The Whelks of Florida

The Whelk shells of Florida are widely collected and they can be some of the largest shells you’ll find on Florida beaches. (Don’t collect them if they are inhabited.)

The Knobbed Whelk (Busycon carica), Channeled Whelk (Busycon canaliculatum), Pear Whelk (Busycon spiratum) and Lightning Whelk (Busycon contrarium) can all be quite large – the Pear is the smallest.  Common characteristics include their long shape with a wide opening down the length of the shell.

Of these four, the Pear Whelk is the smallest when full grown. It grows to a length of 5 1/2 inches. I have come across pear whelks out on the sandy flats while boating. I’ve seen them as yellow, gray and with brown splotches. They are usually inhabited by hermit crabs.  Then I recently found one with a live snail inside. (2nd photo)

pear whelk seashell
Pear whelk seashell with hermit crab inside
pear whelk mollusk
Pear Whelk with Mollusk Inside

The Lightning Whelk is another one I find often in the backwater areas. It’s usually small like the pear whelk, but this one can grow to be 16 inches long.  It is recognizable by it’s left-side opening.

lightning whelk mollusk shell
Live Lightning Whelk (Notice the left-sided opening)

This is a fairly new photo of the knobbed whelk. I discovered it in January just offshore on an island in the Indian River backwater. A hermit crab was living inside, so I got some photos and returned it to the water.

knobbed whelk
Knobbed Whelk

The channeled whelk is not a shell I have found in one piece. It grows to be 7.5 inches in length. The top spiral part of the shell differs from the other whelks because it looks extended, like someone pulled it out. The whorls on the other shells are tight and semi-flat.

large broken whelk shell
White and broken channeled whelk shell remains

This is the only channeled whelk I have found and even though it was very broken it turned out there was a hermit crab living in it! I had to take it back and return it to the water.

The Channeled whelk only lives along the northeastern coast of Florida to about halfway down the state.  I guess that explains why I don’t see many of this kind of shell.

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