Seashell picture: Living Turban Top Shell, Gibbula magus (Linnaeus), washed ashore on the National Trust owned beach at Studland Bay, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (P1080846aBlog1) 

This lovely creature isn’t common and shouldn’t really be here. This living Turban Top Shell, Gibbula magus (Linnaeus), was washed ashore at Studland Bay, Dorset. The books say that this type of gastropod mollusc only lives in western Britain and its range only extends along the English Channel as far east as Swanage – so maybe this one got lost since Swanage is just around the corner. 

Turban Top Shells belong to the family Trochidae which are all referred to as top shells because they look like the old fashioned spinning top toys. You could say that they are all roughly a pyramid shape but in the Turban Top Shell the sides of the shell do not rise smoothly to the apex but are stepped. It also has bumps or tubercles around the top of the ledge on each whorl that give it a turreted appearance.

The shell can be up to 30 by 35 mm big. It is described as grey with reddish stripes by some experts, while others say it is white, grey or yellowish, with irregular brown, red, or purple streaks and blotches. Obviously, the markings are quite variable.

 Seashell picture: The underside of a living Turban Top Shell, Gibbula magus (Linnaeus), washed ashore on the National Trust owned beach at Studland Bay, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (P1080840aBlog2)

In the photograph above, you can see the underside of the shell. The animal is in the process of withdrawing into the shell. Attached to the ‘foot’ of the animal is the round brown translucent operculum with which it will ‘shut the door’ when completely inside. The horny operculum is circular and the design is known as polygyrous. This means that, if you could look at it closely enough, it would have a pattern like a catherine wheel firework (a single continuous line starting right in the centre and winding round and round to the outer edge).

In this kind of gastropod you can think of the animal as living in a long tube which increases in diameter as the animal grows. This tube is spirally wound around a central hollow columella. The hole in the centre of the base of the shell is called the umbilicus (like a belly-button) and leads into the columella. 

These animals are vegetarians like common winkles and periwinkles – and unlike the carnivorous and predatory dog whelks, netted whelks and necklace shells. Turban Top Shells eat microscopic algae and plant debris by scraping it up with a ribbon-like radula bearing rows of renewable teeth that is protrudes from the mouth.

Seashell picture: Empty Turban Top Shell, Gibbula magus (Linnaeus), showing erosion of the outer surface to reveal the inner nacreous layer, found washed ashore on the National Trust owned beach at Studland Bay, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (P1060849aBlog3) 

Most people think that shells are inorganic like stone. Actually, they are more like bone, built from an organic matrix on which different types of calcium carbonate crystals are arranged. Shells are made up of  layers of different kind of shell. It’s mostly the organic matric that holds the shell together. When the animal dies, the matrix very, very slowly begins to break down.

In the above picture there is an empty shell that has been rolling around on the sea bed and beach for some time. The outer, duller, layer has begun to fall away revealing the lovely inner nacreous layer – the mother-of-pearl interior. Sometimes it’s possible to see this pearly lining exposed in living top shells, especially at the apex where the shell gets a lot of wear.

The colours in the outer layers of shell are mostly created by the inclusion of pigments and are liable to fade when the animal dies and the shell dries out. Sea shells always seem to look more spectacular on the beach when you first find them fresh and wet. However, the wonderful iridescent colours of the innermost layer are due to the physical properties of the particular type of calcium carbonate crystal used in its creation. These physical characteristics persist indefinitely.   

In the final photograph, shown below, is a Turban Top Shell that has been around a long time. The outer dull shell layer is completely absent. Mother-of-pearl is all that remains. The shell is broken by mechanical abrasion so that it is possible to see the internal design of the shell. The final phase of break down would be the reduction to small fragments that become incorporated into the sandy sediments of the seashore.

Jurassic Coast seashell picture: Broken Turban Top Shell, Gibbula magus (Linnaeus), washed ashore on the National Trust owned beach at Studland Bay, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (P1050447aBlog4) 

Revision of a post first published 30 May 2009
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10 Replies to “Turban Top Shell from Studland Bay”

  1. I was spending my Friday morning looking up topshells because I have a
    very large green turban shell (pointed on the top) that my mother purchased in 1958 and I had someone tell me that it is very rare because of its size-they had lived near Japan and had seen those but never as large. She told me to take it out of my display in my first grade classroom lest a child could have an accident with it. I did. I am retired now and (3 years) but I can’t find any pictures on the web site of this certain kind. By the way I think I’m on Google, not My Web Search. I found your article and learned a lot-it was so interesting! I live in Flint, Michigan. You sound fun to be with and talk about shells.


  2. Hello, Dolly. Thank you for your comments. I am sorry I can’t help you with the identity of your large, rare green turban shell. I only know a bit about British marine molluscs – not the exotic ones. It would be interesting for you to find out what it is and whether it really has a value. I expect you have already thought of photographing the shell from various angles (with a ruler in the picture to give an idea of size) and sending the .jpg file to a museum?
    I am pleased to hear that you found my article interesting. I have always found seashores amazing places and I love to find out about the things I find. I am learning all the time – which keeps the little grey brain cells active.
    I hope you are enjoying your retirement.


  3. I found four of these lovely shells on Weymouth beach this week, and found your website most interesting & informative.


  4. Jessica, congratulations on an accessible, informative blog. I don’t know if you are familiar with NBN maps, but they show that G. magus extends all along the south coast as far east as Camber, Sussex (1969 record by a reliable recorder). Map at You might like to see the colourful living soft parts at . I have included the most colourful shell I found, but the great majority of the many living shells that I examined were lacking in colour.


  5. Thank you, Ian, for all that interesting information about Gibbula magus. Your photographs are stunning. I particularly like the images of the soft parts with all their colours, patterns, and textures. This is a very useful addition to my post.


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