Stiff Pen Shell (Atrina rigida)

Pen Shell Flower st pete beach, fl
bohemiannie/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The stiff pen shell, or rigid pen shell, is one of the several species of pen shells. These mollusks have a long, triangular or wedge-shaped shell and attach to rocks or shells in sandy, shallow ocean bottoms.


Stiff pen shells can be up to 12" long and 6.5" wide. They are a brown or purplish-brown color and have 15 or more radiating ribs that fan out across the shell. They may also have erect, tubular spines.

Pen shells may produce black pearls (scroll down on this page to see a picture of a small one).


  • Order: Pterioida
  • Family: Pinnidae
  • Genus: Atrina
  • Species: rigida

Habitat and Distribution:

Stiff pen shells live in warmer water from North Carolina to Florida, and also in the Bahamas and West Indies.

They are found on sandy bottoms in shallow water. They attach with their byssal threads, pointed end down.


Pen shells are filter feeders and eat small particles passing through the water.

Conservation & Human Uses:

Pen shells have a scallop-like adductor muscle (the muscle that opens and closes the shells) and are edible. They also produce black pearls which may be used in jewelry. Pen shells in the Mediterranean (Mediterranean pen shells) were harvested for their byssal threads, which were woven into an expensive cloth.