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Busycon Whelks
Three views of one shell of Busycon perversum with operculum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
(unranked): clade Caenogastropoda
clade Hypsogastropoda
clade Neogastropoda
Superfamily: Buccinoidea
Family: Buccinidae
Subfamily: Busyconinae
Tribe: Busyconini
Genus: Busycon
Röding, 1798

See text

Busycon is a genus of very large edible sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks in the family Buccinidae. These snails are commonly known in the United States as whelks or Busycon whelks. Less commonly they are loosely, and somewhat misleadingly, called "conchs".

Busycon comes from the Greek bousykon meaning large fig, from bous meaning cow and sykon meaning fig.[1]

Shell description[edit]

Shells of species in this genus can grow to a length of 40 cm. They all have a long siphonal canal.

The shells are generally a solid cream, light grey or tan in color, however the shell of Busycon perversum is marked with brown and white streaks.

The shell of individuals can sometimes vary quite widely in coloration and sculpture.

The lightning whelk, native to the Gulf of Mexico, is unusual among gastropods, having a sinistral shell.


Busycon whelks are scavengers and carnivores, equipped with a proboscis tipped with a file-like radula used to bore holes through the shells of barnacles, clams, crabs, and lobsters. They have a large, muscular foot with which they hold their victims. Small sharks, gulls, crabs, and other gastropods are known to feed upon them.

The knobbed whelk, Busycon carica, is the second-largest species, growing up to 30 cm long. They have tubercles (spines) along the shoulder. They open clams with their muscular foot and insert their long proboscis to digest the flesh. The knobbed whelk is a common predator of the foreshore mudflats as far offshore as 50 m.


Strings of Busycon whelk egg capsules commonly wash ashore and desiccate, becoming brittle. These objects are sometimes called mermaid's necklaces because they resemble a large necklace strung with medallion-shaped egg pouches. Each pouch of the string contains numerous protoconchs (baby whelks), similar in appearance to adults but with fewer whorls and less sculpture.

Human use[edit]

When used for cooking in the United States, busycon whelks are sometimes called scungilli, an Italian-American adaptation of the Neapolitan sconciglio which means the meat of a (usually edible) sea snail.


A lightning whelk shell found on a Gulf of Mexico beach in Louisiana.

The genus Busycon contains the following species:[2]

The following species have been moved from Busycon to the genus Busycotypus