Tag Archives: beaches

A Puzzle About Bones

Just after New Year (Jan 2014) we went for a walk in Shadmoor Park and ended up on Ditch Plains Beach.  That is where I found two vertebrae still stuck together by ligaments.  They were larger than human vertebrae, measuring 3-4 inches in the largest diameter.  A quick phone call to my biologist friend, Marguerite W, confirmed that these were mammalian bones and not from a large fish, like a shark.  Fish vertebral bodies (called the centrum) would be biconcave, as shown here. These were not.  Then, I had a phone call with a friend, Annie Sessler. She is a well known artist out here who makes beautiful fish prints!  Her husband Jim, is a Montauk fisherman.   ‘Some kind of whale’ or marine mammal was their opinion. Now I was really intrigued!photo[6] photo[5]Then I got this rare book from the Cornell Vet School library called “Whales of the World” by Spencer Wilkie Tinker (1988).  It describes in detail all 77 species of living whales on this planet and also a bunch of extinct species based on fossil records.
It was a stroke of luck that we could identify the vertebrae (which were stuck together) as C7, T1.  That’s the last cervical and the first thoracic vertebrae.  The thoracic vertebrae have an articular joint surface for a rib on either side.  All mammals have 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae.  Giraffe’s have very long ones.  Some animals have very short ones.  And sometimes the cervical vertebrae are fused together!  However, C7 in our case was not fused to either of its neighboring vertebrae, T1 or C6. The “common dolphin”  has fused C1-7, according to “Whales of the World”.   Therefore we did not think that these were vertebrae from the common dolphin.  In the same book, there is a photograph on page 39 of a side view of a cervical spine of the common dolphin.  To my astonishment T1 looked just like the T1 vertebra that we found!  So, we were thinking of a close relative of the common dolphin.

The size of the vertebrae we found suggested an animal slightly larger than a human (approx 75-200 kg).   Using this as a guide, I then focused on 8 species listed in the whale book, that live in the North Western Atlantic, at our latitude 40 N .   I googled which of these species had recently been spotted in the waters around Long Island. The list was now really short:

  • bottlenose dolphin
  • common dolphin (unlikely because of the fused C spine)

In particular, there were lots of sightings and on-line reports about bottlenose dolphins around Long Island.

Apparently there has been an epidemic due to a type of measles virus and it has killed hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in our waters (in the Long Island sound and around Montauk).   This species has apparently been migrating northwards as witnessed by the larger numbers spotted since about  2007.
Here are some links which I found interesting:


Having been introduced to this species by their bones, I noted that these are in fact very interesting animals!  Bottlenose dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror!  They can use sponges as tools and transmit cultural knowledge across generations. Their considerable intelligence has driven interaction with humans.  I am now an official dolphin fan!

Happy New Year!

My kind of New Year “greeting card”

Beach Art

I spent the summer on different beaches: the Pacific coast of Northern California, the Maggia river in Switzerland and our home beaches of East Hampton.  Everywhere there is art on display.  Not by famous artists but by common people that pick up stuff from the beach and put it together to make a “work of art”.  It is playful.  It also is testament to the beauty of nature.  Often not much is needed to beautify the scene.  Other times the objects are small (a pebble), or common (litter), or unnoticed (drift wood) and the artist wants to draw attention to their unique beauty.   Here are some specimens I found.

Beach Dragon (Arcata CA)

Beach Dragon (Arcata CA)

Decorated Roots (East Hampton NY)

Decorated Roots (East Hampton NY)

Beach Wood and Iron (Maggia Tal)

Beach Wood and Iron (Maggia Tal)

Display (Maggia Tal)

Display (Maggia Tal)

Elephant Seal, Big Sur (CA)  Art?  Why not?

Elephant Seal, Big Sur (CA) Art? Why not?

