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Tusk Shells: Scaphopoda

Tusk Shells And People

Tusk shells were used as money by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest and circulated throughout western Canada south to California. Tusk shells were also worn as displays of wealth. Today they are sold to shell collectors and made into jewelry. The eggs of tusk shells, especially those of Antalis entalis are used to study the early development of fertilized eggs.


Native Americans living along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California used the tusk shell Dentalium pretiosum as a form of money. The value of the shells was determined not by their numbers but by length. They were usually measured by comparing them to the length of finger joints. The ligua was the most valuable and was made up of twenty-five shells strung together, end-to-end. It measured about 6 feet (1.83 meters) long.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMollusks, Crustaceans, and Related SpeciesTusk Shells: Scaphopoda - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Tusk Shells And People, Tusk Shell (antalis Entalis): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS