The lightning whelk, Sinistrofulgur perversum, is an
edible species of a very large predatory sea snail, or
whelk. This species has a lefthanded, or sinistral shell.
Its primary diet is marine bivalves.
The lightning whelk is considered sacred by the
Calusa Indians because of its lefthanded whirl.
"If you find a live lightning whelk on the beach and
it is still wet, we ask that you put it back in the water,
as it might still be viable." Sharon said. "When they
are born, the creatures look exactly like a tiny version
of the parent whelk."
The horse conch (Pleuroploca gigantea) has been
the official Florida state shell since 1969. It can grow
to 24 inches long in the waters surrounding Florida.
The largest gastropod in American waters, the shell
is popular among collectors because of its great size.
The juvenile horse conch is bright orange, and the
shells get lighter in color as they grow.
"When you are trying to identify shells, one of the
easiest ways is to look at the shape," Sharon said. "For
example, a tulip shell is very distinctive, because they
are spindle-shaped univalves."
Boca Grande resident George Melissas, owner of
Shell Horizons wholesale shells in Clearwater, has
been in the shell business since he was 10 years old.
His grandfather came to the United States from
Greece and made his way to Tarpon Springs, where
he became involved in the sponge business.
“My grandfather never spoke English and was the
largest wholesaler of sponges in America," George
said. "He had three warehouses – one in New York,
one in Pennsylvania and one in Tarpon Springs."
George has a collection of shells that are from all
around the world. He's traveled to the Philippines,
Thailand, Indonesia and the Bahamas in search of
new ones. Above: One case of shells on display at the Johann
46GASPARILLA ISLAND January/February 2019
Fust Community Library. The shells are all scientifically
identified by conchologist George Melissas.
Above: Some of the shells collected by members of
the Barrier Island Parks Society. A lightning whelk is
seen on the left and a horse conch is seen on the right.