What is a whelk?

IMG_0173Walking along a beach on the east coast the other day I saw lots of whelk shells. I knew they were whelks, but I didn’t really know what a whelk actually was, what kind of whelk they were or why there were so many shells washed up.

The common whelk, Buccinum undatum, belongs to the phylum mollusc, and is a gastropod – to you and me, snail. Like the average garden snail, whelks move around on one foot. Common whelks are larger than dog-whelks, and can grow to be around 11cm in length. The shell has a clearly defined pointed shape to it, with distinct whorls. The diet of the common whelk consists of worms and bivalves but it will also forage for carrion. As its name suggests this species is common across the UK and can be found in sandy, muddy and rocky areas. When the whelk is found in loose sediment it may have its foot underneath, and have a feature resembling a snorkel extended above, this is called a siphon. They use this to breathe and help locate food.IMG_0219It is the shell which is usually seen washed up on beaches. Once the whelk dies the shell of course becomes empty. It is quite hardy and will last for some time, but may also provide a perfect home for hermit crabs.

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