Do you like jewelry? Whether you prefer necklaces or earrings, you probably like them with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or one of the many other types of precious jewels. If you love necklaces, you may be a big fan of pearls, too.

Do you know where pearls come from? They don’t grow on trees. You can’t plant them. They aren’t mined out of the ground either. So where do pearls come from?

Pearls come from a living sea creature: the oyster. These beautiful round jewels are the result of a biological process within the oyster as it protects itself from foreign substances.

Although clams and mussels can also produce pearls, they don’t do so very often. Most pearls are made by oysters, and they can be made in either freshwater or saltwater environments.

As oysters grow, an internal organ called the mantle uses minerals from the oyster’s food to produce a substance called nacre. Nacre is the material that forms the oyster’s shell.

Occasionally, a foreign substance, such as a grain of sand, may find its way into the oyster and get stuck between the mantle and the shell. This irritates the mantle, kind of like you might get irritated skin if you get a splinter of wood in your finger.

To protect itself, an oyster’s natural reaction will be to cover up the irritant. It does so by causing the mantle to cover the irritant with layers of nacre. This substance, usually used to create the shell, will instead form a pearl.

The most beautiful pearls — the kind used for jewelry — are perfectly round. Not all pearls turn out this way, though. Some pearls form in uneven shapes. These less-than-perfect pearls are known as baroque pearls.

Most people think of pearls as being white. They can come in a variety of colors, though. Other common pearl colors include gray, red, blue, green and even black.

Pearls that form naturally inside of oysters are called natural pearls. Sometimes oysters get a bit of help from pearl harvesters, though. These people open oysters, cut small slits in the mantle and insert small irritants under the mantle. The pearls produced by this method are called cultured pearls.

Cultured and natural pearls are usually considered to be of equal quality. Cultured pearls are often less expensive, though, because they’re not as rare. While any oyster — and clams and mussels — can produce pearls, some species of oysters are more likely to produce pearls, while others may be harvested primarily to serve as food.

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  1. Hey wonderopolis that was coollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

    • Hi there Wonder Friend SoftballRocks44! Thanks for WONDERing with us today– we can’t wait for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day! :)

    • Hi there, Grace! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today! We have lots of Wonder Friends who take turns responding to Wonder comments! :)

  2. Thanks wonderopolis we have learned a lot over the days we loved today’s wonder we also we liked the wonder about candy canes.

    Do all oysters go to the bottem of the ocean? by Camdyn Aeryn

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Camdyn! Thanks for sharing your super comment– we are THRILLED that you’re wondering about oysters, candy canes and everything in between! We hope you have a SUPER day! :)

  3. I think today’s wonder was really interesting. I liked the video and the article. I think it is really cool that a grain of sand inside of an oyster can become something beautiful; a pearl! Thank you for today’s wonder! :)

    • Hooray, we’re so happy that you liked today’s Wonder, Berkleigh! Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment… we sure hope to see you soon! You’re a pearl of a Friend! :)

  4. Hey Wonderopolis!!
    I’m not too fond of jewelry… at least not as much as I am fond of reading books! But I do love minerals like ruby and sapphire and amethyst! Today’s Wonder was cool. I think tomorrow’s would be about something even cooler; I can’t figure it out though.

    I am on vacation with my parents to another country in the East so sorry if its really late in the United States!

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Wondergirl11! We think it’s cool that you’re WONDERing with us– even on vacation! :)

      We think jewelry of all shapes, sizes and value are cool– especially if it means something special to us! We enjoyed WONDERing about pearls with you today! :)

  5. Hey wonderopolis! This was awesome. I did not know that this was true. I thought it was fantasy!!! Still thanks for letting us know. I loved today’s wonder!!! I can’t wait to tell my class!

    • Thanks for spreading the Wonder about pearls, Cherry! We’re glad you learned something new with us– it’s like a pearl of wisdom when we Wonder together! :)

    • We appreciate your opinion of this Wonder of the Day®, Spinner. Thank you for sharing your comment with us! We hope you will explore other Wonders and learn some cool new facts with us today! :-)

  6. Well it depends on if the oyster has irritating sand in its shell if it does then yes it will have a pearl.

    • Hey Wonder Friends Haylei and Remington! You did a great job of summarizing what you learned from our oyster Wonder! Nice work! :)

  7. Hey! I thought the wonder was super cool. But, after I read it I still had a question (which is unusual). I was wondering how long the pearl takes to form.

    • GREAT Wonder, Talia! We are so glad that you learned something new and have also been WONDERing on your own! We Wonder if you can do some research of your to find out how long it takes to form a pearl. We’re very proud of you, Talia! :)

  8. Cool I learned that a pearl is in a oyster I never knew that about the oyster but when they get the pearl how much is that worth?

    • We’re so glad to know that you learned all about the inside of an oyster, Annabella! Not all pearls cost the same amount of money, sometimes it depends on the size, weight, and look of the pearl itself. Usually larger pearls are more expensive, as are pearls of different colors. Some pearls are produced by oysters, as we learned today. Other times, pearls are made in factories. Great Wonders, Annabella! :)

  9. Pearls are such an eloquent beauty of nature. I am so blessed to have been able to go to Hawaii and to see oysters in the ocean and get to open one with a pink pearl in it. I had it put in a hibiscus flower necklace for my daughter. Awesome facts to learn…..Thank you!!!!

    • Wow, Krista, that is WONDERful to hear about your pink pearl! We think that sounds like quite a treasure! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  10. Hey, Wonderopolis. I loved this wonder. I learned that a pearl comes from a live sea creature. Thanks for sharing. I wonder how much a pearl is worth? Chat with you later, bye.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does every oyster have a pearl?
  • What are cultured pearls?
  • What are baroque pearls?

Wonder Gallery

Oyster PearlVimeo Video

Try It Out

Wouldn’t it be nice if things that got under your skin and irritated you turned into pearls? Would you believe they can?

Irritations in your life won’t turn into actual pearls that you could make a necklace out of. However, the things that get on our nerves can eventually turn into pearls…of wisdom!

When life gets you down and things irritate you, keep your eyes open. Maybe there’s a lesson you’re supposed to learn. Cultivate patience and persevere through the rough times. The lessons you learn from such times can often help you deal with — or avoid — similar situations in the future.

So when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! If something is irritating you, be patient and see what you can learn from the situation. The pearls of wisdom that form can become jewels of knowledge that help you countless times in the future!

Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Back to the Bottom article that describes a program that attempts to restore oyster reefs to the Hudson-Raritan estuary.

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