a kind of animal – salt water mollusc (shellfish ~ sea snail) – univalve (= soft body with a single hard shell cover) – carnivore (= meat-eating) – small soft white body with black patches, and with long, tube-like organ to suck up the food, called ‘proboscis’, two pairs of antennae on the head, one pair for sensing food and the other for sensing light, simple eyes, small muscular foot-like organ to move and to hold on to the prey (= animal that it kills and eats), a rough-surfaced tongue-like organ, called ‘radula’ with which to make holes in the shell of other shellfish;

soft whelk out of its shell

size: {shell measurements} the smallest – dog whelk – 1½ long, 0.70 an inch wide, and weight: 40-45 grams, the largest – female lightning whelk – 10 long, 6 inch wide, and weight: 1½ Kg (female larger than male); feeds on (eats) other shellfish – barnacles, clams, oysters, and crabs and lobsters, and the flesh of any dead animal; lives for 6-10 years; about 800 (?) species, found in most temperate coastal waters of the world

a conch

Most people confuse ‘whelks’ with ‘conches’, and, in some parts of the world, especially in the USA, the whelks are served as conches in restaurants!  There is a major difference between these two species of ‘single-shelled animals’: the whelk is a non-vegetarian (meat-eating), while the conch is a vegetarian! Like the conches, whelks are also used as music instrument, like a bugle, to announce the start of a cultural or religious ceremony.
Special Features:
The ‘knobbed whelk’ is the state shellfish of New Jersey, USA.

whelk as a bugle

The whelks are a food shellfish.  Some species of whelks have been eaten by not only the people of the present societies but also those of the ancient times.

Though their inner bodies are soft, whelks, like some of their shellfish relatives, break open even the double-shelled animals, such as clams, mussels, oysters, etc. with the help of their ‘proboscis’, ‘muscular foot’ and the radula, the rough tongue!  They make holes in the shells with the tongue and then push their proboscis into the hole and suck up the soft body holding the prey tight with their small, muscular foot!

Whelks have both sexes, the male having a relatively long penis, the male sexual organ.

whelk egg case

After mating, the female fertilises the eggs in its body, and (in most species) lay a long string of eggs, called ‘egg case’ which has hundreds of small sections with a baby in each section.  The babies look the same as the adults when they come out of their egg case.

Busycon whelk’s egg capsules (egg case) is often called ‘mermaid’s necklace’ and ‘fisherman’s soap’.  It is called ‘fisherman’s soap’ because it gives out a kind of soapy bubbly substance (lather) when rubbed with sea water!

Though very small, the baby whelks are known to eat away their siblings (= other babies from the same egg case) – the ones that are hatched late or look weak!

The ‘dog whelk’ is also called ‘purple whelk’ not because it is purple in colour, but because of the poisonous substance, produced from its anal glands. This substance was made into a purple dye (a kind of substance used to give colour to cloth), and was used by the ancient civilisations, such as Phoenicians, to dye the robes of the emperors and kings, and also by the American tribes in olden days.

Figures of Speech:

whelked  =  (of something)  wrinkled, ridged  (with lots of small, ugly folds)


like whelks behind a window-pane [said of the eyes of someone wearing thick-lens eye-glasses]


that is no way to run a whelk-stall [said to imply that things must be organised in a better way]


not fit to run a whelk-stall [a comment on a person’s inability or incompetence in organising things]


has come over on a whelk-stall [said of someone gaudily dressed or over-dressed (‘gaudily’ = of clothes – too brightly coloured or ill-matching colours)

6.**   (now you’re)  shaping like a basket of wet whelks

Return to “conch“.
About the Author:BC Kumar

BC Kumar, an English Language Teacher, taught in numerous countries including Ethiopia, Oman and India, shares his knowledge and passion for the English Language. Disclaimer: This is a free educational website and all content has been compiled by the author. All copyrights to images and videos belong to their respective owners.

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