The facts and legends of the sand dollar.
A sand dollar shell.
If you have ever taken a walk along the beach you have probably found a sand dollar, but do you know what you are looking at? Is it only hard pressed sand dried by the sun, an unusual looking shell of a living creature or as many children are told the money of mermaids washed up from the deep?
In fact, sand dollars are living marine animals known as Echinoids. These spiny skinned creatures are a close relation to the sea lily, sea cucumber, starfish, and sea urchin. They are clothed in a maroon-colored outfit of moveable spines that cover the entire shell.
Like their cousin the starfish, the sand dollar has a pattern of five sets of pores. These allow it to pump in water, remove what is needed to survive, and aid in movement. They live in low water areas and like to burrow or slowly creep along the sand. Fine hair-like cilia cover their tiny spines and are used to move food into the mouth found in the middle of its body.
Sand dollars on the bottom of the ocean are usually found in large groups. This is thought to be for reproductive purposes. They reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm into the water. Once joined they become free-swimming larvae which go through several stages of development before their hard exoskeleton start to form. Once they are mature they join other sand dollars as bottom dwellers.
Image via Wikipedia. A group of sand dollars on the bottom of the ocean
If you are looking for sand dollars on the beach, it’s best to wait until after a heavy storm. Many shells of sand dollars will be dredged up by heavy wave action and washed up on shore. Only remove white sand dollars, this means the animal has died and only the shell remains. Never remove a living sand dollar from the beach. Some beaches even have laws protecting them and you could face a fine for the removal
Sand dollar skeletons are beautiful but fragile. But there is a process where you can preserve them for a lifetime.
1. Soak in fresh water. As the water becomes dirty change it until the water remains clear.
2. Soak in a solution of two cups of water and one cup of bleach for 15 minutes. Then rinse with fresh water until the smell of bleach is gone.
3. Allow them to completely dry.
4. At this point all organic matter should be removed and only the shell remains.
5. Mix a solution of 50% water and 50% white glue. Cover one side at a time allowing each side plenty of time to dry. Paint solution on gently with a soft brush.
6. This water/glue solution will harden the shell and allow you to easily handle it or make it into jewelry.
While most search for sand dollars for their unique beauty they also have a religious aspect. The poem by an unknown author, “The Legend of the Sand Dollar” has become a Christmas and Easter favorite. The legend speaks of how the birth and death of Christ can be found in the shell.
Hold an unbroken, unpreserved sand dollar in your hand. The five pores or slits on the top represent the wounds of Jesus while on the cross. Four nail holes and a fifth one made by a Roman’s spear. In the middle is the design of the Easter lily with a star for its center. This is representative of the star seen by the shepherds. Turn the sand dollar over and the Christmas Poinsettia graces it’s underside to remind us of the birth of Christ. Now break it open to reveal five small pieces in the shape of doves. Once the five doves have been released it is said they spread peace and good will. But then again it is only a legend and only one of the many faces of the sand dollar.