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Daily tank talks at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum provide a wealth of knowledge

By Staff | Jul 19, 2017

Fighting conch. ASHLEY GOODMAN

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum has some pretty exciting things happening inside their tanks as of lately. Over the last few months, sea hares, horse conchs, banded tulips and true tulips have been born at the museum.

These mollusks can be seen during the museum’s daily tank talks. Rebecca Mensch, a marine biologist at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, said that the sea hare, one of their newest additions, came to the museum in May after a storm. Its babies, which are black specks at this point, are being fed a diet of microscopic algae.

“Once they’re older, we feed them seaweed,” Mensch said.

Sea hares are hermaphrodites which means they can have both male and female sex organs.

The horse conchs, which were born in May, took about two months to hatch from their egg casings.

Banded tulip. ASHLEY GOODMAN

“We didn’t get any good hatchings out of the horse conchs last year. So this year, we got a really good hatching and they’ve been doing OK. We’ve still got a couple of dozen in here,” Mensch said.

Once they are older, the horse conchs are known to be carnivores. Like the horse conch, the banded tulips are carnivores as well. Some of their favorite things to eat are clams and gastropods. The lightning whelk, which can also been seen in their tanks, eat bivalves. The true tulips are carnivores as well.

During the tank talks, bivalves which are clams, mussels, scallops and oysters, are a large focus.

“We focus on those because they’re the most abundant live ones here. They are the ones that are producing most of the shells that we collect at the beach,” she said. “Almost all of those on the entire planet are filter feeders. They suck in water, they filter the water and it goes back through them. Out of the 10,000 species on the planet of those, 10 of them are predatory and live in deep sea trenches.”

Another focus is gastropods.

“With the gastropods, we (have) almost every feeding type. Within the carnivores, you can be a predator, a scavenger and an opportunistic predator. We actually have all of those in the tank. The fighting conchs are herbivores. We have little mud snails that cruise around, they’re detritivores. All of our other snails are carnivores,” Mensch said.

Everything in the museum’s tanks which are located downstairs, can be found locally. Mensch said that the two best places to see live mollusks is during low tide at Lighthouse Beach and Bunche Beach. These two destinations are her favorite because of the slope of the beaches.

“At Lighthouse Beach, it’s really flat for pretty far. So when the tide goes out, you get these really cool exposed shells,” Mensch said.

Daily tank talks are held at the museum at 12:30, 2:30 and 4 p.m.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Adult admission is $15, youth (12-17) is $9, children (5-11) is $7 and children under four are free. Until July 31, the museum is offering buy one adult admission, get one youth admission free or one free shell per family with purchase of admission.

For more information, call (239) 395-2233.