Texas Seashells: A Field Guide

Texas Seashells: A Field Guide


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Texas Seashells: A Field Guide by John W. Tunnell Jr., Noe C Barrera, Fabio Moretzsohn

Walking along the beach and picking up seashells is a favorite pastime enjoyed by millions of people every year. This field guide covers three hundred of the better-known or more common seashells found on Texas coastlines, and anyone interested in identifying and collecting shells along Texas bays and Gulf coast beaches will find Texas Seashells an essential companion. With more than 600 detailed and data-rich color photographs, each species with at least two views, Texas Seashells is sure to make shell identification fun, quick, and easy. Those new to collecting can get started with the introductory chapters on building your shell collection, local laws and regulations protecting this resource, seashell clubs, adopting a “Sheller’s Creed,” and basic seashell taxonomy. A glossary is also included for technical terms not defined in the text.

Although this field guide is for seashells found along the Texas coast, it will also be useful in other regions of the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic Ocean.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623491673
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 11/07/2014
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 634,354
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

JOHN W. TUNNELL JR. is associate director and endowed chair of biodiversity and conservation science at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, and regents’ professor, Fulbright scholar, and retired professor of biology at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. NOE C. BARRERA is a malacologist and microphotographer at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. FABIO MORETZSOHN is anassistant research scientist in systematics and conservation of marine invertebrates at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

Read an Excerpt

Texas Seashells

A Field Guide

By John W. Tunnell Jr., Noe C. Barrera, Fabio Moretzsohn

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2014 John W. Tunnell Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62349-196-3


Collecting Seashells


Many people start to collect shells by picking up seashells on a visit to the beach or perhaps land snails in their own backyard. Whether they immediately become interested in collecting shells or wait many years for another opportunity to visit the shore, they often want more shells in their collection. There are basically three ways to build a shell collection: (1) by collecting the shells yourself, (2) by trading them with other collectors, and (3) by purchasing them from dealers. The purpose of this field guide is to facilitate the first option, collecting your own shells and then identifying them yourself. Collecting seashells can be very enjoyable, and identification of your collection can be quite gratifying. We offer these hints to assist you in your collecting and identifying adventures.

Regulations and the "Sheller's Creed"

Before you start on a shell-collecting trip, be sure to check the local laws. Many places regulate and limit the number and/or species that can be live collected; the area may be closed for any live collecting on a seasonal basis or permanently; and you may need a permit. You need a valid fishing license with a freshwater or saltwater stamp to take live mollusks in the public waters of Texas (TPWD 2006: 22); however, you do not need one to take empty or dead shells.

At the time of this writing (April 2013), the only place in Texas that currently has laws limiting collection of live shells is South Padre Island, where there is a combined daily limit of 15 live univalve shells (all species), including no more than 2 each of the following species: lightning whelk (Busycon pulleyi); pearwhelk (Busycotypus spiratus); horse conch (Triplofusus giganteus); Florida fighting conch (Strombus alatus); banded tulip (Fasciolaria tulipa); and Florida rocksnail (Stramonita haemastoma) (Blankinship et al. 2005; TPWD 2006: 28). Additionally, there is an annual "no-collection" period, from November 1 to April 30, which prevents the taking of any live or dead mollusks or their shells (including those with hermit crabs), starfish or sea urchins within the area bounded by "the bay and pass sides of South Padre Island, and from the east end of the north jetty at Brazos Santiago Pass to the west end of West Marisol Drive in the town of South Padre Island, out 1000 yards [914 m, or 3000 ft] from the mean-tide line, and bounded by the centerline of Brazos Santiago Pass" (TPWD 2006: 28).

Some areas are protected for conservation, such as the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS), where collection can be done only by persons granted a scientific permit. Visit the FGBNMS website for more information: http://flowergarden.noaa.gov.

