How to Clean Seashells

cleaningseashells

Adam asked: How do I clean seashells (clam shells, oyster shells, hermit crab shells, etc.). When I take them out of the ocean, they are left a little bit sandy and a little bit filmy. Sometimes, there is even life still inside of the shells. What’s the best way to clean them to keep them on my shelves and not smelling like the ocean?

Seashells make beautiful souvenirs from any trip to the ocean or beach. From children to adults, we all enjoy finding a beautiful shell on the beach and bringing it home to display. Unfortunately, if there is still life in or on the shell, it quickly loses its beauty to the awful stench it creates. This can be easily avoided and quickly corrected by some simple cleaning techniques to remove the ocean life and protective coatings that are commonly found on seashells. Follow the guidelines below to keep your shell collection for many years of enjoyment.

Cleaning Living Shells

The first step is to kill any living organisms in the shell. There are several ways to accomplish this, depending on the amount of time that you have and the method that works best for you.

You Will Need (Choose one method):

  • Freezing Method
    • Ziploc bag
  • Burying Method
    • Small shovel
    • Area of dirt
  • Cooking Method
    • Large pot
    • Water
    • Tongs
    • Microwave
  • Tweezers

Methods to Remove Shell Inhabitants:

Choose your method of killing any living tissue in the shells and follow the directions below. You will know that the shells are clean when the periostracum, or leathery/flaky coating that is found on shells, is removed.

  1. Freeze It!
    1. Place the shells inside of a Ziploc bag.
    2. Add enough water to the bag so all of the shells are covered.
    3. Place the bag with the shells and water in the freezer.
    4. Allow it to freeze solid for a couple of days.
    5. Remove it from the freezer and allow everything to thaw completely.
  2. Bury It!
    1. This method takes the longest, but is quite effective.
    2. Dig a hole in the ground large enough to fit the shells with plenty of space between. Ensure the hole is deep enough that animals will not be able to dig the shells up to remove them (usually 18-24 inches is sufficient).
    3. Cover with dirt and mark the spot clearly so you can find it again.
    4. Leave them long enough for the organisms and creatures in the ground to clean out the shells and remove any life.
  3. Cook It!
    1. There are two ways to cook shells to remove the living tissue.
    2. You can either boil them in a pot filled with water or place them in a microwave for a couple of minutes.
    3. Remove them with tongs and oven mitts/towel as they will be very hot.
  4. Use tweezers or your fingers to carefully pull out any living tissue from inside the shell and dispose of it.
  5. Now that the living tissue is removed, you can continue on with cleaning the “dead” shells.

Cleaning Dead Shells

You Will Need:

  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • Toothbrush
  • Towel
  • Screwdriver
  • Baby or mineral oil

Steps to Clean the Shells:

  1. Fill a bowl with one part water and one part bleach. It should be full enough to cover all of the shells completely.
  2. Soak the shells in the liquid until the periostracum, the flaky, leathery covering on the shells, is removed.
  3. If there are any barnacles or other attachments on the shell, pick them off with a pic or a screwdriver. Avoid using too much force as it can break the shell.
  4. Use the toothbrush to remove any other particles from the surface.
  5. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and allow them to dry completely.
  6. If you are planning on displaying the shells, rubbing them with baby oil or mineral oil will give a beautiful shine.

Special Cleaning for Sand Dollars

Sand dollars are fragile creatures and have special cleaning instructions.

You Will Need:

  • Bowl
  • Water
  • Bleach
  • Soft brush
  • Sand Dollar Coating

Steps to Clean Sand Dollars:

  1. Begin by allowing the sand dollars to dry for a few days.
  2. Fill a bowl with one part bleach and three parts water.
  3. Place the dead sand dollars into the solution and allow them to soak for a short while. Do not leave them in the solution for too long as they will become brittle.
  4. If necessary, use a soft brush to gently scrub away any dirt.
  5. Rinse thoroughly and allow them to dry completely.
  6. If desired, a commercial hardening coating can be applied to protect them and lessen the chances of them breaking. One product to consider is Sand Dollar Hardener & Whitener. It is available for purchase online.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • If time is available, just leave sand dollars out for several months. They will dry and whiten on their own.
  • If there is a broken or rough edge, it can be sanded smooth with a file.
  • Cleaning shells can be a messy job. Be sure to wear protective eyewear to protect yourself from any squirts or sprays.
  • If there is loose tissue inside of the shell that cannot be removed, you can set it outside and flies, ants and other insects will remove it over time.

Comments

  1. Cass says:

    Live shells should never be taken from the ocean, no matter how pretty they are. They should always be left there. In fact, it’s nice to throw live shells back out into the water. Only people with special permits should collect live specimens.

  2. Kitten says:

    I agree that live shells should never be taken, but any that no longer have life in them and get washed upon the shore are much more fun to find and look for.

