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Cassidae Family

Shell Families

  1. Condiae Family
  2. Cowrie Family
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  4. Spondylus Family
  5. Turbinidae Family
  6. Volutidae Family
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  12. Trochidae Family
  13. Myacidae Family
  14. Haliotidae Family
  15. Tunnidae Family
  16. Specimen Family
  17. Olividae Family
  18. Cassidae Family
  19. Pleurotomariidae Family
  20. Dentaliidae Family
  21. Large Decorative Shells
  22. Angariinae Family
  23. Xenophoridae Family
  24. Neritidae Family

Cassidae Family
  Cassidae Family

Even though the shell species Cassidae is listed as a subfamily of the Tonnidae Family, I have take the liberty of dealing with them as a separate family unit. When you hold a Tun Shell in one hand and the Yellow Horned Helmet Shell in the other, the sheer size and weight difference, and thickness of the shell is sufficient to merit listing the two shells separately. Cassidae constitutes about 60 different species of shells commonly known as helmets and bonnets. When we say helmet or bonnet we naturally think of head gear. The heavy Helmet shell is reminder of the helmets that were worn for protection from injuries during the wars. The smaller Bonnet shells are a reminder of the caps worn during peacetimes. The Scotch Bonnet Shell (Semicassis granulatum) was named after the caps worn by the men of Scotland. Even though helmet shells are few in number they have some very large, heavy, and unique members of their families that make them a desirable collector’s item.

Probably the most well know smaller member of the Cassidae family on Hatteras Island is the Scotch Bonnet. The Scotch Bonnet is tougher than the Tun Shells and the teeth along the outer edges of the shell are more prominent as are those of the other members of the Cassidae family. It has ridges which are less prominent than the tun shell.

Scotch Bonnet

Collection of Scotch Bonnets Found on
Buxton South Beach Note: This is the
Beach The Audubon Society Wants to
Close. Would mean no more Shelling.

At one time Scotch Bonnets were plentiful on our beaches. Now it is a rare occasion when you find one. You can walk the beach for days and seldom see one. Then all of sudden, When you least expect it there might be one that has just rolled in with the surf. Whenever this happen you feel have acquired a treasure. Often visitors to the Old Gray House come back from the beach overjoyed to show us the Scotch Bonnet they found. A good place that many overlook finding them is mixed in with the seaweed that has washed ashore. A few gentle kicks in the seaweed might provide you with an unexpected Scotch Bonnet. Locals and visitors to the Island anxiously wait for daybreak to search the beach for Scotch Bonnets. When asked where they found Scotch Bonnets they are reluctant to share such valuable information fearing they will lose their location. Many desire the shell because it has the distinction of being the first seashell to be declared a state shell. In commemoration of the Scottish Settlements that came to North Carolina the Scotch Bonnet was declared the state shell of North Carolina.

Scotch Bonnet Scotch Bonnet

Scotch Bonnets Found On the Hatteras Beach
Click Here  to Read how “Law and Order” is Symbolized by the Scotch Bonnet.

Within the Cassidae family we find some very large and heavy shells that stay half buried in the sand throughout the day and come out at night to feed. They are fierce feeders on urchins and crustaceans using their powerful muscular foot to climb aboard. Once aboard they use their radial tooth to drill holes while secreting acid to immobilize the animal and dissolve the meat so they can ingest it. Theses shells have a thin oval shaped operculum (trapdoor) that covers their main opening. In many areas they are being protected due to the over fishing because of their popularity as a display shell and a food source. In the past one species commonly called the Cameo or red helmet (Cypraecassis rufa, Linn., 1758) was a favorite of the Italian artist to use in the production of jewelry. It was imported to Italy by the artist from its natural habitat which ranged from East Africa to Polynesia. In the story I wrote entitled, “My Mothers Cameo” I shared how the Italian artist used the Helmet Shells to produced cameo jewelry fit for a Queen. Click Here   to read about Cameo jewelry.

Red Bonnet

Cypraecassis rufa, Linn., 1758
Also called Red Helmet – Bull Mouth - Cameo

The most recognizable member the of this family the horned is the yellow helmet with its orange outer lip (Cassis cornuta, Linn.,1758). This impressive shell with it distinctive coloration is sought after by home decorators. Its size alone that can exceed a foot makes it an interesting conversation piece in any home setting.

Yellow Bonnet

Cassis cornuta, Linn., 1758
Also called Yellow Helmet – Horned Helmet

The Cameo and the Yellow Helmet are not found in our North Carolina waters. However we do have one species found in our waters off-shore. That is the King Helmet which is found from North Carolina to Brazil. The King Helmet (Cassis tuberose, Linn., 1758) is easily recognizable from the other helmets by its brown coloration.

King Bonnet King Bonnet
Cassis tuberose, Linn., 1758
Also called King Helmet and Brown Helmet

If you do not have large helmet shells in your collection I suggest you acquire them as soon as possible. They are becoming scarce and expensive. I try to maintain some of the smaller variety of bonnets in my shell shops. They are one of the favorite shells of the hermit crabs due to their light weight and inner swirls that aide the crab in being secure inside the shell. One of my favorite Bonnets is the Gray Bonnet. It reminds me of my Grandmothers Grays bonnet, and the Old Gray House.

Grandmother Gray

Gray Bonnet
Phaliumglaucum, Linn., 1785

Old Gray House

Freak Bonnet Freak Bonnet
Freak Bonnet Shell

I found this freak shell years ago during one of my early morning beach walks. It appears to be half bonnet and tun. Notice the raised ridge that seperates the two halves. it has very fine ridges and teeth along the outer rim. One side is light color similar to a scotch bonnet and the other side is brown like the giant tun. Not sure what to call it. Never know what you will find or see when you walk the Hatteras Island beach. Click Here to read my story entitled, "The Secrets of Sunrise"

Cassidae Family

Red Helmet
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Yellow Helmet
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Scotch Bonnet
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