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Mollusks are generally characterized as having a soft body, commonly protected by a limy exoskeleton. This phylum, which includes more than 85,000 species,  is among the largest invertebrate groups in the animal kingdom.

Their exoskeletons, commonly known as shells, have evolved into countless forms, sizes, shapes, and colors--many of which wash up on shores around the globe. If you head to the beach this Labor Day weekend look for these and other mollusks.

Atlantic Moon Snail

Atlantic Moon Snail

AMNH/M.Shanley


Common Name: Atlantic Moon Snail

Scientific Name: Polinices duplicatus

Family Name: Naticidae

These carnivorous snails have a large foot which they use to move rapidly through waterlogged sand in search of molluscan prey, guided by their strong sense of smell. Females lay eggs in large pliable structures commonly known as “sand collars, ”made of grains of sand and held together by solidified mucus. 

Location: This specimen was found in New York State. 

Angel Wing Clam 

Angel Wing Shell

AMNH/M.Shanley


Common Name: Angel Wing Clam

Scientific Name:Cyrtopleura costata 

Family Name: Pholadidae

The clams that inhabit Angel Wing shells live in burrows as deep as two feet, in low water bays and inlets. Shells in the Pholadidae family do not have hinge teeth or ligaments to keep the two valves together in place. Their cramped living quarters, together with the abductor muscles, are sufficient for that purpose.

Location: This specimen was found in Florida. 

Tiger Cowrie 

Tiger Cowrie

AMNH/M.Shanley


Common Name: Tiger Cowrie

Scientific Name: Cyprae tigris 

Family Name: Cypraeidae 

The unique shape and brilliant colors of mature shells in the Cypraeidae family have long attracted collectors. In Italy, cowrie shells are called porcellani or little pigs, and when Marco Polo brought back lustrous pottery from China his countrymen exclaimed that they gleamed like the porcellani, thus giving us the word.

Location: This specimen was found in Hawaii.

Atlantic Deep-Sea Scallop 

Atlantic Deep-Sea Scallop

AMNH/M.Shanley


Common Name: Atlantic Deep-Sea Scallop

Scientific Name: Placopecten magellanicus 

Family Name: Pectinidae

The shells in the Pectinidae family are sometimes referred to as “butterflies of the sea” because of the fluttering swimming movement attained by opening and closing the valves and ejecting water in the form of jet propulsion. As the name implies the Atlantic Deep-Sea Scallop is found in deeper water but single valves are commonly found in beaches from Labrador to North Carolina. 

Location: This specimen was found in New York State. 

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