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Olividae Family

Shell Families

  1. Condiae Family
  2. Cowrie Family
  3. Murex Family
  4. Spondylus Family
  5. Turbinidae Family
  6. Volutidae Family
  7. Argonautidae Family
  8. Nautilidae Family
  9. Chamidae Family
  10. Dried Sea Life Family
  11. Strombidae Family
  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

Myacidae Family
  Olividae Family

As you walk the Hatteras beach you will often find members of this family of shells. It is common to the Atlantic area. In 1984 South Carolina declared it their state shell. The ones you find lying on our beach usually have holes in the end and are not shiny like those you will find rolling at the edge of the surf. The reason the shell is shiny is that the animal keeps the shell partially covered with its mantle. This is the same thing the animal in the Cowry shell does. The Olive Shell animal is similar to the Murex shell animal in that it secrets a mucus that can be processed into a purple dye. Olive shell animals are flesh eaters and burrow in the sand.

In my early days walking the Hatteras Beach the name “Olive” for this shell was totally foreign to me and most of the Islanders. We called it a Bullet. This leads me to discuss how shells got their names. Most shells acquired their names according to how the first finder viewed them. If you are in an area that has olive trees you would associate a shell you found on the beach that resembled the fruit of an olive tree with it. Therefore you would call it the Olive Shell.

Olive Trees are not native to Hatteras Island . Years ago most people living on Hatteras Island had little or no knowledge of what an olive even looked like. I remember one of the favorite stories my Uncle Alfred Gray told about the time he was off the Island and went to a restaurant were they served him a martini. He would dramatize about that thing on the end of a stick that was in the martini that had a red tongue in the center sticking out at him. Of course you have to remember he was not use to whiskey being served in fancy glass. He loved to demonstrate how he held it up, gazed at it and wondered what was you were suppose to do with the strange looking thing. He said he was not sure if it was alive or dead, or if he should eat it or kill it. His first adventure with a stuffed olive was always good for a laugh at the family gatherings. Because we did not have olives growing on Hatteras it was only natural that we associated the shell with that which we were familiar. To us it resembled a bullet so we called it a Bullet. It was not until later that I learned the term “olive” was associated with the shell.

As time went on, and people began to collect shells, a system was developed to group shells into categories so they could be recognizable. Collectors world wide began to realize that it would be next to impossible to keep up with all the different types of shells without some type of filing system. After all, there are over 93,000 different types of shells. There had to be a way, so some highly intelligent people throughout the world rose to the occasion by identifying and grouping shells and plants so that others could catalog them. In the shell world these people are know as Identifiers and you will often see their names or abbreviations written along with the scientific name of the shell. Today, as a result of their hard work, it is a common practice to group shells by families and species within the family.

The concept of grouping shells is the same as we group humans by families and relatives. Humans that have the same traits and DNA are grouped by their family names and so it is with shells. In some instances it is hard to determine what group some shells fall into due to their unusual traits and habits. Just as among humans some shells don’t resemble or act like other members of a given family.

An interesting study for you is to learn about the Identifiers that dedicated their lives to the science of grouping and classifying shells.

When you visit my Specimen Shop I try to provide you with specific information about each shell that will assist you with your research in learning more about the animal that lived within the shell.

Example of how I group my shells.

Lettered Olive



Ravenel 1894

Hatteras Island

Name of Family




Last Name

First name family member


Area found

Note:    I like to have a place for my personal comments about the shell. Comments are great for remembering stories, and historical things about a shell.

Comments:    Comments: Who was Ravenel? Edmund Ravenel, (1791-1871) was a MD and a professor of Chemistry who loved shells. He helped to create the medical university of South Carolina. He found the Lettered Olive and named it. Called Bullets on Hatteras Island, NC

A craft Idea to try with Olives or Bullets with holes
in them you find while visiting Hatteras Island.

Try this for fun to hang around here and there. See how many you can thread on a line. Be sure to knot end. You might have to scrape embedded pieces of shells out of the olive shell. Fishing tackle works well for threading.

See how many you can thread on a line.

Fill a Container with Hatteras Bullets

Collect and fill a container like this one to remind you of your great days of relaxing and walking the Hatteras beach.

Fill a Container with Hatteras Bullets

In my shell shop I attempt to keep various types of olive shells available not only for collectors but crafters. You will usually find the ones below available in our regular shell shack.

Olividae Family

Oliva miniacea Oliva Black Gibbosa
Oliva miniacea
Oliva Black Gibbosa

Larger image

Pink Olive
Pink Olive

Larger image

Mixed Olives
Mixed Olives

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