Ocean Currents

Five Gorgeous Shells (and the Animals That Make Them)

These beautiful shells are sure to make heads turn.

© Amaury Laporte/flickr

When we think of animals with shells, we often picture their gorgeous shells as mini condos they carry around like backpacks. Although this imagery is fun to think about, shells often provide many more amazing benefits to the ocean animals that make them. Shells’ grander purposes typically include providing protection from predators, offering shelter within their habitats and protecting inner organs.

Each animal’s shell is unique both in the way it is used and the way it looks. Many mollusks for example, use hard shells to protect their much more fragile and softer exteriors while they tumble along the sea floor. There are many different kinds of mollusks, however, including mussels, oysters and clams. Learn more about what makes them unique! 

Besides their important uses, shells are beautiful and have inspired people of many cultures for centuries. Today we’re going to be highlighting some of our ocean’s gorgeous shells and the fascinating creatures that make them.

Now let’s shell-ebrate these five gorgeous shells that are sure to dazzle.

Longhorn Cowfish

Longhorn Cowfish
© Christian Gloor/flickr

The longhorn cowfish is a unique addition to this list. Although these longhorn cowfish don’t have typical shells, they have plates on their skin that come together to form a carapace that serves as protection from predators. The longhorn cowfish is a brightly colored relative of the boxfish that also features horns that inspired their name. Read about how Cousin Boxfish helps keep predators away by secreting a toxin that makes them unattractive meals.

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin in ocean
© Paul Blair/ flickr

Sea urchins look as weird as they are beautiful. They are found from shallow waters to the deep ocean and have round shells, called tests, covered by spines. This marine animal is an invertebrate in the class Echinoidea and uses its funky body shape to deter predators from coming too close.

Queen Conch

Queen Conch Shell
© Kaitlin Danca Galli

Have you ever held a conch shell to your ear and heard the ocean? Queen conchs are gastropod mollusks that protect their soft bodies with these stunningly large and intricate shells, Queen conchs have been valued by people of many cultures for their beauty. Remember, like all shells, these are best left untouched if you see them sitting on a beach—there might still be someone living inside!

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightfoot Crab
© Anita Ritenour/flickr

The Sally Lightfoot crab features beautifully unique coloring that has secured its spot on this list. Adult crabs have an intensely vibrant blue and red coloring on their shells and white or pale blue bellies that make them stand out from the crab crowd. Like many other animals with exoskeletons, these crabs molt their shells so they can grow into their vibrant coloring.

Chambered Nautilus

Chambered Nautilus
© Bill Abbott/flickr

This ocean animal has been around for a long time now. (We’re talking millions of years.) The chambered nautilus is a cephalopod that uses its shell to protect itself from predators and even to move through the water column. However, the chambered nautilus is at risk from the shell-seeking market, where jewelers and collectors are willing to pay good money for these unique shells.

Bonus Shell: Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
© Pauline Walsh Jacobson/flickr

With a shell as beautiful as the hawksbill sea turtle’s, we just couldn’t leave it off our list. This ocean creature is named after its beak-like mouth skillfully used to pry prey from tiny crevices. Sadly, even though this animal is a vital contributor to ocean ecosystem health, it is also an endangered species, having been threatened by many factors including being sought after for its beautiful shell pattern known as “tortoiseshell”.

These amazing shells are just a few of the many shell-tacular creatures of our ocean. Keep in mind, these shells and their inhabitants are best left untouched for their protection and longevity, so look but try not to touch! Want to learn more about striking ocean animals and their shells? Learn about the beautiful and valuable sea scallop.

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