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Penion cuvieranus cuvieranus.JPG
Apertural view of a shell of Penion maximus, anterior end towards the bottom of the page
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
(unranked): clade Caenogastropoda

clade Hypsogastropoda
clade Neogastropoda

Superfamily: Buccinoidea
Family: Buccinidae
Rafinesque, 1815
Type genus
Linnaeus, 1758
Genera and species

See text

8-10 freshwater species, others are marine
  • Cominellidae
  • Donovaniinae

The Buccinidae are a very large and diverse taxonomic family of large sea snails, often known as whelks or true whelks.[2]

True whelks are mostly marine (with some genera freshwater) gastropod mollusks in the clade Neogastropoda. The family includes more than 1500 species.


The true whelks occur worldwide in all seas from tropical oceans to the cold seas of the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean. They are found from the intertidal to the bathypelagic zones. Most prefer a solid bottom, but some inhabit sandy substrates.

Some genera from the Buccinidae are freshwater, for example genus Clea.


The shells of species in this family are moderate to large in size, conical to fusiform in shape. The shell often has deep sutures. The shell surface is generally smooth, sometimes with a spiral and/ or axial sculpture. The thickness of the shell is more pronounced in tropical shallow-water species, while the shell of species living in moderate and colder waters is generally thin or moderately thin. The top of the whorls are more or less shouldered. The radial ribs of the shell sometimes show shoulder knobs. The aperture is large with a well-defined siphonal canal. The rim of the aperture is sometimes used to pry open the shell of bivalves. The aperture is closed by a horny operculum.

The soft body is elongated and spiral. The head has two conical, depressed tentacles which bear the eyes on a lobe or prominence at their base. The mouth contains a long, cylindrical, annulated proboscis and a small tongue. The mantle forms a thin-edged flap over the branchial cavity. On the left side, it has an elongated, open canal, that emerges by a notch or groove in the shell. The two gills are elongated, unequal and pectinate (i.e. in a comb-like arrangement). The large foot is generally broad.[3]

True whelks are carnivores and scavengers. They feed on clams, carrion, and sometimes even on detritus. Their sense of smell is very well-developed; they can sense chemical signals from their prey from a considerable distance with their osphradia. Many whelks are capable of boring through the shell of bivalves, and because of this, some species cause much harm in oyster farms. True whelks can even attack fish caught in a net by extending their probosces to twice the length of their own bodies.

The female whelk lays spongy egg capsules with hundreds of eggs. These form round clusters or a tower-shaped masses. Only about 10% of these eggs hatch. The larvae then feed on the rest of the eggs that have not yet hatched.

The flesh of the common northern whelk, Buccinum undatum, is much appreciated by connoisseurs as a food item, but its consumption is currently somewhat in decline.

The empty shell of a whelk is often used by the hermit crab to make its home.

Egg cases of the common whelk (Buccinum undatum)
Egg cases of the knobbed whelk (Busycon carica), from Delaware Bay


According to the taxonomy of the Gastropoda by Bouchet & Rocroi (2005), the family Buccinidae consists of six subfamilies:

Subfamily Buccininae Rafinesque, 1815

  • tribe Ancistrolepidini Habe & Sato, 1973
  • tribe Buccinini Rafinesque, 1815
  • tribe Buccinulini Finlay, 1928
  • tribe Colini Gray, 1857 - synonyms: Neptuneinae Stimpson, 1865; Chrysodominae Dall, 1870; Pyramimitridae Cossmann, 1901; Truncariinae Cossmann, 1901; Metajapelioninae Gorychaev, 1987
  • tribe Cominellini Gray, 1857
  • tribe Liomesini P. Fischer, 1884 - synonym: Buccinopsidae G. O. Sars, 1878 (inv.)
  • tribe Parancistrolepidini Habe, 1972 - synonym: Brevisiphoniinae Lus, 1973
  • tribe Prosiphonini Powell, 1951
  • tribe Volutopsiini Habe & Sato, 1973

Subfamily Beringiinae Golikov & Starobogatov, 1975

Subfamily Busyconinae Wade, 1917 (1867)

  • tribe Busyconini Wade, 1917 (1867) - synonym: Fulgurinae Stoliczka, 1867
  • tribe Busycotypini Petuch, 1994

Subfamily Donovaniinae Casey, 1904 - synonym: Lachesinae L. Bellardi, 1877 (inv.)

Subfamily Pisaniinae Gray, 1857 - synonyms: Photinae Gray, 1857; Pusiostomatidae Iredale, 1940

Subfamily Siphonaliinae Finlay, 1928 - synonym: Austrosiphonidae Cotton & Godfrey, 1938


Buccinum undatum on a stamp from the Faroe Islands

Genera within the family Buccinidae include:

subfamily Buccininae

tribe Ancistrolepidini

tribe Buccinini

tribe Buccinulini

tribe Colini

tribe Cominellini

tribe Liomesini

tribe Parancistrolepidini

tribe Prosiphonini

tribe Volutopsiini

Subfamily Beringiinae

subfamily Busyconinae

tribe Busyconini

tribe Busycotypini

subfamily Donovaniinae

subfamily Pisaniinae

subfamily Siphonaliinae

subfamily ?

