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A shell is what is left behind when a dwarf eats a prepared (but not cooked) turtle or cave lobster.
Cooking those fishes does not leave behind bone or shell, so you may want to order dwarves not to use them in cooking. You can do that from the Kitchen menu ( z ).
These shells are automatically refuse, despite the fact that they can be worked by a bone carver into armor, decoration, or crafts. They are frequently used in the creation of artifacts, so it is useful to keep a small stockpile of shells reserved for moody dwarves. This is especially true of cave lobster shells, which are twice as valuable as plain turtle shells. It is important to note that shells are removed at the end of the season if they are left outside, whether in a stockpile or not, hence shell stockpiles should be kept inside.
If you wish to turn shells into wealth, the most efficient way to do so is to create gauntlets since they are created in pairs.