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Shelling Shell Key: Top 3 Shells & Where to Look

a group of stuffed animals on the sand

Tucked along the Florida coast, Shell Key beckons shell enthusiasts with its promise of treasures hidden on its barrier islands. Our clear kayak tours often find an array of shells both onshore and living in the sands and seagrasses right under our kayaks! Our expert-rated guides also have experience with identifying shells and often will stop tours along the way to point out some of our most fascinating neighbors here in Shell Key. When the day tours stop at Shell Island, it’s game on: guests get to unload from their boast and scour the beaches for a shell or few to add to their collections! Among the most coveted finds are the Lightning Whelks, Lettered Olives, and Banded Tulips, all prized for their intricate patterns. Lightning Whelks are among some of the most impressive, with their left-handed opening and unique spiral patterns setting them apart from the other shells strewn along the beach.

a bird sitting on a tree branch

Lettered Olives and Banded Tulips are much harder to come by but are nonetheless stunning finds for avid shellers. In Shell Key, the best time to look for them is low tide, when the majority of Shell Island is uncovered and shells are aplenty on the sands. Look near the roots of mangroves and other trees on the beach for specimen shells that have been discarded by their hosts and were caught in tangles of roots and sand. There, you’ll have the best chance of finding one of these winning shells in trophy condition. For Olive Shells, keep an eye out for brown coloration on a cylindrical shell, with alphabet-like patterns on the glossy exterior. Banded Tulips are more delicate, but still sport an eye-catching exterior with prominent dark brown stripes running horizontally across the shell.

a bird sitting on top of a tree

Yet, as captivating as these shells are, preserving Shell Key’s natural splendor is paramount. Embracing responsible shelling practices is essential for maintaining the delicate ecosystem. Collecting only empty shells ensures the vital homes of hermit crabs and other coastal creatures remain undisturbed. Furthermore, showing respect for the environment by refraining from disturbing live animals or their habitats is crucial in safeguarding the harmony of this coastal paradise for generations to come. Be sure to ask your guide if you need help identifying your treasures on your next trip, and don’t forget to find a shell with a hole in it to hang on a tree & make a wish while you’re at Shell Key!