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“L” is for Lettered Olive

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“L” is for Lettered Olive. State shell. The lettered olive was declared the official state shell in 1984. The shell is prolific on the South Carolina coast. It was first recognized in 1834 by internationally renowned conchologist, Dr. Edmund Ravenel. The olive is a predatory snail that lives in sandy environments from the intertidal zone down to twenty feet. It spends most of its time burrowing through the sand in search of prey. The shells are two to two and one-half inches in length and are colored grayish tan with two brownish-purple zigzag bands. Egyptian hieroglyphs gave rise to the name “lettered.” The lettered olive, much prized by collectors, is highly polished because the mollusk’s mantle, or shell building tissue, is large and envelops the entire shell while the creature is burrowing, protecting it from corrosive sand.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.