Shell Collecting is a Relaxing Past-time On Hatteras Island
In my early days each shell I picked up made me wonder about the animal that had lived in it. I think we often forget that an empty shell was once someone’s home. I had many questions. What did the animal look like, what did it eat, how long did it live, how did it die, and where in the ocean did it come from. Often I would pick up shells to play with on the beach or take home to use as toys. In the thirties my Island toys were the things we collected from the beach. I used shells to decorate, pave roads, and to represent people and animals in my imaginary sand forts and castles. Sometimes I even pretended shells were cannons on pirate ships.
Even though my Hatteras childhood days are behind me I still find a fascination with shells when I walk the beach. No longer do I see shells as toys but objects of a lifelong learning adventure. All my former questions about each animal in the shells still remains. Today I am no longer confined to a single beach. I can walk the exotic beaches of the world and find shells I had no idea existed. The wonderful thing about collecting shells is you will never be bored. You cannot possibly acquire them all or learn all about them in one lifetime. As a teacher I found collect shells to be a great teaching tool. I could walk into my classroom carrying a single shell and use it as a springboard to a unit of learning that encompassed many different fields.
There are many reasons to collect shell but the first shell collector had the best reason of all. Long before man ever started collecting shells for enjoyment there was a strange little animal that lived in a shell that collected empty shells. This shell animal crawled around on the bottom of the ocean picking up shells, rocks, and other debris attaching them to his shell. Now this animal had a main purpose in doing this. The purpose was to conceal himself from his predators. When another sea creature came along that would do him harm and looked down at him all they saw was a mass of broken or dead shells.
This sea animal even glued all clam type shells with the open side up to make his enemies think there was nothing for them to eat. It is hard to realize that this little creature of the sea has the innate, or God Given ability, to protect itself by producing an underwater glue to adhere objects to its shell. Glueing objects were not an easy task. The animal had to give thought to selecting the type of object and a specific location to place that object on its shell. This was done by twisting its proboscis and head to put the piece in place by using its foot. Sometimes it took hours and hours to accomplish this.
This creature of the sea has become known as the Carrier Shell or Xenophora . The name Xenophora comes from the Greek word meaning carrying foreigners. In this case the foreigners are objects found lying on the ocean floor that it has attached to its body. .
In my collection of carrier shells I have some that have all types of things attached to them such as: shells, rocks, coral, wood, and metal. It is interesting to note that some have even glued bottle caps to their shells. The many different things you see attached to the shell are reflective of its environment. This animal was the first to develop the art of Camouflage.
Within this small family of shells found in tropical waters you will find a variety of shapes ranging from that of star, sunburst and ones that have long spines. They are not large shells. They do not exceed about 4 inches. This is one of those shells you should put in your collection. It makes you wonder if the animals have the God Given ability to think and make decisions.
Xenophora pallidula (Trischel, 1852)
Bivalves glued open side up
Bottom View of Same Shell
Animal Lives Inside
In the Gray House Specimen Shell Shack you will find a variety of Carrier Shells.