Lettered Olive Shell
Aceituna Letrada, Oliva Escribana, Caracol de Oliva
(Oliva sayana)

Lettered Olive Shell, Oliva sayana: The Lettered Olive Shell is a smooth, shiny, cylindrical shell with a short spire that reaches 2.5 inches in length. They have narrow apertures that extend almost the length of the shell, continuing around the bottom and ending in a notch on the other side.

The suture is V-cut and deep. The lower part of the whorl just above the suture ends extends outwards and then at a sharp shoulder drops into the suture. The Lettered Olive does not have an operculum. They have cream or grayish exteriors with reddish brown sigzag markings.

In Mexican waters they are found in coastal waters of the Atlantic in the Gulf of Mexico on shallow sand flats near inlets. They are carnivores consuming bivalves and small crustaceans. At extreme low tides they can be found by the trails they leave while crawling below the surface. Females lay floating, round egg capsules that are often found in beach drift.

The Lettered Olive can be confused with the Tent Olive, Oliva porphyriua, which resides in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. They were utilized by early Native Americans for jewelry and are now sold for shell collections.

The Lettered Olive Shell is a large sized member of the Olividae Family, the Olive Shells. The Olive Shells have in excess of 100 global members from 7 genera and are found worldwide, in subtropical and tropical seas and oceans. The animals are large predatory sea snails being classified as marine gastropods mollusks. Olive Shells have brilliantly polished smooth, skinny, elongated, oval shaped shells. The shells have a long aperture and a channeled suture on the low well developed stepped spire. They have a siphonal notch at the posterior end of a long narrow aperture from which the siphon protrudes. The inner lip is wrinkled but does not have a wide callus area. They have relatively high spires. They reach 4.8 cm in length and 2.8 cm in width. They are found intertidally and subtidally over sandy substrate. The animals plow just below the surface leaving a characteristic trail. They are carnivores, feeding mostly on bivalves and carrion, and some are reported to be cannibals. They have been dated, via fossils, to the Campanian Period, 83 to 71 million years ago.

Lettered Olive Shell

Lettered Olive Shell

Lettered Olive Shell, Oliva sayana: Collected off the beaches of Longboat Key, Florida, January 2011. Size 4.8 cm (1.9 inches) x 2.8 cm (1.1 inches). Identification courtesy of Dr. Robert Iwamasa, Midland, Michigan. Description and photos courtesy of John Snow.