Buccinum undatum

Buccinum undatum

Buccinum undatum
Temporal range: 28.5Mya – present
A live individual of Buccinum undatum being held up above the substrate
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
(unranked): clade Caenogastropoda

clade Hypsogastropoda
clade Neogastropoda

Superfamily: Buccinoidea
Family: Buccinidae
Subfamily: Buccininae
Tribe: Buccinini
Genus: Buccinum
Species: B. undatum
Binomial name
Buccinum undatum
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Buccinum undatum, the common whelk, is a large, edible marine gastropod in the family Buccinidae, the "true whelks".


This species is a familiar part of the marine fauna of the Northern Atlantic and is found on the shores of the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Iceland, various other northwest European countries, some Arctic islands, and North America as far south as New Jersey. They prefer colder temperatures, and cannot survive at temperatures above 29°C.[1]


This species is mainly found on soft bottoms in the sublittoral zone, and occasionally on the littoral fringe, where it is sometimes found alive at low tide. It does not adapt well to life in the intertidal zone, due to its intolerance for low salinities. If exposed to air, it may crawl from its shell, risking desiccation.[1]

A shell of B. undatum


This species' solid shell is very pale. In life, the shell is covered in a yellowish-brown periostracum. The shell surface has a sculpture of vertical, wavy folds (hence the name undatum, which means wavy). The wavy folds are crossed by numerous incised spiral lines, some of which are paired. The aperture of the shell is broadly oval and tapers to a siphonal canal. The number of shell whorls is seven or eight.

The maximum height of the shell is 10 cm and the maximum width is 6 cm. The animal emits a thin and copious slime.[2]

Trophic connections

This species of whelk feeds on live bivalves, and are, in turn, preyed upon by several fish (cod, dogfish, etc.) and crustaceans.[1] They may benefit from seastar feeding, by eating the extracted bivalve remains abandoned by the seastar.[3]


Larval stages of Stephanostomum baccatum were found in the digestive gland of B. undatum.[4]

As a food item

Cooked whelks removed from the shell

Buccinum undatum is eaten widely, sometimes referred to by its French name bulot. A strong fishery exists on many shores around the world. They are trapped in pots using dogfish and brown crab as bait.[5] It can be confused with Neptunea antiqua (red whelk), which is poisonous to humans.[6]

Ecology and population decline

Disappearing or diminishing populations of whelks have been observed since the early 1970s, especially in the North Sea and the Wadden Sea. Additionally, vast beds of empty shells have been discovered where no living whelks are present. Imposex, the occurrence of male gonads on female whelks, has been detected since the early 1990s, and is thought to be a product of the shipping industry.[1] Specifically, TBT has been shown to reduce viability of whelk populations.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Ten Hallers-Tjabbes, C.C., Everaarts, J.M., Mensink, B.P., & Boon, J.P. (1996) The Decline of the North Sea Whelk (Buccinum undatum L.) between 1970 and 1990: A Natural or Human-induced Event? 17:1-3. pp. 333-43. Marine Ecology.
  2. ^ G.W. Tryon, Systematic Conchology vol. I, Philadelphia, 1882
  3. ^ Himmelman, J.H. and Hamel, J.-R. (1993) Diet, behaviour and reproduction of the whelk Buccinum undatum in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, eastern Canada. 116:3. pp. 423-430. Marine Biology.
  4. ^ Sommerville C. (1978). "The histopathology of Stephanochasmus baccatus Nicoll, 1907 in the digestive gland of Buccinum undatum (L.)". Journal of Fish Diseases 1(3): 219-232. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2761.1978.tb00024.x.
  5. ^ Fahy, E. (2001). Conflict between two inshore fisheries: for whelk (Buccinum undatum) and brown crab (Cancer pagurus), in the southwest Irish Sea. 465: 73-83. Hydrobiologia.
  6. ^ Anthoni, U.; Bohlin, L:; Larsen, C.; Nielsen, P.; Nielsen, N.H.; and Christophersen, C. (1989). The toxin tetramine from the "edible" whelk Neptunea antiqua. Toxicon 27: 717-723.
  7. ^ Mensink, B.P., Everaarts, J.M., Kralt, H., ten Hallers-Tjabbes, C.C., & Boon, J.P. (1996) Tributyltin exposure in early life stages induces the development of male sexual characteristics in the common whelk, Buccinum undatum. 42: 1-4. pp. 151-154. Marine Environmental Research.

External links

  • MarLIN: The Marine Life Information Network for Britain & Ireland
  • R. Tucker Abbott & Percy A. Morris, 1995, Shells of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the West Indies, Houghton Mifflin, Boston
  • ARKive [1]