The Hawaiian Malacological Society (HMS) proposed "A Sheller's Creed" and first published it in Hawaiian Shell News in August 1973 to guide its members when collecting live shells. Many shell clubs and collectors around the world have adopted this short code of conduct, and as marine biologists we encourage our readers also to adopt it. It is reproduced here by kind permission from HMS:

A Sheller's Creed

The wildlife and natural resources of this world have been entrusted to me for protection and preservation. Whether I wish it or not, I must account to the future for my handling of this wealth today. If I collect shells, I will do it conservatively, recognizing that destruction of the marine habitat, by whatever means, is the true enemy of the sea and its creatures.

Four rules to shell by:

1. Leave the live coral heads alone! Look in the rubble, under the slabs, in the sand, and among the loose chunks.

2. Put rocks and corals back in place, the way you found them, even in deep water. Many things live under them even if you do not recognize them. Continued exposure to light, predators, and current will kill many of them.

3. Be alert for shell eggs and protect them. They have a slim chance of survival, at best. Don't take the mollusk that is guarding them. Avoid disturbing breeding groups.

4. Collect only what you really need. Take time to examine your finds and leave them to grow and breed if they do not really meet your needs.

A couple of rules could be added to the Sheller's Creed:

5. Do not collect heavily damaged live shells or ones with break-repair scars because they are not valuable for trading (although they might be important for scientists). Leave them behind, and the next season they may produce healthy specimens. And right before you leave the shelling grounds, do a quick inspection of your catch and return the damaged and unwanted shells to the ocean.

6. Do not litter or pollute our waters.

Collecting Seashells

Most of the Texas coast has sandy beaches, marshes, and bays, basically all composed of soft substrate (for information on habitats, see Hicks 2010; Britton and Morton 1989), but there are also jetties, oyster reefs, and a few other hard substrates. Equipment needed for collecting mollusks varies with the species you want to collect or how much you want to specialize. The basic equipment can be as simple as some vials, a kitchen strainer, a spade, a knife, sharp eyes, and lots of patience! As you advance in your collecting skills, you can add a few more pieces of equipment, such as screens, dips and nets, shovels, a hammer, a water pump, a glass-bottomed bucket, snorkeling gear, a light (for night collecting), a loupe (small magnifying lens), a wire or probing tool, forceps, and tweezers. Other useful tools include maps, a GPS (global positioning system) receiver, camera (some recent point-and-shoot digital camera models are waterproof to shallow depths), notebooks, field guides, weather-appropriate clothing, towels, fresh clothes (for after you finish collecting), tide table, insect repellent, sunscreen, and first-aid kit (see Sturm et al. 2006 for equipment and how to use it, and field techniques).

Probably most shell collecting in Texas is done at sandy beaches or while wading in bays, since these habitats dominate the coast. Some people snorkel along the coast or scuba dive at the offshore oil rigs or at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Many of the shells illustrated in Tunnell et al. (2010) came from depths beyond the normal recreational diving depths; they have been collected by dredging or through remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and submarines. We used the same photographs in this book, with a few exceptions of photos of better shells, but most of the species herein are common and occur in shallow, coastal waters and can be collected while wading or walking on the beach.

Small and miniature shells, also known as micromollusks, are difficult to pick up in the field. People interested in collecting micros usually collect beach drift, shell grit, or sand samples at the beach, or when snorkeling or scuba diving, and bring the samples home or to the laboratory. Samples can be placed on trays, air-dried, and sorted by size using a series of sieves with different mesh sizes, and then studied under a stereomicroscope.

Live micromollusks can be collected through several specialized techniques, such as rinsing seaweeds and brushing rocks into a plastic bag or pillowcase while scuba diving. Live samples can be narcotized with different chemicals (e.g., magnesium salts) or low temperature to be studied under a microscope or to relax the animals for fixation. For more information about collection, curation, and other techniques to study micromollusks, see Geiger et al. (2007).

Trading Shells

Trading shells can be rewarding, and it is a good way to replace duplicate shells, or publications about shells and collecting, with something new. Before you start trading shells, you should learn about the trader's reputation. Make sure the trader provides good-quality shells with reliable collecting data and that the trade is fair in terms of number, quality, and rarity of the shells. The main point is that both parties must be satisfied with the trade after it is completed. Therefore, you should start with modest trades or purchases (if buying from a dealer) until you can be sure that the trader can be trusted. As most trades are usually for self-collected specimens, collection data from a trader may be more complete and reliable than that from a dealer.

