In Search Of An Albino Horse Conch
By Gary Gordon

     The Florida Horse Conch [Triplofusus giganteus (Kiener, 1840)] is a favorite of Florida shell collectors - which fact led to it being designated the official Florida state shell in 1969. The species normally has nodules on its whorls, but sometimes, however rarely, it is found with smooth shoulders. This form has been informally dubbed a "Knobless Wonder." The shell is also rarely found as a beautiful albino specimen with the shell being of a white porcelain color. The albino form has been found in several areas around Florida, and I had looked for many years, and never found one, to my disappointment.

Triplofusus giganteus (Kiener, 1840) Florida Horse Conch

Pictured above is a selection of Triplofusus giganteus (including three albinos on the right) from the area visited by Fred and Gary during 1980. The illustrated specimens were collected by Brian Marshall during late 2007/early 2008.

     At the 1980 Jacksonville Shell Show, the famous shell collector Fred Chauvin won the Self-collected Shell of the Show Trophy with a fantastic albino, smooth-shouldered Florida Horse Conch. The shell was of good size and in gem condition. This shell was a dream-come-true for any collector and it made me dream of the day I too would find one. However, I dared not hope that it would be a "Knobless Wonder" like Fred's.

     At the show I talked to Fred at some length about trying to find an albino horse conch. I knew he was an expert on finding shells along the N.E. Coast of Florida, and he can entertain a shell collector for hours with his exciting shelling stories. I finally talked him into taking me shelling that weekend in my boat.

     Low tide was around noon so we met early at the boat dock. Soon Fred was directing me to go this way and that way until we landed on a large exposed sand bar. I kept wondering to myself, "Has Fred brought me to one of his secret shelling spots and will he help me find an albino horse conch?" My mind raced on and thought that even if Fred had brought me to a good spot, the chances of finding an albino might be one in a thousand. So far, we had not seen even one horse conch. I dared not ask Fred if this was his secret spot for fear of jinxing the trip, so I simply walked along, exploring the tide pools and finding a shell here and there.

     The tide started back in and I knew it would soon be time to go, and my hopes of finding the shell of my dreams were pretty low at that point. Fred told me to go around one way, while he want another way back towards the boat. I had walked along maybe 200 feet or so when there to my delight, in a tide pool, was a fantastic albino horse conch! It was not a "Knobless Wonder" but it was a beautiful 12 1/2 inch specimen. It was one of the best finds I had made in several years and the shell is a real prize in my collection.

     When Fred sent me in one direction and he took another, did Fred know that the shell was there waiting for me, or was it all a big coincidence? I would like to think that Fred knew all along there would be an albino horse conch in that tide pool. After all, Fred had shelled that area for years. You can decide for yourself. I just want to say THANKS FRED for a wonderful shell and a wonderful shelling trip.

Adapted from CARFEL (Manila) Philippine Shell News, Vol. 4, No. 2, March-April 1982 and published in the Jacksonville Shell Club newsletter the Shell-O-Gram, Volume 38(5), September-October, 1997.