Whelk

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The whelk or buckie is a large marine gastropod (snail) found in temperate waters. Whelks are sometimes confused with conches. While both are gastropods, they differ in shell morphology, with whelks having smaller more slender shells while conch typically have a broader shell with more exaggerated knobs. Also, conches tend to be more tropical vegetarians, while whelks are carnivorous and temperate.

Whelks are scavengers and carnivores, equipped with an extensible proboscis that is tipped with a file-like radula. The radula is used to bore holes through the shells of clams, crabs and lobsters. They also have a large, muscular foot with which they hold their victims. Like other mollusks, whelks have a mantle, a thin layer of tissue located between the body and the shell that creates the shell. Whelks build their hard shells from the calcium carbonate they extract from the seas. The shells can grow up to 9.5 inches (24 cm) long.

Whelk shells are generally light grey to tan, often having brown and white streaks. The shells coil dextrally (right-handed, or in a clockwise direction) and have a long siphonal canal. The shell shape of individual specimens may vary widely in both coloration and sculpture.

Whelk eggs, when they dry on the beach, become brittle, resembling a necklace stringed with medallion-shaped egg pouches. These are sometimes referred to as a "mermaid's necklace". They are abundant in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The knobbed whelk, Busycon carica, is the second-largest species, ranging up to 12 in. (40.6 cm). They have tubercles (or spines) along the shoulder. Knobbed whelks eat clams. They open the clam with their hard shell and insert their long proboscis. Today the knobbed whelk is a common predator of the intertidal mudflats and can be found offshore to 26 fathoms (48 m). The channeled whelk is slightly smaller than the knobbed whelk and has a smooth shell with channels following the swirls at the top of the shell.

Trivia

  • Whelks (Buccinum undatum) are a shellfood eaten around the world, and you can find them in just about any restaurant.
  • In parts of southern Europe whelks are thought to be an aphrodisiac.
  • Another name for whelk in the United States is scungilli. The name is an Italian-American corruption of the Neapolitan word, sconciglio.
  • Whelks are classified in various families in the infraorder Neogastropoda.

References

The Georgia Shell Club webpage entry for whelk

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