Precious Wentletrap – Epitonium scalare (Linne’)

Precious Wentletrap Shell Operculum View


I probably have not opened my 1965 edition of Shells of the Western Pacific in Color vol. I by Tetsuaki Kira (chairman of the Malacological Society of Japan back then)  since college. After all I re-located to the Atlantic Ocean Shell habitat after that. But, here is Tetsuaki’s description the family Epitoniidae: “Many species of this family are found in Japan. The shells are generally thin and white, and characterized by the turreted spire, ornamented by many varices either plate or thread-like. In a few species, the whorls are only loosely coiled, and are isolated from each other. These staircase shells are one of the favorites of shell collectors because of their neat style and rarity.”

And, more specifically on this shell: Epitonium scalare (LINNE’): “The shape and structure of this  shell is most exquisite. It is moderately large, and white in color, with a faint fleshy tone. The whorls are loosely coiled, leaving open spaces between them, and sparsely bear thin and high varix-plates which are connected with those of the next whorls at the inter-whorl spaces. The umbilicus is widely open, and the spiral can be looked into through its inside. A round aperture has a reflexed margin, and is closed by a dark purple operculum, which is horny, round and paucispiral. Distribution: Honshu and southwards, at 20-30 fathoms. This splendid species was originally recorded from China Sea.”

This is the shell that was once considered very precious, rare and highly desired by collectors who would spend great sums to have one. Naturally when an object, especially a collector object such as shells or coins, is uncommon and demands a good price there will be counterfeiters. The story goes that the exquisite artistry of counterfeiters in China was discovered when a collector dropped his shell and found the pieces were not of calcium carbonate but rather of rice paste. Now the shells are not rare at all but the rice paste counterfeits are. I can only imagine how lovely those rice paste sculptures probably were with the lovely artistry that China is well known for.

But, for us no matter how common, the form of this shell is wonderful to examine and the light and shadow on those coiled tubes is of such an organic geometry as to make one wonder at the beauty present in the world at large.



Precious Wentletrap Posterior View with spiral flutes



Precious Wentletrap Side View



PS: I love scientific description, whether Audubon describing his birds or Kira here describing shell architecture, the words are always unique and lovely and ring through time as we examine our modern examples.

~ by Judy on July 4, 2017.

12 Responses to “Precious Wentletrap – Epitonium scalare (Linne’)”

  1. Pictures and description eloquent as always. Great article.

    • Glad you stopped by to take a look and the latest of the oldest of my stuff!! I am sure you saw many beautiful shells when you lived in the Pacific. Really makes me want to go diving again!!

  2. Such beautiful photos! ❤️

    • Thank you! Have to confess though that if you put something so inherently beautiful on a reflective surface with a little natural light, you can’t lose!! 🙂

  3. This is my favorite. I suppose it’s the simplicity. Having said that, I was going to add that it’s the complexity of the shell that makes it so interesting and beautiful! Simple complexity: it’s not just an oxymoron any more!

    • Well they always say that learning at its deepest is finding the simplicity beyond the complexity. Maybe nature shows us the way.

  4. This is outstanding work, Judy. The natural beauty of the shell, the presentation and the reflections are simply perfect and make a deep impact. Awesome!

    • Oh thanks so much!! Shells have been a long time fascination for their inherent structural beauty. Have waited far too long to put some of them in front of my camera.

  5. I saw your comment on Hein’s blog and clicked…and noticed your beautiful flower still lifes, as well as this post. I love wentletraps! I used to find little ones every now and then – not often at all – when I was younger and vacationed in Spring on an island off the coast of Georgia. I always loved the name, almost as much as the shell. Your photos of the shell are exquisite.

    • Oh, thanks. I always did like the name too and maybe felt them extra special because they were called ‘precious’ not knowing all the reasons. But they are truly appealing shells in their structure. This one was given to me as a gift when I lived in the Philippines and so I think you are most lucky to have actually found some of the species. That island wasn’t Cumberland Island was it? The one with the horses and the white sand dunes? Thank you very much for checking out my blog too!!!

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