An Elusive Shell – Junonia

An Elusive Shell – Junonia

Some call this spotted mollusk the holy grail of shells to find on Sanibel island. Retired shelling guide Mike Fuery called it the ghost. This shell is both.

What is it about this shell that drives people to travel hundreds sometimes thousands of miles to the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva to search for this brown spotted and cream to dark brown volute shell? Is it the thrill of the hunt? The notoriety you receive when finding one by getting your name in the local paper? Or rather to add to your collection?

The elusive junonia is a deeper water shell and lives in water depth from 95 feet of water to 400 feet. The Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida is shallow when you look off the far horizon.  When standing on the beach on Sanibel and see a boat offshore it is in about the 40 feet range.

The question I get most asked as a guide is, “Have you ever found a junonia?”

The short answer is yes, but we are jumping ahead of the story.

They best part is being with someone when they find this sought after” Holy Grail” of a shell.

My favorite story is a lady from Iowa, she had been shelling for years on the island, but had never found this sought after shell. We were up on Cayo Costa finding a nice variety of shells and came upon some old tree roots in the water when she became extremely excited as I saw her speed increase toward the downed tree stump. She reached in and pulled out an amazingly beautiful junonia. Hugs were shared and to this day it is one of her most prized shells. I remember that day every time I go by the same stretch of beach.

Then there were the Twins. The twins were twin boys about 8 years old with their mom (who had been shelling her whole life) and dad who wasn’t much into shells. I was walking beside the mom in clear water at the water’s edge on North Captiva Island. She was finding great specimens of many different shells.  The twins were right beside us occasionally wrestling around like all good twin brothers do when I spotted a beautiful apple murex.  My eyes locked on to this beauty and as I was bending over to get it then one of the twins grabbed a shell 4 inches from the murex. Then the twin said “mom, is this a Junonia?” I couldn’t believe it! His mom was green with envy. Moments later the other twin found a huge piece of a Junonia. The mom looked and looked that day but no junonia.

This January I took the day off to show an old friend from High School the beaches of Cayo Costa. It was his first time to Florida and had never been to the beaches or even seen a shell. Five minutes into our walk I spotted a junonia. Here I was at a place I have shelled for over 20 years and there it was half buried in the sand. I was a little stunned at first, he was even more stunned at the way I was acting. He had no idea we had just stumbled upon the “Holy Grail” of shells.


Brian Holaway
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