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Baltic tellins

August 5, 2018
IMG_5093

Colour variation in Baltic tellin shells

 

The Baltic tellin (Limecola balthica, but until quite recently known as Macoma balthica) is a small bivalve found between the tidelines of sandy and muddy shores, and especially estuaries across northern Europe. It is an infaunal species, meaning that the living animal is found buried within the top few centimetres of the sediment, however empty shells are a common find. The beach at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset is typically strewn with them once you get below the strandline.

Baltic tellin shells on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea

Baltic tellin shells on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea

Their shells come in a range of colours, with white, yellow, orange and red forms found. Blue and purple shells may be stained by sulphides within the sediment. Typically, when mollusc shells show colour variation within a species, it may be due to visual predation, often from birds. The infaunal life habit of the Baltic tellin would seem to suggest that this is not the case however, and the different colour forms seems to coexist in the same locale.

I have found Baltic tellins (sadly without their pigmentation) in archaeological levels at the Walpole site in Somerset, and just recently noticed their shells within the mortar of the medieval gatehouse of Cleeve Abbey, suggesting a local muddy shore, perhaps the mouth of the Washford River, was used as the source for the sandy component of the mortar.

Baltic tellin shells in the mortar of the gatehouse at Cleeve Abbey

Baltic tellin shells in the mortar of the gatehouse at Cleeve Abbey

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