Callianax biplicata (Sowerby, 1825)

Common name(s): Purple olive shell, Purple olivella

Synonyms: Olivella biplicata
Phylum Mollusca
 Class Gastropoda
  Subclass Prosobranchia
    Order Neogastropoda
      Suborder Rachiglossa
       Family Olividae
Callianax biplicata, Dana Point, CA 2001
(Photo by: Dave Cowles, 2001)
Description:  Olive shells have a long, narrow aperture and short, raised spire (picture).  The outside of the shell is smooth and polished because the animal's mantle typically covers the outside of the shell.  The anterior end of the aperture has a small siphonal notch (picture, picture), but it has no anal notch.  The species has two folds on the columella (photo) and has a white columellar callus near the anterior end (visible near the aperture, photo) which extends about 1/3 the length of the shell.   Callianax biplicata is one of the largest olive shells on the Pacific coast (none of them are very large), and can get up to 3 cm long, though on our coast I have rarely found one over 2 cm.  Its foot is white or cream colored.

How to Distinguish from Similar Species: Callianax baetica is more narrow and is usually brown, plus is mostly subtidal and is rarely found on exposed beaches.  C. biplicata generally has purple coloration on it, even when worn (picture).  C. pycna typically has wavy longitudinal lines on the shell.

Geographical Range: Vancouver Island to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Depth Range: Low intertidal to 50 m

Habitat: Sandy bottoms, lagoons, bays.

Biology/Natural History: Burrows in sand, leaving a plowed trail behind it (photo).  The foot is wedge shaped to facilitate plowing (photo).  While burrowing it raises its long siphon up through the sand as a snorkel.  Found nearshore on fairly quiet, protected beaches and farther offshore on more exposed beaches.  Predators include the seastars Pisaster brevispinus and Astropecten armatus, octopus, moon snails, and gulls.  The snail digs or crawls rapidly or somersaults if touched by Pisaster brevispinus tube feet.  Primarily found along the open coast rather than in protected waters such as Puget Sound.  Most active at night, often move up and down the beach with the tide.  Larger animals live higher on the beach than smaller ones do.  May congregate in large clusters (photo).  Probably omnivorous.  Will eat kelp blades and live and dead animal material.  May eat small detritus.  Males find females by following their tracks, then glues himself temporarily to her shell.  Mating takes up to 3 days.  Egg capsules are about 0.5 mm, are deposited individually on small stones, shells, etc.  Grow to 1.6 cm first year, 1-5 mm/year thereafter.  Live 8-15 years.  May be parasitized by trematode larvae (in the gonads--may castrate host).  May contain high levels of heavy metals such as copper, lead, silver, cadmium, and zinc.

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Dichotomous Keys:
  Carlton, 2007
  Kozloff 1987, 1996 (as Olivella biplicata)
  Smith and Carlton, 1975 (as Olivella biplicata)
  Flora and Fairbanks, 1966 (as Olivella biplicata)

General References:
  Morris et al., 1980 (as Olivella biplicata)
  Kozloff, 1993 (as Olivella biplicata)
  Lamb and Hanby, 2005 (as Olivella biplicata)
  Niesen, 1994 (as Olivella biplicata)

Scientific Articles:

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

Olive shells are often found worn in shelly debris on the sand.  Photo by Dave Cowles, Catalina Island, CA May 1995

Olive shells have a long narrow aperture and a siphonal notch.  Photo by Dave Cowles, Catalina Is., CA 1995

This species is of special value to the Makah indian tribe at Neah Bay.

This individual (above and below) was found at Toleak Point, on the open Washington coast.  The scale in millimeters, with centimeters marked.

Note that there are two folds on the columella, and that the white callus on the anterior (right) end is about 1/3 the total length of the shell.

The following photos show Callianax biplicata actvity on sandy regions of Shi Shi Beach.  All the photos can be enlarged for a closer look by clicking on them.
Aggregation of Oliivella burrows In burrow with extended siphon
Ths is an aggregation of Callianax biplicata seen in late July.  There was a wide sandy area the individuals could have occupied but nearly all the individuals were aggregated in a this and a few other small areas near the zero tide line.  The photo was taken at daybreak in late July, 2008 by Dave Cowles.
Most of the individuals in the aggregation at left were completely buried in the sand as can be seen on the left and right in this photo.  A number of them, however, were incompletely buried as seen in the center.  The center individual is burying itself posterior end-first in the sand, and is extending its inhalant siphon up toward the surface.
Olivella trail Leaving burrow
This individual is crawling across the beach.  Unlike the other photos in this set, this one was taken in 2007, of an individual not in an aggregation.  The individual was buried in the sand at the end of the trail but I popped it out for the photo.  Photo by Dave Cowles at Shi Shi beach, near dawn in early August 2007.
This individual appears to have previously been in or at the burrow at the right which is still occupied by another individual.  Now it is crawling around among the burrows on the left.  This was not the only individual in the aggregation that appeared to have been visiting other burrows.  Because of the tight aggregation of individuals and the evidence of visiting burrows, I assume that this is a mating aggregation. 
Individual closeup On side
This member of the aggregation is crawling across the sand.  Note the plowlike configuration of the anterior foot, which would help the snail to burrow through sand.  Note also the white incurrent siphon, which is extended forward, and the dark tentacle-like extension of the mantle which is held across the top of the shell.
This individual member of the aggregation appears to be lying on its left side with its foot and mantle extended around the anterior and ventral end.  Note how the inhalant siphon is extending back toward the nearby burrow.  I wonder if this individual is preparing to dig into the sand next to the individual in the burrow.


This photo shows a 1.7 cm-long individual crawling along underwater in the lab.  Notice the raised incurrent siphon and the extended mantle.  Photo by Dave Cowles, February 2014

Authors and Editors of Page:
Dave Cowles (2005):  Created original page