Alive, alive-o!

It’s great to see a sea shell (mollusc), but even better to see the animal that made it, intact and getting on with its life. ‘Shell’ is a bit misleading, as many molluscs don’t have visible shells but are photogenic anyway.

I learned a lot of what I know about molluscs, both salty and fresh, from a book called The Shell Makers: Introducing Mollusks, by Alan Solem. Although it’s quite old (1974) and written by a mollusc expert who was Curator of Invertebrates at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, it is far from dry. It is very detailed about the classification, structure and lifestyles of the animals themselves in all their forms (bivalves, chitons, gastropods, limpets, octopuses and their relatives, and so on, both fresh and salt water), with chapter titles like ‘To scrape a living’ (about feeding) and ‘On becoming sluggish’ (about, well, slugs). He describes the actual process of forming a shell, and there are many photos of the actual animals.

My partner-in-crime on the beach is my husband, Andrew. He’s an octopus-spotter par excellence, even when they are sheltering under their ledges in the daytime. The octopus is one of the photogenic molluscs that don’t have any shell, internal or external.

I was asleep, but I just came out to see what you’re up to

Here’s Andrew with an elephant snail, Scutus antipodes.

Andrew and elephant snail at Flat Rock, Ballina

Here’s a close-up  of Scutus antipodes.

Close-up of an elephant snail

You can often find the shell of a dead Scutus on the beach or in a rock pool.

What’s left after an elephant snail dies

Charonia lampas, the Australian red triton, is a common mollusc found in crevices in rock platforms around here. If you go at the lowest tides of the year (at the spring or autumn equinox), you can investigate places that are normally covered up by water.

Australian red triton

And then there is the ringed cowry, Cypraea annulus.

Ringed cowry

Here’s something to be very careful of. Treat any live cone shell (below) with extreme caution, as some species have killed people. They sense their prey with their proboscis and eye stalks (the pair is visible below), hunt it and impale it with their harpoon. The venom paralyzes the prey, and the cone then extends its mouth to swallow it. Not all cones kill people, but enough people have been harpooned and died that you should not pick one up, and especially not put it in a trouser pocket or in your swimsuit! They are pretty, but a ‘look, don’t touch’ policy is best.

Beware the harpoon of the strawberry conch, Strombus luhuanus – both eye stalks are visible above


I’ve posted pics of other live molluscs in previous posts: nudibranchs, turbans, bubble shells and sea hares.

I’m looking forward to learning more about molluscs, this time land ones, when I receive my copy of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. This book has had great reviews.

In the meantime, to paraphrase a song, I’ll be going:

Along beaches broad and narrow

Crying cockles and mussels

Alive, alive-o

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2 Responses to Alive, alive-o!

  1. Doug says:

    Thank you for your lovely post. I will be headed to LHI myself this year and your post was most welcome! (I have a lot of shell interests myself). Your post was exactly what I hoped to find.
    One minor correction. The shell that you are calling a ‘Cone Shell’ actually isn’t. It is actually a Strawberry Conch, Strombus luhuanus. You can tell it’s a conch because of the ‘conch notch’. Also the very well-developed eye.

    • Joy Window says:

      Thanks very much for the ID, Doug. I’ve corrected the post. You’ll love Lord Howe if you like shells, or birds, or wildlife in general. The place is noticeably a lot faster people-wise than it used to be, and I do miss the slower pace. But that’s “progress” for you. They try to keep the natural world there as unspoilt as possible, as it brings in the income, along with the kentia palm seedlings. I look forward to seeing your pictures – please let me know when they are on your site.

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