Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sand Dollars from Steven

Echinoidea, Clypeastroida
My friend Steven is a brilliant zoologist with a passion for conchology, the study of mollusks and shells. He has spent many hours on beaches around the world searching for seashells and his vast collection includes several rare specimens.

Today he brought me these sand dollars, still green with life, but in appearance only. Before today I was only familiar with the sand dollar's skeleton —the rigid, white flattened disk that commonly washes up on local beaches after the animal has died. These green sand dollars were living beings only two days ago. If the fishermen that brought them up in their nets off the coast of Long Island had taken the time to throw them back into the sea, they would still be alive now.

The sand dollar is the common name for a marine animal in the same phylum as the starfish. It has a rigid, flattened, disk-shaped test, or shell, made of firmly united plates lying just beneath the thin skin. Small spines that densely cover the test enable the animal to burrow in sand just below the surface.

Sand dollars are classified in the phylum Echinodermata, class Echinoidea, order Clypeastroida. Echinoderms are divided into five classes: Class Crinoidea (sea lilies); Class Asteroidea (starfish); Class Ophiuroidea (brittle stars); Class Echinoidea (sea urchins and sand dollars); and Class Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers).

I have long regarded sand dollars as talismans. To me, they are worth more than any currency. Steven suggested I soak them in bleach or dry them in the sun. But I'm in no rush to turn them white. I like them just as they are.

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