The famous red shell grit of Trapani

 

Two weeks ago Hans Post and I visited Sicily (Italy) in search for the famous red shell grit known from these shores. We were lucky, a strong Westerly wind deposited thick layers on the beaches of the Golfo del Cofano, north of the town of Trapani on Sicily’s West coast.

Years ago (May 1999) Justa Verschuren and I spent two weeks cycling on the island of Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands belonging to Spain in the Mediterranean. After a long ride from our hotel in Port Fornells, during which we enjoyed the rich birdlife (like the bee-eater Merops apiaster Linnaeus, 1858) of the island, we reached Es Grau in the East. While drinking a local white wine, on a nice terrace overlooking the beach we saw it covered with thin rose layers. This was the first time I found red shell grit. Some days later on another beach (La Vall, Cala Algaiarens) I found it again. When I examined the samples at home under my microscope, they proved to be loaded with small molluscs. Many species I never found before. In the following eleven years I travelled all around Europe and the rest of the globe, but never saw the red shell grit again.

Frans looking for Dentalia (Photo Hans Post)

On November 12, 2010 Hans Post and I reached Castelluzzo and decided to take the first road leading to the sea. When we left the car, we saw immediately this was what we came for. Low rocky ledges form the waterfront here with sandy patches between. Thick packets of sea grass were washed up and higher on shore the sand was coloured with thin rose lines. To our great satisfaction we found the scaphopod Antalis vulgaris (Da Costa, 1778), in large numbers as well as Trivia mediterranea (Risso, 1826), formerly known as Trivia pulex (Gray, 1827), as soon as we examined the material closer. These two groups are of special interest to Hans and me.

Micro molluscs detail

Tiny shells or rock fragments do not cause the colour of the shell grit.

Small coralline particles

Close examination shows the rose colour comes from small coralline particles, see photo. Hans and I will need quite some time to extract all micro-molluscs from the shell grit, but it’s worthwhile. The material is very fresh and contains numerous species. In time we will publish a species list.

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