Lettered olive

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The lettered olive, Americoliva sayana, is a species of large predatory sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusc in the family Olividae, the olive shells, olive snails, or olives.[3] It is sometimes referred to as Oliva sayana.[1]

Lettered olive
Oliva sayana 02.JPG
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Subclass: Caenogastropoda
Order: Neogastropoda
Family: Olividae
Subfamily: Olivinae
Genus: Americoliva
A. sayana
Binomial name
Americoliva sayana
(Ravenel, 1834)
  • Oliva citrina C. W. Johnson, 1911
  • Oliva contoyensis Petuch, 1988
  • Oliva litterata Lamarck, 1811
  • Oliva maya Petuch & Sargent, 1986
  • Oliva sayana Ravenel, 1834
  • Strephona litterata (Lamarck, 1811)


As of April 2010, the lettered olive contains the following accepted subspecies:[4]

  • 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, the Gulf states of North America, including Louisiana and Texas; and further south to the east coast of Mexico, including Campeche State, Yucatán State and Quintana Roo.[2][5] It 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 from the Pliocene

Shell descriptionEdit

The shell of this species can be about 6 cm (2+14 in) long (maximum reported size reaches 9.1 cm[2]). 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 habitsEdit

Like all olives, the lettered olive is a carnivore: it captures bivalves and small crustaceans with its foot and takes them below the sand surface to digest.[6]

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.[6]

Females lay floating, round egg capsules that are often found in beach drift. Young are free swimming.[6]

Human useEdit

Colonists and early Native Americans made jewelry from these shells.[6]

The lettered olive is the state shell of South Carolina.[6]


  1. ^ a b Bieler R, Bouchet P, Gofas S, Marshall B, Rosenberg G, La Perna R, Neubauer TA, Sartori AF, Schneider S, Vos C, ter Poorten JJ, Taylor J, Dijkstra H, Finn J, Bank R, Neubert E, Moretzsohn F, Faber M, Houart R, Picton B, Garcia-Alvarez O, eds. (2018). "Americoliva sayana (Ravenel, 1834)". MolluscaBase. World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Malacolog 4.1.1: Western Atlantic Mollusk Species Database. Retrieved April 2010.
  3. ^ Hardy, Eddie. "Oliva (Americoliva) sayana". www.gastropods.com. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  4. ^ Oliva sayana Ravenel, 1834. Retrieved through: World Register of Marine Species on 26 April 2010.
  5. ^ "Observations of Americolivia sayana, Research Grade". iNaturalist.org. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lettered Olive, NC Sea Grant