  3. Gina says:

    You make a reference to a commercial hardening coating under the sand dollar section. What product do you recommend?

  4. Donna says:

    What is the protective commercial hardening coat product used in the sand dollar section? Is this used on seashells, or is there another product to protect seashells?

  5. DJ says:

    I agree, live shells should never be taken from their natural habitat unless the person removing them is legally allowed to do so. There are plenty of shells on many beaches that are dead; take those if allowed by the local laws.

  6. Nancy says:

    Some of the most beautiful shells we found were the live ones…we threw them back in the water. It was so awesome to pick up a beautiful shell to find it was someone’s home…so enjoyed the hunt and finding the beautiful shells!

  7. Paula says:

    I left my shells in the bleach solution too long and some turned orange. What happened? Can I salvage them?

    Thanks.

  8. Janice says:

    I’ve used three coats of high-gloss decoupage to coat some of my shells, but never on sand dollars. True story: I’ve just come back from Marco Island, Florida. Of the eight or so Florida Fighting Conch shells I brought home, I threw back more that had the conch still in them. Imagine my surprise when one of them had a hermit crab in it! I threw it back, too.

  9. Nathan says:

    I disagree with all of you! So what if you take live shells? They are a part of nature and there are thousands more of them all over the world! It is good to have keepsakes for your kids!

  10. Shauna says:

    It is mindsets like yours, Nathan, that have caused the problems we have with many various species being extinct, or seriously endangered, today. Do you seriously think that giving your kids “keepsakes” that they will probably throw away when they leave home is worth the suffering and death of the creatures that gave their lives for your hobby? Do you tell your children that an innocent creature died so they can have something to keep? Humans have no more rights than any other beings on this planet, mate. Stop murdering innocent creatures, and buy fake ones instead if your kids must have something to look at.

  11. Julia says:

    I think it is better to teach your kids about the value of life and respect for nature and our planet than to kill sea creatures for the sake of keepsakes. Especially when there are plenty of uninhabited shells on beaches that can be taken home to treasure.

  12. Norma says:

    I say do like I do… I walk the beach and find shells that are empty and then go to the local store on the beach that sells shells that can’t be found on the beaches, that are cleaned and ready for display. They range from 2-5 cents, up to $15… and each year I add to my collection without killing anything. Your kids could go to a store like that and buy what they like without all the walking for hours to find something special that they like. Just ask around, locals will be able to tell you where you can find a shop like this.

  13. Charlie says:

    OK, so, I want to make a necklace for my girlfriend back home, and I am afraid to break them when I put holes in to put rope a through. Any advice?
    Thanks.

  14. Paula says:

    I have to agree with what others are saying, Nathan. As a professional scuba diver, and member of project aware, I think that if everyone had the same mentality as you, some creatures could become extinct. Have some respect and teach your children the same. Throw the live ones back in the sea.

  15. Steve says:

    Give me a break people. If there is nothing in the sea shells, really what difference does it make? Maybe we should not even walk on the beach and only look at it from a distance; that way we would not disturb anything! In fact, why don’t we just lock everyone up in the cities so that we don’t disturb nature!
    Nature is given to us to enjoy and appreciate. A seashell is a not only a keepsake, but also a way for people to remember and appreciate the wonders of nature.

  16. Jim says:

    Give me a break. I care about the earth and it’s creatures, but come on now. For as many fish, crabs, shrimp, and lobster that are killed each year, you are worried about some sand crab? They will be just fine if 1/10 of the population that actually goes to the beach takes some live ones home. Guess you don’t want to hear about how I drowned an opposum in my back yard?

  17. Jody says:

    Gross! I would never knowingly take a shell that still had life in it; that is a home for a creature. I have been many places and collected a lot of shells. I have only once – my last trip to Thailand – brought home a shell that had a creature in it. (I didn’t see it in there.) I’m not sure what to do. It kind of grosses me out; it’s dead now of course. :( Any ideas? I don’t think anyone should be giving directions to someone else on how to clean out live shells. That’s just wrong. Let’s be respectful to all creatures no matter if we think there are plenty of them or not. It’s not okay to take them from the ocean or the beach. If you really want one, find one that doesn’t have life in it.

  18. Mark says:

    It’s a shame that we can’t toss people like Nathan back.

  19. Melanie says:

    Jody,
    The dead shell method should probably be sufficient, but if not – try the live shell cooking method and then repeat the dry shell method.

