Suncoast Beaches, FL - Bradenton, Longboat Key, Sarasota, Lido Key, Siesta Key & Venice - Vacation Travel Guide

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Suncoast Beaches Area Features

A Guide to Shelling in Sarasota

The entire west coast of Florida abounds with molluskan sea life, especially offshore along the vast extent of the shallow continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.

Over a thousand years ago, the native Calusa Indians harvested millions of large whelks for food and used the emptied shells for tools and weapons. Many of the nearby inlets and ancient village sites of these now-extinct people are built of mounds of these broken whelk shells.

Seashells have always dominated the lives and activities of most people in this semi-tropical garden. The charm and irresistible lure of shelling is embodied in the common names of the area’s best-known shells: the angel wing (a clam that burrows deeply in the mud); the banded tulip (a snail shell shaped like an unopened tulip); and the lightning whelk (lightning-like color streaks).

Seashells are a natural, vibrant part of nature. They are the outer, protective houses of soft, living animals. As the animal grows, it gradually adds liquid shell material to the edge of its shell. Special glands add color pigments just before the new layers harden.

Most gastropods (one-shelled conches, whelks and periwinkles) have separate sexes, with females laying their eggs either loosely in the water or within small chains of leathery capsules. These “rattlesnake” chains, containing hundreds of “baby” shells, are frequently cast up on the gulf-side beaches. The bivalves (two-shelled clams, oysters and scallops) may have separate sexes or possess both male and female organs in the same individual. Most bivalves shed millions of eggs and sperm freely into the ocean’s water, usually in the springtime.

There are hundreds of different shells found in the shallow waters off Sarasota and Manatee counties' islands. Another 500 species live far out in the Gulf of Mexico in depths ranging from 80 to 2,000 feet. Each species has its preferred habitat and ecological requirements. The half-inch, colorful coquina clam lives only along a fairly narrow band of sloping sand beach, where the waves can bring them oxygen and food during high tide.

Mollusks are an important part of the web of life in the sea. They are a major source of food for bottom-feeding fish and for many aquatic birds. Some snails are effective scavengers and keep the seascape clean, while billions of clams and oysters are constantly filtering and “purifying” our local waters.

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