Florida is known to have a variety of gemstones and minerals, although it may be the abundance of marine fossils that the state gets the most attention for. Ranging from shark teeth to shells and bones of ancient animals from millions of years ago, there is truly a vast array of different fossil types here. These can be found primarily in the beaches and river beds of Florida.
The geology of Florida almost entirely consists of karst limestone, and the state has an abundance of silts, clays, and sands that are not really conducive to productive gem and mineral hunting compared to nearby areas to the north in the Appalachian Mountains.
The following are some of the known gems, minerals and fossils that can be found in the state at various locations.
The agatized or silicified coral fossils of Florida were first recorded in the 1800’s. They are Florida’s official state gemstone.
These beautiful fossils are can include a variety of different coral species. Corals are the outermost shell or skeleton of the small marine animals known as polyps. These animals live as a colony underwater and release their own carbon dioxide which mixes up with the lime present in warm ocean water which in turn forms a hard surface similar to limestone known as coral.
These coral formations transform into agatized or silicified fossil corals when the silica rich seawater seeps into the porous structure of these corals and over a period of time replaces the lime present in the coral to form a rigid variety of chalcedony, which is a form of quartz. This process of the agatized coral formation can take millions of years.
The agatized corals are found in many different natural hues such as white, pink, red, yellow, blue, amber, grey, brown and black. The different colors of the corals are due to the various trace minerals present in the agate. A variety of colors can be found at the same collecting site.
The various locations in Florida where agatized corals can be found are around Tampa Bay and its surrounding area such as New Port Richey and Tarpon Springs. Other popular locations for agatized corals in Florida are The Econfina River, and along the length of the Suwanee River covering the counties of Suwanee, Columbia and Hamilton.
Another well-known area for coral hunting is at the parking area of the Honeymoon Island located along the Suwanee River close to the White Springs. At this site, one can collect corals free of cost.
Venice Beach in Sarasota County is known for its fossil accumulation around the beaches. Prehistoric shark teeth are the most common fossils found here and attract a number of visitors. In fact, some have termed it the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World” due the the abundance of teeth that are commonly found both on the beach and out in the ocean by divers.
You will needs a permit to collect these fossils, just as you do for all vertebrate fossil collecting in Florida. The shark teeth fossil are found in different colours such as brown, grey and black as a result of the various minerals present in the soil or sand they are buried under. The size varies from 3 inches to 8 inches and some rare ones are even bigger.
Apart from the shark teeth, many other marine and land fossils can be found in the areas around the sea shores as well as in some inland areas. These include skeletons of mastodons and mammoths from the ice age and shells of ancient sea animals.
Since most of Florida was once under the ocean, there are many marine fossils that can be found far inland, left behind from millions of years prior.
Conch pearls are unusual and rare gemstones that are created by a large species of a sea snail known as the Queen Conch in its digestive tract. These are primarily found in Keys, Florida and are seen in various shades of pinks ranging from rose, blush, salmon, magenta and also occur in a golden hue. Their size generally varies from 2 to 3 millimeters across.
Unfortunately, the Queen Conch only lives in relatively shallow water and due to its valuable pearls have seen overharvest that has resulted in a ban on collecting pearls off the coast of Florida. In recent years there has been some success with cultivation efforts to create these beautiful pink pearls.
The Florida Drum Crystal Mine (also known as the Ruck’s Pit) is known to have rich deposits of Calcite concentrated fossils of marine and land animals. It is located in Okeechobee and is one of the better places to find calcite specimens in the state.
The dig site at the mine is actually an ancient shoreline that is comprised of a huge variety of different fossils. These fossils contain calcite, a mineral that is made of calcium carbonate and is present in limestone. It can be colourless, white, orange, yellow and grey. Crystals actually form within clam shell fossils and can often create a truly beautiful and unique treasure!
Although it is most often found in the clam shells, calcite is found in the fossils of other animals such as mammoths, sloth, mastodon, horses and giant tortoises among others.