Shell Grading

In 1973, Elmer Leehman and Stu Lilico proposed what is known as the Hawaiian Malacological Society International Shell Grading Standard (HMS-ISGS), a system to help shell collectors and dealers to objectively grade shells. The system, with some slight modifications, has been widely adopted by the shelling community and basically has the following categories:

• Gem (G)—A fully mature specimen, without any visible blemishes, perfect protoconch (larval shell), no broken spines and lips, rich color, live collected.

• Fine (F)—An adult shell with only minor flaws, with color and gloss, minor growth marks or a small chip on the lip, 1 or 2 broken spines, but no repairs such as filed lips.

• Good (Gd)—An acceptable shell, despite some defects such as broken spines, worn spire, and growth marks but still a good representative of the species. Not necessarily live taken. The nature and degree of repairs should be disclosed.

• Commercial (C) or Poor (P)—Dead or beach collected, with growth marks, chipped lips, or broken spines. No data or operculum. Should not be offered as collectors' specimens.

Following are other abbreviations and symbols often used with shell grading to describe the condition of the shell:

• W/O = with operculum (a plate that plugs the aperture of a gastropod)

• W/P = with periostracum (fibrous coating that covers the shell)

• F/D = full data (provenance, habitat, date, and original collector)

• B/D = basic data (less than full data)

• JUV = juvenile or subadult

• + (plus) or - (minus)—used in conjunction with shell grades to denote borderline cases (e.g., G-, F+, etc.)

• P.O.R. = price on request (used sometimes for high-end specimens)

Maintaining a Shell Collection

The Mollusks—A Guide to Their Study, Collection, and Preservation (Sturm et al. 2006), published by the American Malacological Society (AMS), is a "must have" for any collector. This book, the result of the Malacology Curation Workshop at the AMS annual meeting in Pittsburgh in 1999, covers a wide range of topics of interest to the shell collector, including how to organize a shell collection, collection techniques, curation procedures and supplies, photography, an introduction to all molluscan classes, a primer on taxonomy, phylogenetics, conservation, and other related topics.

Shell Clubs

Shell clubs are groups of people interested in shell collecting, nature, the outdoors, fossils, and other related topics who meet on a regular basis to "talk shells." Shell clubs are a good place to meet other people with similar interests, make contacts with other collectors, and trade specimens. Typically, shell clubs meet on a regular basis, usually once a month at a museum, school, church, public building, or other available place, to get updates on the members' shelling activities or news. Often there is a shell-related presentation by one of the members or a guest speaker. Members and their guests often bring shells that they cannot identify or a new acquisition that they want to show their friends. It is also common to see people trading shells and/or shell dealers offering local and worldwide shells.

Some clubs organize and sponsor field trips and other events such as shell shows that are open to the public. Such shows may have competitions for best displays on a certain theme, as well as for the best, rarest, largest, smallest, or most abnormal ("freak") self-collected shell or for shells with historical value or most interesting story. Shell shows tend to attract a lot of visitors and become an important source of new members.

There seems to be an unfortunate general trend of shrinking memberships in shell clubs, although a few clubs report growing membership. Some of the reasons for this trend include increasing restrictions on live shell collecting in many places; kids more interested in video games, TV, and computers than playing outdoors in nature; kids being taught at school that it is bad for the environment to take anything, especially live, from the ocean; habitat changes, pollution, and over-collecting that have led to a drastic reduction in the numbers of shells in some places; life has become too busy for shells. The result is that many clubs are experiencing an aging membership, with little, if any, recruitment of young members. The HMS, for example, had almost 1700 members worldwide at its peak in the 1970s, but membership has steadily declined so that it is now a fraction of that figure. Some clubs have recently closed because of lack of interest. On the other hand, Internet search engines receive millions of queries about shells, suggesting that there is still a large interest in shells.

