Flat periwinkles and other shells washed up on Looe Beach

A Shell Collecting Bonanza on Looe Beach

After a week of ear-numbing northerlies, the low January sunshine is at last winning through. Junior sets to work with his bucket and spade, attempting to create a sand fort that can be seen from space while I take a stroll at the water’s edge.

Looe Beach - a herring gull is also checking out the pile of shells at the water's edge
Looe Beach – a herring gull is also checking out the pile of shells at the water’s edge

The stretch of sand that forms Looe beach is ideal for summer holidaymakers to lounge on, but generally offers little to the rockpooler, unlike the surrounding shores. Today is different; probably due to a combination of large tides and strong winds from an unusual direction.

Glistening mounds of shells are heaped the length of the shore, and are being nudged onwards by the incoming tide. They crack under my feet despite my efforts not to trample them. 

Shells on Looe beach
Shells on Looe beach

It’s not unusual to see the odd limpet or a few mussel shells here – the harbour is carpeted with them – but this haul of shells is not just large, it’s more diverse than usual. There’s such a kaleidoscope of blues, whites, oranges and pinks that I have to get in close to focus on individual shells.

Shell colours and patterns - a carpet shell (above) and scallop (below)
Shell colours and patterns – a carpet shell (above) and scallop (below)

Among the shells, emerald-green strips of sea grass glow in the sunlight.

Sea grass in the January sunlight at Looe beach.
Sea grass in the January sunlight at Looe beach.

Many of the shells are fresh, some still alive, while others are worn down to their mother-of-pearl lining. I throw the live ones back into the water although it’s probably too late.

A Grey topshell worn down to the mother-of-pearl layer
A Grey topshell worn down to the mother-of-pearl layer
A sea-worn turban top shell (recognisable by the crinkled, 'jelly-mould' shape to the upper face of the shell.
A sea-worn turban top shell (recognisable by the crinkled, ‘jelly-mould’ shape to the upper face of the shell.

Most of these shells are molluscs, either sea snails (gastropods) or clam shells (bivalaves), but among them lies a remarkably intact sea potato. These fragile urchins come from the echinoderm (‘spiny skin’) family and are related to starfish and sea cucumbers. When alive, sea potatoes are covered in bristly spines and live in muddy-sand burrow. These spines quickly rub off if the animal is washed out of its home. What’s left is this white potato-shaped shell.

Sea potato (urchin) on Looe beach
Sea potato (urchin) on Looe beach

I’m soon absorbed, staring into the mass of shells. There’s nothing particularly rare here, but I never could resist shell collecting.

A tiny cowrie shell - Looe beach.
A tiny cowrie shell – Looe beach.

I’m especially pleased with the cowrie and the Auger shell (easily recognised by its twisting tower shape).

Auger shell (Turritella communis) on Looe beach
Auger shell (Turritella communis) on Looe beach

Before long the tide’s rolling in and Junior wants my help to fortify his sand constructions against the waves. As the sun retreats over western side of the valley, the January chill returns and we walk home in the evening glow. Below the cliffs I can still hear the sound of the waves pushing shells up the beach.

Razor shells burrow in the muddy sand near Looe beach.
Razor shells burrow in the muddy sand near Looe beach.
This thick-lipped dog whelk was still alive so I put it back in the sea for a second chance.
This thick-lipped dog whelk was still alive so I put it back in the sea for a second chance.
Time to go home.... A fishing boat returning to Looe harbour as the sun sets behind West Looe Hill.
Time to go home…. A fishing boat returning to Looe harbour as the sun sets behind West Looe Hill.

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A Shell Collecting Bonanza on Looe Beach”

    1. Thank you! Cowries are special aren’t they – I spent many happy hours hunting for them on holidays in the Isles of Scilly as a kid. I haven’t changed! I find lots of live ones on the lower shore around Looe. I’m looking forward to finding some as soon as the weather picks up.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s