Biology/Natural History: This species does not range as high in the intertidal as does N. ostrina, but higher than does N. lamellosa. Its main prey is Mytilus spp, and secondarily it feeds on barnacles such as Semibalanus cariosus. It drills shells by softening them with a secretion from the foot, then drilling through with the radula. It usually takes 1-2 days to drill and eat a prey individual. Breeding is in spring and summer. Females attach their eggs to rocks in flask-shaped capsules ("sea oats"), each of which may contain 15-55 eggs. Some of the eggs may be abortive and consumed by other larvae as they grow within the capsule. The young emerge from the capsule as benthic, juvenile snails about 1.3 mm in shell length.
In the study by Sorte and Hofmann (2005), thermotolerance of different Nucella species along the coast was found to be correlated with the latitude range and tidal height each species occupies. N. ostrina, which occurs higher in the intertidal than does N. canaliculata in Oregon and does not extend as far north, had higher heat tolerance than did N. canaliculata. N. emarginata, which extends the farthest south, and N. ostrina, which lives higher in the intertidal, recovered more quickly from thermal exposure than did N. canaliculata and N. lamellosa, which live lower in the intertidal, and N. lima, which has a more northern range. These differences in heat tolerance may be related to HSP70 molecular chaperones.
The famous purple dye from the city of Tyre, that colored royal Roman robes, was made from a relative of Nucella. The snails were ground up in a stone mortar; different combinations made different shades of purple. The dye should be fixed with lemon juice as a mordant. The American species produce a much less brilliant purple than do the Mediterranean species.