Texas' Official Seashell
The Texas shoreline off the Gulf of Mexico is 624 miles long, but the plains of Texas — in the form of shallow water and bays with sandy or muddy bottoms and an abundance of clams and oysters — are still visible if you look in the right places. The lightning whelk, the state’s official seashell, has narrow strips of tan-to- dark brown running from the top of the spiraled shell down to the bottom tip, looking like lightning breaking a dark sky, reaching to touch the plains. This natural depiction lends itself to the first part of its common name, but also serves as a symbol of the diverse land and inhabitants of Texas.
In April 1987, the State of Texas named the lightning whelk the state’s seashell after Mildred Tate, a malacologist and curator of the Brazosport Museum of Natural Science in Clute, Texas, promoted the proposal. The resolution equated the rarity of the shell to that of Texas because the lightning whelk is one of the few shells that spiral out and open to the left, making it easily distinguishable from other species. And this left-handed whelk is found almost exclusively in the Gulf. The opposite opening of the shell has drawn the attention or people for hundreds of years: Native Americans, who used them for their versatile practicality (food, housewares, weapons), also collected them to use in religious ceremonies.
So if you’re visiting the Texas shoreline and happen upon a lightning whelk, instead of lifting it to your ear, look at it. Experience something in a new way just as Texas’ various lands and people encourage us to.