Whelk egg cases

Telling your whelk egg case strings apart, Southern New England to Mid-Atlantic division:
This is the egg case of the channeled whelk, Busycotypus canaliculatus. Note how the edges of each individual capsule comes together as if pinched, giving each capsule a sharp edge.
This is the egg case string of the knobbed whelk, Busycon carica. Note how the edge of each capsule is flattened, like a sturdy coin.

Each capsule contains 25 or more tiny baby whelks in their tiny baby shells. Here are some of the channeled whelks who didn’t make it:In the palm of my hand. Each is about 3/16ths of an inch long. Check out this earlier posting for views of the baby knobbed whelks.

O, and telling your adults apart is straight-forward:The knobbed whelk, top, has knobs on its spiral. The channeled whelk (7.25″ long), bottom, has a deep groove in its spiral. Both these shells were found at Fort Tilden in Queens (the egg cases were found on Nantucket). Color of the shell can vary: NYC-local whelks don’t have the coral pink interiors you find in Massachusetts.

The phrase “whelk egg cases” and variations thereof, turns out to be one of the most popular internet searches leading to this blog. So this one’s for you, stranger.

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30 Responses to “Whelk egg cases”

  1. 1 Out Walking the Dog May 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Such beautiful objects, those long strings of egg cases, almost like a vertebral column. And each case filled with tiny creatures… Fantastic world, eh?

    • 2 mthew May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

      And to think all these years I never even bothered looking closer at those segments. William Blake, who was probably not familiar with our whelks, wrote: “To see a world in a grain of sand/And a heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour

  2. 3 Brenda from Flatbush May 17, 2011 at 9:32 am

    I’m sort of obsessed with shells, and the baby whelks on that other post you linked to are GORGEOUS! Sometimes I think that nature just ruins me for modern art and design…what could be more incredible (function/form + beauty) than a whelk egg case filled with micro-whelks?

    As for Google, my top search term is “Totoro,” so one just has to go with it…

  3. 6 nancy November 30, 2011 at 10:08 am

    very interesting, use to find them washed up on the Delaware beaches.
    Usually tangled up in other seaweed and trash. would pick it up
    and could hear the rattle of something unknown inside the compartments.
    thanks, after all these years, now I know…

  4. 8 Deb January 13, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Thanks for the great info and photos. i noticed those tiny whelks inside the casing many years ago. I didn’t know there were animals in there. When i find the casing on the beach, does that mean it won’t survive or they’re dead? Or should i throw it back in the water?

  5. 10 kim cole July 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Found a spiral case and then one that has stacked triangles in a stacked circle…wonder if it’s also part of the whelk family?

  6. 12 Isara Serene April 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Looking for a nickname of these that is used in Connecticut or New Jersey? … maybe has the word “Witch” in it? Thanks, in advance …

    • 13 mthew April 20, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      I don’t know the answer to this. “Mermaid’s necklaces” is one reference I see on-line. I wonder if there’s some variation of Devil’s Necklace or Witch’s Necklace?

    • 14 mthew April 21, 2015 at 8:40 am

      I tweeted this question and got back “witch’s purse” or “mermaid’s purse” for the lone respondent, although I would use those terms for a skate’s egg-case.

  7. 15 kbush230 April 29, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful piece of nature. Beautiful images and very informative information.

    Happy Shelling,


  8. 17 kbush230 April 29, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Tropical Seashell Treasures and commented:
    Great blog about Lighting Whelk Egg Casings, by matthewwills.com

  9. 18 Linda April 11, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Just wondering if the “adult” whelk “lays” the egg case.

    • 19 mthew April 12, 2017 at 6:57 am

      Yes, eggs are internally fertilized and encapsulated, laid in the case. One of end of the necklace is buried in sand as a anchor (which clearly doesn’t always work).

  10. 20 pmciii April 30, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Found channeled whelk egg cases this weekend in Montauk, thanks for the help with the identification.

  11. 21 Ellen November 25, 2019 at 7:26 am

    Ha! I had to go back to see this after reading your Twitter post. I loved these as a kid. Finding all the miniature shells inside was pure magic.

  12. 22 Eve Bohlin January 5, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    I just found a stand of channeled whelk eggs on Rockaway Beach. Thank you for your help in identifying them.

  13. 23 Ricardo Sánchez March 14, 2021 at 12:06 pm


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