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In 1965, North Carolina named the Scotch bonnet (Phalium granulaturm) as its official state shell. It was also the first state to designate an official state shell. At least 13 other states subsequently designated state shells.
A Scotch bonnet is a gastropod mollusk that can be found from North Carolina to Brazil in coastal water depths of 50-150 feet. This fragile shell has short spires, large body whorls and thickened outer lips.
It has small orange/brown squares that give it a plaid appearance. It was named Scotch bonnet because it resembled the tartan tam o’shanters worn by the early Scottish settlers who founded the state.
Scotch bonnets grow to about 3.5 inches and feed on sand dollars, sea biscuits and sea urchins. The more food a Scotch bonnet consumes, the shinier and brighter its shell; however, when washed ashore, its colors fade quickly when the shell is exposed to sunlight.
Most people have never seen a Scotch bonnet. They often wash ashore in North Carolina’s Outer Banks but are rare in the rest of the state.
When state representative Moncie Daniels was lobbying to name the Scotch bonnet the state shell in the mid-60s, he promised to give a Scotch bonnet shell to anyone who supported his effort—and then was only able to find two of them. Other representatives were reluctant to name the state shell after such a rare specimen.
The bill passed in 1965 and consequently became law. A fellow statesman gave Daniels a box of Scotch bonnets so he could fulfill his promise.
You can see a Scotch bonnet by visiting the Museum of Coastal Carolina at 21 East Second St. on Ocean Isle Beach. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in December and will also be open on Dec. 26. After
Jan. 1, the museum will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free for museum members. Non-member admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, $4 for children ages 3-4, and free for ages 2 and younger.
Call 579-1016 or visit www.MuseumPlanetarium.org for more information.