Common Whelk: Pink shelled living specimen of Common Whelk, Buccinum undatum Linnaeus, on rocks at Burry Holms, Rhossili, Gower, South Wales, U.K. (1)

A pink-shelled living specimen of Common Whelk, Buccinum undatum Linnaeus, washed onto the rocks of Burry Holms on Rhossili Bay, Gower, after stormy winter weather.

Until a couple of years ago, the only place where I had seen the meaty part of a Common Whelk was at the fishmongers. I had no idea that the living animal could be such a lovely creature. The specimen at the top of this post unexpectedly had a beautiful pink shell. Its living flesh was white with black irregular speckles – particularly concentrated at the head end. You can see the two horns or cephalic tentacles sticking out on each side of the head.

On the back of the large muscular white foot is the brown horny operculum which is the lid with which it seals itself inside the shell when it retreats. Protruding from the front end of the shell, just over the head, is the tubular siphon through which is takes in water.

Whelk shell with pattern of growth lines: Brown and cream coloured empty Common Whelk shell, Buccinum undatum L., showing the pattern of growth lines, from Rhossili Bay, Gower, South Wales, U.K. (2)

Mostly, in the past, I have just found the empty shells on the beach. The colour can be quite variable. The close-up photograph above shows a fairly typical brown and cream coloured shell and it is possible to see some details of the shape and sculpturing of the shell. At a later date I will provide some specific details of how to accurately identify the shell. I will also talk a bit about the life history of the Common Whelk.

The picture below shows a group of empty shells in various colours from cream and white, to orange and a dark blue/black. These were found on Whiteford Sands in Gower.

Different coloured Whelk shells on a sandy beach: A group of white, orange and dark blue empty Common Whelk shells, Buccinum undatum L., on Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, U.K. (3)

Revision of a post first published 7 July 2009


All Rights Reserved

14 Replies to “The Common Whelk (1)”

  1. I’m afraid I had a picture in my mind of the common whelk as a whlek who wipes his nose on the back of his hand and not on a hankie!!!
    They are beautiful though. But then I like molluscs of all sorts(not to eat though). We holidayed once with a friend who had a so-called phobia of slugs and snails. It varied quite a lot according to how much mileage she thought she could get out of it; needless to say, being a camping holiday, it all ended in tears and we haven’t spoken since.
    Oh and it was her idea to go camping…go figure that one out!


  2. I know someone who is just the opposite of your snail-phobic former friend. This gastropodophile would go out of their way to rescue slugs and snails from the potential harm of heavy feet on footpaths; even been known to swerve the car to avoid squashing a slug crossing the road.


  3. I’ve found several of these empty whelk shells recently. They all look so weathered. Thanks so much for posting the photo of the live creature. It’s surprising how white it is.


  4. Spending so much time on the shore looking at the remains of things, albeit interesting and sometimes attractive, it is always a delight to come across the thriving creature or plant and see just how wonderful they are in life.


  5. I tend towards the behaviour of your friend; seeing me walk along a pavement on a wet evening, I seem to dance, avoiding the snails. I stop and apologise if I do crush one; silly I know but it does at least try to honour that life.
    We had a giant African landsnail for almost ten years who was a wonderful pet; when she/he died of old age we all cried and held a funeral for her/him. There was more going on in terms of intelligence than you could imagine for such a creature.


  6. You follow in a long line of religious bodies and individuals who feel the same way about the sanctity of all kinds of living organisms.


  7. and yet, I eat meat too, sometimes.
    contradictory maybe but what can I say?
    I should tell you one day about a very deep encounter with a patch of brussel sprouts that taught me that all life, even plants, was sacred but that I’d die if I didn’t eat…


  8. Ok, but you will think me a nut if you don’t already!!!
    Every garden we’ve ever had we’ve tried to grow something that’s for food. Even as an undergrad I had herbs in pots on my window sill.
    When we first moved to our house under the North York moors, I bought some brussel sprout seedlings at a country house and planted them up in a bed in the back garden we’d dug for veg. I weeded and watered, I picked off caterpillars by hand and by Christmas I had a lovely little stand of brussel sprouts. The trouble was I went out on Christmas eve, I think it was, to pick them and suddenly found I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t end the existence of these green beings I’d been nurturing for months. I stood out in the frosty garden and argued first with myself and finally with the sprouts. I can’t really explain what happened but I was given very definite information from the plant kingdom that basically all life eats other life and sooner or later I would have to accept that or else I would starve. I’d been considering vegetarianism as well at the time and after about an hour or so in the garden, I decided that I must eat, and that what I ate I must be grateful for and give back to the land. So now when I pick lettuce or blackcurrants or whatever, I make sure I tend the plants too, and talk to them as well and also leave some for the birds or other wildlife. I compost, I use no pesticides or herbicides and I even grow nettles and other wildlife plants deliberately so that the garden is for everyone not just me and my family. It’s starting to hum with life after two or so years; the previous owners were not wildlife friendly at all. The soil wriggles with life when you till it.
    It’s just a shame I daren’t keep my new bees here. Ah well.


  9. If you are a nut, then there are millions of lovely people just like you.
    No wonder you didn’t want to cut down the brussel sprouts in their prime. Mother Nature – with a great deal of help from you – had created a perfect crop that it may have seemed a shame to spoil. A bit like an artist working on a project for months and, just when the right effect had been achieved, and the work completed, destroying it before it could be admired. But in the end you realised that the purpose and end product of growing the brussel sprouts was food for you and your family. That’s the way of things. If the sprouts could think and feel (I don’t believe they can but what does it matter), they might have said “well done” and had a real sense of achievement in getting as far as the Christmas dinner table.
    What shines out from your story is that you are a most thoughtful and caring person with a great deal of understanding about the natural world, and that by paying attention to, and caring for, each plant and animal you encounter, you work in harmony with the environment around you.


  10. Thank you; I’m touched!
    By the way regarding the thinking and feeling of plants, I can heartily recommend The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. They detail some very interesting research regarding just such things and come to some startling conclusions; it doesn’t prove anything but it’s food for thought.


  11. Hello,

    I am contacting you on the behalf of the Montreal Biodome, a Nature Museum in quebec, Canada. They would like to use your photo of a Copmmon Whelk (# whelkp1100477adigimarc1 ) on an interpretive panel for visitors, for a duration of 10 years. Educational purposes only. We would print your credit on the photo. Do you agree to let the Biodome use this photo to this end? Is there a fee?
    Thank you for your cooperation!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: