Tammy Zetka with her record-breaking scotch bonnet, the N.C. state shell, and a rare find of a top snail. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

It’s almost as good as finding pirate treasure when one finds a whole scotch bonnet on the beach.

And Tammy Zetka was the queen of shells recently when she found the new state record for a scotch bonnet on Portsmouth Island during the N.C. Shell Club’s spring meeting.

This was the first time since 2019 that the club has been able to hold their spring meeting on Ocracoke and they always comb the Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island beaches while they are here.

Zetka of Durham was walking on Portsmouth near where the inlet converges with the ocean when something in the high tide area of the beach caught her eye.

“I saw the scotch bonnet marks,” she said about the item that was buried and almost flat against the sand.

It just looked like a piece of the prized shell, but she uncovered it anyway

“So, I grabbed it and it was a big one,” she said.

Unusual shells are always auctioned at the N.C. Shell Club meetings. Photo: C. Leinbach

That night, the shell was measured and found to be 87 mm long, surpassing the previous state record of 86.4 mm.

Zetka will take the honored scotch bonnet, which also happens to be the North Carolina state shell, to the NC Shell Show May 6 – 8 in the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City.

Along with her scotch bonnet, Zetka found the “find of the day” with a small top snail shell. Ocracoke and Portsmouth are the farthest northern areas of their range.

“They’re not commonly found here,” she said.

This was her second “find of the day,” which the shell club bestows after all of the members bring in what they’ve gathered for display at Saturday night’s meeting.

She also captured “find of the day” honors in 2019 with a tiny scotch bonnet.

Zetka has loved shells since her aunt, whom she often visited in Melbourne, Fla., introduced her to shelling and with whom she collected coquinas, or “butterfly shells. They’re very colorful.”

She began shelling in earnest in 2012 and when she posted a shell on Facebook, Susan O’Connor of the shell club noticed and suggested she join.

She came to her first shell club meeting in 2016 on Ocracoke. Since then, she has taken trips to South Africa to shell and goes to Florida when she can to look for those rare finds, because shelling is an adventure.

“It’s the hunt!” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Here is a story on a “super find,” a sub-fossil of a junonia, on one of the adventures to Portsmouth Island, a few years ago.

Shell club member discovers ‘super find’ on Portsmouth.

To view the state shell size records, click here.

Islander Ruth Fordon talks to the N.C. Shell Club members about nesting and cold-stunned turtles on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach
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  1. Do you have to be a member of NC shell club to enter a shell for a record length. If not who do you contact. I didn’t know there were records for this.

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