Genera brought into synonymy
  • Acamptochetus Cossmann, 1901: synonym ofMetula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Adansonia Pallary, 1902: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Agassitula Olsson & Bayer, 1972: synonym of Metula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Anomalosipho: synonym of Anomalisipho Dautzenberg & H. Fischer, 1912
  • Antemetula Rehder, 1943: synonym of Metula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Antimitra Iredale, 1917: synonym ofMetula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Bathyclionella Kobelt, 1905: synonym of Belomitra P. Fischer, 1883
  • Benthindsia Iredale, 1936: synonym of Nassaria Link, 1807
  • Boreofusus G.O. Sars, 1878: synonym of Troschelia Mörch, 1876
  • Brevisiphonia Lus, 1973: synonym of Thalassoplanes Dall, 1908
  • Buccinopsis Jeffreys, 1867: synonym of Liomesus Stimpson, 1865
  • Chauvetiella F. Nordsieck, 1968: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Chrysodomus Swainson, 1840: synonym of Neptunea Röding, 1798
  • Colicryptus Iredale, 1918: synonym of Turrisipho Dautzenberg & H. Fischer, 1912
  • Colubrarina Kuroda & Habe in Kuroda, Habe & Oyama, 1971: synonym of Metula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Cryptomitra Dall, 1924: synonym of Belomitra P. Fischer, 1883
  • Dellina Beu, 1970: synonym of Belomitra P. Fischer, 1883
  • Donovania Bucquoy, Dautzenberg & Dollfus, 1883: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Donovaniella F. Nordsieck, 1968: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Echinosipho Kaiser, 1977: synonym of Americominella Klappenbach & Ureta, 1972
  • Enzinopsis Iredale, 1940: synonym of Clivipollia Iredale, 1929
  • Floritula Olsson & Bayer, 1972: synonym of Metula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Folineaea Monterosato, 1884: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Fulgur Montfort, 1810: synonym of Busycon Röding, 1798
  • Jumala Friele, 1882: synonym of Beringius Dall, 1887
  • Kapala Ponder, 1982: synonym of Buccipagoda Ponder, 2010
  • Lachesis Risso, 1826: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Mada Jeffreys, 1867: synonym of Buccinum Linnaeus, 1758
  • Madiella Wenz, 1943: synonym of Buccinum Linnaeus, 1758
  • Mala Cossmann, 1901: synonym of Buccinum Linnaeus, 1758
  • Minitula Olsson & Bayer, 1972: synonym of Metula H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Morrisonella Bartsch, 1945: synonym of Belomitra P. Fischer, 1883
  • Neptunia Locard, 1886: synonym of Neptunea Röding, 1798
  • Nesaea Risso, 1826: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Parasipho Dautzenberg & H. Fischer, 1912: synonym of Plicifusus Dall, 1902
  • Subfamily Photinae: synonym of Pisaniinae
  • Pleurobela Monterosato in Locard, 1897: synonym of Belomitra P. Fischer, 1883
  • Quasisipho Petrov, 1982: synonym of Plicifusus Dall, 1902
  • Sipho Mörch, 1852: synonym of Colus Röding, 1798
  • Siphonorbis Mörch, 1869: synonym of Colus Röding, 1798
  • Strombella Gray, 1857: synonym of Volutopsius Mörch, 1857
  • Strongylocera Mörch, 1852: synonym of Phos (Strongylocera) Mörch, 1852
  • Syntagm] Iredale, 1918: synonym of Chauvetia Monterosato, 1884
  • Tritonidea Swainson, 1840: synonym of Cantharus Röding, 1798
  • Tritonium O.F. Müller, 1776: synonym of Buccinum Linnaeus, 1758
  • Tritonofusus Beck, 1847: synonym of Colus Röding, 1798


  1. ^ Strong E. E., Gargominy O., Ponder W. F. & Bouchet P. (2008). "Global Diversity of Gastropods (Gastropoda; Mollusca) in Freshwater". Hydrobiologia 595: 149-166. hdl:10088/7390 doi:10.1007/s10750-007-9012-6.
  2. ^ a b Bouchet, P.; Gofas, S. (2010). Buccinidae. In: Bouchet, P.; Gofas, S.; Rosenberg, G. (2010) World Marine Mollusca database. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=149 on 2010-12-30
  3. ^ Macgillivray, William , History of the molluscous animals of Scotland, London, 1844
  4. ^ Petuch E. J. (2002). "New deep water gastropods from the Bimini Shelf, Bimini Chain, Bahamas". Ruthenica 12(1): 59-72. abstract.
  5. ^ K. Fraussen (2008). "Enigmaticolus, a new genus of deep water buccinids (Gastropoda: Buccinidae), with description of a new species from Madagascar". Gloria Maris. 46 (4–5): 74–82. [dead link]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Buccinidae at Wikimedia Commons

Data related to Buccinidae at Wikispecies