Kelletia kelletii

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Kelletia kelletii
Temporal range: Pleistocene [1] -Recent
Kelletia kelletii.jpg
a live Kelletia kelletii
Scientific classification
K. kelletii
Binomial name
Kelletia kelletii
(Forbes, 1850) [2]

Fusus kelletii Forbes, 1850 (original combination)
Siphonalia kelletii (Forbes, 1850)


Kelletia kelletii, common name Kellet's whelk, is a species of large sea snail, a whelk, a marine gastropod mollusc in the family Buccinidae, the true whelks. [3] [4]

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined.

Sea snail common name for snails that normally live in saltwater

Sea snail is a common name for slow moving marine gastropod molluscs usually with visible external shells, such as whelk or abalone. They share the taxonomic class Gastropoda with slugs, which are distinguished from snails primarily by the absence of a visible shell.

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".

Kelletia kelletii is a large scavenger [4] [5] and predatory sea snail commonly found in subtidal kelp forests, rocky reefs, and cobble-sand interfaces at depths ranging from 2 to 70 m from Isla Asunción, Baja California, Mexico to Monterey, California, USA. [6] It aggregates seasonally for mating and it is slow-growing snail. [6] It is also a recently targeted fishery species [6] and a subject of a rapidly expanding fishery. [7]

Scavenger Organism that feeds on dead animal and/or plant material

Scavengers are animals that consume dead organisms that have died from causes other than predation. While scavenging generally refers to carnivores feeding on carrion, it is also a herbivorous feeding behavior. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by consuming dead animal and plant material. Decomposers and detritivores complete this process, by consuming the remains left by scavengers.


Kelletia kelletii is found from Isla Asunción, Baja California, Mexico, to Monterey, CA, USA. [6] The type locality is the "Californian coast". [2] Studies suggest that the Kellet's whelk range expanded to Monterey Bay in the 1970s or early 1980s, possibly due to an El Niño event, and is dependent on recruits from southern California. [7]

Baja California Federal entity in Mexico

Baja California, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Baja California, is a state in Mexico. It is the northernmost and westernmost of the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1952, the area was known as the North Territory of Baja California. It has an area of 70,113 km2 (27,071 sq mi), or 3.57% of the land mass of Mexico and comprises the northern half of the Baja California Peninsula, north of the 28th parallel, plus oceanic Guadalupe Island. The mainland portion of the state is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Sonora, the U.S. state of Arizona, and the Gulf of California, and on the south by Baja California Sur. Its northern limit is the U.S. state of California.

Monterey Bay bay of the Pacific Ocean in California, United States

Monterey Bay is a bay of the Pacific Ocean located on the coast of the U.S. state of California. The bay is south of the major cities of San Francisco and San Jose. The county-seat city of Santa Cruz is located at the north end of the bay. The city of Monterey is on the Monterey Peninsula at the south end. The Monterey Bay Area is a local colloquialism sometimes used to describe the whole of the Central Coast communities of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

El Niño Warm phase of a cyclic climatic phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean

El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including the area off the Pacific coast of South America. The ENSO is the cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. El Niño phases are known to occur close to four years, however, records demonstrate that the cycles have lasted between two and seven years. During the development of El Niño, rainfall develops between September–November. The cool phase of ENSO is La Niña, with SSTs in the eastern Pacific below average, and air pressure high in the eastern Pacific and low in the western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, including both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes in temperature and rainfall.


An apertural view of a shell of Kelletia kelletii from its original 1850 description, drawn by William Hellier Baily Kelletia kelletii shell.png
An apertural view of a shell of Kelletia kelletii from its original 1850 description, drawn by William Hellier Baily
A live Kelletia kelletii Kellet's Whelk - Kelletia kelletii (28527144867).jpg
A live Kelletia kelletii
A shell of Kelletia kelletii Kelletia kelletii 01.JPG
A shell of Kelletia kelletii

Kelletia kelletii was discovered and described (under the name Fusus kelletii) by Manx naturalist Edward Forbes in 1850. [2] The specific name kelletii is in honor of captain Henry Kellett, who led the scientific expedition during which these snails were collected. [2]

Isle of Man British Crown dependency

The Isle of Man, often referred to simply as Mann, is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann and is represented by a lieutenant governor. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

Edward Forbes naturalist

Professor Edward Forbes FRS, FGS was a Manx naturalist.

In zoological nomenclature, the specific name is the second part within the scientific name of a species. The first part of the name of a species is the name of the genus or the generic name. The rules and regulations governing the giving of a new species name are explained in the article species description.

