Not only people are left handed: shells can be too
Did you ever notice that if you hold a spiraled shell like a banded tulip, pear whelk, true tulip, or fig shell with the pointed end down, the opening is on the right side of the shell? In Florida, with the exception of one species, almost all spiraled shells are right-handed shells. Finding a left-handed specimen would be considered a “freak” occurrence. For a Florida sheller this would be a very special find.
I had an English teacher who had a favorite expression, “for every rule there is an exception.” In this case the lightning whelk is the exception. It is the only Florida shell that usually is left spiraling. Busycon sinistrum, the scientific name for a lightning whelk, acknowledges this shell grows contrary to most other spiraled shells. The lightning whelk gets its common name from the streaks on the shells which bear a resemblance to flashes of lightning.
This spindle shaped shell is two to 16″ high and is found in the sand, from close to the tide line to about 10 feet of water. The brilliant streaked color is what makes this shell endearing, especially to children. Very large whelks can live to be 10 years of age, with the females outliving the males.
Clams and other bivalves are on the lightning whelk’s dinner menu, but they have a very distinctive way of obtaining dinner. Instead of drilling a hole in the clam shells like many other marine snails, the lightning whelk uses its foot and the edge of its shell to pry open its prey. Then it uses its proboscis (a tongue-like tube with teeth) to feast on the catch.
In their younger years lightning whelks are noted for distinctive streaks that may be anywhere from a light tan color to an extremely deep purple but the aging process changes the color of the shell and it becomes an almost pure white color.
You may have experienced a walk along the shore searching for shells but instead you stumbled upon a curious object that is twisted, brownish or yellowish, and has a number of little leathery flat disks strung together on a cord. These are the egg cases of the whelks. Often what you find cast on the beaches are simply the empty cases, as the baby shells have hatched before the cases were torn loose from their fastenings and thrown onto the sand. Sometimes you are fortunate enough to discover a few embryos in the capsules. Amazingly they are the exact replicas of the full grown shells, but with only one turn or whorl at the top. After the egg stage, the young stay inside their protective nest until they are capable of looking out for themselves.