By Sharmon Simonetti
For some, the beach is a place of relaxation, where lounging in beach chairs under a big umbrella is the perfect way to spend the day. I agree that the beach is the perfect place to spend the day—however, I myself rarely stop moving, let alone sit down. For me, the beach is for exploring.
I grew up in Northern New Jersey, so “the shore” was our destination when we wanted some beach time. My mother brought us to the beach for our summer vacations, and my husband and I continued the tradition with our kids. We went as often as we could, but walks on the beach were really just walks. I rarely, if ever, found anything of interest.
Then I moved to Florida.
Living in Southwest Florida is a beachcomber’s dream. We have amazing shells, amazing beaches, and I have encountered so many incredible things in just a little over two years here.
The minute I get to the beach I’m on the move. I zig-zag between the high tide line and the water, looking for seashells, sea critters, or anything else that might catch my eye. I’ve picked up thousands of seashells, and while I don’t have one favorite, there are a few that I do find to be particularly lovely.
The crown conch, or king’s crown is one such seashell. They look otherworldly, with their colorful stripes and rows of spikes. These shells are typically striped with colors ranging from cream to brown and purple. Contrasting the beautiful colors of these seashells are formidable spikes. The shells can have several rows of spikes, some with just little points and others with long pointy edges.
If you happen to find one in good condition, they really are gorgeous. I’ve been lucky enough to find living species of this animal while beachcombing.
I never really thought about where shells came from. They were just there on the beach to collect. Eventually, I started finding the living creatures that create the shells, and I was mesmerized. These squishy little inhabitants make these amazing shells? Yes, as a matter of fact they do, and the crowned conch snail is actually a very beautiful speckled creature. If a crowned conch sea snail has been out foraging and I happen to pick it up, they will usually happily crawl around on my hand while I record them to share on my YouTube channel. These creatures prefer to live in mudflats near oyster beds, but I have found my fair share of empty shells on sandy beaches as well.
The crowned conch snails are predators, so they will eat other critters that are slow enough for them to catch. They often seek out bivalves such as oysters and clams, but they will also hunt down other snails.
Like almost all creatures, crowned conchs have their own predators as well. The large thick shell protects them from most of the creatures that would want to eat them, but other snails, such as whelks and murex, are known predators of the crown conch. It’s a snail-eat-snail world out there, and I’m just hoping I’m the first to find the discarded shells.
Learn more about seashells
Learn more about identifying shells, the history of seashell collecting, great shelling beaches, and the lives of the animals who make the shells we find on the beach. Articles ›
No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2022 issue.