Giant Eastern Murex
Hexaplex fulvescens Sowerby, 1834
The sturdy Giant Eastern Murex may be found on beaches from North Carolina to Florida, and on Texas shores. It may attain a height of 7 inches. There are seven or eight whorls (turns of the spiral shell), and three or more varices (raised longitudinal ribs). There are spines and fronds (plate-like “wings” or frills) sticking out from the ribs. It is a buff-white color. The shell pictured is worn and sun-beached; since it is surprisingly heavy, one can assume that some fossilization had occured.
“Cousin” gastropods of the Giant Eastern Murex were used by ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans as a source of dye. A yellowish fluid was extracted from the mantles (the outer covering of the soft part of the mollusk) of Bolinus brandaris, M. trunculus, and Purpura haemastoma. When boiled and treated, this liquid makes a permanent purple or crimson dye. Royalty wore robes dyed this “Tyrian purple” color, which is defined as a bluish-red. The whole family of Murex shells are called Rock or Dye Shells.