Tuesday, December 12, 2017

You Just May be a Conchologist

If you are fascinated 
by the beauty and detail of 
seashells, overwhelmed by 
seashell diversity and 
simply cannot walk 
down a beach without 
collecting a few seashells, 
it may just be that you 
are a conchologist at heart. 

Of course, not all shell collectors are technically conchologists.  

A serious conchologist would debate that you must have the proper
motivation in your collection of seashells (such as an interest in the 
visual study of the systems, patterns and natural history of the seashell) 
in order to be considered a conchologist. 

And, the professional scientist 
who studies the actual creature inside the shell
 is a malacologist.  

But, why argue the details. 

Since the beginning of time, people have collected seashells. 
There is even a “club” to join: the Conchologists of America 
(known as COA) is a society for sea shell collecting enthusiasts 
from all walks of life! They have an annual convention and give grants;
their website discusses the discovery of new species and a Kids' section. 

Seashells (those pretty baubles scattered on the beach)
are more than just eye candy for the conchologist!   
But, where do seashells come from?  
What are they?  What purpose do seashells serve?

Seashells are the exterior skeletons 
or hard outer bodies of the mollusk 
(or "soft-bodied" animals).  This exterior 
skeleton provides the animal with 
shape and rigidity, camouflage and 
protection from predators and the 
environment. These marine mollusks 
themselves are a diverse bunch! Some 
are carnivores, some strict vegetarians, 
others are scavengers, parasites or 
predators. They may burrow, creep, tunnel, 
float or swim and they live in the mud, sand, 
silt, coral, rocks, tide pools or grasses. 

Mollusks make their shells from calcium. 
The hatching mollusk comes into 
the world with a tiny shell.  This shell 
is a part of the animal and grows with it.
As time passes, each marine mollusk’s shell becomes slightly unique 
to it alone. Differences develop due to its heredity, food, climate, 
environment and lifetime accidents. You can learn a lot about 
a mollusk by studying his shell. 

Perhaps there are healed-over breaks and chips which speak 
of a battle with a predator. Or color changes which indicate 
changes in diet or water chemicals.  A thick or dull-colored shell 
indicates the mollusk is old. Spiny shells which are worn smooth 
indicate the mollusk lived in rough water; whereas, 
extravagant spiny extensions could mean its home was in quiet water.
Sometimes, the shell becomes so encrusted with marine organisms
that the mollusk no longer can maneuver and will starve to death. 

It is important to 
remember that the shell 
grown by the mollusk 
is a part of the animal 
and is alive. 
The collecting of seashells 
should be done with 
to this fact. 
If the seashell is still a part 
of a living mollusk, 
it would be
 just plain rude to pick him up 
and put him in your bucket!  

So, now you know! 
You are not just a shell collector or “beachcomber.” 
You just may be an amateur conchologist. 

And, if your collection is over-whelming you, 
remember the local seashell museum is soon to open 
and is searching for unique seashells!