One of our favorite beach activities is collecting seashells! They’re a great reminder of time spent at the beach!
You can find shells here year-round, but the best times are after a storm, early morning, or late evening; particularly, an hour before and an hour after low tide.
Here’s our Island Life North Carolina shell guide for some of the most common shells you’ll find on North Carolina’s beaches!
Keyhole Sand Dollar
This round sea urchin is tan to light brown and ranges in size from 5 to 6 inches. Its five slots look like keyholes.
The creamy white-colored shell has yellowish brown squares in rows and 20 spiral grooves on the body. It ranges in size from 1.5 to 4 inches. The Queen Helmet is a giant version of the Scotch Bonnet that can be as big as 10 inches. Its shell is mostly cream-colored outside with a rich chocolate brown interior. The lip, also called the shield, is large and contains 10 “teeth.”
Generally less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) in length, and is characterized by its smooth surface and its dual shell. They can range in color from orange to brown, to purple, or pink with banded white or cream stripes.
Soft Shelled Clam
This clam is found living approximately 6–10 in (15–25 cm) under the surface of the mud. These shells are very thin and easily broken, hence the name “soft-shells.” They can be white, cream, brown, gold, or gray.
This smooth, gracefully shaped beauty has a moderately thin shell. Colors range from pearly gray with splotches of olive green or tan. It may also have dark brown bands in parallel lines around the shell and can be from 2 to 4 inches.
Atlantic Bay Scallop
The shell of an Atlantic bay scallop is broadly fan shaped with more than 14 radial ribs. They usually have a molted pattern incorporating dark grey, black, or brown with orange, red, or yellow hues
This species grows up to three inches in maximum width, and is similar in shape and sculpturing to the Atlantic bay scallop. Both valves of the shell are cupped. The stripes are often more pronounced on the Calico and the colors feature pinks, reds, purples, oranges, and browns.
This grayish-white shell has uneven purple-brown streaks and can be recognized by its left-handed spiral. It can range in size from 4 to 16 inches.
The shell can be about 6 cm (2½ in) long (maximum size reaches 9.1 cm). It is a smooth, shiny, cylindrical shaped shell with a short spire. The shell coloration can vary from cream to a greyish exterior with reddish-brown zigzag markings.
Saw Tooth Pen Shell
Look for this rough-and-tumble shell after a winter storm. Also thin and fragile, it has a 6- to 10-inch shell that’s ridged and colored a deep, smoky brown.
Commonly referred to as auger shells or auger snails, these gastropods have extremely high spired shells with numerous whorls, and the common name Auger refers to the resemblance of their shells to rock drill-type drill bits.
Atlantic Oyster Drillers
The Atlantic oyster driller is a small, predatory snail with a pointed, ribbed shell. It lives on reefs, rocks, and pilings. The oyster driller grows to about one inch in length. Its oval-shaped shell varies in color from gray or purplish to tan or yellowish-white and has a pointed spire or tip. The shell has five to six raised whorls; brown, spiraling vertical ribs; and a thin, flared lip with small teeth.
A number of small “spiral” shells that are ornate in nature can wash ashore along the beaches, and are often found almost hidden in big piles of shells and other sediments. Measuring just 1-2” at most, these delicate shells are distinctive for their conical shapes and intricate forms.
Atlantic Jackknife Clam
This shell is most noted for its length. It is primarily a silver, gray color and is shaped like a straight razor. Also know as a razor clam, it gets its name from the rim of the shell being extremely sharp.
The carnivorous creature that left behind this shell consumed three-to-four small clams per day. A moon snail shell measures 2 to 3.5 inches, has four or five whorls, and is typically lead gray with a glossy finish.