Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
The Sand Dollar
I had never seen or heard of a sand dollar until we visited Treasure Island Beach, on one of our trips to our villa in Florida. It had been a stormy night, and people were walking up and down the beach searching for something. I couldn’t resist asking some Americans who were, I discovered, looking for a small and fragile, thin, white disc about 2 to 4 inches across, called the sand dollar. I was delighted when one of my fellow American beachcombers took pity on me and gave me a beautiful and perfectly formed sand dollar. As I held it in my hand I could see why these are often sought after. My interest was aroused and I wanted to find out more about these skeletons of the sand dollar, an ocean creature related to both starfish and sea urchins. They normally live buried just under the sand in shallow coastal waters.
When alive you probably wouldn’t bother to pick it up, as it is a browny maroon colour, which looks a bit like a cookie with fur. The whole shell is covered with moveable spines, which help it creep slowly through the sand, or burrow when danger lurks. There are tiny hairs, or cilia, which cover the little spines, and these are used, together with a mucous coating, to move food into its mouth. The mouth can be found on the underside, in the middle of the star shaped grooves. Here the sea dollar would have taken in tiny particles of food, mainly sea plants and sea animals. It has 5 jaws inside which crush the food.
By the time we find the sea dollar washed up on the beach it has lost its furry covering and has been bleached by the sun, so that it is all too easy to mistake it for a mermaid’s coin – one of the legends says that they are lost coins belonging to mermaids and washed up on the shore. If you look at the top surface of the skeleton, you will see holes that form a star shape, and through which the tube feet would have stuck out. These holes would have been used for breathing and moving.
As an inveterate shell seeker, the sand dollar was a most welcome addition to my collection, but if you do not have time to look for one yourself there are many shops in the Orlando area which will supply them.
There are also websites which will give you ideas of what to do with them, as, for example, they can be painted and varnished, so that you can use them as Christmas Tree Decorations. But personally, I prefer them in their pristine, undecorated condition.
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