Seashelling Vacations

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Seashell Basics

What are Seashells?

Seashells are the outer coverings -- the "exoskeletons" -- of sea animals called mollusks. The shell is actually a chalky juice substance that hardens to protect the soft body of marine creatures like clams, snails, and oysters. All these mollusks live inside the shells or carry them on their backs. When mollusks die, their empty shells wash up on the beach. Not all shells on the sand are empty, though, and it's very important not to disturb or to take shells that still have live animals inside. You can often tell if an animal lives inside by checking for a slimy substance deep inside the opening; the slimy material may well be a sea critter. If you're not certain, ask a more experienced sheller or talk to a lifeguard or environmentalist on the beach.

A Walk on the Beach

Walking on the beach is a glorious experience, and it's even more so when you and the kids are on the hunt for seashells. Their myriad shapes, designs, and colors treat the eyes and inspire the imagination. Heading down the beach at low tide in beautiful filtered light with your bag of seashells, you feel like you're in an impressionist painting. Wading knee deep and slogging back to shore might conjure up images of Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Stop for a while and sit in one spot in the wet sand, just sifting through what's in reach. When you find shells, you instantly become a naturalist. Turn their wet spiral, fluted, and scalloped shapes over in your hands. Say words like "whelk," "cockle," "quahog," "coquina," "urchin," and "barnacle." Learn about marine personalities like fiddler, hermit, and ghost crabs; and about mollusk attributes like slimy feet and raspy teeth. Watch behavior like boring and burrowing. Marvel at the intricate beauty of a sand dollar. Finding seashells is as easy as patiently opening up to the amazing and ever-changing seashore. The treasure is all around you in nature and in the moments of wonder you share as a family.

Continued on page 4:  Where, When, and How to Find Shells


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