Rock Hound on a Motorcycle

On July 27th I flew to San Diego and rented a 1200 RT BMW motorcycle with 4 in line cylinders, a powerful bike with which I was going to cruise 2600 miles across California.  My friend Manu lives in San Diego with his Kawasaki Versys 650.  He picked me up at the airport and we went right to the beamer rental shop.   The next day we set out early, the first leg of a 12 day journey, all the way up to Arcata, CA, on as many scenic routes as possible and then back down along the coast.   We crashed overnight at the cheapest motels in town or at a friend’s house, but we had dinners every night at the best restaurant we could find on Yelp!

Snowflake Obsidian

Snowflake Obsidian

On our way south, in Carlotta, CA, we stopped at Chapman’s Gem and Mineral shop on route 101, also called the Redwood Highway.  This is paradise for rock hounds.  For a couple of dollars I bought snowflake obsidian, jasper, rhodonite and much more. Here are some samples.



We stopped in Fort Bragg, CA, and we took the trail to “Glass Beach”.  This was a dump site for local residents, until 1967.  Now, in stead of sand, the ground is composed of small shards of smooth glass, ground extensively by the sea waves.  I had read about the place.  But we found the pieces of glass to be too small to use for jewelry.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach

Rarely, one finds a piece that is larger than 2 cm.

We had passed places called ‘Topaz’, ‘Diamond Valley’ and ‘Emerald Bay’.  Each time I took note and looked for some explanation for the bejeweled name.  No success.  Not until we discovered ‘Jade Cove’ in Big Sur!  It lies protected



Cliffs of Jade Cove

Cliffs of Jade Cove

within a National Forest. It is easy to get to from Highway 1.  The green cliffs are composed of nephrite (a type of jade) and also serpentine.   Nephrite is a soft stone (Mohs 6) which is easy to carve and when polished it is vitreous and has an oily luster.  It can be very elegant with white to green to grey hues.  It was  considered an imperial stone in chinese dynasties.  Here are some of my samples.  And a finished piece with banded agate, from Chapman’s Gem shop, see above.



There is more to come about other adventures on this trip, although they have little to do with lapidary or jewelry.  Stay tuned!

Before I set out on this trip, my 17 year old gave me a penguin stuffed animal – a talisman to keep me safe.  Penguino, as we called him, became a pro at riding the motorcycle…


Banded Agate in Silver

Banded Agate in Silver




I was sitting at the kitchen table with my wife not too long ago, wondering how it was possible that I have lived here on the East End of Long Island for over 30 years and have not yet visited all the beaches of East Hampton Town.  So we made a vow to walk all 40 beaches of this town and record our observations on this blog!    We thought it might be useful as there are no in depth beach guides for this area (either on the web or in print) and, in the summer at least, this town is a major destination for beach visitors.

This is a series of 7 blog posts and they are each on a separate page -> check out the top of  the side bar or you can click here 40 Beaches of East Hampton!   You can also click on whatever beach you are interested in on the list below…. Just in case you are wondering…these are gorgeous beaches.

Take care, David

I Sag Harbor and Northwest Beaches

1) Foster Memorial Beach (Long Beach)

2) Haven’s Beach, Bay Street

3) Barcelona Neck beach

4) Northwest Landing Rd beach

5) Mile Hill Rd beach

6) Cedar Point Park beaches

II Three Mile Harbor and Springs Beaches

7) Sammy’s Beach

8 ) Maidstone Park Beach

9) Lion Head Beach

10) Kings Point Rd Beach

11) Gerard Drive, Gerard Point

12) Louse Point Beach

III Amagansett, Napeague and Hither Hills Bay Beaches

13) Barnes Landing Beach

14) Albert’s Landing Beach

15) Abraham’s Landing Beach

16) Promised Land and Lazy Point Beaches

17) Napeague Harbor Beaches

18) Hither Hills Beaches

IV Montauk Bay Beaches

19) Navy Rd Beaches

20) Culloden Point

21) Gin Beach

22) Oyster Pond

23) North Rd beaches

V Montauk Ocean Beaches

24) Old Montauk Highway – Camp Hero Beaches

25) Cliff Drive Rd

26) Ditch Plains Beach (including Rheinstein Estate Park & Shadmoor Park)