  20. Melanie says:

    Steve,
    People taking the empty shells, particularly the big ones, leaves hermit crabs without an opportunity to grow. According to Cabinet Magazine, 30% of all hermit crabs were living in shells too small for them in 2004. The lack of sea shells is causing crabs to seek refuge in trash – broken glass bottles, etc.
    When a living creature dies in a seashell and has time to begin decomposing, the hermit crabs can smell the scent and gather at the new open house. They will wait for more crabs to arrive and get in a conga line in order of size; the largest crab takes the new house and they each pass their shells down to the next largest crab.
    Also, hermit crabs often carry other organisms on their shell as camouflage, such as a sea anemone. If the hermit crab moves into a larger shell, the sea anemone often moves to the new shell with their friend.
    Furthermore; people tend to take the beautiful, unbroken shells, which leaves the crabs with the broken, porous shells.
    There are over a thousand species of hermit crab that exist around the world.

    Source: Cabinet Magazine – The Hand Up Project: Attempting to Meet the New Needs of Natural Life-Forms
    Source: Scientific American – On a Tiny Caribbean Island, Hermit Crabs Form Sophisticated Social Networks [Video]
    Source: Animal Planet – Hermit crab
    Source: Wikipedia – Hermit crab

  21. Gayle says:

    Thanks so much for the site. I must admit I am confused about exactly what to use and how long to use the various methods of cleaning. I have been picking up shells here and there for years, but not taking care of them seriously. I tried the bleach overnight on some shells from 10 years ago and they sparkle. I thought they were totally bleached out from the sun, but the process revealed some great subtle color on most of them. Nothing is more relaxing than an early morning stroll on the beach. It’s fun to give coworkers a small treasure!

  22. Janet says:

    It was a very disappointing article to read…your callousness toward wildlife is disturbing. Many places, like Sanibel Island, actually prohibit the collecting of live shells. And Jim, your bragging about drowning a possum means you are clearly a sadistic jerk.

  23. Angie says:

    I agree with Janet 100%: it’s VERY disappointing to read about the disrespect towards wildlife. Our family just returned from Sanibel and our young children feel the same way to prohibit and protect the shells. So many available don’t have anything living in them. Very sad to read this.

  24. David says:

    I have a flamingo tongue shell that I had set in gold for my wife about 40 years ago. The shell needs to be re-set, but before I do that, how can I clean and preserve the shell so it will remain beautiful?

    I have heard both do and do not use baby oil.

    Thanks for your input.

  25. Marie says:

    I agree with Nathan 100 percent! You can’t save ‘em all!

  26. Tiffany says:

    Way to promote cruelty to animals. I find it abhorrent that people think it’s “okay” to take an animal from the wild and kill it for nothing other than a trophy. I feel the same way about trophy hunters as well. Here’s to hoping a cone snail gets a few of you!

  27. Mary Grace says:

    I agree with Tiffany. CONE SNAIL! CONE SNAIL! *ahem* But in all seriousness, it’s against the law (at least in Florida) to take live shells from the beach and kill them or keep them as pets. LAW BREAKAH!

  28. Jackie says:

    I have a very old conch shell & when unwrapped from a bath towel for moving; the outer shell is now all white & has appearance of chalk. Any ideas on how to get it shiny again?

  29. Susan says:

    I’m very distressed because I found a few shells on the beach that I thought were empty, but are home to small sand crabs! Despite inspecting them carefully I didn’t see life in any of them. I am going to overnight them to a kayaking outfit in Port Aransas and ask them to return them to the sea. This is a good lesson to anyone reading this. Leave nature undisturbed! Even though the shells may look empty, the creatures can hide away deep inside where you can’t see them!

  30. Dwayne says:

    Thanks for the tips. A lot of you seemed upset because of the live creators still in it. A couple years ago, in the Bahamas, I picked one up and didn’t see that something was in it until I got to the house.
    In other news, how many people actually buy shells on the internet.

  31. Angela says:

    It is illegal, in the state of Florida, to take ANY LIVE shell. Live shelling is illegal in most places. So, whoever thinks it’s just fine and dandy to kill a living creature so you can have a pretty shell to display on your living-room shelf–needs to think about those laws. Furthermore, we recently returned from Sanibel Island, the shelling capital of the world. Our family found many live horse conchs–some of them a foot long. We saw live creatures in them and threw them back. No question. The good news is that there were tourists all around us who found live starfish, sand dollars and other living shells. No question, they returned them to the sea. They picked up many shells (we brought home more than 100 shells!), but were not heartless enough to take live shells. There may be a minority population that is selfish enough to take live shells–but these people represent a very tiny group. Take heart in what I saw on Sanibel–99 percent of tourists were caring, kind, decent people. Cruel, oblivious chuckleheads are outliers.

  32. Lauren says:

    I think you can take the shells out of the water if they’re dead, but the thing is that you don’t know if they are. Especially sand dollars.

