Skip to Main Content

Central and South Florida Gastropod Seashell Identification Guide: Whelks

This guide should serve to teach the public how to identify local Central and South Florida gastropod seashells.


(Family) Busyconidae

Distinguishing Characteristics: The whelks have long, thin siphonal canals, a broad aperture, and are topped with a very short spire.

Habitat:  These snails prefer to live on sandy or muddy bottoms in water up to 50 feet. 

Diet:  All members of this family hunt clams, using their muscular foot to pull the shells apart.

Interesting Facts:  Most whelks are edible.

Scientific Name:  Sinistrofulgur perversum

Common Name:  Lightning Whelk

Distinguishing Characteristics:  Aperture is sinistral and glossy white.  The brown vertical stripes are more pronounced in juveniles, and can be lost as adults.  Shoulders are rarely ornamented; when they are the knobs are low and blunt.  Maximum size 16 inches.

Interesting Facts:  The Lightning Whelk is one of the few snail shells with a sinistral aperture- if you were to hold the shell in the palm of your hand with the aperture facing you, the aperture would be on the left side of the shell instead of the right.


Scientific Name:  Busycon carica

Common Name:  Knobbed Whelk

Distinguishing Characteristics:  Shoulders have strong, striking ornamentation and six whorls.  The inside of the aperture is often orange.  The brown vertical stripes are more pronounced in juveniles, and can be lost as adults.  Maximum size 10 inches.

Interesting Facts:  Like the conchs, the Knobbed Whelk can be converted into a trumpet or bugle by removing the top of the spire.

Scientific Name:  Busycotypus canaliculatus

Common Name:  Channeled Whelk

Distinguishing Characteristics:  Shoulders have no ornamentation.  There are broad, deep channels between the whorls, giving this species its common name.  Aperture large and brown.  Sometimes covered with a brown, fuzzy periostracum.  Maximum size 7 inches.

Interesting Facts:  The Channeled Whelk was accidentally introduced to San Francisco Bay sometime prior to 1948, and is considered invasive.  Read more about it here.

Sinistrofulgur perversum

Lightning Whelk

Busycon carica

Knobbed Whelk

Busycotypus canaliculatus

Channeled Whelk