Lettered olive

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Lettered olive
Oliva sayana 02.JPG
Shell of the lettered olive
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Order: Neogastropoda
(unranked): clade Caenogastropoda
clade Hypsogastropoda
clade Neogastropoda
Superfamily: Olivoidea
Family: Olividae
Subfamily: Olivinae
Genus: Oliva
Species: O. sayana
Binomial name
Oliva sayana
Ravenel, 1834

Oliva litterata Lamarck, 1811
Strephona litterata (Lamarck, 1811)
Oliva citrina C. W. Johnson, 1911
Oliva maya Petuch & Sargent, 1986
Oliva contoyensis Petuch, 1988

The lettered olive, Oliva sayana, is a species of large predatory sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusc in the family Olividae, the olive shells, olive snails, or olives.


Oliva sayana contains the following subspecies:[2]

  • Oliva sayana sarasotensis Petuch & Sargent, 1986
  • Oliva sayana sayana Ravenel, 1834
  • Oliva sayana texana Petuch & Sargent, 1986


The species' range is from North Carolina to Florida and the Gulf states of North America, including Louisiana and Texas; It also occurs in Mexico, including Campeche State, Yucatán State and Quintana Roo, and in Surya lanka, AP, India [1] and may also occur in Brazil.[citation needed]


The lettered olive typically lives in near-shore waters, on shallow sand flats near inlets. The empty shell is occasionally, or sometimes commonly, washed up onto ocean beaches.[citation needed]

Fossil specimen of Oliva sayana from the Pliocene
Shells of Oliva sayana
Shells of Oliva sayana

Shell description[edit]

The shell of this species can be about 6 cm (2 14 in) long (maximum reported size reaches 9.1 cm[1]). It is a smooth, shiny, cylindrical-shaped shell with a short spire. The aperture is narrow and extending almost the length of shell, continuing around the bottom and ending in a notch on the other side. The suture is V-cut and deep. The lower part of the whorl is just above where the suture extends outward and then at a sharp shoulder drops into the suture.

The shell coloration can vary from cream to a greyish exterior with reddish-brown zigzag markings. The common name of this species is derived from the darker surface markings that sometimes resemble letters.

Life habits[edit]

This olive, like all olives, is a carnivore: it captures bivalves and small crustaceans with its foot and takes them below the sand surface to digest.[citation needed]

Its presence is sometimes detected at very low tides by the trails it leaves when it crawls below the surface on semi-exposed sand flats.[citation needed]

Females lay floating, round egg capsules that are often found in beach drift. Young are free swimming.[citation needed]

Human use[edit]

Colonists and early Native Americans made jewelry from these shells.[citation needed]

The lettered olive is the state shell of South Carolina.