Myrtle Beach Seashell Guide: When to Look and What You Can Find!
Hunting for seashells is a favorite activity for many Myrtle Beach visitors. Part of the fun can be identifying your finds, particularly when you discover a pristine or unique shell along the shore. While there are dozens of varieties of shells found in South Carolina, we’ve chosen some of our favorite — and most common shells — from here in Myrtle Beach.
The best time to find shells on the beach is during low tide or when the tide is going out, particularly after a large storm as the bigger waves can wash great finds to the shoreline. You can find plenty of seashells in Myrtle Beach, but it’s worth the drive to less-populated beaches like Pawleys Island or Garden City Beach if you’re really looking for a haul.
Please be respectful of wildlife as you search. Don’t take shells with animals still living inside of them or live starfish or sand dollars.
Named the South Carolina state shell in 1984, the lettered olive is a smooth and shiny shell with a cylindrical shape and brown markings. It can be found all along the South Carolina coast and as far away as Brazil. Lettered olive shells can be up to three inches long.
Jingle shells (aka witch’s toenail) are a favorite among beachgoers because of their shiny and colorful exteriors. They are often yellow, golden, brown or silver. When strung as decoration, the shells making a jingling sound in the breeze.
Sometimes confused for conch shells, whelks feature a similar shape and spiraled internal structure. Whelks are carnivorous predatory snails, and many varieties live along the S.C. coast. If you find one with a snail still inside, return it to the ocean as it is likely still alive!
Spindle-shaped and cream-colored with streaks of of pink, the banded tulip shell features stripes around its body. The smooth and dainty shell packs a pretty ruthless snail inside. The carnivorous black snail uses its tongue to bore a hole through a victim’s shell and chow down on its prey.
Atlantic Moon Snail Shell
The Atlantic Moon Snail Shell is a spherical shell — more typically what you’d picture if you were thinking about a land snail. Like many of the other shell-dwelling critters on this list, the Atlantic moon snail is a vicious predator. It bores a hole in through the shell of its prey and sucks the creature through.
Commonly found along the shore of the Myrtle Beach area, heart cockles are clam shells — usually found separated — that resemble a heart when they are still joined. The shells can be 3 to 5 inches wide with a white or yellow-ish exterior and a pink, rosy interior.
Another common find along the beaches in the Myrtle Beach area is the calico scallop. The markings of a calico scallop are a splotchy brown/red/maroon against a cream-colored background. The shell can be around three inches wide and may live up to 24 months. They are unique among mollusks for their ability to actively swim, propelling themselves as fast as nine body lengths per second.
Often found alive and burrowing into the sand near the water’s edge, the coquina clam is a favorite find for beachgoing children. The small, smooth clamshells are less than an inch long and come in a variety of colors, including yellows, blues, pinks and purples. The clams use short siphons to feed on plant material in the water.
Finding Sand Dollars and Starfish in Myrtle Beach
Sand dollars are burrowing sea urchins that live close to the shore just beneath the sand. Live sand dollars are covered in small spines with tiny hairs sticking out; those spines allow the sand dollar to move around across the ocean floor. You can test to see if a sand dollar is alive by flipping it over and gently rubbing to see if any of the celia are moving. It is illegal to remove live sand dollars from the beach in South Carolina, so if you find one, take a picture and then let it free! Dead sand dollars are gray and motionless. To keep one as a souvenir, you’ll want to rinse it thoroughly and then soak it in bleach water to whiten it up.
Starfish (aka sea stars)
Starfish is a misnomer for this creature, which many scientists would prefer to be called the sea star. Closely related to sand dollars and other sea urchins, starfish … er, sea stars … typically have five arms and bony skin to protect themselves from predators. They can regenerate limbs if necessary; some species can actually regenerate a whole sea star from one remaining limb. Another cool fact: They consume food outside of their bodies by essentially spitting their stomachs into clam shells and devouring the contents before sucking their bellies back in. Occasionally, Myrtle Beach-area beaches will experience mass strandings of sea stars where thousands of them will wash ashore. They are often still alive and should not be taken from the beach.