Live Sand Dollar

How to Tell Which Sand Dollars are Safe to Take Home

Shelling on Marco Island is always fun and it doesn’t matter how many shells you have collected before, you always find yourself looking for more. One of my favorites is the Sand Dollar.  It’s thrilling to see a sand dollar at low tide half buried in the sand and water, isn’t it? Some of the sand dollars look brown and some look almost bleached out and white. How do you tell which sand dollars are safe to take home and which are alive and must be put back in the ocean?

Dark Sand Dollars

Live Sand Dollar
Live Sand Dollar on Marco Island

If a sand dollar is dark in color and half buried in the sand and/or water, it is most likely still alive and needs to be put back in the water as this is a living creature in its natural habitat. But not all brown (dark) sand dollars are alive….here is a way to tell……

Look for the CILIA and velvety skin. These are the things that keep the animal alive. If these two things are missing they are not alive any more. Can you see the cilia on the sand dollar in this picture…this is a live sand dollar.

Sand Dollars have short spines covered in “cilia” (tiny hairs) so it can move along the sand and grasses. Along with the cilia are tube feet, which look “furry like” and is actually how the sand dollar breathes.

 White Sand Dollars

Sand Dollar safe to take home
This sand dollar is ready for you to collect

The white sand dollars found on the beach are sun bleached and are definitely ready for you to take home to your shell collection.

So which sand dollars are safe to take home? The next time you see a sand dollar while walking the beach, remember to leave it alone if it’s dark and hairy. If you are unsure if it’s alive, take time to inspect it, looking for any signs of hairs, fur or velvety skin.

How to Preserve Your Sand Dollars to Take Home

Sand dollars should be bleached in half Clorox and half water for several hours. Rinse them thoroughly after bleaching and allow them to dry completely in the sun. Once they are dry, use a mixture of Elmer’s Glue diluted with water to whiten them and protect them.

Legend of the Sand Dollar

The Sand Dollar Legend is an Easter and Christmas favorite which tells a story that includes the five slits representing the wounds on Christ when on the cross, the Easter lily with a star in the middle representing the star of Bethlehem and on the back is the outline of a Poinsettia, the Christmas flower. The Legend of the Sand Dollar also tells of the 5 dove’s that are inside and how when the sand dollar is broken open it spreads good will and peace.

There’s a lovely little legend
that I would like to tell,
of the birth and death of Jesus,
found in this lowly shell.

If you examine closely,
you’ll see that you find here,
four nail holes and a fifth one,
made by a Roman’s spear.

On one side the Easter lily,
its center is the star,
that appeared unto the shepherds
and led them from afar.

The Christmas Poinsettia
etched on the other side,
reminds us of His birthday,
our happy Christmastide.

Now break the center open,
and here you will release,
the five white doves awaiting,
to spread Good Will and Peace.

This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me,
to help us spread His Gospel,
through all Eternity.

Author Unknown

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