Our theme for the month of March is “monsters.”
I was fifteen years old when I learned that seashells eat each other.
Well, technically the different animals living inside the seashells eat each other—but yes, you read that correctly. Those delicate, benign seashells you stick in your pocket during a long walk on the beach were once homes inhabited by surprisingly vicious creatures.
Growing up, my family frequented an island in Florida for our vacations, and our particular chosen beach was always laden with shells. This was thrilling as a child; what could be better than thousands of tiny treasures waiting each day to be collected on the beach? As a preteen, the shells were simply inconvenient protrusions from the sand that hurt my feet. But when I was fifteen, one very educational visit to the island touch tank brought the world of shells (quite literally) to life. And now, with the jaded knowledge that the beach is basically a shell graveyard, I’ve come to the conclusion that the animals living inside of shells are monsters.
Now I know, these slimy creatures are just doing what’s required of them for survival according to their status in the food chain. After all, they have to eat. While some shells stick to a vegetarian diet of seaweed and algae, it is still a dangerous underwater world for most of them. And even though their armor protects the shell from many of the dangers lurking on the ocean floor, they can only do so much against the murderous tactics of certain predators. Each shell has a unique outer design based on the species that calls it home, and each creature in turn has a different strategy for devouring its prey.
For example, the cone snail uses a harpoon-like pointer to stab and poison its target—dramatic, right? It also has a net-like membrane that extends from the shell to help hunt for food. It looks like a soft, harmless funnel, but there is no grace for the sea creature that gets too close. For research, I watched a horrifying YouTube video of a cone shell exercising its “net fishing” capability to eat an entire fish alive. Yes, it is just as terrifying as it sounds. PSA: cone snails aren’t just bad news for other ocean-dwellers, they are equally as deadly to humans. You’ve been warned.
Often when you pick up a shell on the beach, you can find a small, precise hole somewhere through its surface. This is evidence of an auger shell’s path of destruction. The auger drills a hole through the outer shell of its victim, injects poison, and (presumably) says “bon appetit!” I used to think this little orifice was perfect for stringing shells onto a necklace, but not so much now that they are documentation of a hostile attack.
Now when I see shells rolling around in the surf, lining the beaches, and getting wedged between my toes, I wonder at the battles they fought before reaching this shore. And though I did end up making that shell necklace, it is both a souvenir and a reminder that beautiful things are not always what they seem.
Olivia graduated from Calvin in May 2018 with a double major in business and writing. She now works as an editor in Nashville, Tennessee and is eating her way through the restaurants of her new town. She enjoys weekend trips with friends, petting other people’s dogs, and drinking coffee like a Gilmore Girl.