Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lightning Strike

Lightning Whelks are leftists.
I still like them even though I am a centralzigzagist.

With a shell that goes against the grain of most right spiraling snail shells, the lightning whelk is quite the contrarian, hence the scientific name, "Busycon contrarium".

These big snails are predators and will clean a saltwater aquarium of any clams who have the misfortune to be dumped in the tank with them.

Lightning Whelk

Lightning Whelk egg case
 In my aquariums, the whelks will often bury themselves in the bottom sediment until I drop in some bit of fresh food.
As soon as the scent of the food reaches them, they erupt from the gravel and begin seeking it out.
It's pretty neat to watch and a big one will shove rocks and shells around as they plow across the bottom of the tank.

These guys/gals (all are hermaphrodites) get really big ... at least 15 inches in my experience. I am sure they must be edible based on the zillions of them in some local First Floridian midden sites.

In the far distant past, their shells were used for everything from net weights, cooking vessel, scoop, scraper, garden hoe  ... even I used to have one as a bird seed scoop.

These wonderful and abundant snails have been around for about 60 million years, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Next week, my students and I will be out on the Gulf on our annual field trip and I'm sure they will all have the opportunity to hold a live whelk in their hand and feel it creep across their palm.

... and then they too will be struck by lightning.


threecollie said...

I will look forward to your trip photos if you get some. They are always excellent.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I wonder how they got the name "lightening" whelk. They are slow as molassas. I bet that feels funny on your hand. That egg case sure is interesting too. Is that shell part of them or do they borrow it from some other creature? Marine life is very foreign to me. This could have come from outer space as far as I would know.

R.Powers said...

Oh you know I will have my camera!

Molluscs like this whelk have an organ called the mantle that secretes the shell. It's Calcium Carbonate mostly and the raw ingredients, Ca, C, and O are abundant in seawater.
Some of the mollusc clan are so strange, ... they MAY have come from space.

Carol said...

Very interesting...never heard of them.

Bruce Mohn said...

I have eaten them, but they do need to be tenderized. Best done by putting them through a blender and using them for chowder. Very tasty.

I've also found them in 25 million year old sediments in Maryland, looking exactly like they do today, the shells only bleached and made a bit fragile by time.

Elaine W said...

In prehistoric times here in stone-poor Florida, good old Busycon was the equivalent of aluminum foil, duct tape, and bondo all rolled into one. If you needed a carrying container, a scrape, a gouge, a dibble, something to make into jewelry, or probably at least 10 more other things, you could make it from these shells. Plus, you could eat them and they were valued trade-goods to use to barter from of those tool-making-grade rocks from up north.

Miz S said...

This time, I didn't even have to go to Wikipedia. Between you and your commenters, I feel that I know a little bit about Lightning Whelks now.

I can't wait to hear about your field trip on the Gulf.