Seashells From Around the World

Infographic Identification guide

Written by Carly Hallman

Have you ever taken a long walk on the beach and come across a beautiful shell in the sand? If you’re wondering what exactly you’re holding, we’ve organized a helpful seashell identification guide for you to recognize the common types of seashells you’ll find around the world. Whether you’re a collector, crafter, or just interested in learning more about the mollusks and crustaceans of the world, you can use our infographic seashell list to guide your discoveries.

Seashells from Around the World
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She’s been selling seashells by the seashore for quite a long time.
The fascination human beings have had with shells goes back many centuries. Anthropologists would argue that the first currency began with small and shiny cowrie shells. That means the first loans in the world were likely done with seashells originating in Asia. In other words, back then, she wasn’t selling seashells, but she was buying other items with them! Another important shell in history is the conch, which has been used as a blowing horn by influential people in numerous cultures, including Hindu priests, ancient Aztec rulers, and Hawaiian ceremonial leaders. Some Native American tribes used shells for wampum belts and hair pipes and in Africa, cowrie shell necklaces are highly prized. Others cultures across the world used giant clam shells as bowls, or in baptismal fonts. Even today, a group in London called the Pearly Kings and Queens prefer mother-of-pearl or nacre buttons to plastic ones.

Human beings have been learning from seashells for a long time too.
The long-time fascination with seashells has led to many other human discoveries both artistic and scientific. For instance, it’s hard for a mathematician to look at a Shark’s Eye Moon and not see the Fibonacci sequence, also called “the golden ratio,” which is powerfully important for many types of equations. Even today, artists attempt to recreate the natural patterns of shells. Beyond the symbolic use of the shell, such as the famous art pieces The Birth of Venus, studying different kinds of seashells has led to us truly understanding our world. These calcium carbonate forms can inspire stronger man-made materials for multiple purposes.

But the creatures inside are sometimes even more fascinating.
Usually (and sometimes hopefully), the creatures inside of a shell are long gone by the time a child picks it up along the beach. But the thing that wandered off is still important to local ecosystems. Estimates range from 70,000 to 120,000 known species of shell dwellers. Usually, these creatures can be broken down into two groups: bivalves, which have two shells connected by a hinge, and gastropods, which have one shell and no hinge. Because we humans love cowries so much, we tend to have a deeper understanding of those types of seashells and their names. But much deeper along the ocean floor could exist a vast range of mollusks and other creatures with shells that never reach the shores.

So of the millions of different shell combinations, we’ve organized the names of different types of seashells one is most likely to find. If you’re wondering what’s in your hand, use our seashell identification chart to see if it’s a money-inspiring cowrie, a sacred musical conch, a sequence-filled spiral in a Shark’s eye, or a once-delicious scallop. But the world is full of many other seashell types. List and collect your own findings too!

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