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A shell of Epitonium scalare
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Subclass: Caenogastropoda
Superfamily: Epitonioidea
Family: Epitoniidae
Berry, 1910 (1812)

See text

  • Acirsinae Cossmann, 1912
  • Acrillinae Jousseaume, 1912
  • Cirsotrematinae Jousseaume, 1912
  • Clathroscalinae Cossmann, 1912
  • Epitoniinae Berry, 1910 (1812)
  • Gyroscalinae Jousseaume, 1912
  • Ianthinidae ( 19th century authors used indifferently the spellings Janthina / Ianthina and Janthinidae / Ianthinidae. The nomenclaturally valid name is Janthinidae, but the spelling Ianthinidae has remained sporadically in use throughout the 20th century.)
  • Iodeidae Leach, 1847 (unavailable name)
  • Janthinidae Lamarck, 1822
  • Lioatlantinae B. Dybowski & Grochmalicki, 1920
  • Nystiellidae Clench & R. D. Turner, 1952
  • Opaliinae Cossmann, 1912
  • Papyriscalinae Jousseaume, 1912
  • Recluziidae Iredale & McMichael, 1962 (nomen nudum)
  • Scalariidae Lamarck, 1812
  • Scalidae H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853 (synonym)
  • Stenacmidae Pilsbry, 1945

Wentletraps are small, often white, very high-spired, predatory or ectoparasitic sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks in the family Epitoniidae.[1]

The word wentletrap originated in Dutch (wenteltrap), and it means spiral staircase. These snails are sometimes also called "staircase shells", and "ladder shells".

The family Epitoniidae belongs to the superfamily Epitonioidea. Since 2017 this family also includes the former families Janthinidae (the pelagic purple snails) and Nystiellidae, all part of the informal group Ptenoglossa.[2]

Epitoniidae is a rather large family, with an estimated number of species about 630.[3]



Wentletraps inhabit all seas and oceans worldwide, from the tropical zones to the Arctic and Antarctic zones.

Shell description


Most species of wentletrap are white, and have a porcelain-like appearance. They are notable for their intricately geometric shell architecture, and the shells of the larger species are prized by collectors.

The more or less turret-shaped shell consists of tightly-wound (sometimes loosely coiled), convex whorls, which create a high, conical spiral. Fine or microscopic spiral sculpture (also called "striae") is present in many species. The shells sometimes feature an umbilicus. Wentletrap shells have a roundish or oval aperture, but its inner lip is often reduced to strip of callus. The round and horny operculum is paucispiral and fits the aperture tightly. Most of the species in the family are small to minute, although some are larger, and overall the adult shell length in the family varies between 0.6 and 11.7 cm.[4]

Within the genus Epitonium, the type genus of the family, the shell has predominantly axial sculpture of high, sharply ribbed "costae". These costae may offer some protection against other predatory snails, which would find it difficult or impossible to bore a hole in a shell with such obstructions.



Wentletraps are usually found on sandy bottoms near sea anemones or corals, which serve as a food source for them. Some species are foragers and search for anemones.

Little is known about the biology of most wentletraps. Keen (1958) has his literature most cited. He observed that many wentletraps reveal a hint of purple body color, suggestive of carnivorous feeding. The animal can exude through its salivary gland a pink or purplish dye that may have an anaesthetic effect on its prey.[5][6]

Keen also cited direct observation of a wentletrap feeding by insertion of its proboscis into a sea anemone.

A sequence of a wentletrap feeding on an anemone has been published.[7] These snails also prey on corals and other coelenterates.

Female wentletraps lay egg capsules that are bound together with a supple string. The young emerge from these capsules as free-swimming larvae.[7]



Genera within the family Epitoniidae include:[1]


  • Acrilla H. Adams, 1860: synonym of Amaea H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Acutiscala de Boury, 1909 : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Amiciscala Jousseaume 1912  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Asperiscala de Boury, 1909: synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Cinctiscala de Boury 1909  : synonym of Asperiscala de Boury, 1909
  • Cirratiscala de Boury, 1909  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Clathroscala de Boury 1889  : synonym of Amaea H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Clathrus Oken 1815  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Compressiscala Masahito (Prince) & Habe 1976 : synonym of Gregorioiscala Cossmann, 1912
  • Dannevigena Iredale 1936  : synonym of Cirsotrema Mörch, 1852
  • Depressiscala de Boury 1909 : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Foliaceiscala de Boury 1912  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Fragiliscala Azuma 1962  : synonym of Amaea H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • FragilopaliaAzuma 1972  : synonym of Amaea H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Glabriscala de Boury 1909  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Lampropalia Kuroda & Ito, 1961  : synonym of Cylindriscala de Boury, 1909
  • Mazescala Iredale 1936  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Nipponoscala Masahito (Prince) & Habe 1973  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Nodiscala de Boury 1889 : synonym of Opalia H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Nystiella Clench & Turner, 1952  : synonym of Opaliopsis Thiele, 1928
  • Plastiscala Iredale, 1936 : synonym of Acirsa Mörch, 1857 (junior subjective synonym)
  • Problitora Iredale, 1931 : synonym of Alexania Strand, 1928 (uncertain synonym)
  • Sagamiscala Masahito, Kuroda & Habe, 1971 : synonym of Globiscala de Boury, 1909
  • Scala Mörch, 1852 : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Scalina Conrad, 1865  : synonym of Amaea H. Adams & A. Adams, 1853
  • Spiniscala de Boury, 1909  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Turbiniscala de Boury 1909  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798
  • Viciniscala de Boury 1909  : synonym of Epitonium Röding, 1798


  1. ^ a b c Gofas, S. (2010). Epitoniidae. 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=132 on 24 April 2011
  2. ^ Beu, Alan G. (2017). "Evolution of Janthina and Recluzia (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Epitoniidae)". Records of the Australian Museum. 69 (3): 119–222. doi:10.3853/j.2201-4349.69.2017.1666.
  3. ^ Art Weil (1999). "Conchologists of America List". University of Georgia. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  4. ^ J. Wyatt Durham (1937). "Gastropods of the family Epitoniidae from mesozoid and Cenozoic rocks of the West Coast of North America". Journal of Paleontology. 11 (6): 479–512. JSTOR 1298354.
  5. ^ Burton E. Vaughan, Ph.D., ed. (2014). "Family: Epitoniidae (Wentletraps)". Gladys Archerd Shell Collection at Washington State University Tri-Cities Natural History Museum. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  6. ^ Keen, A. Myra (1958). Sea Shells of Tropical West America. Stanford CA: Stanford Univ. Press. pp. 635 pp.
  7. ^ a b Collin, Rachel (2000). "Development and anatomy of Nitidiscala tincta (Carpenter, 1865) (Gastropoda: Epitoniidae)". The Veliger 43(4): 302-312.
  8. ^ "Conchologists of America List". University of Georgia. 1999. Retrieved 2009-03-23.

Further reading

  • A. Weil, L. Brown and B. Neville, 1999, The Wentletrap Book: A Guide to the Recent Epitoniidae of the World, Mal de Mer Enterprises
  • Neville, Bruce (1997). A Master Index to the Species Names in the Family Epitoniidae (PDF). Albuquerque, New Mexico: privately published. p. 59.
  • Manuella Folly & Silvio Felipe & Silvio Lima, Records and Descriptions of Epitoniidae (Orthogastropoda: Epitonioidea) from the Deep Sea off Northeastern Brazil and a Checklist of Epitonium and Opalia from the Atlantic Coast of South America; International Journal of Zoology Volume 2012, Article ID 394381, 12 pages