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Sea creatures may be microscopic in size or as large as whales. Their images are commonly featured in paintings, clothing and home decorations. We see some of them as we walk along the beach. The seashells that many people enjoy gathering are actually the hard protective outer layers of animals that live in the ocean.
The soft part of the animal is usually gone by the time we find the shells. The animals that created them are primarily mollusks. Mollusks are animals that belong to the phylum mollusca. It is commonly said that an animal is “in the mollusk family”.
But if you wanted to be scientifically correct, you would say that the animal belongs to the mollusk phylum. There are dozens of different families in the phylum and some 85,000 species are known to exist. Of the living species, there are 8 classes. The two classes most often found by beachcombers are bivalve and gastropod.
Bivalves include clams and other sea creatures that have shells separated into two sections with a central hinge. There are about 100 different families in the bivalve class. Scallops, mussels and oysters are all bivalves. Scallop shells are usually thinner, more delicate and more colorful than clam shells.
The scallop shell is the symbol of Saint James, a symbol for pilgrimages and also a fertility symbol. The shape of the Shell Oil logo is patterned after the scallop.
Gastropods are what most of us call snails. Slugs also belong to this class, although they do not have a shell. There are other mollusks that have no shells. Most of the ones that live in the deepest parts of the ocean are shell-less. The conch shell, which is highly prized by beachcombers, is the shell of a gastropod sea-snail.
Sand dollars are actually the skeletons of burrowing sea creatures. They are closely related to sea-urchins. In life, they may be quite colorful. Depending on the species, a live sand dollar may be blue, violet, purple or green. When the creature dies, the skeleton becomes bleached by sunlight and turns white.
Sand dollars got their name because to beachcombers of the past they looked something like large coins, such as American silver dollars. In South Africa, they are called pansy shells, because of the five petal-like openings on the back of the shell. Like scallops, sand dollars are viewed as symbolic among Christians and there is a great deal of folklore regarding their origins.
Starfish are also popular they usually live on the seabed, but bad storms can wash them ashore. They can be dried and preserved, which is why you often see them in souvenir shops at the beach. They may retain some of their color after being preserved. There are many different colors of starfish. Orange is one of the most common colors.
Some starfish species have become endangered as a result of harvesting them directly from the seafloor and selling them to collectors. If you see a large collection in a souvenir shop, they were probably obtained by harvesting. The practice has only been banned in a few places where the species is considered threatened.
The seahorse is one of the creatures that is often painted and photographed. Its image is often used to adorn decorative items for the home. As you might guess, it is not related to the mammalian horses that live on land, but the shape of the nose is reminiscent of that of a horse.
There are thousands, if not millions of sea creatures other than the ones described here. When you visit the beaches, please keep them in mind and don’t pollute.
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