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The shell of a whelk
Scientific classification

Whelk is a word used for some marine gastropods. They are found in temperate and tropical waters, and are used by humans as food. The name is properly used for the family Buccinidae, sometimes called the "true whelks".

Use of the term

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Whelk is a common name, and used for gastropods of various families.

  • In North America whelk refers to several large edible species in the genera Busycon and Busycotypus in the family Melongenidae. These are sometimes called Busycon whelks. In the United States, the invasive Murex Rapana venosa is referred to as the Veined rapa whelk or Asian rapa whelk.
  • In the English-speaking islands of the West Indies, the word whelks or wilks is both singular and plural. It is used for a large edible top shell, Cittarium pica, also known as the magpie or West Indian top shell.

Life of a whelk

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True whelks are carnivores and scavengers.[1] 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. Many whelks can bore through the shell of bivalves. Because of this, they can cause harm in oyster farms. Whelks can even attack fish caught in a net by extending their probosces to twice the length of their own bodies.


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  1. Family Buccinidae. [1]
  • Hayashi S. (2005). "The molecular phylogeny of the Buccinidae (Caenogastropoda: Neogastropoda) as inferred from the complete mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene sequences of selected representatives". Molluscan Research 25(2): 85-98. abstract PDF
  • Bouchet Ph. & Waren A. (1985). "Mollusca Gastropoda : Taxonomical notes on tropical deep water Buccinidae with". Musé. Natn. His. Nat. Paris; Sér. A, Zoologie. 133: 457–518.