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Biology/Natural History: A most peculiar species because of its ability to vary so much in shape, color, and texture from one individuals to the next. This makes it very hard to key out. It is one of the most common intertidal whelks in the Pacific Northwest. Nucella lamellosa is a carnivore, feeding on acorn barnacles (photo) and mussels. After locating its prey the whelk uses its radula to scrape through the shell and eat out the soft flesh inside. This snail may be found congregating in large groups to breed in the spring and summer (photo). Their eggs are in oatlike capsules which are attached by stalks to the rocks (photo)

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.


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© Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory

Source: Invertebrates of the Salish Sea

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