27) Montauk Beaches

28) Gurneys Inn Beaches

29) Hither Hills Campground Beaches

VI Napeague, Amagansett Ocean Beaches

30) Napeague Stretch Beaches

31) Beach Hampton

32) Atlantic Beach

33) Indian Wells Beach

VII East Hampton and Wainscott Ocean Beaches

34) Two Mile Hollow Beach

35) Wiborg Beach

36) Main Beach East

37) Main Beach West

38) Georgica Beach

39) Wainscott Beach

40) Sagg Main Town Beach

More on Jingle Shells (Anomia Simplex)

A friend recently pointed out that some jingle shells are rippled. She even wondered whether they were a different species! Others opined that the ripples were due to the mollusc adhering on a rippled substrate, for example on top of a scallop with pronounced ripples in its shell structure. Today I think I found some evidence for this on our beach.

scallop with jingle and slipper shells

scallop with jingle and slipper shells adhering on top

The following are a few pictures of a brown scallop that had just washed ashore with still adherent orange jingle shell. Both the lower valve and the upper, orange valve of the jingle shell are rippled to closely adhere to the rippled structure of the scallop.

both jingle shell valves are rippled

both jingle shell valves are rippled

Conveniently there was a slipper shell adherent on the same scallop, or rather 2 slipper shells, one on top of the other, as they often tend to do. The slipper shells showed no ripples. Even the margins in contact with the scallop had not assumed the rippled structure of the scallop.

open jingle showing mollusc and rippled valves

open jingle showing mollusc and rippled valves

How to interpret these findings? I would say that the Anomia simplex has resided on this very same scallop for a long long time and perhaps for its entire life! How else would it have assimilated the scallop structure over its entire shell structure for both lower and upper (orange) valves? By contrast, I think the slipper shell likely migrated on to this substrate and had previously lived on a different substrate. The jingle shell could be described as a “resident” and the slipper shell as a “migrant”!

orange jingle shell adhereing on scallop and assuming rippled structure

orange jingle shell adhering on scallop and assuming rippled structure

While this is but one example and it would be dangerous to conclude that all A. simplex behave this way, it is none the less OK to conclude that some A. simplex may grow up from infancy and remain on the same substrate for their entire lives!

I would welcome your thoughts!

scallop with jingle and slipper shells

scallop with adherent orange jingle and slipper shells


I am fortunate. I get to walk on the beach every morning! Among the treasures we find, none are as cheery and colorful as jingle shells. They are so named because artisans have long been assembling them in to lamp shades and wind chime curtains. When you shake them they truly do jingle. Their scientific name is Anomia simplex. They also go by “Neptune’s toe nails” or the amusing misnomer “Mermaid’s toe nails”. Another name is “Saddle Oyster”, which indicates that Anomia are related to oysters. However, Anomia taste bitter and are of no commercial value.

They are found along the entire Atlantic sea coast from Nova Scotia to Brazil. A hardy species it seems. Anomia are mollusks (within the group of bivalves) that attach themselves to a surface by means of the ‘bysuss’, a tuft of calcified fibrils that penetrates through a hole in the lower valve to adhere to the underlying surface (see Figures1,2).

Figure 1:  Yellow and orange Anomia adherent on a beach stone and Anomia with inner valve attached

Figure 1: Yellow and orange Anomia adherent on a beach stone and Anomia with inner valve attached depicting the hole for the bysuss.

This may be a large clam shell, a rock, or another hard surface such as logs, wharfs or boats. They live in shallow waters often close to the beach, in a bay or estuary. The upper valve is brightly colored, either a shiny yellow or orange. Shades of silvery grey and black are present when Anomia are submerged in the mud and silt at the sea bottom. Interestingly, the lower valve is white, light grey or colorless. Is the bright yellow or orange color perhaps dependent on light filtering through the shallow waters? Is the purpose of the color to protect against a predator such as oyster drills, starfish and crabs (which are collectively referred to as boring gastropods). This seems unlikely as predators are supposed to find their food by scent not sight, as pointed out to me by Paul Monfils.