  33. Pat says:

    There’s many ways to really enjoy nature. Shells are not just shells; every shell is in the ocean for a purpose. I teach myself and my children to identify shells; we just don’t pickup shells. Our shell collection is like a treasure hunter’s, but guess what; we study the variety of shells, and search for them. It is a lot better to know names, shapes, colors, and also find who was living there. We have a book about shells; my daughter learns the names so fast and identifies them. We just don’t want a shell; we want to find the one we don’t have for our collection. By going to different islands and beaches, we have found the most unusual ones and beautiful ones; this way we can appreciate them more. My recommendation is, if you like shells, study them before you find them and challenge yourself to see if you can remember their names with your friends and children. We took a plastic board and display the shells; people pass by and we ask them if they have any of interest to learn seashell names, and they did, so this taught them what we do. Shells are not just shells; shells are God’s treasures and must be treated with love and respect. There is a purpose for everything and shells should be one of the most wonderful we have (that God is giving ocean shells). Hope this talk inspires you, and the next time you go to the beach, you can have another way to see shells. There’s beauty in a shell in very many different ways.

  34. Natalia says:

    Maybe you should consider removing completely the section about cleaning live shells – it is a real shame to KILL FOR FUN, like many of people from United states of America do! Especially considering that it is ILLIGAL in many places to remove live shells from the water!

  35. Liz says:

    I was shocked to find your site included a section on the ‘Cleaning of LIVE shells’.
    After my return from Turkey with a bag of old dead shells found washed up on the very high part of the beach, I searched for the best way to clean them and found your site. Please delete the section on LIVE shells. Those who help themselves to live creatures need to be held accountable, not encouraged.
    Am boycotting this site.

  36. Kristy says:

    Taking a live shell is a disrespect to nature. My family and I just returned from Sanibel Island and I had HOURS of enjoyment collecting seashells. It is a very relaxing activity for me. My two teenage boys were with me and we were all very cognizant of the live sea shells. In fact, my youngest son would make a point to wade out in the water as far as he could to throw the live seashell back. Yes, it is illegal in Sanibel Island (and all of Florida apparently) to take a live seashell. There are MORE than enough dead shells to collect, so why take one that is home to one of God’s creatures? The people who are posting about taking a live shell are ignorant and heartless. Please remove the “live” section of this post; why in the world would you have such disregard for marine life?

  37. Marie says:

    Yes, it is illegal to remove live shells in Florida, but I saw people at an extreme low tide on Bowditch beach with buckets of live sand dollars, olives, sea stars and conchs. There was nobody there enforcing the law. Florida could have a serious cash influx if the posted someone to write tickets. It’s offensive and destructive. It should be expensive.

  38. Amanda says:

    Always throw the live ones back! What is wrong with you?!

  39. Mary says:

    I love shelling, but always throw the live ones back. Every living creature deserves to live out it’s life.

  40. Dave says:

    Hey tree-huggers, get over it! My wife, son, and I had a wonderful day collecting shells off the gulf coast of Florida. After paying $120 for the “3 hour tour” to snorkel around to collect shells, you betcha we got a few that still had a live creature in it. Boil away! I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it either. Honestly, pay to Fed Ex them to someone to throw back?! Come on! Oh, and I belong to PETA… People Eating Tasty Animals. Can’t wait for hunting season. ;)

  41. Bob says:

    I was in Bermuda and found many beautiful shells. I was going through them this morning and one has a creature still inside. I’m not sure what to do. I went to remove what it was, but he disappeared back inside and it looks now like there’s nothing there. I put him in a cup of water. Can someone help? P.S. a bubble just came out. It’s just tap water; he came from the ocean. Will tap water be harmful?
    P.P.S. I didn’t know there was something in it when it left the beach. All the shells I took were small and curved; this one is conical, but looking at it now, it appears there is nothing inside it. When I saw the thing hanging out of it, I thought it was debris, but it quickly retracted so I believe it’s still alive. It’s been like 6 days. It was in a plastic Ziploc bag; is it possible he’s still alive in there?

  42. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    Remove it from the cup of water. If you found it on the beach, it might not be able to survive underwater. (A hermit crab, for example, actually lives on land and breathes air.) Also, yes, tap water could hurt it. Tap water contains chlorine, possibly chloramine as well, and other stuff. Just in case it’s a cone snail (and venomous), don’t touch it; just dump the water out. That was nice of you to give it some water though. :) But, go get it out now before you read any more.
    It sounds to me like you could have a hermit crab. I’ve looked up some possibilities of what it could be (creatures that live in seashells) and a hermit crab is the one that makes the most sense to me based on what you said (looks like debris, found on the beach, survived out of water for a week, etc.).
    If so, here’s what you can do. First, find something to put him in. Hermit crabs are excellent climbers and he might just wander off if he’s just sitting on the counter. Put some ventilation holes in it; he breathes air. If using an aquarium tank, it must have a lid; hermit crabs are so talented that they can climb the glue along the corner of a tank. Bigger ones are even strong enough to lift the lid, so you might want to put a book on the lid or something.
    You basically have two options. Either you can nurse him for a few days to help him get healthy again and then mail him (or bring him) back to the beach, or you can keep him as a pet.
    Either way, here is what he needs to get healthy and stay healthy:
    - Dechlorinated fresh water (to drink)
    - Saltwater (to bathe in)
    - Food (what you’ve got in the fridge will be fine for now)
    - Substrate (if you want to keep him, but it would also help keep him comfortable for a few days too – a big bag of play sand is cheap at a hardware store. Spray it thoroughly with water as needed to keep it ‘sandcastle consistency’.)
    - Humidity (70%)
    - A warm temperature (over 75 degrees. Think: Bermuda)

