Ozark Land Shells

Growing up in southern California, I picked up lots of shells at the beach. I amassed a large collection of about 1000 species, all identified.

Collecting shells is a thing of the past now. That isn’t because there are no shells to be found in Missouri. I’ve moved on to other interests.

Still, seeing a shell is special.

old red morel

The top of a red morel is much brighter than this old specimen shows. It was about 4 inches tall, medium sized for a red morel.

The other day I went out seeking a red morel mushroom spotted in the ravine the day before. I’d never seen one before.

The red morel wasn’t red and was getting soft on this second day. It was the only one.

A little further up the ravine was a single morel.

morel mushroom

The commonly thought of morel is tall with a pitted top. The center of the top and stalk are hollow. They are a popular dining area for insects and snails and must be washed carefully before cooking.

People talk about finding morels in the woods. They bring home bags of them, enough to share with friends.

This property seems to be a morel desert. The biggest group ever found was a mere couple of dozen. This was one year and never repeated.

Missing the morels is a disappointment as they are very tasty. Still, the chanterelles in early summer are delicious as well and they grow here in abundance.

snail shells are coils

Snail shells are tight coils. The original shell would be at the very center but is often, as it is on this shell, gone. The body is ridged. The foot has a thin margin.

Near the morel I spotted a snail. Usually these mollusks vanish into their shells as soon as they spot me. This one ignored me and glided along on a dead oak leaf.

Snails and slugs, both gastropods, are nuisances in the garden. I toss them over by the creek. Out in the ravine the snail was no problem, so I settled in to watch it for a few minutes.

Gastropod means stomach foot. A snail fits this as its foot glides along on a slime trail it lays down. Its stomach sits on top of the foot and tucked into it’s shell.

snail shells are slightly conical

Snails put out four projections from their heads. The top two have eye spots on them. The bottom two test the ground before the snail glides onto it. The shell has many tiny ridges or growth rings on it. The shell is created a layer at a time. It is slightly convex.

The shell is a spiral. The baby snail makes a tiny shell. As the snail grows, it adds to the edge of the shell making the coil larger in length and diameter. When threatened or staying dormant, the snail retreats into its shell. Over the winter the snail excretes a film sealing its shell with it safe inside protected from winter’s fury.

Land shells are usually plain. They have no bright colors or spines. They are still a marvel of delicate architecture worth admiring.

The Ozarks is a biologically rich area. Read more about the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

My shell collection along with the identification books and field notebooks is available to anyone who can make use of it. I collected until 1972 mostly on the west coast, but in Baja, on the east and gulf coasts plus purchased some. I used it for teaching and have echinoderm tests, corals and sponges in the collection as well. If you are interested, please email me through the contact page.