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Check out the spring flower of the sea

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

The shape of this species of shells resembles the form of a closed tulip flower. The true tulip, Fasciolaria tulipa, is found from North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Texas as well as the West Indies and Brazil. The true tulip belongs to the family Fasciolaridae, and is closely related to the banded tulip and the horse conch.

Tulip shells can be found in water as deep as 240 feet. This snail makes its home in the grass flats of the bay. They are common is sea grass beds, especially those made up of turtle grass. Other habitats include oyster reefs, sand and mud bottoms.

The true tulip is fusiform (spindle shaped) with a moderately high spiral with nine convex rounded whorls. The surface of the shell is relatively smooth with the exception of very fine growth lines. The outer lip is thin with fine denicles (small teeth) on the inner edge. Their color is very variable, from light brown to reddish orange with irregular blotches of darker brown, white or cream. Interrupted symmetrical, weak, thin lines spiral along the whorls of the shell. The lines are closer together, more numerous and less well defined than those found on the banded tulip shell. A rarer solid color form exists. It is missing the cloudy images. There is some disagreement among experts as to the rarest color of the form devoid of the cloudy blotches. Some guides say the golden color is the rarest while others claim is it the dark almost black form that is found less often. The color of many shells fades as they grow, but the true tulip appears to retain its color as it grows.

The surface of the shell is smooth with a few strong wrinkles below each suture. The suture is the spiral line of the spire (upper whorls from the apex to the body whorl) where one whorl touches another. The aperture is long and oval. Like many other marine snails, the true tulip when picked up will thrash its foot around violently.

The true tulip is a voracious carnivore that preys on other mollusks including bivalves such as oysters, and gastropods like the banded tulip. The most aggressive feeder of all Florida marine snails is the horse conch but the true tulip would be among a group of marine snails that would rank in the second place category for aggressive feeding characteristics. A hole is chipped in the prey’s shell by using their thick sculptured lip. The proboscis is inserted through the hole. Water is drawn into the siphon, bringing with it oxygen. The water then picks up waste products and is expelled through a fold of the mantle (outer covering of the soft parts of a mollusk that secrete the material needed to make the shell).

Tulip and horse conch snails produce egg capsules that have a very distinct shape. The Tulip’s egg capsules are about 0.7 inches and shaped like laterally flattened cones. They are made of translucent protein. Each capsule contains many eggs and it is attached to some type of firm surface.

Sometimes the true tulip is confused with the banded tulip. The banded tulip can have a very similar color pattern to the true tulip but the major difference is that the true tulip’s color clouds are a redder color. Also, the stripes that account for the banded tulips name are farther apart and are uninterrupted. The true tulip is also larger (4-10 inches) that the banded tulip.