cone (Conus betulinus) is one of the largest species of this family that can reach about 18 cm. My specimen, however, is only 6.5 cm long. The marble cone (Conus marmoreus), on the right, displays a significant diversity of colouring and its size can vary between 5 and 15 cm. My shell is 7 cm long. Both live in shallow waters of Indo-Pacific.

The Systematics or classification of species always raised difficulty and controversy among the experts. Then, what can one tell about the terrible obstacles that turn up for a mere amateur like me? Let us see the case of the cone pictured on the right. With the help of the vast source of information that the Internet represents, I tried patiently to classify this shell. Eventually, I thought I had reached my purpose since the available pictures seemed to suggest that it was the Conus omaria. Then, I realized that it could also be the Conus pennaceus! Finally, I came upon the information that there is a sub-species, called Conus pennaceus omaria! By now, I have to stop here! In this manner, my only conviction is that it is a very pretty cone with 7.5 cm. Furthermore, it seems to be certain that is native of the Indo-Pacific.

BIVALVES (BIVALVIA)

The class of bivalves is the most numerous after the class of gastropods. Their shell is composed by two pieces or valves, joined by a ligament.

The scallops or pectens (PECTINIDAE family), with fan shaped shells, are among the best known of all bivalves.

My specimen, on the right, is the great scallop (Pecten maximus), common from Norway to the Mediterranean. Immortalized by a painting of Botticelli and adopted as symbol by a mighty multinational, is perhaps the best known of all marine shells. The right valve is bent, whereas the left one is flat. The scallops lay down on the bottom of the sea with the flat valve upwards. My specimen (I only own the bent valve) is 13 cm long, which is the average size of the adult specimens.

CEPHALOPODS (CEPHALOPODA)

Among cephalopods, the class that include the octopus, calamaries and cuttle-fishes, the nautilus (NAUTILIDAE family) are the only ones with an actual external shell. Despite of having been very numerous in the past, nowadays only five species continue to live in the Indo-Pacific region.

My specimen, on the right, is the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius), the most common and best known species. It is very demanded by its originality and its average size is 15 cm. My specimen is only 11 cm long.

NEW ADDITIONS (to be catalogued)

Thatcheria mirabilis, Japanese Wonder Shell; Miraculous Thatcheria, 70 - 120 mm, Japan - W & N Australia

Drupa (Drupa) ricinus, Prickly Pacific/Spotted Drupe; Spider-like Castor Bean, 19 - 32 mm, Throughout Tropical Indo-Pacific

Haustellum (Haustellum) haustellum, Snipe's Bill/Woodcock Murex, 65 - 150 mm, Indo-W Pacific; Red Sea

Clear/Painted/Oriental/Perspective Sundial, E Africa - Hawaii, 30 - 72 mm

Marlinspike; Roosevelt's/Big/Spotted Auger, Indo-W Pacific, 50 - 250 mm

 

All the pictures in this section reproduce shells of my own and have been taken by myself. All the rights of using these pictures are reserved. Ó 2002 - 2004 Franclim Ferreira.

 

Entry | C. Vitae | Teaching | R&D | Passions | Links

Back to the top