The Atlantic Kitten Paw, Plicatula gibbosa Lamarck, 1801, is a bivalve commonly found on the beaches of Southwest Florida (and along the entire coast of the Sunshine State). Its vernacular name derives from the shell shape and, most likely, from its color pattern. It is not unusual for shellers to find complete shells (paired valves) of this inch-long species. Sometimes it is very difficult to separate the valves of a complete shell, not only because they are naturally very well adjusted to each other, but also because the shells may get cemented together by after-death incrustations and calcareous growth. The well-defined pleats give strength against crushing by predators, and also help prevent the shell valves from separating under stress. The species belongs in the Plicatulidae, a small bivalve family with only 16 species worldwide.
Atlantic Kitten Paw shells, Plicatula gibbosa, recently collected on Turner Beach, Captiva side of Blind Pass. Notice the strong pleats on the shell. Photos by José H. Leal.