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It doesn’t say meow but it reminds you of a cat

By Staff | Feb 19, 2009

It may not say meow but it certainly does resemble a kitten’s paw. Plicatula gibbosa, is the scientific name for a kitten’s or cat’s paw.

This cute little shell is generally less than one inch in length but what it lacks in size it makes up for in abundance. It frequently dots the drift on the shoreline of Sanibel. The range extends from North Carolina to the West Indies. It is commonly found in the intertidal zone in shallow water but can be found in depths of up to 200 feet.

I can’t think of a shell that is more reflective of its name than the kitten’s paw. It looks like a little scallop although it’s not in the scallop family. The six to eight folds with strong ribs radiate from the beak to create the paw likeness and fan shape. Several high round ribs give both valves a zig-zagged margin and both valves are relatively thick although the top valve is the larger of the two valves. The shell is hinged with two strong equally-sized teeth in the upper valve that fit into two sockets in the lower valve.

Most specimens are a lusterless white or cream color with gray, light brown or reddish lines that look like they have been drawn on the shell with a pencil almost as an afterthought.

Often the color is more pronounced on the shell’s six or seven ribs, which look like the toe joints of a paw. The coloring fades with exposure to the sun.

I had been shelling on Sanibel for several years before I found a hinged pair of valves on the beach. At the time I didn’t have an explanation for this anecdotal finding but have since learned that the living bivalve lives attached to coral or rocks. The mechanism for this attachment is a very powerful marine glue manufactured by the animal.

Often only one valve is torn loose from its anchor, explaining why only one valve is found washed up on shore.

Kitten’s paws are popular with shell-crafters and often are used as flower petals. Children enjoy the imprint which can be created in the sand or with an ink pad and better yet, if Grandpa can be conned into doing a little drilling, stringing them for a Christmas tree decoration or a necklace can be great fun.

There is another “paw” shell found on Sanibel that some confuse with the Kitten’s paw, although once you’ve seen this bright orange delight, there will be no further confusion. The lion’s paw is the largest American scallop and is definitely the most revered.

This scallop is distinguished by large knobs on its ribs. These knobs are hollow and in a live mollusk, are filled with liquid. The knobs have a couple of purposes, they strengthen the shell and they are used as a defense mechanism.

This is a rare on-shore find. It can more easily be collected by diving although single valves are occasionally found on Sanibel after a storm.

Ongoing workshops and demonstrations:

Live Tank Demonstration

Date: Every Monday Time: 2 pm Cost: Museum Entrance Fee

Where to Find Shells

Date: Every Tuesday Time: 11:30 am Cost: Museum Admission Fee

How to Clean Your Shells and Safely Pack Them For Travel

Date: Every Wednesday

Time: 11:30 am Cost: Museum Entrance Fee

Story Time at the Museum

Date(s): Every Friday Ages: 3 & Up with Parents Time: 10 am _ 11 am

Cost: free

Join us every Friday morning for a special story about the sea, tidal pools, what’s under the sea and much more. Story time will be followed by a visit to the Museum’s live tank to view the animals that make shells.

Free Beach walks

The last Monday of each month, beginning October 27th, the Museum will have a free beach walk for all who wish to attend. Participants will meet at Gulfside Park at 9:00 am. They walk will last about an hour. Diane Zimmer & Dotty DeVasure will lead the groups.

Collection Department Tour

February 26th

March 5th & 26th

April 2nd & 23rd

Time: 11:30 am _ 12 pm

Cost: Museum Admission Fee

Join us for this unique tour of the collections department; you’ll learn how shells are cataloged and put into the data management system and all that happens “Behind The Scenes” at the Museum.

Special Events

Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club Meeting

Date: February 22nd Time: 2 pmAdmission Free