    In more detail:
    - You can probably look up the humidity of where you are online right now. If needed, run a hot shower and bring him to the bathroom – the humidity will be strong in there for a couple hours.
    - Next, he does need some water, but it needs to be dechlorinated. If you have some spring water, that’d be great. If not, you can get a tap water conditioner for hermit crabs at a pet store. You can then put the safe water in his home you make for him, but he needs a way to climb in and out of it; a net draped over the edge of a cup or a ramp of rocks or seashells in a little Tupperware container, etc. He might have drank some of the tap water, so it would be best to get him some fresh water as quickly as possible to help him flush the chlorine out of his system.
    - The fresh water is the water that he will drink. However, he also needs saltwater to bathe in. Don’t use table salt; he needs sea salt. You can get it at a grocery store. He will carry some water in his shell and wipe it on his gills to keep them moist. They’re modified gills, which means he breathes air with them, but he still needs to keep them moist. (Hence the high humidity needed.)
    - You can try giving him some food. Organic food is best, (many pesticides target arthropods, and hermit crabs are arthropods), but if you don’t have organic, just wash it really well and remove the skin. Hermit crabs are scavengers, so they’ll eat almost anything. He’d love some fresh fruit, veggies, meat (cooked or raw, but preferably cooked), etc. If you have an egg shell, he’d love that too. There are also some hermit crab pellet/powdered foods you can get at pet stores; research them though, some are supposedly really bad for them.
    - Also, he would really enjoy having some stuff to climb on – basically anything is fine, just keep an eye out for any paint that could peel off, glue that could be toxic if he took a bite out of it, etc. Some people recommend baking sticks in the oven (at a low temperature, usually about 200 degrees for a couple hours) to kill bacteria before putting them in with a hermit crab.
    - Do some research online. There’s a lot of cool stuff to know about them.

    If you don’t think it’s a hermit crab, here’s what you can do:
    Offer whatever it is some saltwater. Use sea salt, not table salt. To do this, you could get a long Tupperware and put a book under one end so that it’s slanted. Put the salt water in the container so that it gathers in the deep end of it, but the high end of it is out of the water. Set the creature just above the water level. Whatever it is can probably move itself into the water if wanted. You might want to put something textured in the pan so it has better traction, something like plastic mesh like Gutter Guard would be great, or if it’s a plastic container, you could just carefully run a knife across the bottom to make little stripes. It would be better not to use a metal pan for this, as the metal could leach into the water. This should help keep it alive long enough for you to figure out what it is, or at least what it likes (staying in the water 100% of the time, being able to exit the water sometimes, etc.), and give you time to figure out what to do about it. (Mail it to someone in Bermuda, become the proud new owner of a saltwater aquarium or turtle tank (which has a ramp and dock so they can exit the water), etc.) Again though, watch out; some sea snails can be very venomous.
    Best of luck!
    Source: MarineLifePhotography.com – Family Conidae Cone Shells
    Source: Hermit Crab Association – Basic Hermit Crab Care
    Source: Hermit Crab Cottage – Keeping Your Hermit Crab Humid
    Source: Hermit Crab Paradise – Food
    Source: Animals.mom.me – How to Disinfect a Stick for Your Lizard
    Source: Hermit Crab Association – Care: Water – Fresh, Salt, & Why to Use a Dechlorinator
    Source: Hawaii Nature Journal – Coney Islands

  43. Bob says:

    I took it out and put him a container with water made from sea salt. He hasn’t come out of his shell, but I don’t think he’s a hermit crab. I put him upside down on a piece of the rock I got from the beach and I’ll wait to see if he responds. If he does, I will take him down to the ocean and put him on sand near to the water and near to a wooden pier he can anchor himself to if he wishes.

    Thanks for all the advice. Hopefully he survives.

