Olive Snails

At low tide across some sand flats in Netarts Bay, you may encounter meandering and crisscrossing trails of the beautiful little purple olive snail Olivella biplicata. The snail creates “tracks” as it plows through the sand hunting food. Its polished shell forms gentle whorls colored purple, gray, and tan, Sometimes you can find this delicate animal on top of the sand, especially at night. It’s polished shell forms gentle whorls of colored purple, gray and tan. Other times you may have to dig an inch or so underneath its trails or into the small mound of sand at a trail's end. If you turn Olivella so its aperture is upward, you may see its muscular foot extend and wave around as it tries to right itself.

Olivella can also be found on the open beach at low tide. Look for a small mound of sand. The snail is buried just underneath.

The purple olive snail ranges from Sitka Alaska to Baja California. It reproduces by laying egg capsules that hatch into free-swimming veliger larvae. Starfish, shorebirds and moon snails are important predators.

The Chumash Indians of Southern California, especially the Channel Islands, used purple olive shells as beads and money (Chumash literally means "bead money makers"). They may have been use as tender or jewelry by Native Americans for thousands of years. Olivella biplcata shells were found at the Marmes Rock Shelter along the Washington’s Snake River in deposits dated as far back as 7600 to 9000 years.


Text and Photographs by Jim Young
Oceanside, Oregon


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