Why Do Sand Dollars Turn Your Hands Yellow?

Sand dollars are highly-coveted seashells that can be found on certain beaches across the world. These seashells are taken back home when dead and put up on display or used in some form of craft. However, some people have reported seeing a yellow substance on their hands after picking up a sand dollar, and most are unaware of this.

Sand dollars that are still alive may turn your hands yellow when you pick them up because they release a substance called echinochrome when they feel threatened. This is the substance that stains the hands yellow. It’s used for various biological processes and is harmless to humans.

Only live sand dollars will release echinochrome, so it’s best to return the sand dollar to the ocean if you notice this yellow pigment. In this article, we’ll explore why they release this yellow substance, what echinochrome is, and other signs to tell whether a sand dollar is alive.

What Is Echinochrome and Is It Dangerous?

Now we know sand dollars release a particular pigment that stains the hands yellow. However, what is echinochrome? And is it safe?

Echinochrome is a pigment found primarily in sea urchin shells and creatures belonging to this classification. It’s responsible for certain biological processes that occur in these creatures and is not dangerous to humans. In fact, echinochrome is being studied for use as an antioxidant.

If you’re searching for shells on the beach, look for white sand dollars as these are dead and ready to take home. Also, check out my other article if you want to know more about why sand dollars turn white: Why Do Sand Dollars Turn White? The Science Explained

However, you may find grayish sand dollars that seem like they’re dead. And the best way to distinguish them is to see if they release yellow echinochrome on your hands. Live sand dollars will typically release this substance if you hold them in your hand for about a minute. Be sure to throw them back in the water if they do! 

Medical Applications of Echniochrome

Echinochrome has gained the interest of scientists and medical practitioners worldwide thanks to its antioxidant properties. Numerous studies have been conducted to prove the potential benefits of using echinochrome to treat certain bodily conditions. 

Let’s take a look at some ways in which echinochrome can be used in humans.

1. Powerful Antioxidant

Echninorchrome is considered a potent antioxidant and can counter free radical damage, potentially neutralizing its harmful effects. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which leads to various forms of deterioration, including cell death and DNA damage.

The body has a natural antioxidant response to fight free radicals. However, in some instances, this response may not be as quick or efficient as required.

Studies found that introducing echinochrome into the body helps generate a better antioxidant response from the body. As such, echinochrome can be a potent solution to many of the chronic aches and pains we deal with.

2. Controls Immune System Response

The immune system is programmed to see certain foreign bodies as threats and respond accordingly. However, sometimes, our immune system’s response is out of proportion to the threat and can cause other severe issues in the body, including autoimmune diseases.

Echinochrome can play a crucial role in regulating the immune system, allowing your body to combat foreign substances without exerting itself. This treatment has massive implications in the world of modern medicine where diseases are often treated without the root causes being addressed.

These are the two main ways that echinochrome from a sand dollar can be used for practical purposes. As a powerful antioxidant, this substance can help in the treatment of ulcers and other stress-related issues that the world of modern medicine still seems to be struggling with.

As such, echinochrome isn’t harmful to humans. In fact, this substance could potentially solve a host of health issues by providing a natural substance instead of pharmaceutical solutions.

And while echinochrome is a sign that a sand dollar is still alive, there are other ways to identify live sand dollars so you can return them to the sea. Remember to only take home dead sand dollars so you don’t cause any harm.

However, please be aware that the legality of collecting items can vary depending on the location in which you’re collecting. Before performing any collection tasks, it is ultimately your responsibility to check local and state rules, regulations, and laws to see if there are any legal limitations on what you can collect and how you can collect those items. We are not responsible for any legal consequences that may arise from your collection activities.

So once you’ve got clearance, start looking for sand dollars!

How To Tell if a Sand Dollar Is Still Alive

As mentioned already, if a sand dollar stains your hands with echinochrome, you can bet it’s alive and should leave it in the ocean. However, a sand dollar may not immediately secrete echinochrome and may lie dormant for a long while. If that’s the case, it’s best to figure out other ways of checking if a sand dollar is alive.

Here are a few other signs that a sand dollar is still alive and should be left alone.

It’s Still in the Water  

A sand dollar’s entire life is spent underwater, where it moves, buries itself, and catches tiny prey for sustenance. So, in most cases, if you find a sand dollar submerged underwater, it’s most likely still alive.

Older sand dollars tend to grow thicker skeletons over the years to stop themselves from being thrown on shore by the currents. Younger and smaller sand dollars will sometimes swallow heavy grains of sand to prevent them from floating away. As such, these creatures will do everything possible to stay in the water.

Most collectors usually find dead sand dollars washed up on the beach where they can be safely collected. That said, people claim that the best time to look for sand dollars is during low tide. And most people show up to the beach during this phase to find sand dollars.

Some collectors will even wade into the water looking for these urchins. In most cases, the ones in the water are still alive. In fact, there may be a few live sand dollars on the beach as well, and it’s best to return them to the ocean if you can.

However, there may be instances where it’s hard to find sand dollars onshore and you need to get in the water.

It’s Still Moving

Sand dollars are sea urchins, so you probably won’t see them zipping about the beach or underwater. However, like most sea urchins, sand dollars have tiny spine-like feet called cilia. These creatures use their cilia to move around on the ocean floor, dig horizontally into the ground, and move food scraps along their bodies to their mouths.

If you pick up a live sand dollar and look at it for a few seconds, you will notice these spines moving around. In some cases, you may find a part of its spines bunched up in one area, where they are transporting food scraps to the mouth. These signs indicate that the sand dollar is still alive and you should return it to the water.

Dead sand dollars are typically devoid of spines as they lose them within a few days. If you pick up a sand dollar and its spines aren’t moving even after a minute, you can safely assume it’s dead.

It’s Not White

Sand dollars that end up exposed on the beach will turn white over time as they get bleached by the sun. On the other hand, live sand dollars come in a few different colors, including brown, red, and purple. So if you pick up a sand dollar that’s still colored, you can bet it’s still alive and return it to the ocean.

Some sand dollars also come in gray and tan colors. This appearance is deceptive as a sand dollar begging to lose color after it dies, and some gray sand dollars may be dead and in the process of getting bleached.

So if you find a gray or tan sand dollar, pick it up and check for other signs. Do you notice echinochrome on your hands? Are the spines moving? It’s easy to mistake gray sand dollars for dead ones, so be sure to check for other signs of life before you decide to take it home.

Sand dollars typically have five holes across their body, which are usually hidden when they’re alive, thanks to the spines and the color. So if you find a white/gray sand dollar and you can see these openings, you can rest assured it’s dead.

Final Thoughts

Sand dollars secrete the yellowish echinochrome when they feel threatened. So if this happens to you at the beach, you can bet the creature is alive and should be returned to the water. However, you don’t have to worry because echinochrome is a harmless substance and the only problem you may have is trying to get it off your hands.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of DiscoveryPit.com, a website dedicated to tips on finding and collecting precious items. Inspired by reading countless adventurer reports from the oldtimers, Alex is passionate about discovering hidden treasures and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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