  44. Bob says:

    So I have been digging and I found this is called an angust periwinkle. You can see what it looks like at the link below, #2 under periwinkles. My question is, if I put it in the Boston waters of the Atlantic, will it survive even though it was native and accustomed to the more temperate waters of Bermuda?

    https://books.google.com/books?id=UANlAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT146&lpg=PT146&dq=angust+periwinkle&source=bl&ots=vZDhojyjFp&sig=AIFTfOmyPe4erT1DYZ769SVnUxw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=iWxrVZz4NcTJsAXg1IHIBg&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=angust%20periwinkle&f=false

    BTW, he’s alive; he’s poked his operculum out a bit. We’ve named him Mr. Crack.

  45. Sara says:

    I found a beautiful abalone shell (no animal in it!) and soaked it in bleach and water and then in vinegar and water and now it has an ugly white coating… Any idea for how to get this off?

  46. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    Yay! Glad to hear he’s alive!
    Here’s what I’ve found:
    - Some snails are capable of acclimating to new temperatures. How drastic of a temperature difference exactly, I don’t know.
    - The ocean water in Bermuda only gets down to about 62 degrees F in winter, which is what the ocean temperature should be there in Boston right now (June). The average air temperature in Boston in June is 77-82 F, which is about the same air temperature as Bermuda in June. So the air temperature would be fine for him, but the water would be cold. In short, it’s difficult to say what he’d think.
    - There are species of periwinkle snails that live along the coast of New England. The Smithsonian believes that the marsh periwinkle can handle a broad thermal range since periwinkles in general have a broad thermal range. The same may apply to angust periwinkles.
    - Periwinkle snails will hibernate if they think it’s cold, so if he needs to, he can hibernate until he becomes acclimated. Some periwinkle snails can live up to 10 years, so it’s possible that he could acclimate to the Boston weather over time.

    Ultimately, I think the best thing to do would be to mail him back to Bermuda though. He might not be able to find a mate or breed properly in Boston. (Each species of periwinkle snails have their own breeding preferences. Also, snails in general are really social too.) Point being, the best life for him is back in Bermuda.
    A great place to send him might be the Spittal Pond Nature Reserve; it looks like it’s right on the coast. Call ahead though to ask how often they receive their mail and if someone there would be willing to walk him down to the ocean, etc. If you do that, you might want to send a little note with him that says just to put him on the beach, not throw him in the water (since he breathes air). The USDA Forest Service has a powerpoint guide online that you can download; do a Google search for “how to ship a live mollusk” to find it.

    If you can’t get him back to Bermuda, then maybe Boston will just have to do. I can’t think of anywhere else you could take him. Since he breathes air and eats algae, the only place a pet store could put him would be in the turtle tank and the turtles would probably eat him. You could call the New England Aquarium to ask if any of their exhibits have a sandy/rocky beach area that could accommodate him.
    You could also keep him as a really unusual pet until you can take another trip to Bermuda. :) If you do that, it might be interesting to get him some periwinkle friends of a different species (if you can’t find any of the same species) to see if they even would be friends. I haven’t found anywhere online that you can order angust periwinkles (or any periwinkles) though (which alternatively you could send him to them if they exist).

    Source: MarineDepotLive – Acclimation Guide
    Source: National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration – Water Temperature Table of the Northern Atlantic Coast
    Source: Bermuda Attractions – Bermuda Weather and Climate
    Source: Boston – Boston Weather
    Source: Wikipedia – Common Periwinkle
    Source: Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce – Species Name: Littorina irrorata
    Source: MarineLifePhotography.com – Family Littorinidae
    Source: Snail-World – How do Snails Reproduce?
    Source: Encyclopedia Britannica – Periwinkle
    Source: PetSnails Forum – Social Life of Snails?

  47. Bob says:

    Melanie – thanks for all the good info … I did what you suggested; went to the harbor and got another snail. They are in the tank together. I put the new one (R2D2) on the same rock as Mr. Crack. Immediately R2D2 began either snuggling up to Mr. Crack or pushing him off the rock; maybe he was suggesting Mr. Crack go eat. I brought home some fresh sea grass, and Mr. Crack has been crawling around in there for about 15 minutes. Again, I don’t know if he’s doing that to get away from R2D2 or if he’s hungry. I was reading that they are herbivores and like algae, so maybe he’s hungry.

    Are they territorial do you know? I couldn’t find that anywhere; there are no articles about snail interaction. Also, maybe Mr. Crack should be Ms. Crack. Is there any way of determining their sex?

    I found out today a friend is going to Bermuda in July. I’m sure I will be ostracized for life when I ask him to return the snail from whence it came, but I know he will.

    It’s interesting watching them move about. He frequently climbs to the top and just sits there for hours so I had to put a lid on the thing.

    Also I should mention that R2D2 is almost twice Mr. Crack’s size.

  48. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    You’re welcome! I’m glad to help! How cool that you got Mr. Crack a friend! Great idea bringing back some sea grass too!

