Red Sea shellsRed Sea shellsRed Sea shellsRed Sea shells

  • Issue: December 1977
  • Designer: A. Glaser
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 518 - 521
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

Red Sea shells are the skeletal coverings of molluscs, invertebrate creatures who have developed a hard, limey shell in which to wrap their bodies and serve as a shelter and hiding place in time of need.

The mollusc forms its shell throughout its lifetime and the shell develops along with it.

Although the molluscs originally lived in the seas, numerous species have moved into continental waters and even on to dry land and a wide variety of brightly coloured species of mollusc is to be found in tropical waters such as those of the Red Sea.

The Cowry and the Tun are snails (Gastropods)-mobile molluscs which move along on broad muscular feet and slither across the surface of the sea bed. They possess a well-developed head equipped with sensory tentacles and a mouth equipped with teeth. The foot is enveloped in a mantle, a sort of pliable fold in the skin which envelops the creature and is equipped, at its edges, with the glands which secrete the lime from which the shell is constructed and the colour-glands which produce the colours which decorate the exterior of the shell and provide it with a layer of shiny glaze.

The Cowries (Cypraeidae) have particularly decorative shells- the tropical waters harbour hundreds of different species differing from each other in size, shape and pattern of shell. Their common feature is the narrow aperture of the shell which is equipped with teeth-like projections resembling a mouth. Since the mantle envelops the outside of the shell, the shell of the Cypraeid is highly glazed and is greatly prized by collectors. Amongst certain African tribes and natives of the South Seas, these shells served as fertility symbols and to this very day play an important role in adornment. The Cowries live by ingest. ing seaweed found on rocks and generally hide away in the shady hollows of rocks.

The Tun (Tornidae), on the other hand, is predatory. The snail forces its long snout between the soft layers of the bivalves and, on occasions, even drills holes into their shells by secreting an acidy saliva which wears away the lime of the shell. The saliva also helps it predigest the food outside the prey's body before sucking it into its own mouth.

Our other two species belong to the class of Bivalvia whose shells consist of two identical parts called valves, joined together by an elastic ligament. They are, as a rule, sedentary animals whose feet have developed into burrowing organs capable of rapid extension from the interior of the shell to enable the creature to burrow in the soft sand, dragging both body and shell along with it.

The Shell of Venus Clam (Veneridae), so-called after the story in Greek mythology relating how Venus was born of the waves out of such a shell, is an adept burrower which lives permanently buried in the shallows of the soft, sandy sea bed.

In the Bivalves, as well as in the snails, the mantle which envelops the valves from the inside, is responsible for producing the shell and forming the bright colours with which it is decorated. The mantle is hinged at the rear and produces a short double tube-siphons-which is extended upwards to open up above the level of the sand. Through this tube water passes in and out of the mantle enabling the Bivalve to breathe and supplying It with food-the tiny organisms found in the sea and known as plankton.

As a result of this way of living, the head of the Bivalve has degenerated and the attractive symmetrical triangular pattern of the shell decoration is produced by a blind, unseeing creature. The Scallop (Pectinidae) is something completely different-it does not burrow as do the others, but moves about in a highly original manner. When the valves are open wide, the mantle cavity fills up with water which is then forcibly ejected by the contraction of the adductor muscles which contract the valve. The jets expelled through the shell grooves propel it into the water.

To adapt to such an active life, the scallops have developed dozens of tiny eyes along the edge of the mantle which are continually alert to warn against star-fish, the vicious predators which feed on molluscs, especially Bivalves.

The Gulf of Elat boasts some 800 species of shell-bearing molluscs, many of which make their homes near the coral reefs and, as a result, suffer from the greed of man who, even in ancient times, used them as food, decoration or for the extraction of different raw materials such as the purple dye used with such great skill by the Phoenicians.

Under the Nature Protection Law, most forms of life in the Gulf of Elat have been declared protected species and it is forbidden to collect or sell them-so let us do our share to preserve the Red Sea molluscs, this natural and beautiful heritage from extinction.

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Red Sea shells