How to Identify Seashells

Little doubt seashell collecting is great fun as well as being highly educational.  But after a while there becomes good reasons to put names to your shells.


Why would you want to do this?

  • Having a correct names allows you to store the shell appropriately. Storage may not be an issue when the collection is small but as it increases in size it is very important to keep track of specimens.
  • A correctly identified shell adds to the value of your collection, particularly if you have rarer species.
  • Spares can be traded or sold but to do this you need to know the name of the shell
  • Once you have the name it can add to your scientific knowledge of that species and also that family


Ok you say, that all sounds great but “How to identify seashells’ – Is there an easy way?

Well I am afraid that if you are new to this hobby it is not easy, but do not despair – Thousands have learnt to do it and so can you.

South Australian seashell

A tiny shell from South Australia....maybe a juvenile Triton bednalli ?

There are heaps of resources on the internet now, including thousands of pictures of specimen seashells,  These are very useful tools in your search for a name.  However probably the most important parts of shell identification arehaving a good library of books and then gaining experience in using these books to name shells.

There are now many books published for regions of the world. For example in our collection we have Australian Marine Shells Vol 1 and 2 by Barry Wilson.  This covers all of the common shells and many of the rarer species found in Australia. So if you were collecting shells, for example, from Queensland, Australia these would be a valuable guide.  In these and all good shell books you will find colour photographs and descriptions of the different species.

So first step…find a book of the region where your shells come from.

Second step – start by trying to identify the shell to family level.  many people know shells from their different families such as Cowries (CYPRAEIDAE), Cone Shells (CONIDAE), Scallops (PECTINIDAE), Conch Shells (STROMBIDAE). As you gain experience in working with these families you can expand your knowledge into other families.

Once you have tied the shell to a particular family, you then need to proceed to find it’s botanical name.

Botanical names come in two parts – The Genus and Species

South Australian scallop

Not hard to see this is a scallop (Family:PECTINIDAE) - This one Mimachlamys asperrima

The genus is like a grouping of commonly related shells.  For instance all Cone shells are called Conus,  Some Scallops are called Chlamys whilst some other scallops are called Pecten.

The second part of the name (the species) separates one shell from a different one.  For example in South Australia we have several different cone shells.  One is very small and has been anmed Conus rutilus.   So if you have a small cone shell from South Australia, you can check this with photos in your book and on the internet.  Another South Australian Cone shell is Conus anemone….more common with variable color patterns and size. Again you can compare with photos and read the description in your book to identify the shells.

How to Identify Shells – Like acquiring any knew skill, it takes practise and study but after a while you will find yourself naming many species.  Having said that there are still very many shells in the world where identification is not easy and even the experts still struggle with names…But hey, isn’t that half the enjoyment of collecting natures wonders!

A good general book with hundreds of images is a good starting place to learn about shell names


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