Discover the beauty of sea shells, from common finds on the beach to the rarest gems of the ocean. These natural wonders captivate with their intricate designs, diverse colors, and the stories they carry from the depths of the sea.
- Murex Shell
- Conch Shell
- Cowrie Shell
- Sundial Shell
- Volute Shell
- Abalone Shell
- Miter Shell
- Conus Shell
- Worm Snail Shell
- Olive Shell
- Scallop Shell
- Clam Shell
- Mussel Shell
- Nautilus Shell
- Tusk Shell
- How Shells Have Played a Significant Part in Human Culture
- Where Shells Come From
- The Animals That Live in Shells
The venus comb murex, scientifically known as Murex pecten, is famous for its superb spines. These large predatory sea snails, also called rock snails, boast a fantastic variety of ornamentation and sculpture. While many murex species are colorful, most feature soft pastel hues. Their intricate shapes and magnificent spines make them truly stunning.
Standout Species: Venus Comb Murex (Murex pecten)
This seashell, named after the Greek goddess Venus, is particularly breathtaking. It is commonly found in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific. Although not extremely rare, finding a perfect specimen of the venus comb murex can be a challenge due to its delicate formation. Notably, its long and elaborate outer siphonal canal, covered in hundreds of delicate spines, acts as a defense mechanism against predators and prevents it from sinking into sand and mud.
The queen conch shell, scientifically known as Strombus gigas, is a true beauty thriving in the tropical waters of the West Indies, Caribbean, Florida, and the Bahamas. Unfortunately, there are only 50,000 conches left in the world. These shells usually feature a high and curled spire, as well as a noticeable siphonal canal.
Standout Species: Queen Conch Shell (Strombus gigas)
The regal queen conch shell is considered one of the most beautiful types of shells. It can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length, making it one of the largest seashell species. However, due to overfishing for meat and high demand among collectors, this magnificent shell is now threatened. Throughout history, the queen conch has been used for religious ceremonies and as ornamental pieces. Its lustrous pink shells have been crafted into jewelry such as bracelets, earrings, and hairpins.
The versatile cowrie shells have been valued as jewelry and currency for centuries. In many African cultures, women wear jewelry made from various types of cowrie shells, considering them symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth, and wealth. Cowrie shells have a smooth and shiny appearance, often displaying colorful patterns.
Standout Species: Hundred-eyed Cowrie Shell (Cypraea argus)
The hundred-eyed cowrie shell is one of the rarest seashells in the world. Spotting this exquisite sea jewel while diving or snorkeling in shallow coral reefs is a stroke of luck. They are commonly found hiding under loose rocks along the shores of remote tropical islands such as Chagos, Madagascar, Reunion, and the Seychelles. These cream-colored shells are covered in tiny brown circles resembling eyes, giving them their unique name. Their distinctive polka dot pattern and porcelain finish make them easily recognizable.
Staircase or sundial shells, scientifically known as Architectonica perspectiva, can be found in warm-temperate to tropical waters worldwide. These gorgeous shells have a flattened, disc or cone-shaped appearance, setting them apart from other species.
Standout Species: Perspective Sundial Shell (Architectonica perspectiva)
The perspective sundial shell gets its name from its resemblance to a sundial, an instrument used to measure time based on the position of the sun. The cone-like shell coils upward from a flat base, featuring vibrant shades of black, white, and brown spirals. Unfortunately, uncontrolled shell collecting and habitat destruction have made this shell less common. It is now listed as ‘Endangered.’
Volute shells, belonging to the Volutidae family, come in various sizes and appearances. These shells typically have colorful designs, elongated apertures, and deep folds on the inner lip. While most volutes inhabit warm, shallow waters, they can also be found in temperate seas.
Standout Species: Imperial Volute (Aulica imperialis)
The imperial volute stands out with its creamy white color and a crown-like spike formation. These shells are found in the Southern Philippines, typically in shallow waters. Imperial volutes can grow up to an impressive 10 inches (25 cm) in length.
Abalone shells, known for their bright turquoise color, are found in cold waters. The inner layer of abalones is made of nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which was historically used for jewelry and decorative arts. These shells vary in color and size, ranging from silvery white to turquoise, green, blue, and red.
Standout Species: Pāua Abalone Shell (Haliotis iris)
Pāua abalone shells, commonly found in New Zealand, boast vivid metallic blue and green inner surfaces with yellow reflections. The most common species of New Zealand abalones, they can grow up to 7 inches (18 cm) in length.
Miter shells, resembling a bishop’s headdress (mitre), are predominantly found in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. They can be colorful or pale, smooth or ornate, with a short siphonal canal and a notched outer lip.
Standout Species: Pontifical Mitre (Mitra stictica)
The pontifical mitre, also known as sungkod-sungkod, is found in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Similar to mitra papalis, this species features shorter body form, more distant sutures, and narrower nodules.
The cone shell, with its cone or cylindrical shape, houses extremely venomous predatory sea snails. These shells come in a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures, with various levels of venom.
Standout Species: The Glory of the Sea Cone (Conus Gloriamaris)
The glory of the sea cone, also known as Conus gloriamaris, was once regarded as the rarest and most valuable shell worldwide. Its incredible shape and intricate crosshatch pattern in shades of creamy brown make it highly desirable among collectors. Fortunately, the value has diminished over time as more specimens have been discovered.
