Texas designated the lightning whelk as the official state shell in 1987. Large and distinctive; the lovely Lightning Whelk is found only in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast Atlantic coast of the USA. Most spiraling shells open to the right with a rare specimen opening to the left. The Lightning Whelk' s Latin name (Busycon contrarium) indicates its contrary nature, as it normally opens left. Lightning Whelks grow to one foot in length, though 15 inches has been recorded. Strong summer storms often wash large shells ashore - if you should find a live Whelk, please put it back in the water where it belongs.
These shells have inhabited our waters for 60 million years and have been significant to cultures in our history. Indians used whelks as food, housewares and weapons; remains have been discovered in burial grounds. The natural shape of the shell lends itself to practical uses (for instance, large whelks of all kinds have been used worldwide as lamps).
Even Whelk egg cases were utilized. Long ago, sailors used sandy clumps of egg strands to scrub themselves. Left-handed shells are considered sacred in parts of Asia and India, where a left-hand Whelk is very rare, so sailors visiting the Western hemisphere collected the common left-handed Lightning Whelk to sell for a profit in the East. This commerce continues today.