    About being territorial: I’m not sure either. Some sources say yes, some say no. If they are territorial, it seems to have more to do with two males fighting over a girl rather than fighting over a location or resources. It does seem like they’re territorial in the sense of finding a good spot to call home and always returning to that spot. However, there are also many citations of lone periwinkles as well, for example in your case with finding Mr. Crack, so I’m not sure how that factors in. (Perhaps lone periwinkles are going out in search of food or looking for a mate?)
    In terms of interactions with R2D2, it could go either way really. Thankfully, they are both on unknown physical territory, so that might prevent them from being territorial over a location, and if they’re both male, then there aren’t any females around that they could fight over either. It is possible that they could get aggressive if they run out of food though. It is very interesting that R2D2 was immediately drawn to Mr. Crack, even if it was aggressive; just neat that R2D2 recognized a fellow snail.

    About the sex: here is a guide from Lander University that has a diagram of periwinkle snail anatomy. (Scroll down to the second diagram; the Soft Anatomy). There is a great outline in there for determining the sex of a Periwinkle snail. Basically, look on the right side of the snail’s head to see if it has a penis. During breeding season, the penis will be large and black. It should be easy to identify. If you can’t find it, then Mr. Crack is really Ms. Crack.
    Here are some pictures (I think):
    You can clearly see the black penis on this checkered periwinkle.
    Here is a picture of a marsh periwinkle, likely outside of breeding season as the penis is a lighter color. (Scroll down to the section for Salt Marshes, and look at photo B.)
    The breeding varies by species. Some species mate several times per year; others only mate once per year. I would guess that breeding season would be right now in Bermuda (late spring, early summer), so if Mr. Crack is Ms. Crack.. you might get some baby Cracks. :)

    About climbing: some periwinkle snails like to climb up high to just above the high tide mark, while others, like the marsh periwinkle, will climb up grass stalks in the marsh to avoid predators.

    I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts about snails through this research. One thing I thought was really cool was that marsh periwinkles will climb grass stalks, take a bite of one to create an open wound on it, wait for that bite mark to start growing fungi (their favorite food), then put some of their poop on the fungi to help it grow. In other words, they’re farmers!

    That’s so lucky you have a friend going to the Bahamas! Just to offset some of the ostracizing: I think you’re freaking awesome for this. Kindness is a virtue. :)

    Source: Animals – What Do Snails Need to Live?
    Source: PetSnails Forum – Do snails fight?
    Source: American Museum of Natural History – Morphologic Variation in the Common Periwinkle
    Source: Marine Science – The Splash Zone
    Source: Calvert Marine Museum – Saltmarsh Sanctuary

  49. Bob says:

    Update … I had to bring R2D2 back to the harbor. He seemed too aggressive and Mr. Crack stayed far away from him.

    Mr. Crack seems to be in good health (though I don’t know what to tell from.) He frequently patrols his home and the sea grass, and I leave the roof off and he ventures outside, although he never goes down more than 1/4 of the way before returning to the top. Still, I cover it so he doesn’t wander.

    I just added a small cup of fresh spring water to his home. I overlooked that before, but still it seems he drinks the sea water.

    He’s on his own again, and we’ve decided that he will accompany us on our trip to Punta Cana the end of this month – and that will become his new home. I will find someplace safe for him and hope for the best. The climate is very similar to Bermuda, and we’ll be there almost a month before my friend departs in July, so it’s the best thing I believe.

    I’m gonna miss the little guy; he’s mesmerizing to watch move around, and he’s a very unexpected and welcome (and quiet!) addition to the home.

  50. Melanie says:

    Sara,
    Bleach is notorious for leaving a white film if not thoroughly rinsed. Washing it with vinegar and water afterward should have removed the bleach residue, however it’s possible that it didn’t. Try washing it a couple more times with the vinegar and water. You could also try using some body wash instead of vinegar. Vinegar is not a surfacant, so it won’t remove residue as well as a soap would. Just keep in mind that any soap that contains ammonia (like dish liquid usually does) cannot be used with bleach (because it creates toxic fumes).

  51. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    I think Mr. Crack will be very happy in Punta Cana! That’s right within his habitat range (“Bermuda-Brazil” said that book link you sent), so he should be able to have a great life there. Glad to hear he’s doing well now too!

    Sorry to hear things didn’t work out with R2D2. Still neat that you tried though!

    If you find when you get back from your trip that you’d like to have a similar pet, you can actually start a snail farm. The Classifieds link on the PetSnails.co.uk website (in the menu bar on the left) has a listing of various species for sale by private sellers.
    Another option is the aquatic snails at pet stores. Some species of aquatic snails are very reclusive and only come out at night though, so you may want to research each species first.
    Source: Books.Google.com – Seashells of North America: A Guide to Field Identification

  52. Bob says:

    Melanie … thanks, and I agree, he will be happy there. I love animals, too much to keep them caged and out of their environment. I couldn’t even keep a fish tank. I worry that he won’t survive until I get him back there, and then I’m worried about the transport. So as much as I’ll miss him, I’ll be happy when he’s gone. He is an interesting pet indeed; I love watching him perambulate about his temporary home. I’m hopeful he survives the trip, but I think he will … he’s a trooper.