Worm Snail Shell
Worm snail shells, also known as “worm shells,” are irregular tubular shells that differ from the typical coiled shapes. They are inhabited by various animals and found in sandy areas.
Standout Species: Fargo Worm Snail (Vermicularia fargoi olsson)
Fargo worm snail shells start with regular coiling until they reach about an inch in length. Afterward, they transform into an irregular shape. These shells can reach a maximum of 3 inches (8 cm) in length, with the later whorls becoming detached from the shell.
Olive shells, belonging to the Olividae family, are smooth, shiny, and oval-shaped, resembling olives. They come in various colors and patterns and possess a short spire, a narrow notched mouth, and a large foot.
Standout Species: The Lettered Olive (Oliva sayana)
The lettered olive shell is the largest among olive shells, reaching up to 3.5 inches (9 cm) in length. Its outer shell features intricate hieroglyphic-shaped markings. These shells can range from pale greyish tan to deep chocolate brown, with marbling in dark purple, yellow, navy, and light lavender.
Scallop shells, scientifically known as Pectinidae, are iconic and highly prized. They are known for their swimming ability and are often used in jewelry and as a source of pearls.
Standout Species: King Scallop (Pecten maximus)
The king scallop, also called the great Atlantic scallop or common scallop, is easily recognizable by its large size and symmetrical ‘wings.’ Its shell is pink or red with a marbled brown and white mantle.
Clam shells are characterized by their two valves connected by a hinge joint and ligament. They come in various shapes and sizes, often more oval or circular compared to mussels.
Standout Species: Coquina Clam (Donax variabilis)
Coquina clams are commonly found along coasts worldwide. These small shells display highly variable color patterns, including shades of pink, yellow, blue, white, and mauve. They are typically buried just below the surface of the sand in the swash zone and are known for their active migrations along wave-washed beaches.
Mussel shells, belonging to the Mytilidae family, have an elongated and asymmetrical outline. They typically have dark blue, blackish, or brown exteriors and silvery, nacreous interiors.
Standout Species: Mediterranean Mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis)
The Mediterranean mussel, also known as the black mussel, is native to the Mediterranean coastline but has become an invasive species in many parts of the world. The shell can range from dark blue to nearly black. These large, smooth-shelled mussels often grow between 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) in length.
Nautilus shells, belonging to the Nautilidae family, are known for their beautiful coiled structure and unique colors. They are ancient creatures that have survived for over 480 million years.
Standout Species: Chambered Nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)
The chambered nautilus, also called the pearly nautilus, is the largest and most well-known species of nautilus. Its exceptional spiraling and chambered structure truly captivate. However, these amazing creatures are now threatened due to low reproductive rates, slow growth, and late maturity.
Tusk shells, scientifically known as Scaphopoda, resemble tiny elephant tusks. They have conical and slightly curved shells, which are open at both ends, distinguishing them from other mollusks.
Standout Species: Common Tusk Shell (Antalis vulgaris)
The common tusk shell, found from southwestern United Kingdom to the western Mediterranean, can range from 1.2 to 2.4 inches (3 to 6 cm) in length. Most shells are white with a pink apex or yellow with a black apex.
Shells are not classified by their appearance alone. Instead, scientists classify the mollusks that typically inhabit the shells. The main classes of mollusks found in shells include:
- Gastropoda: Shells with a planospiral or conispiral shape.
- Bivalvia: Shells consisting of two valves held together by a muscle.
- Scaphopoda: Shells with a single conical structure through which the head protrudes.
- Aplacophora: Shell-less mollusks, except for certain extinct primitive forms.
- Monoplacophora: Shells consisting of a single encasing structure for the body.
- Cephalopoda: Thin internal shells or tight external shells, as seen in nautiluses.
- Polyplacophora: Shells composed of eight hard plates on the dorsal side.
To see a visual representation of 15 shell species, their families, and classes, refer to the infographic below:
Please include attribution to Ambassadeur Hotel with this image.
How Shells Have Played a Significant Part in Human Culture
Shells have been used for jewelry and adornment since ancient times. The oldest known shell necklace, made from the swollen nassa known as Tritia gibbosula, dates back over 100,000 years. Ancient civilizations collected perforated shells to string them together as beads. Rare cowrie shells were even used as currency in Africa and Asia.
Today, mother-of-pearl and abalone shells are widely used in the jewelry trade for their lustrous opalescent finish. Shells continue to hold cultural significance and are valued for their beauty and symbolism.
Where Shells Come From
Shells were once exoskeletons protecting soft-bodied mollusks such as snails, clams, and oysters. These shells provide protection against predators and prevent the creatures from sinking into sand or mud. Their unique appearance serves as armor for these fascinating creatures of the sea.
The Animals That Live in Shells
The animals inhabiting seashells are not always their original owners. Many shells are re-inhabited by other creatures. Hermit crabs, shrimps, and octopuses commonly find shelter in empty shells. Hermit crabs use shells as temporary homes, while some octopus species seek refuge within shells for protection.
At Ambassadeur Hotel, we share your love for seashells. Explore our ocean-inspired jewelry collection, including our Cowrie Shell Hoop Earrings made with ethically sourced cowrie shells. Each purchase contributes to coral conservation efforts across the globe. Visit Ambassadeur Hotel to shop now and indulge in the beauty of the sea.