Text and Photography by Marcy Ford

Have you ever walked the beach in search of that perfect shell? Find yourself hunched over, trying to sort through the flotsam and jetsam of the wrack line to discover a perfectly intact sea scallop or an iridescent orange jingle shell?

With a bucket or a bag in hand, you may lose track of time—and perhaps even your towels and coolers as you walk the length of the beach. Whether displayed singularly or in a group, shells can create the perfect still life. These treasures, collected on idyllic summer days, are often scattered on window sills, garden paths or picnic tables. They are either left to bleach in the sun or are packaged carefully to bring home as a souvenir from a Cape Cod vacation. The joy is not only in the collecting, but also the memories you carry back home with you. As the snow falls in December, a moon snail in your hand can take you back to that beautiful, sunny summer day on the beach.

Northern Quahog

Whether you collect shells to decorate your sand castles, display in your home or to create long lasting pieces of art, knowing the names of the shells and the varieties you may find on the beaches of Chatham and across the Cape can be fun for the entire family. For the most successful shell finds, try south-facing beaches, such as Forest Beach, Ridgevale Beach and Cockle Cove Beach for slipper shells, bay scallops, mussels and jingle shells. Clams, sea scallops and conchs are more likely to be found on the outer beach and easterly facing beaches. Keep your eyes open as you walk along the shoreline because you never know when a rare shell may surface, brought ashore by a storm, a longshore drift, or unearthed by the shifting sands. Happy collecting!

Soft Shell Clam

Amethyst Gem Clams

Common Eastern Nassa

Common Jingle

Blue Mussel

Wavy Asante

Gould’s Pandora

Atlantic Ribbed Mussel

Stimpson’s Colus

Stout Razor Clam

Common Periwinkle

False Angel Wing

Shark Eye Moonsnail

Channeled Whelk

New England Neptune

Atlantic Bay callop

Bubble Shells

Common Slipper

Razor Clam

Cross-Hatched Lucine

Transverse Ark

American Pelicans Foot

Morton’s Egg Cockle

Eastern Oyster

Iceland Scallop

Northern Atlantic Moon Snail

Blood Ark

Special thanks to Elizabeth Taylor, who is a volunteer/taxonomist in the natural history collections department at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, for her help in identifying many of these shells.