beach / exploring

A fancy front door

I love to stroll the beach and search for treasures. Treasure of course is always in the eye of the beholder, but for me, treasure is finding something new, and learning about the secrets of the sea. I should probably reveal that I am a fisheries scientist by profession, so I have a long standing admiration and curiosity with all things salty. When Chris and I first moved to Hawaii (where we ended up spending five years of our lives), my favorite find on my long beach walks were these lovely round shells- raised on one side, and flat on the other, with a beautiful spiral gracing the inner edge. They reminded me of the little puffy stickers I used to adhere to every available surface as a kid, and I would revel in their simple yet elegant curves. Finding has always been my favorite part of beach combing, and I almost always return my treasures to the sea before heading home, mulling them over in my hand and admiring their beauty, before allowing natural processes to convert them to the sand that I walk along. It occurred to me one day, while laying in the sun and doing such admiring that I knew not which critter they hailed from. I was suddenly perplexed: I knew it must have hailed from a gastropod (snails) of some sort, but there was no apparent opening for a snail to crawl into, and I couldn’t imagine the function. With a little poking around on some dusty textbooks, I discovered- to my surprise- that these lovely disks are in fact the operculum of marine snails. For those who have not heard “marine gastropod operculum” as a casual turn of phrase, the operculum is essentially the little front door to the snail home. As you can see in the picture below, the snail can retract into its shell when threatened, or worried about drying out if exposed out of water, or perhaps if it is just feeling anti-social. So, next time you wander the beaches (though I haven’t seen any of these here in coastal California), you know the little animal these pieces of splendor are coming from! Happy hunting!

Image result for snail operculum shell

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