Currently there are 6 active shell clubs in Texas:

• Coastal Bend Shell Club—Corpus Christi (no website)

• Houston Conchology Society—Houston (http://www.houstonshellclub.com/)

• North Texas Conchological Society—Dallas-Fort Worth (http://outdoorplace.org/shells/)

• Port Isabel/South Padre Island Shell Club—Port Isabel (no website)

• San Antonio Shell Club—San Antonio (http://www.sashellclub.org/index.html)

• Sea Shell Searchers of Brazoria County—Clute (http://bcfas.org/museum/SSSBC/SSSBC.html)

Internet Resources

There are several online forums that discuss shells, such as these:

• Biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico Database (BioGoMx)—A database created and maintained by the Harte Research Institute that lists all living species from the Gulf of Mexico. Available at http://www.gulfbase.org/biogomx/.

• Conch-L—A forum for shell collectors, with many friendly and knowledgeable people willing to help fellow shellers. Its archive can be seen at http://www.listserv.uga.edu/archives/conch-1.html.

• Let's Talk Seashells—Created and maintained by Marlo Krisberg, it is a forum for seashell collectors that includes help with identification, tutorials, great photos, and other tools. Visit it at http://www.letstalkseashells.com/.

• Malacolog—Created and maintained by Gary Rosenberg, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, it is a taxonomic database on western Atlantic marine mollusks. Search it at http://www.malacolog.org/.

• Mollusca-L—An e-mail listserv primarily dedicated to malacologists and students. For more information and subscription, see http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mologis/mollusca.html.

• World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS)—A taxonomic database on marine organisms, maintained by experts. Available at http://www.marinespecies.org/.

National Organizations

• The American Malacological Society (AMS)—This professional association of malacologists publishes a scientific journal (American Malacological Bulletin, of which Fabio Moretzsohn is the managing editor) and holds an annual meeting. Website includes links to other associations and websites: http://www.malacological.org/.

• Conchologists of America (COA)—This society for shell enthusiasts publishes the quarterly magazine American Conchologist; holds an annual convention; includes links on its website to worldwide shell events, meetings, shell clubs, and other shell-related sites: http://www.conchologistsofamerica.org/

Conchology versus Malacology

The general perception is that conchology is the study of the shell and is mostly the realm of amateurs, while malacology is the study of the organism (including the shell) done by scientists. However, some people, like Lovell Reeve in the nineteenth century, make the case that there should be no distinction between the two terms, since the shell is part of the animal, but prefer the term conchology. Therefore, both terms are sometimes used interchangeably.


Seashell Characteristics

Seashells belong to the phylum Mollusca, one of the most diverse groups of animals, second only to the arthropods. Estimates of the diversity of living mollusks vary from 52,525 to more than 200,000 species; most authors accept an intermediary figure. However, recent studies suggest that perhaps as many as half of the mollusks remain undescribed. Additionally, there are some 35,000 to 70,000 fossil species.

The majority of mollusks live in the oceans, occupying all habitats, from the intertidal and splash zones to the bottoms of marine trenches. The deepest-living mollusk has been reported from 8595 m (28,200 ft) deep in the Cayman Trench. About 7000 species of bivalves and gastropods live in brackish or fresh water, and some 24,000 gastropods live on land in nearly all habitats, including forests, deserts, and even mountaintops. Mollusks have a long fossil history dating back to the Paleozoic era (550 million years ago), and thanks to their hard shells, mollusks have one of the most complete fossil records.


Excerpted from Texas Seashells by John W. Tunnell Jr., Noe C. Barrera, Fabio Moretzsohn. Copyright © 2014 John W. Tunnell Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Collecting Seashells,
2. Seashell Characteristics,
3. Common Texas Seashells,
PART II. GASTROPODA Snails, Conchs, and Whelks,
PART III. CEPHALOPODA Squids and Octopuses,
PART IV. BIVALVIA Oysters, Mussels, and Clams,


Corpus Christi, TX

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