Sand Dollars - More Than Just a Pretty Shell

Leaves and Critters
Sand dollars are way more than just pretty shells. They are live animals! :)
Sand dollars are way more than just pretty shells. They are live animals! :)
Flickr Wildcat Dunny
These well-known sun-bleached white seashells are actually the exoskeleton of a furry living sea animal.
Sand dollars. Most people know what they are. They are the round white shell with a nice 5-point flower-like pattern on top and a hole on the bottom. Period.

Okay, well this may come as a surprise, but before sand dollars become the fragile seashore decoration in your beach house, they are actually a living creature!

I know, it seems like maybe that should be obvious, but people rarely see them alive so they just don't associate them with living animals.

So sand dollars make it into my travel site because A) I came across hundreds of them on the beach in El Salvador and didn't even know what they were at first and B) Some other travelers I've talked to didn't know there was such thing as a live sand dollar. So they count as something discovered while traveling. :)
The underside of a live sand dollar in El Salvador.
The underside of a live sand dollar in El Salvador.
This guy had just burrowed down into the sand after I set him down. You can see his hairy spines just at the top of the photo.
This guy had just burrowed down into the sand after I set him down. You can see his hairy spines just at the top of the photo.
Sand dollars are invertebrates related to sea urchins. When they're alive, they are darker in color and are covered in soft hair-like spines that help them move around the ocean floor. They are harmless so you can gently pick them up, but they can't survive long out of the water so make sure if you find one, to get him back into his natural habitat right away.

You might come across hundreds of them at low tide in some places, burrowing into the sand. They almost look like dog paw prints! So they do indeed have a front and a back which you'll quickly see as they move to bury themselves under the sand.
Wow, there were hundreds of live sand dollars on this beach in El Salvador!
Wow, there were hundreds of live sand dollars on this beach in El Salvador!
This one has much lighter colored spines, but he's definitely alive and on his way down into the wet sand.
This one has much lighter colored spines, but he's definitely alive and on his way down into the wet sand.
Also, your sand dollar skeleton contains 5 white "doves" which are actually the sand dollar's teeth! Sometimes they will fall out of the hole, or you can break one open to find the doves.
Sand dollars contain 5
Sand dollars contain 5 "doves".
Flickr photoholic1

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