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Sand Dollars

Photo of Living Sand DollarSand dollars are relatives of sea urchins and starfish, spending their lives on sandy bottoms in marine environments, as well as in intertidal zones. Like starfish, they have "tube feet", which help them burrow through sand, exchange gases with the surrounding water and obtain food; unlike starfish, they have these tube feet on both the upper and lower surfaces of their bodies. Sand dollars eat microscopic plant and animal life, hunting by shuffling through loose sand. They are preyed on by bottom dwelling fishes, such as flounder. There are several species of sand dollars along the East coast, ranging as a group from Labrador to the southeastern United States.

Photo of Dead Sand DollarThe Keyhole Sand Dollar, also known as the Keyhole Urchin, has a symbiotic relationship with a tiny crab, Dissodactylus mellitae or Sand Dollar crab, which often lives in pairs near the openings in this sand dollar’s shell. The crabs may feed on food gathered by the tube feet. Dead sand dollar shells provide homes for another marine animal, the spoon worm (Lissomyema mellita).

When alive, sand dollars have an almost felt-like coating of brown hairs covering their approximately 3 inch or larger bodies; when dead, they lose this hair and become smooth and gray or white. Hilton Head Island's laws protect these animals when alive, as well as all other marine life. Please use the photos on this page to familiarize yourself with the appearance of living versus dead sand dollars and help us protect this important part of our island ecosystem.