California mussels, close up

The Curves and Colors of California Mussels

California mussels, Mytilus californianus, are a fixture on Pacific North America’s rocky intertidal shores. They form beds of hundreds to millions of mussels. They’re so common and crowded it’s easy to pass over the individual. When I turned my attention to single mussels I found shells with graceful curves and rich hues.

Close view of a few California mussels among some goose neck barnacles
Blues and grays, rust, and bronze conform to the shells’ curves
Tine barnacles growing in the growth curves of two large California mussels
Concentric curves bejeweled with buckshot barnacles, Chthamalus dalli

So far I’ve shown intimate views of particularly clean mussels to showcase their curves and colors. In the end though, there is no California mussel without its bed. I want to respect that. In the gallery below I take a step back to reveal the bed.

With shells strong enough to withstand the force of Pacific surf, empty shells are common in the drift line.

Single mussel valve, outside surface up, on sand
Bringing curves and colors to homogenous sandy shores



  1. Steve, thanks for bringing us in close to appreciate the curves and detail-and- stepping back. So often we overlook the big picture. I, for one, have been guilty of that and set a personal photography goal to work on that!

  2. Oh wow, the first thing I thought of also but I have no easy access in my life these days to tide pools, etc. Thank you for sharing these lovely photos. Makes me want to go photograph my Fiji shell collection! (Gathered years ago, with the local island Chief’s permission!)

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