Common Periwinkle characteristics: Common Winkle, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), showing black striped pattern on antennae and body (1)

Common Winkle Littorina littorea (Linnaeus)

  • This has a small, squat and robust spired shell upto 30mm high.
  • The rounded shape and the thick shell protect the animal from damage caused by the force of the waves and rolling around when they are dislodged from rocks.
  • The animal can withdraw into the shell and shut itself inside with a horny lid or operculum to stop it being dried out when it is exposed to the air at low tide.
  • Seems to have a smooth surface but actually has numerous fine spiral ridges around the whorls which are more obvious in younger shells.
  • The final identifying characteristic for the species is the way the outer lip of the aperture joins the last body whorl at a tangent.
  • The shell is usually a dark grey-brown colour but it can be paler at the pointed spire end and the colour gets paler as the winkle grows older (as you can see in the photograph at the top of this page).
  • In the shells of younger winkles there may be red, orange or white colour in the grooves between the fine ridges (this can be seen in the photograph at the top of the Post for 11th February 2009).
  • The head tentacles have many cross-wise black stripes.
  • Winkles live on the upper (intertidal) shore down to the shallow sublittoral (underwater) zone.
  • They are herbivores that love weedy shores and are found in greater numbers on more sheltered beaches. 

Shell characters in the Common Winkle: Common Winkle, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), showing fine striations and coloured stripe pattern on the shell (2)

For more information about the common winkle see the Marine Life Information Network:

Book references to common winkle include:

  • Barrett, J. and Yonge C. M. (1958 but reprinted many times) Collins Pocket Guide to the Seas Shore, Collins, ISBN 0 0 219321 3, page 135.
  • Gibson, C. (2008) Pocket Nature Seashore, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 978 1 4053 2862 3, page 116.
  • Graham, A. (1971) British Prosobranch and Other Operculate Gastropod Molluscs, Keys and notes for the identification of the species, Synopses of the British Fauna No. 2, The Linnaean Society of London, Academic Press, ISBN 0-12-294850-5, page 53 & 58.
  • Hayward, P. J. and Ryland J. S. (1995) Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0 19 854055 8 (Pbk), page 512.
  • Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, A. and Shields, C. (1996) Sea shore of Britain and Europe, Collins Pocket Guide, , ISBN 0 00 21995, page 188. 

Common Winkles or Periwinkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), feeding on a kelp holdfast (3)

Common Winkles or Periwinkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), clustering on a dry rock surface (4)


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5 Replies to “Common Winkles”

  1. I spend hours peering into rockpools of the west coast of Ireland, I love your photos, I need a micro lens to capture that detail, the symmetry in these tiny shells and winkles is amazing and so beautiful.
    Thank you!
    Maria Dunleavy


  2. Thank you for your comments, Maria. I am glad you like my photos. I have just been on a visit to the west coast of Ireland and loved it. I can relate to you spending hours looking into rockpools. I will definitely be returning soon to look at the seashore life (and the rocks). We missed the opportunity to see the sea urchins in the rock hollows on this first visit.
    I don’t actually use a special lens to get these close-ups. They were taken with the zoom lens on a Panasonic Lumix camera. I am not certain which model I was using when I took those winkle pictures but I am currently using a Panasonic DMC FZ100 which is a bridge camera rather than a DSLR which needs separate lenses for close-ups.


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