Sand Dollars

I swear, I think that the only place that folks can ask questions is at our model train layout. Today a young family came to me to share what they had found on the beach and what they had found they were very excited about. They had found 4 sand dollars on the beach – two were whole and two were broken. They had a lot of questions and, alas, I had few answers. I promised them I would blog “sand dollars.” Here I go:

Sand dollar is the common name for many flattened species of sea urchins that burrow in the sand, but where exactly did that name come from?

Different types of sand dollars

Different types of sand dollars

When dead sea urchins wash ashore, their skeletons, or tests, are bleached white by the sun. Beachgoers thought they looked like a large silver coin like the old American or Spanish dollar. So they started calling them sand dollars. But these sea urchins are also called sand cakes, cake urchins and sea cookies.

What does a sea urchin look like when it is alive?

Live sea urchin

Live sea urchin

Here’s a few more bits of info about them  I got from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • Their mouth has a jaw with five teeth-like sections to grind up tiny plants and animals.
  • A sand dollar chews for fifteen minutes before swallowing.
  • It can take two days for the food to digest.
  • Scientists can age a sand dollar by counting the growth rings on the plates of the exoskeleton.
  • Sand dollars usually live six to ten years.

A variety of imaginative associations have been made by beachcombers who collect the bleached skeletons of dead sand dollars. They are sometimes said to represent coins lost by mermaids or the people of Atlantis. Christian missionaries found symbolism in the fivefold radial pattern and dove-shaped internal structures, and a card with an anonymous poem explaining the legend is often given in conjunction with the sale of a sand dollar by merchants. The story compares the holes with the crucifixion wounds of Christ, and other features with the Star of Bethlehem, an Easter lily, a poinsettia, and doves.

And in answer to the question, “Can you paint them?” – the answer is “yes.”

Painting sand dollars

Painting sand dollars

Go to this site to see the pretty simple process.

 

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