I recently posted some photos of starfish taken by Kasia at low tide near Casuarina point – see KASIAS’S STARFISH. Now it’s time for some beachcombing news from there. The sandbanks and bars in the Casuarina / Cherokee Sound area are a rich source of conchs, sand dollar tests and shells of many varieties when the tide is out. The sandy areas revealed as the water slowly recedes are extensive, and it is a great place to hunt for specimens (and for a lunchtime break from bonefishing…)


1. RETICULATED COWRIE-HELMET Cypraecassis testiculus Here is a pretty example of this shell, a relative of the large phalium family and originally misidentified by me as a Phalium granulatum

2. MEASLED COWRIE  Macrocypraea zebra / Cypraea zebra Colin Redfern says of this example “Immature shells have transverse stripes that are later covered by a spotted layer (hence “measled”). It looks as if it’s beachworn rather than immature, so the outer layer has probably been worn away. You can see remnants of the spotted layer adjacent to the aperture.” 

STOP PRESS: by coincidence, while looking for a completely different type of shell online I have just happened upon this early 1800s engraving of a Cypraea Vespa, which is very similar to Kasia’s one

CONCH I’m trying not to overdo Conchs, which are probably everyone’s favourite shell to collect. But this one is a wonderful pink, and came with a surprise inhabitant… Is anyone at home?

Oh! A hermit crab seems to have moved in…

It’s shyer than this one (from an unnamed online source)

Finally, a useful method to transport one’s shell collection, maybe?


Scotch bonnets (or ‘ridged bonnets’) Semicassis granulata or Phalium granulatum are a medium-sized species of sea snail found in the tropical and subtropical western Atlantic from North Carolina to Uruguay. They are predators, foraging on sandy stretches of the ocean floor for echinoderms such as sand dollars, sea biscuits, and other sea urchins (Caution: ‘Oxford comma’)

  • It takes approximately six years for a Scotch bonnet to mature
  • The shells grows 2 – 4 ins long (5 – 10 cm), showing distinct growth stages
  • Scotch bonnets live on sand, usually in fairly shallow water (but see below)
  • The more a Scotch bonnet eats the more elaborate its shell, the glossier its sheen & the brighter its colours (research suggests this doesn’t work for humans)
  • Divers frequently find Scotch bonnets at depths of 50 – 150 feet (15 to 46 m). Specimens have been found in depths up to 308 ft (94 m)
  • Shipwrecks provide a good habitat for this species
  • Crabs are its main predators, crushing the shell to get at the occupant. Since the snails’ main defence mechanism is to withdraw into their shells, they urgently need to evolve a new tactic
  • The empty shell of this sea species is often used by hermit crabs
  • In 1965 the state of North Carolina made the Scotch bonnet its official state shell, in honor of the Scottish settlers who founded the state

The ridge on my shell, below, may be somewhat unusual. I haven’t found any images showing such a very distinct dorsal growth, though many show a sort of fault line there. STOP PRESS shell expert Colin Redfern explains: The dorsal ridge on your shell is a varix, indicating a previous position of the outer lip during the growth process. Varices on Scotch Bonnets are usually thicker (as in the image above).”

dear wiki: how kind to help

CASSIS RUFA (Cypraecassis rufa)

There are many different sorts of Phalium worldwide. By way of comparison, here is another type, Cassis Rufa, from the Pacific (commonly, east Africa to New Guinea). It’s colloquially known as a Bullmouth, Red Mouth or Grinning Mouth Helmet –  and also as a ‘Cameo Shell’, because it is often used for making cameos (see eBay for examples)

        [rh provenance / historical note: it’s not an area I’ve ever been to, nor am I likely to go. This shell was collected by my late father-in-law when he oversaw the building of the original Gan airstrip on Addu Atoll (Maldives) in… in…. many years ago, as a naval project. It is now ‘Gan International Airport’ and sells giant Toblerone & ‘Parfum de Jordan’ from the Katie Price ‘Scentsless’ range]