Sand Dollar Shells

Sand dollars are living sea creatures that belong to a family of sea urchins and starfish. They typically congregate in hundreds along the New Zealand, South Africa, and USA’s both Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Their skeletons are commonly collected items by beachcombers and shell collectors.

What is a sand dollar?

Live sand dollars are covered in a velvet-like coat with thousands of moving tentacles that help them crawl through the sandy and muddy bottoms of the ocean floor. They also contain symmetrical maroon-colored pores that can be seen on top of their shells when they are alive. They typically reside in sandy-bottom waters no deeper than four feet and close to shore. They need saltwater or estuaries. Dead sand dollars are bleached by the sun until all that is left is the round, white skeletons free of lines and tentacles. The center of these animals typically develops flower-like patterns that are appreciated by collectors and decorators alike. Because of their fragility, unbroken sand dollars are prized by collectors.

What are the types of sand dollars?

There are many different species of sand dollars throughout the world. They differ in size and shape. Examples include:

  • True Arrow Head Sand Dollars – Sturdier and larger than other types, this sand dollar is often used for painting beach scenes and souvenirs. These sand dollars live in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and much of Central America.
  • Mexican Head Arrow Head Sand Dollars – Much smaller than the True Arrow Head, these pieces are typically used in jewelry making for earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. These sand dollars live in the tropical regions of North, Central, and South America.
  • Sea Pancake Sand Dollars –Less than six inches in size, Sea Pancakes have a characteristic star in the middle with well-defined edges. The Sea Pancake sand dollars live in the Caribbean.
  • Sea Biscuit Sand Dollars – The star on top of this seashell imminently protrudes from the shell, and it can reach the thickness of over one inch with a clearly visible outline. Sea Biscuit sand dollars come from New Zealand.
  • Sea Cookie Sand Dollars – Frequently used in crafts due to their thick and durable shell, their small size makes them suitable for use as buttons. They live in New Zealand.
  • Pacific Sand Dollars – The skeletons reach the size of 2-4 inches and do not have any openings in them. Pacific sand dollars live along the West Coast of North America from Baja to Alaska.
  • Puffer Sea Biscuit Sand Dollars –Extremely fragile, these seashells are especially valued by collectors for their unusual, "puffy" appearance. They also have the largest opening on the bottom of their skeletons. They can be found in Australia and New Zealand.