Lettered olives are quite delightful seashells. We beachcombers love to find these beauties! Lucky for us, empty lettered olive seashells can be found in abundance on the Atlantic coast beaches of the United States from North Carolina to Florida, and along the Gulf of Mexico coast to Texas. Typically variations of tan and cream, these relatively common seashells are smooth and glossy.
Lettered olives, large predatory sea snails, live just below the sandy surface from the near low-tide line to water about 150 feet deep. They typically grow to lengths of 1¾ – 2¾ inches. Carnivores, lettered olives feed on bivalves (e.g., the coquina, a small saltwater clam), and sand crabs.
This beach treasure is the State Shell of South Carolina:
“The Lettered Olive, Olive Sayana, was designated as the official State Shell by Act No. 360 of 1984. The Lettered Olive was found and named by Dr. Edmund Ravenel of South Carolina. He chose the name for the shell because of its hieroglyphic markings. The shell has a smooth, shiny, cylindrical shape and is typically found in shallow waters near the shore. It is quite prolific along the South Carolina Coast.” (SC State House.gov)
The Lettered Olive is in good company. South Carolina also has a State Reptile: the Loggerhead Turtle, as well as a State Marine Mammal: the Bottlenose Dolphin. And, South Carolina’s State Official Migratory Marine Mammal is the Northern Right Whale.
The “Palmetto State” (South Carolina State Tree: Sabal Palmetto) clearly has an engaged legislature!