Jingle shells, jingle shells, jingle all the way

Oh, you know it’s stuck in your head. If not the Christmas carol, than the image of the beautiful shell that leaves a twinkle in the sand as you walk along the shoreline. Many people assume jingle shells are juvenile oysters because they’re often attached to them. But, jingle shells are their very own species known as Anomia simplex. Here are 10 facts for you to better get to know this treasured beachcomber’s find.

1. Jingle shells have thin, translucent shell halves that look like frosted nail polish.
2. Jingle shells have also been nicknamed “Mermaid’s Toenails”, “Saddle Oyster”, or  “gold shell”.
3. Jingle shells appear all year and are found in shallow waters, beaches, oyster beds, and mollusk shells as far north as the coast of Nova Scotia, and all the way down south to Brazil.
4. The jingle shell is a bivalve mollusk, similar to mussels, oysters, and scallops, which all have two separate shells or “valves”. The upper valve is rounded and movable. The lower valve is typically flat and forms to the object which it is attached. It has a hole in the top where tufts of filament, the animal’s byssal threads, grow out to attach it to another surface (i.e., Jingle shells are epifaunal just like bromeliads).
5. The raw meat of the jingle shell is sharply bitter to the taste.
6. The jingle shell can reach up to 1-3 inches.
7. The lower valve of the jingle shell remains white, while the upper valve ranges from shiny lemon yellow, golden, brownish, silvery black, or pale buff. The shiny iridescence of the jingle shell is retained even after death.
8. Jingle shells take in water and filter nutritious plankton and other food through ciliated gills.
9. Jingle shells were given their common name because of the sound they make when strung together. Beachcombers often use jingle shells to make jewelry or wind chimes. Julia Ellen Rogers noted in her 1931 The Shell Book that “Pretty lampshades are made by piercing the valves of jingle shells near the hinge and stringing them, then attaching the strands so as to fit over the outside of a plain glass or porcelain shade, whose brightness is pleasantly mellowed by the network of shells”.
10. Fishermen have been known to disperse jingle shells over oyster beds in a process known as “shelling” to create a habitat for oysters can settle.




Getting to know three … Bivalve edition

Ever know instinctively that some animals are ‘related’ and just can’t pinpoint their similarities? On the third day of every month I explain three features that are common among three animals of a certain group. Of course, generally each group has more than three representatives and even  many more similarities and then even more differences, but I am going to choose three similarities that link threes to keep it simplified. This month is focused the mussel, scallop, and clam. These three animals are all part of the bivalve group which is the second largest group of mollusks. The largest group of mollusks are the gastropods. Mollusks are well-known for their soft, unsegmented bodies and shell covering (although cephalopods do not have this feature). Check out the image below to learn what the featured animals all have in common.




Colorful coquina clams sign of healthy beach

Those tiny, colorful clams with two siphons poking our of their shells that emerge quickly once the waves wash gently ashore are known as coquina (ko-KEE-nah) clams. These bivalves rarely exceed an inch long and are indicators of a healthy beach. If eroding beaches are constantly being renourished, coquina clams, as well as other sand dwelling invertebrates (i.e., mole crabs), could become buried under the extra sediment. Many beaches have to be renourished because the natural supply of sand from rivers and other sources from the mountains have been impeded by dams and reservoirs. Coquina clams can usually recover their populations if a beach has not been renourished in a year or two.

They tend to feast upon single-celled detritus or algae. Fish, shorebirds, and humans tend to feast upon them. That’s right, coquina clams are found around the world and are enjoyed steamed with butter or even as ‘the basis for a great potato puree‘. In Australia there is a commercial fishery for the meat (God help those processors).

In Florida, you can visit one of my favorite places, Blowing Rocks Preserve, and see the coquina rock outcrop. The coquina rock is a soft rock that is made up of the coquina clam shells (as well as other materials). But, what makes this rock outcrop so unique is that it is part of the largest section rock, known as the Anastasia Formation, from the Pleistocene epoch (2.576 million years ago).

Happy as a clam

Lately everyone has been asking me how the junior Beach Chair Scientist is doing and I often find myself saying, “Oh! She’s as happy as a clam!” It occurred to me that I didn’t fully understand the expression since clams are not known to smile. I did some research and found out that the phrase originates from parts of New England where clams are a plenty. Also, the phrase is better understood in its entirety, “Happy as a clam at high water.” You see, at high tide clams can avoid there predators in the water so they are quite happy indeed! So next time someone says they are “happy as a clam” you can say … “did you know?” cause everyone loves that kind of person, right?

Image (c) civin.org

How does an oyster make a pearl?

Chargrilled oysters

Image via Wikipedia

Oysters are another bivalve animal. In the case of all bivalves, the part of the animal that lines the shell is known as the nacre and the part of the animal that make up the outer shell is known as the mantle. A pearl is created rather by accident when something foreign gets stuck inside the mantle, thus the nacre builds up to protect the animal. This build up is known as the pearl.

Oysters, mussels, and clams all make pearls. However, they are most often seen in oysters. My theory is that the oyster shells are typically not as uniform in shape as clams and mussels and tend to grow according to their surroundings, making it easier for foreign junk to accumulate.

Why are there holes through some clam shells?

moonsnailholezd2The shell to the right with a hole through it was hinged to another shell of equal size with an animal living inside (in this case, a clam). Animals with two shells hinged together are known as bivalves. Often, in restaurants oysters and clams are shucked and served “on-the-half-shell” (Yum! I prefer them plain, but sometimes mix it up with ones with plenty of horseradish!).

Animals in the ocean do not have the luxury of someone shucking their prey, but rather use an adaptation called a radula. A radula is the sharp, drill-like tongue of some mollusks (e.g., whelk or conch). Radulas are found on every class of mollusk except for bivalves. A whelk or a conch would use their radula to drill into the clam and then slurp out its meal … Leaving behind a perfectly symmetrical hole. Moon snails and oyster drills are also well-known for using this technique to drill into clams for a feast.

Image (c) imageshack.us

What are the tiny colorful clams you find under the sand when digging?

These tiny colorful clams are commonly known as coquina clams.

Did you see them wriggle under the sand? They use a muscled foot to dig a burrow and hide from their enemies: crabs, sea stars, and snails. They can feed themselves with the muscle coming out of the other end, called a siphon. The siphon basically just sucks in the “vitamins” of the sea for the clam to grow on.

Clams grow very fast in the summer and fairly slow in the winter. You can tell the age of a clam by counting the darker rings. The softer rings are the slow growth of winter. Think how your hair grows longer and faster in the summer.

Did you know that colorful coquina clams are the sign of a healthy beach? Check the video posted here!

Do you have another great question? Email info@beachchairscientist.com and share.