When we think of animals with shells, we often think of their gorgeous shells as mini-apartments that they carry around like backpacks. While this image is interesting, shells often provide more amazing benefits to the marine animals that make them. The grand purposes of shells often include protection from predators, providing shelter in their habitat and protecting internal organs.

Each animal’s shell is unique in how it is used and how it looks. For example, many mollusks use hard shells to protect their more fragile and softer exteriors as they tumble on the ocean floor. However, there are many different species of mollusks, including mussels, oysters, and clams. Learn more about what makes them special!

In addition to their important uses, seashells are beautiful and have inspired people of different cultures for centuries. Today, we’re going to highlight some of the gorgeous shells in our oceans and the fascinating creatures that make them.

Now let’s take a look at these five gorgeous shells that are sure to dazzle.

longhorn manatee

longhorn manateelonghorn manatee
© Christian Glore/flickr

Longhorn manatees are a unique addition to this list. While these longhorned manatees don’t have the typical shell, they have plates on their skin that combine to form a carapace that protects them from predators. The long-horned manatee is a brightly colored relative of the boxfish, and its horns also inspired their name. Learn how the cousin Boxfish helps keep predators away by secreting a toxin that makes them unattractive.

sea ​​urchin

sea ​​urchins in the oceansea ​​urchins in the ocean
© Paul Blair/flickr

Sea urchins look weird and beautiful. They are found from shallow to deep waters, with rounded shells, called tests, that are covered with spines. This marine animal, an invertebrate in the class of sea urchins, uses its odd size to keep predators from getting too close.

Queen Conch

Queen Conch ShellQueen Conch Shell
© Caitlin Danka Galli

Have you ever put a conch shell to your ear and heard the sound of the sea? Queen conchs are gastropod mollusks that protect their soft bodies with these amazingly large and intricate shells, and queen conchs are valued by people in many cultures for their beauty. Just remember, like all shells, if you see them sitting on the beach, it’s best not to touch them – there may still be people living inside!

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightfoot CrabSally Lightfoot Crab
© Anita Ritenour/flickr

The Sally Lightfoot crab has a beautiful and unique coloration that has earned it a place on this list. Adult crabs have intense blues and reds on their shells and white or pale blue bellies, making them stand out from the crab crowd. Like many other animals with exoskeletons, these crabs molt so they can grow into bright colors.

chamber nautilus

chamber nautiluschamber nautilus
© Bill Abbott/flickr

This marine animal has been around for a long time. (We’re talking millions of years.) The coeloped nautilus is a cephalopod that uses its shell to protect itself from predators and can even move through the water column. However, the chambered nautilus is at risk in the market for shells, and jewelers and collectors are willing to pay dearly for these unique shells.

Reward Shell: Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill TurtleHawksbill Turtle
© Pauline Walsh Jacobson/flickr

With a shell as beautiful as a hawksbill turtle, we couldn’t remove it from our list. This sea creature is named for its beak-like mouth that deftly pries its prey out of tiny cracks. Sadly, although this animal is an important contributor to the health of marine ecosystems, it is also an endangered species, threatened by a number of factors, including being sought after for its beautiful shell pattern known as “tortoiseshell”.

These amazing shells are just a few of the many shell-like creatures in our oceans. Remember, for protection and longevity, it’s best not to touch these shells and their inhabitants, so be careful, but try not to! Want to learn more about striking marine animals and their shells? Learn about the beautiful and precious scallops.

The post Five Ornate Shells (and the animals that make them) appeared first on Marine Conservation Society.