Journal archives for June 2021

June 02, 2021

How to find small and tiny seashells to increase your life list


In response to this recent iNat post:

I suggested that iNat observers could find a lot of additional species of shelled marine mollusks to add to the iNat named species total if people who are beachcombing tried to find more of the small and tiny shells.

It seems that most people only pick up shells that are about an inch in diameter, or larger than that. I suppose that is because they shell by walking along the beach until a shell catches their eye.

Instead I would recommend that people check the drift lines, the wrack lines on a beach, until they see a patch or a line that appears to have mostly small stuff in it, even though some of that might be broken fragments of shells and other detritus, rather than whole shells.

Pay particular attention to the surface of sandy beaches near jetties and piers, where the sea water tends to form eddies. Eddies are often the place where waves drop the smallest stuff they are carrying. Flat areas of a beach at mid-tide or low-tide level are often promising places to look for patches of small shells. Sometimes the sediment on the bottom surface of a tide pool or rockpool can be good too.

If you see a patch of fine detritus on the beach that you think might be worthy of investigation, kneel down or sit down, and take a closer look.

You can pick up the small and tiny shells and drop them into a suitable container. I like to use a plastic flip-top vial. If I am finding extremely tiny shells, I fill that vial with water -- that way even a very tiny shell (2 or 3 mm) will drop down into the water instead of remaining stuck to my finger when I try to add it to the vial.

Another collecting method is to simply scoop up all of the possibly relevant material, and put it into a ziplock snack bag. This material can be washed, dried, and sorted at home at your leisure -- so-called armchair collecting.

I myself wear neoprene knee and elbow pads with gel inserts when I do a lot of searching for tiny shells. That way I can kneel, and when necessary crawl, for hours on end, day after day, without scraping the skin off of my knees and elbows. And I use magnifying reading glasses to help me see the smallest shells.

While it is true that you are likely to find some small juveniles of larger shells, you are also likely to find a lot of species which never reach an adult size that is larger than half an inch, a quarter of an inch, or even smaller still.

If you happen to know a scuba diver, you may want to ask the diver if he or she would scoop you up a small ziplock bag of sediment from a quiet place that is likely to have a lot of small species, such as under a kelp bed, or off of the end of a coral reef. Those places can be very rich in tiny species.

Storing the tiny species of shells requires small glass vials or tiny plastic boxes and small slips of rag paper. Small shells can be stored in very small ziplocks that are 2 inches by one inch or 3 by 2 inches.

If you end up getting deep into this area of knowledge, you will find you need some good magnification at home. A good light and a head-mounted magnifier, a standing magnifier, or possibly even a binocular microscope may come to seem like a necessity.

With some notable exceptions, the literature on the super tiny shells, which are often known as micromollusks, can be sparse and sometimes hard to obtain. Many popular books don't include any or many micromollusks.

Shells a bit larger than micros are often known as "minis". I however don't like that term, as these are not miniature shells, but simply small species.

If you have any questions about this or similar subjects, feel free to ask me.

Posted on June 02, 2021 04:22 PM by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 26 comments | Leave a comment