Kellet's whelks are the largest buccinid gastropods found in southern California. [7] The robust, spindle shaped, spiraled shell can reach 6.9 inches (17.5 centimeters) in length. [7] Shells are white to tan and are often covered with encrusting organisms such as bryozoans, sponges and algae. [7]

Southern California Place in California, United States

Southern California is a geographic and cultural region that generally comprises California's southernmost counties, and is the second most populous urban agglomeration in the United States. The region contains ten counties: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Kern counties.

Gastropod shell part of the body of a gastropod or snail

The gastropod shell is part of the body of a gastropod or snail, a kind of mollusc. The shell is an exoskeleton, which protects from predators, mechanical damage, and dehydration, but also serves for muscle attachment and calcium storage. Some gastropods appear shell-less (slugs) but may have a remnant within the mantle, or the shell is reduced such that the body cannot be retracted within (semi-slug). Some snails also possess an operculum that seals the opening of the shell, known as the aperture, which provides further protection. The study of mollusc shells is known as conchology. The biological study of gastropods, and other molluscs in general, is malacology. Shell morphology terms vary by species group. An excellent source for terminology of the gastropod shell is "How to Know the Eastern Land Snails" by John B. Burch now freely available at the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Kellet's whelks display sexual dimorphism with females being the larger individual in a mating pair. [7] Females are generally sexually mature between 2.6 and 2.8 inches (6.5 and 7.0 centimeters), with males maturing at slightly smaller sizes. [7]

Sexual dimorphism condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs

Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals and some plants. Differences may include secondary sex characteristics, size, weight, color, markings, and may also include behavioral and cognitive differences. These differences may be subtle or exaggerated, and may be subjected to sexual selection. The opposite of dimorphism is monomorphism.


Three Kelletia kelletii in captivity (one hidden behind another) feed on dead fish, each one using a long, prehensile proboscis to reach down to the food Kelletia kelletii 4.jpg
Three Kelletia kelletii in captivity (one hidden behind another) feed on dead fish, each one using a long, prehensile proboscis to reach down to the food

Kelletia kelletii is commonly found in subtidal kelp forests, rocky reefs and cobble-sand interfaces at depths ranging from 2 to 70 m. [6] This species conspicuous and abundant inhabitant of the nearshore subtidal reefs off southern California. [5]

Feeding habits

Kelletia kelletii is a large carnivorous scavenger. [5] It also occasionally feeds on live organisms as a predatory gastropod. [5] [6] As a scavenger, it appears to be attracted to almost any injured or dead animal on the sea floor. [5] Often in subtidal areas large numbers of Kelletia kelletii have been observed moving towards and/or feeding upon one food item. [5]

As a predator Kellet's whelk feeds on dead or alive polychaetes, bivalves, sea snails, crustaceans, ascidians. Additionally, they are known to scavenge on dead fish, echinoderms, and cephalopods. [5]

Kelletia kelletii feeds with an extensible muscular proboscis which can be extended from the head region during feeding. [5] Food is ingested by a muscular sucking action of the proboscis and a rasping of the radula. [5] The proboscis is capable of extending approximately twice the length of the whelk's shell; it is this extension which allows Kelletia kelletii to reach food items in depressions or within the substratum. [5] Most of the scavenger feedings by Kelletia kelletii attract more than one individual. [5] In one instance, 85 were clustered around and feeding on a dead sea bass, Paralabrax sp., off Point Loma. [5]

Interaction with sea star

Kellet's whelk has been observed feeding together at the same time with the Giant sea star Pisaster giganteus on common food items and thus these two species are trophically interrelated. [5] Pisaster giganteus also preys on Kelletia kelletii more often than any other motile gastropod, and yet the whelks do not appear to be eaten in proportion to their abundance or accessibility in studied localitions. [5] The sea star appears to be a major predator of the whelk, even though Kelletia kelletii makes up less than 10% of the diet of the sea star. [5] The whelk does not display an avoidance response in the presence of Pisaster giganteus. [5] Coexistence between the two species is believed possible as long as Kelletia kelletii does not become a preferred prey of the sea star. [5] Usually these feeding convergences involved only a single sea star and two or three whelks. [5]

These convergent feeding groups were not limited to Kelletia kelletii and Pisaster giganteus. Kelletia kelletii has also been observed feeding interspecifically with two other sea stars, Dermasterias imbricata and Pisaster brevispinus . [5]

Life cycle

Females and males aggregate seasonally for mating. [6] Fertilization is internal. [7] Kellet's whelks reproduce annually, with egg-laying restricted to late spring and summer (in March, April and May). [6] [7] The snails form aggregations, with the average spawning cluster being about 15 to 20 snails. [8] However, a few spawning aggregations contain between 200 and 300 individuals. [8]

Oval-shaped egg capsules are deposited in clusters on hard substrates, including rock reef, discarded mollusk shells, and other Kellet's whelks, with egg laying speculated to be favored on substrate already containing Kellet's whelk egg capsules. [7] Egg deposition may occur over several days at several locations, or all within one day. [7] Egg capsules generally contain between 400 and 1200 eggs, with the height of the capsule, and number of eggs directly correlating to the size of the spawning female. [7] Egg capsule height generally ranges between 0.2 and 0.4 inches (6 and 9 millimeters) and capsules may occasionally contain up to 2200 eggs. [7]

Embryos begin development within the capsule for about 30–34 days. [6] They emerge into the water column as free swimming veliger larvae that are (planktonic and pelagic). [7] Veliger size is inversely related to egg capsule size, with smaller capsules containing larger veligers. [7] The protoconch of Kelletia kelletii has 0.5-1.5 whorls and a bulbous apex. [9]

Laboratory culturing studies resulted in successful metamorphosis of 33% of larvae (n=10) from weeks 5.5 through 9 in the presence of live rock dominated by Petaloconchus montereyensis (a prey species of Kelletia kelletii), as well as 100% of larvae exposed to high concentrations of KCl in weeks 8 and 9; these pilot results suggest a planktonic duration of at least 5.5–9.0 weeks. [6] Larvae are becoming more demersal as they are approaching competency. [6]

Kelletia kelletii is slow-growing, and slow to mature. [6] Studies have suggested a growth rate of 0.3 to 0.4 inches (7 to 10 millimeters) per year until sexual maturity. [7] Rosenthal (1970) [10] reported onset of sexual maturity at c. 60 mm in shell length (defined as maximum shell length from the tip of the spire to the tip of the siphonal canal). [6] having reached sexual maturity, growth slows considerably and it has been suggested that it takes at least 20 years to reach 3.5 inches (9.0 centimeters). [7] In a year-long tagging study in southern California the majority of the 188 animals recaptured showed no growth at the end of the year. [7]


Giant sea star eating Kelletia kelletii Kelletia kelletii and Pisaster giganteus 2.png
Giant sea star eating Kelletia kelletii

Predators of Kelletia kelletii:

Human use

Shells of Kellet's whelks have been found in archeological and paleontological sites in southern California. [7] The earliest recorded commercial landing data specific to Kellet's whelk dates back to 1979, but prior to this it may have been recorded as "miscellaneous mollusks" or "sea snails". [7] Landings data indicate an increased intake starting in 1993 at 4590 pounds (2 metric tons), with the highest landings in 2006 being 191,177 pounds (87 metric tons). This represents an over forty-fold increase in thirteen years. [7] Kellet's whelk landings have been reported at 24 ports from 1979 to 2008, with 80 percent of landings occurring at four ports. [7] The majority of landings (439,828 pounds, 200 metric tons in 2008) occurred at Santa Barbara, with approximately 40 percent of the total landings reported. [7] The other three top ports were Terminal Island, San Diego, and San Pedro. [7] Dana Point is also an important port. [11] Ex-vessel value from the 2008 commercial harvest of Kellet's whelks was approximately $132,700, with price per pound averaging $0.82 ($1.81 per kilogram). [7] Since 1979, the fishery's ex-vessel value has ranged from $94 (1988) to approximately $136,000 (2007) and the ex-vessel price has ranged from $0.24 per pound ($0.53 per kilogram) in 1981 to $0.88 per pound ($1.94 per kilogram) in 1992. [7] The average weight of a Kellet's whelk in a fishery is 150 g. [11]

The food-finding ability of Kelletia kelletii by distance chemoreception has, on more than one occasion, been a nuisance to spiny lobster fishermen in some areas off southern California. [5] These fishermen usually bait traps with dead fish in order to attract the spiny lobster Panulirus interruptus . [5] Many times, however, a single lobster trap is found to contain dozens of Kelletia kelletii which were attracted to the trap by the "scent" of the bait. [5] Since 1979, 89 percent of all harvested Kellet's whelks have been taken incidentally in lobster and crab traps when they enter to prey on bait or on injured crustaceans. [7] The other method of take is diving. [7] Commercial divers are required to have a commercial fishing license, and may only take whelks that are further than 1000 feet (305 meters) beyond the low tide mark, as the take of any snails is prohibited in the tidal invertebrate zone (Title 14, CCR, §123). [7] Recreational take of Kellet's whelk by hand is allowed (Title 14, CCR, §29.05) outside of the 1000 foot (305 meter) tidal invertebrate zone. [7] Except where prohibited in state marine reserves, state marine parks and state marine conservation areas the bag limit is 35 animals, with no closed season. [7] Ninety-nine percent of Kellet's whelks are used for human consumption., and are mainly sold in live fish markets. [7]

The fact that this species is slow-growing, slow to mature, and makes seasonal aggregations for mating, all mean that this recently targeted fishery species is vulnerable to overexploitation. [6] The Kelletia kelletii fishery has experienced a rapid increase in landings since 1995, prompting the California Department of Fish and Game to designate the species as an "emerging fishery" (California Regulatory Notice Register 2011 43-Z). [6] New commercial and recreational fishing regulations for Kellet's whelk were established in 2012. [12]

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Knobbed whelk species of knobbed whelk

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<i>Dicathais</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Sinistrofulgur perversum</i> species of Gastropoda

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<i>Pisaster giganteus</i> species of echinoderm

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<i>Calliostoma ligatum</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Norrisia norrisii</i> species of mollusc

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Buccinum thermophilum is a species of sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Buccinidae, the true whelks.

<i>Drupella cornus</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Nucella lamellosa</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Nucella ostrina</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Nucella squamosa</i> species of mollusc

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<i>Kelletia</i> genus of Gastropoda

Kelletia is a genus of large sea snails, whelks, a marine gastropod molluscs in the family Buccinidae, the true whelks.

<i>Nassarius fossatus</i> species of mollusc

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This article incorporates CC-BY-3.0 text from the reference [6] and public domain text from references [5] [7] [8]

  1. Arnold R. (1903). "The paleontology and stratigraphy of the marine Pliocene and Pleistocene of San Pedro, California". Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences 3: 1-420. page 229, plate 4, figure 5.
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  3. Vaux, Felix; Hills, Simon F.K.; Marshall, Bruce A.; Trewick, Steven A.; Morgan-Richards, Mary (2017). "A phylogeny of Southern Hemisphere whelks (Gastropoda: Buccinulidae) and concordance with the fossil record". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 114 (2017): 367–381. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2017.06.018.
  4. 1 2 Vaux, Felix; Crampton, James S.C.; Trewick, Steven A.; Marshall, Bruce A.; Beu, Alan G.; Hills, Simon F.K.; Morgan-Richards, Mary (2018). "Evolutionary lineages of marine snails identified using molecular phylogenetics and geometric morphometric analysis of shells". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 127 (October 2018): 626–637. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2018.06.009.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Rosenthal R. J. (1971). "Trophic interaction between the sea star Pisaster giganteus and the gastropod Kelletia kelletii". Fishery Bulletin , U.S. Department of Commerce, 69(3): 669-679.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Romero M. R., Walker K. M., Cortez C. J., Sanchez Y., Nelson K. J., Ortega D. C., Smick S. L., Hoese W. J. & Zacherl D. C. (2012) "Larval Diel Vertical Migration of the Marine Gastropod Kelletia kelletii (Forbes, 1850)". Journal of Marine Biology , Article ID 386575, 9 pages. doi : 10.1155/2012/386575.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 Hubbard K. (2008). "2 Kellet’s Whelk, Kelletia kelletii". Status of the Fisheries Report 2008 section 2: 1-6. PDF.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Rosenthal R. J., Clarke W. D. & Dayton P. K. (1974). "Ecology and natural history of a stand of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera , off Del Mar California". Fishery Bulletin , U.S. Department of Commerce, 72(3): 670-684.
  9. Vendetti J. E. (2007). "Protoconch comparative morphology in extinct and extant buccinid gastropods and its utility in paleobiogeography, systematics, and inferring larval mode". The Malacologist 48: HTM.
  10. Rosenthal R. J. (1970). "Observations on the reproductive biology of the Kellet's whelk, Kelletia kelletii (Gastropoda: Neptuneidae)." The Veliger 12(3): 319–324.
  11. 1 2 California Department of Fish and Game (2011) "Review of selected California fisheries for 2010: coastal pelagic finfish, market squid, ocean salmon, groundfish, highly migratory species, dungeness crab, spiny lobster, spot prawn, kellet's whelk, and white seabass". Fisheries Review CalCOFI Rep.52: 35 pp. PDF.
  12. Kellet's Whelk Fishing Regulations. Invertebrate Management Project, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, accessed 9 February 2013.

Further reading