AAA Editor Notes
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Rd., will pique the interest of shell aficionados as well as those who want to know a little more about the subject than just their natural beauty.
Inspect the museum's collection of more than 30 educational and visually stimulating exhibits and learn fascinating facts about the roles of shells in architecture, history, medicine and religion as well as the biology of mollusks, living creatures that create the shells.
Feast your eyes on shell species from around the world, including such varieties as lightning whelk, crown conch (pronounced conk) and Humphrey wentletrap, typically found on area beaches. A 6-foot-round globe holds shells from the Pacific Northwest, New England, Japan and Saudi Arabia. World Record-Size Shells are also on exhibit. Other displays showcase shell habitats, rare specimens and shell fossils from southwest Florida.
A life-sized diorama with models of a Calusa father and son demonstrates how Calusa Indians, the area's original inhabitants, used shells as tools for fishing and as anvils and hammers hundreds of years ago. Check out the scallop exhibit and examine the wide range of shell colors and patterns. An exhibit about edible mollusks examines how various countries use them in local dishes and offers recipe ideas.
Spin the shell classification wheel to identify the sea shells you've collected. Mollusks in Action, an amusing 30-minute video depicting live mollusks, plays on the hour in the auditorium; Trails & Tales of Living Seashells, a 30-minute video featuring sea creatures that leave trails in the sand, plays on the half-hour.
See how sea shells have been used to create crafts and artwork, including cameos and the sailors' valentine. The sailors' valentine was created in the early 1800s by Caribbean women who artfully arranged shells in works featuring loving sentiments; in turn, the pieces were purchased by visiting New England whalers as gifts for their sweethearts back home.
Children will have a blast in the children's learning lab, featuring hands-on play areas, shell games, displays, a touch tank with live mollusks and a children's video. Visitors can attend weekly and monthly programs and lectures. Guided beach walks also are offered.
Guided tours are available.