When I was a child, my grandmother gave my brother and me each a sand dollar. I remember how mesmerized my brother and I were by these round ocean dwellers. They had a beautiful pattern and reminded me of some kind of ancient currency. But the ones my grandmother gave us were not fresh out of the ocean. They had been collected and dried so they could be resold at gift shops and other tourist traps.
But sand dollars are living creatures. Many people do not realize this about these guys. And they’re magnificent.
The ones that you’ll find on the beach are usually already dead. When they’re deceased like that, they turn white and harden. And if they aren’t white, they will be covered and stained with seaweed.
On the other hand, sand dollars that are still alive are dark in color. But that’s hardly the coolest thing about them. If you turn one over, like the woman in the video does, you’ll see that the tiny bristles on the bottom move around as they search for food.
These sand dollars are distant cousins of sea urchins. They’re just flattened and less dangerous versions of them.
OceanIsleBeach.com verifies this. They write,
“A common sand dollar is another name for a particular type of “flattened” sea urchin. The common sand dollar is found in the Northern Hemisphere in temperate and tropical waters. On a good day at Ocean Isle, Sunset or Holden Beach, you might find many sand dollars ranging in size from one to approximately four inches in diameter.”
So when you see these sand dollars, you’ll be able to identify them now. But if you’re out searching for them, where should you go? The OceanIsleBeach.com website provides some directions to sand dollar hunters like you.
“Sand dollars live on sandy or muddy flat areas of the ocean floor in shallow water near land. They often live in colonies. Female sand dollars release eggs that are fertilized externally. Interestingly, the newly hatched larvae can clone themselves as a means of self-defense. If threatened, they can double their numbers by halving their size, thereby lessening the chance of being detected. The larvae go through a few stages of development before forming an external skeleton that houses the animal’s internal organs. The skeleton is called a “test, ” and it is this sun-bleached skeleton that beachcombers find. If you find a sand dollar that is brownish and covered with short, dark, fur-like spines, the animal is alive and should not be removed from the beach.”
The bristles on the bottom of the sand dollar are called cilla. These help the sand dollar move across the ocean floor.
If you’re out searching for sand dollars, the best time to go to the beach is at low tide after a storm. This is when you’ll have the best chances of finding these ocean dwellers.
Have you ever gone hunting for sand dollars? If so, do you have any tricks to finding great ones to take home with you?