Patterns in Space and Time

How seashells get their colour

Bronwen Scott
4 min readJan 29


Three very glossy shells on a light background. The shells are in various shades of grey, pink and cream. One has very fine grey and white lines, another has cream bands edged with pink with slanted grey and white lines between, and the third has one pale pink band on a background of dark grey speckled with white.
Vittina waigiensis (Neritidae), a pseudopolymorphic species, having bets each way with their colour patterns. Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Own collection. © Bronwen Scott.

I gathered shells upon the sand,
Each shell a little perfect thing,
So frail, yet potent to withstand
The mountain-waves’ wild buffeting.

Edith Nesbit, Sea-Shells

No 18th century cabinet of curiosity was complete without a collection of shells. The finest came from tropical oceans: cones patterned with flags and…



Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland. She/her. Website: