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Shell Museum’s live mollusk exhibit encourages interaction with sea life

By Staff | Sep 8, 2010

Diane Orvis Thomas, Public Programs Specialist at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, displays one of the mollusks living inside the museum's Touch Tank exhibit.

In most cases when people visit a museum, they are discouraged not only from touching anything but from getting too close to the items on display.

But for guests visiting the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, one of their most popular exhibits — The Live Mollusk Tank — actually encourages folks of all ages to get up close and personal with the tank’s inhabitants.

Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 p.m., museum staff members (or docents, if they are on duty) conduct the interactive live tank demonstration. Earlier this week, Diane Orvis Thomas, the museum’s Public Programs Specialist, invited a small group of visitors to gather around the tank, filled with more than a dozen living sea creatures.

Among the inhabitants of the saltwater tanks are a lightning whelk, fighting conchs, horse conchs, true tulips, banded tulips, a quahog, spiny jewel box and peanut worms. The tank also includes swatches of algae and plant food for the herbivores present; carnivores, however, feast off each other.

"The mollusk tank really is the Circle of Life," said Thomas.

Thomas is shown holding a horse conch, the State Shell of Florida.

During the 45-minute presentation, where she passed around several varieties of live mollusks to wide-eyed youngsters and their picture-snapping parents, Thomas explained how a fighting conch can use its foot for locomotion.

"I like doing these presentations, especially for the kids," she explained with a smile. "They usually have a lot of good questions."

Thomas also showed the group how a lightning whelk slams its trap door shut for protection. While there were no scallops in the tank during Tuesday’s presentation, she discussed how they can often zip across the tank, demonstrating their adept jet-propulsion skills.

"People have a greater appreciation for sea life when they get to watch it in action," Thomas said. "I see this stuff all of the time and I’m still amazed."

Last week, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum released their fall schedule of ongoing workshops. Two new programs have been added, a photography contest that will be judged in November and a lunch at the museum offering that makes it possible for those interested in shelling to learn from local experts.


“The focus remains on interactive, hands-on experiences,” added Thomas.


The First Annual “Mollusk Photograph Of The Moment” amateur competition is accepting submissions through Nov. 8, 2010. Participants may submit one or more photographs for the contest, and entry forms may be mailed to The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 33957 in an envelope marked "Amateur Photography Competition."

For a complete list of contest rules, check the “What’s New” page on the museum’s website — www.shellmuseum.org — for complete competition information.

Also, “The Friday Lunch Hour At The Museum” will be offered every second Friday of the month at noon, on Oct. 8, Nov. 12, Dec. 10, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11. Participants will enjoy a bag lunch, followed by presentations on various shelling and current event topics. While the program is included with museum admission, guests must bring their own bag lunch.

For additional information about these or other programs, call the museum at 395-2233.