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These Cool Mini Shells Were Made by the Ocean’s Tiniest Artist

Some of the most beautiful shells are no bigger than grains of sand. The creatures responsible for them are even smaller, and they're super old, too.


It turns out some of the best artists in the world are the tiniest ones. Take foraminifera, for example. These single-celled organisms build beautiful, complex shells around their little bodies, using minerals like calcium carbonate that they extract from seawater. Shaped like stars and spirals, these shells resemble sculptures no larger than grains of sand.

These chubby star-shaped foraminifera cover the beaches of Okinawa, Japan.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Okinawa Soba (Rob)

Other famous examples live in Bermuda, where they make up pink sand beaches. Like coral, they get their coloring from algae.

Neither animal, plant nor fungus, foraminifera belong to a catch-all kingdom of misfits called protista. They have been around for more than 500 million years, making them about twice as old as dinosaurs, and less than half as catchy an insult for old people.

Here are some of our favorite foraminifera photos:


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