    If you’re interested in seeing the handsome guy (or gal), I posted a photo of him on tiikoni.com … it will expire June 21st, 2015.

    Thanks again for all the guidance.

    http://www.tiikoni.com/tis/view/?id=65467d4

  53. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    Thanks for the photo! That’s so neat to see him (or her)! I’m surprised by how white his shell is; I wasn’t expecting that. Definitely a good-looking snail!
    I understand what you mean about not wanting to keep animals out of their natural environment. Even “house cats” love the great outdoors.
    I hope you both have a great trip! You might not want to put him in a carry-on bag since he would have to go through the x-ray machine.
    You are very welcome for the guidance! It’s really been a pleasure to help.
    Best of luck!

  54. Jezika says:

    Okay, here’s a little food for thought. I DON”T like hunting; I can’t bring myself to kill another animal, humans are a type of animal as well, but anyways. I got to thinking about this on my trip home from the beach; why is it okay for people to fish, but not okay to take sea life, such as hermit crabs or sand dollars, etc.? Fish are still sea life, and it’s okay to buy a fishing pole and catch them, but people can’t use their hands to catch a sea animal? Also hermit CRABS, so we can set a lobster or crab trap and catch CRABS all day, but people freak out if you find a hermit CRAB and take it home. Either way you’re still KILLING a type of CRAB which is SEA LIFE. Fishing and taking life actually HELPS the environment from overpopulation, from this world getting too crowded, and if say 10 different species eat the same prey for dinner, they’re actually going to have to start fighting for their food because there’s not enough of the prey and too many of the predators that depend on that single type of animal for food. It’s okay to get a hunting license and buy a gun and shoot a dear and keep its head or antlers as a trophy, so why can’t we keep sea life as trophies too? I WON’T because of my conscience and the fact that I’m a mom, my purpose is to give life, not take it, but at the same time, I’m not going to freak out if someone else wants to; that’s their choice. Let’s leave endangered species alone, but other than that, it’s a big fish eat little fish world out there! Just my opinion anyways…

  55. Bob says:

    Mr. Crack is back … in the water that is. I left him in Punta Cana … there was no rocky area, but I remember they love algae, and there was plenty of it on a rope around the beach area, which had floats to keep it above water, so I placed him there and prayed. A few minutes later, he was rocking and rolling.

    I was concerned because I couldn’t bring him on the plane in case my luggage was searched so I had to check him in. Two things came to mind … the cargo hold for luggage wasn’t pressurized, but then I remembered they ship animals, so I was OK with it.

    When he arrived, he was very lethargic, so I kept him in the room overnight and he moved about, but slowly and not like in Boston. Finally, the next day it was time, so I brought him down, found the float, and hoped for the best. Within a couple minutes he was moving about. When I went back a few hours later, he was running around like he owned the place; very active.

    I miss him, but I’m happy he’s home and I hope he’s happy. A photo of him in his new home is below and will expire in 20 days. Thanks again for all the advice.

    http://www.tiikoni.com/tis/view/?id=d716be4

  56. Melanie says:

    Bob,
    I’m so glad to hear that Mr. Crack had a happy ending! Thanks for the pic – that’s so neat to see him in his new home; it looks perfect!
    It has been a pleasure to help. Hopefully anyone else who needs help with a snail they accidentally took home and visits this page will benefit from Mr. Crack’s story as well.
    I watched the movie Turbo recently and thought of Mr. Crack. If you’re missing him, it was a cute film; maybe it’ll help.
    Take care!

  57. Dan says:

    So most of you folks are against catching these shells with live creatures in them and killing them to harvest the shell. I found many on the shore that washed up and were permanently stranded there with live creatures in them. Am I in the wrong for taking these and harvesting the shells? Seems to me natural selection had already selected these to wash up and die.

  58. Gina says:

    I did not know that taking seashells was robbing hermit crabs of a home. We all need to be informed; not everyone knows these things.

  59. Diana says:

    Well, I think we could all settle this by saying, ‘some people take the live shells home and some don’t.’ If you don’t like it when people take live ones home, suck it up and respect their decision. Same goes for people who take home empty shells.

  60. Bob says:

    I don’t know if you had a chance to watch the shells you had move around, but it’s quite fascinating. They are living creatures and have a right to live just as the next living creature does. Fortunately for the people laying on the beach, it’s against the law of most lands to collect human heads. To kill a living creature for a trinket seems savage and inhumane, similar to killing an elephants for the tusk. The shell may be beautiful; admire it, photograph it, move along. Live and let live.

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