Nucella lamellosa (Gmelin 1791)

Common name: Frilled dogwinkle, Wrinkled purple

Synonyms: Thais lamellosa
Phylum Mollusca
 Class Gastropoda
   Order Neogastropoda
    Suborder Rachiglossa
     Family Nucellidae
Nucella lamellosa from Northwest island, at Rosario Bay
(Photo by: Nathaniel Charbonneau 7/26/02)
Description:  Like all members of family Nucellidae, this species has a strong shell with a well-developed spire (not more than 7 whorls), a short siphonal notch or canal but no anal notch.  The shell is not highly polished.  The animal has a horny operculum. The shell of Nucella lamellosa grows up to 50 mm high; this species is highly variable in shape, size, and color. Some Nucella lamellosa have smooth shells while others have frills (axial lamellae) with  spiral bands as well (photo). Color ranges from white, orange, to brown, or even rarely purple (see photos below).  Some shells (especially in quiet areas) have large, frilly lamellae as axial sculpture, though these lamellae are often entirely absent (worn?--found in current or wave action).  Spiral sculpture consists of 1 or 2 prominent ridges on each whorl.  The whorls are flattened near the sutures, making them appear angled.  Length up to 10 cm.

How to Distinguish from Similar Species:  Other Nucella have no frilly lamellae and rarely exceed 3 cm in length. Nucella ostrina has alternating large and small spiral ridges. N. canaliculata has many spiral ridges of similar size.

Geographical Range:  Nucella lamellosa is found from the Bering Strait to central California.

Depth Range:  Low intertidal to mid intertidal

Habitat:  Rocky substrate, commonly found on mussel beds

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.  Predators include the red cancer crab Cancer productus and the seastar Pisaster ochraceus. Prolonged exposure to chemical cues from C. productus, which cracks the snail's shell during predation, induced growth of a more rotund shell with thicker walls. Prolonged exposure to chemical cues from P. ochraceus, which reaches into the shell, induced growth of  elongated shells with higher spires which allowed the snail to further retreat into the shell. These cues also stimulated the snails to seek shelter more consistently (Bordeau, 2009)

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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Dichotomous Keys:
 Kozloff, 1987 Marine Invertebrates of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washingtion Press.

General References:
 Morris, Abbott, and Haderlie, 1992. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press.

Scientific Articles:

Bordeau, Paul E., 2009. Prioritized phenotypic responses to combined predators in a marine snail. Ecology 90:6 pp 1659-1669

Rawlings, 1999. Adaptations to physical stresses in the intertidal zone: the egg capsules of neogastropod molluscs. American Zoologist 39:2 pp. 230-243

Sorte, Cascade J.B. and Gretchen E. Hofmann, 2005.  Thermotolerance and heat-shock protein expression in northeastern Pacific Nucella species with different biogeographical ranges.  Marine Biology 146: 985-993

General Notes and Observations:  Locations, abundances, unusual behaviors, etc.:

Young individuals of this species are frequently a bright orange and may have no lamellae.  See the photos below for one with tiny lamellae--Dave Cowles

Photo of small, orange individual.  Scale is in millimeters.  Photo by Dave Cowles, May 2005

Here is another orange individual, about 2 cm long.  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2007

The operculum is horny.  There is no tooth on the outer border of the aperture.  Note the foot beginning to emerge.
Note also that most whorls have only 2 large spiral ridges but that there are often more than this on the body whorl.
Photo by Dave Cowles, May 2005

This large image of a small Nucella lamellosa shows details of the lamellae and spiral ridges, plus the cream color of the foot.
Scale is millimeters.
Click on the image to enlarge it.
Photo by Dave Cowles, May 2005

Here is an unusual purple individual (live) collected in summer 2006.  The shell is about 2 cm long.

This larger individual has some frilly axial lamellae growing from the body whorl.  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2005

Here is another frilled individual (with axial lamellae).  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2009

In this photo a worn Nucella lamellosa (as is often seen in the intertidal) is eating a Semibalanus cariosus barnacle in the intertidal

During the mating season, large aggregations of N. lamellosa can often be found among the rocks.  Often egg clusters can be found attached to the rocks nearby (see below)
Photo at Kalaloch Beach #4 by Dave Cowles, July 2009

Here is a cluster of N. lamellosa eggs hanging under a rock.  Photo by Dave Cowles at Kalaloch Beach #4, July 2009

Egglaying under boulder

This aggregation of egglaying Nucella lamellosa was under a boulder on Sares Head, April 2011.  Photo by David Cowles

In July 2005, Jon Mayberry, Matt Henderson, and Taylor Wilkins did a student project titled "Tidal effect on daily migration patterns in Nucella lamellosa".  In the study they followed vertical movements of N. lamellosa through six height zones in an aquarium during changes in water depth that simulated the ambient tidal cycle, and in a control tank that always remained full.  They found that the snails in the control (full) tank continued to move all the time while snails in the tidal tank stopped moving almost entirely during low tide except for a few that fell to the bottom of the tank, making a highly significant difference in movement between the tidal and nontidal tanks at low tide.  The average height of the snails differed both at high and at low tide, with snails in the tidal tank higher.  This may have been due to the fact that at low tide the snails in the tidal tank "froze" in position.  They also observed what might have been a migration downward at nightfall in both tanks.  The figure below (figure 3 from their data) summarizes their results.  Zone 0 was at the bottom of the tank, zone 6 on top.


More color variation.  These individuals are from a rock at Beach #4, Kalaloch July 2008.  Photo by Dave Cowles

This multicolored individual, about 6 cm long, was photographed at Cape Flattery.

This individual, at the Coupeville ferry landing, is nicely banded with orange.

Authors and Editors of Page:
Nathaniel Charbonneau (2002):  Created original page
Edited by:  Dave Cowles 8-2002, 12-2004
Edited by Hans Helmstetler 1-2003