All About the Jingle Shell

Woman holding jingle shells
LizMarie_AK/Flickr/CC-BY-SA 2.0

If you find a thin, shiny shell while walking on the beach, it might be a jingle shell. Jingle shells are shiny mollusks that got their name because they produce a bell-like sound when several shells are shaken together. These shells are also called Mermaid's toenails, Neptune's toenails, toenail shells, gold shells and saddle oysters. They may wash up in large numbers on beaches after storms.  

Description

Jingle shells (Anomia simplex) are an organism that attaches to something hard, like wood, a shell, a rock or a boat.

They are sometimes mistaken for slipper shells, which also attach to a hard substrate. However, slipper shells have only one shell (also called a valve), while jingle shells have two. This makes them bivalves, which means they are related to other two-shelled animals such as mussels, clams, and scallops. The shells of this organism are very thin, almost translucent. However, they are very strong.

Like mussels, jingle shells attach using byssal threads. These threads are secreted by a gland located near the jingle shell's foot. They then protrude through a hole in the bottom shell and attach to the hard substrate.  The shell of these organisms takes on the shape of the substrate upon which they attach (for example, a jingle shell attached to a bay scallop will have ridged shells also).

Jingle shells are relatively small - their shells can grow to about 2-3" across. They can be a variety of colors, including white, orange, yellow, silver and black.

The shells have a rounded edge but are generally irregular in shape.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Mollusca
  • Class: Bivalvia
  • Subclass: Pteriomorphia
  • Order: Pectinoida
  • Family: Anomiidae
  • Genus: Anomia
  • Species: simplex

Habitat, Distribution, and Feeding

Jingle shells are found along the eastern coast of North America, from Nova Scotia, Canada south to Mexico, Bermuda, and Brazil.

They live in relatively shallow water less than 30 feet deep.

Jingle shells are filter feeders. They eat plankton by filtering water through their gills, where cilia remove the prey.

Reproduction

Jingle shells reproduce sexually through spawning. There are usually male and female jingle shells, but occasionally individuals are hermaphroditic. They release gametes into the water column, appearing to spawn in the summertime. Fertilization occurs within the mantle cavity. The young hatch as planktonic larvae that live in the water column before settling to the ocean bottom.

Conservation and Human Uses

The meat of jingle shells is very bitter, so they are not harvested for food. They are considered common and have not been evaluated for conservation action.

Jingle shells are often collected by beachgoers. They can be made into wind chimes, jewelry, and other items

References and Further Information

  • Bouchet, P.; Huber, M.; Rosenberg, G. 2014. Anomia simplex d'Orbigny, 1853. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species, December 21, 2014.
  • Brousseau, D.J. 1984. Reproductive cycle of Anomia simplex (Pelecypoda, Anomiidae) from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Veliger 26(4): 299-304.
  • Coulombe, D. A. 1992. Seaside Naturalist: A Guide to Study at the Seashore. Simon & Schuster. 246 pp.
  • Martinez, A. J. 2003. Marine Life of the North Atlantic. AquaQuest Publications, Inc.: New York.
  • The University of Rhode Island. Jingle Shell (Anomia simplex). Accessed December 19, 2014.