The Many Faces of The Sand Dollar

The facts and legends of the sand dollar.

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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.

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14 Responses to “The Many Faces of The Sand Dollar”
  1. CA Johnson Says...

    On February 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    This is really interesting. I never heard of sand dollars, but I enjoyed learning about them. Thanks for sharing.


  2. erwinkennythomas Says...

    On February 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    wonderful and captivating! thanks for sharing


  3. Ruby Hawk Says...

    On February 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Pam, I didn’t know you could preserve sand dollars, this is useful information.


  4. Jackie Says...

    On February 22, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Very well done and informational. Loved it


  5. Daisy Peasblossom Says...

    On February 22, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Informative and inspirational…can you get any better than that?


  6. Brenda Nelson Says...

    On February 23, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Inded NEVER remove a living sand dollar – just because you cannot see them suffer, or here them beg for their lives does not mean you have the right to kill them – these are living animals and we should kill them just to have a souvenier.

    Killing a Sanddollar


  7. Brenda Nelson Says...

    On February 23, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Inded NEVER remove a living sand dollar – just because you cannot see them suffer, or here them beg for their lives does not mean you have the right to kill them – these are living animals and we should kill them just to have a souvenier.

    http://socyberty.com/activism/killed-for-a-dollar/


  8. Karen Gross Says...

    On February 23, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Very interesting! I had never heard that sand dollars are legal tender among mermaids. And thank you for the warning about taking them. I went with my family to Vancouver Island when I was a kid. We collected shells, and I picked up a sand dollar. I didn’t know they were alive. I was disappointed when we got home and it was white and brittle. Prairie kids – we didn’t know.


  9. ialexis Says...

    On February 24, 2012 at 3:01 am


  10. CHAN LEE PENG Says...

    On February 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

    This is the first time I heard of the sand dollar. Interesting read, thanks Pam.


  11. Melody SJAL Says...

    On February 25, 2012 at 3:44 am

    they look good.


  12. Moses Ingram Says...

    On February 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Interesting! I seem to remember seeing a sand dollar once but this is new to me, thanks for sharing.


  13. Starpisces Says...

    On March 3, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    something very new and interesting to me. I really envy your lifestyle, Pam. ;)


  14. Val Mills Says...

    On March 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    This is interesting, I’ve never heard of sand dollars before. I love the mermaid theory!


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