Figure 2: Two Anomia adherent on a beachstone. The orange upper valve has detached revealing the lower valve and the adherent mollusk.

Figure 2: Two Anomia adherent on a beachstone. The orange upper valve has detached revealing the lower valve and the adherent mollusk.

Anomia shells are extremely thin and paper-like such that they are often translucent, thus easy prey, one would think. Small holes are frequently found on the upper valve usually placed just where the animal is situated at the top of the shell. These small holes look like the mark of a predator, but they are by no means present on all shells that wash up on the beach. These animals must die of other causes too.

Personally I am most interested in their color. Why either yellow or orange? And how do these bright colors serve to enhance survival of this species.

Figure 3: Bright yellow and orange Anomia simplex adhering on a beach stone.

Figure 3: Bright yellow and orange Anomia simplex adhering on a beach stone.

My own observations from our beach, situated on a natural bay of Long Island (New York State) are that greater than 99% of Anomia are either yellow or orange, the rest being either silvery, or blackened. Neither yellow or orange predominate. These numbers do not vary dramatically with the tides or with the seasons (e.g. temperature). Both yellow and orange come in all sizes varying between approx 1-4 cm in diameter. Both yellow and orange are susceptible to drill holes (see above). Yellow and orange animals cohabitate in close proximity on rocks or large clam shells. They may even adhere partially on top of each other and they share their solid surface habitat with others shells, mostly Crepidula fornicata (slipper shell), as shown in Figure 3,4. The latter are considered an invasive species and are known to damage commercial oysteries: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1711

Figure 4:  Several Anomia simplex (5) of different colors and slipper shells (6) all adhering to a single large clam shell.

Figure 4: Several Anomia simplex (5) of different colors and slipper shells (6) all adhering to a single large clam shell.

Anomia collected from different locations may have different colorings. Anecdotal evidence (courtesy of Steve Rosenthal) has it that Anomia collected from western beaches of Long Island are less brightly colored than those from the eastern beaches. And pictures of Anomia from Florida beaches (http://www.squidoo.com/seashell-identification) reveal many shades of silvery white and grey and black, that seem much less prevalent on our beaches. Thus location and habitat my affect coloring.

Different colors and patterns on scallops and mussel shells are genetically determined. Therefore it is likely that the yellow and orange colors of Anomia could also be genetically encoded. Since Anomia can be bred in the laboratory I would like to know whether all offspring of yellow Anomia are yellow and those of parental orange color remain orange. The enigmatic question of how the color helps this organism survive could be experimentally addressed with laboratory experiments in which selected predators are added in a controlled way.

In the meantime I will continue to walk the beaches and collect Anomia to make ear rings and other colorful jewelry (Figure 5). Out here these shells are quite familiar and are collected by many beach goers. They remind us all of hot summer days on the beaches of Long Island.

Figure 5:  Jingle ear rings with yellow pearls, with hematite, with green onyx and with turquoise beads (from left to right).

Figure 5: Jingle ear rings with yellow pearls, with hematite, with green onyx and with turquoise beads (from left to right).

Triple Jingle shell ear rings with pearls




For more on Jingle Shells click here.

Further reading:
1) Partial Metamorphosis in Anomia simplexAuthor(s): V. L. Loosanoff. Science, New Series, Vol. 133, No. 3470 (Jun. 30, 1961), pp. 2070-2071.

2) Genetics of shell color in mytilus edulis l. and the association of growth rate with shell color. Gary F. Newkirk J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol., 1980, Vol. 47. pp. 89-94.

3) Comparison of the composition of fossil and recent mollusk shells. Pilkey OH, Goodell, HG. Geological Soc of Amer Bulletin, 75:217-228, 1964.

4) A Jingle (Shell) in Your Pocket, By Patricia B. Mitchell.

5) http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=156737

6) Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomiidae