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rowenaz's avatar

I'm going shell collecting - how do I know if it's really not living?

Asked by rowenaz (2431points) December 16th, 2010

Some things are obvious, like the shell is empty. Or I could place it in a bucket of ocean water for a while and see if anything comes out or moves… but what about a sea star? Or a sea anemone? What if a sand dollar still has its fuzz, but none of the tube feet are moving? If a sea horse is not dried up, but in the wrack, can I put it back in the water and try to revive it first?

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6 Answers

El_Cadejo's avatar

Sea star look underneath, if its got little tube feet in there its probably alive. They generally degrade quickly.
Sand dollar same thing.
Anemones generally melt away to nothing when they die.

I dont know what a wrack is?

Watch out for cone snails if you happen to live in the indo pacific, south africa or southern california.

crisw's avatar


Wrack is a type of seaweed.

Garebo's avatar

Its so cool when you find that,or half alive pre-historic horseshoe crabs. But there always dead, I have never found a live one, yet. I think no matter what, if they are half dead on the beach there is little chance to revive them

El_Cadejo's avatar

I would imagine if the seaweed is wet enough then the seahorse could very well be alive. Youd be surprised how resilient these animals can be some times.

@Garebo I see live ones all the time where I live. I once went down to Deleware with my girlfriend to go camp on a beach that she grew up near. Well turns out this night was spawning night for horseshoe crabs and this beach happens to also hold the highest population in the world. It was absolutely insane. There were horseshoe crabs in every direction you looked. Some researchers were out there counting them in the 1 cubic square things. There were on average 20 per square.

Anemone's avatar

I’m glad you’re thinking about the animals. Since you’re worried, could you stick to collecting only the obviously empty shells? I’d stay away from sea stars and seahorses since they’d be nearly impossible to figure out. Sea urchins, bivalves, and snail-like molluscs might be easier. With snails you could tell if the original animal was still alive (because you could see it), but there could be other creatures living inside an otherwise empty shell that would be harder to detect, so you’d still need to be careful.

Some shells would feel lighter if they are unoccupied. Sea stars, for instance… unless they’re full of sand. I like your idea of putting them in water for a while to see if they revive or start showing signs of life.

You might know this already, but it’s best to stay away from shells in stores. They’re always always “harvested” alive and then killed just for their shells. If you’re careful in your collecting, you’ll be able to find beautiful shells without taking an animal’s life in the process.

rowenaz's avatar

Thanks you everyone – I have always only taken empty shells, and I don’t buy them in stores just for that reason @Anemone. We’d be really happy and interested to find live creatures – to look at and admire in the water or on the sand – but certainly not to take them away from the ocean! We will be traveling with other people, and I feel obligated to make sure that everyone follows the same rules, which means respecting life. I know that these things might be on the beach because it’s winter, and there are more things washing up, but I really want to make sure that I can say with authority, “Oh no, we’ll have to leave that.”

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