What does the whelk eat?

The whelks diet consists mainly of mussels, polychaetes and crustaceans. The common whelk is sometimes thought to be pest for fishermen as it attacks fish that are caught in nets by making a hole in the fishes skin with its rasp tongue and thereafter eating the meat with its long siphon. The whelk cannot attack fish that are not dying or hindered from fleeing.

Whelks smell their food 

The common whelk is very sensitive to smells that are carried in water currents. With a sweeping movement of its siphon it can even detect food upstream. Its sensitivity to smell (cemoreception) occurs in its osphradium which is situated in the mantle hole between the base of the siphon and the gills. Water that flows in the mantle hole towards the gills, always passes this organ. When the whelk picks up the scent of its prey, it moves straight towards it at speeds of up to 13cm per minute. It also has the ability to discern between different smells and can therefore determine if it is from a predator or prey. When the whelk approaches its food, it lifts the anterior of its foot and tastes the prey with both its tentacles and siphon. If the food smell is very strong, the whelk can extract its siphon, but this rarely occurs until it has contact with its prey.


With a sweeping movement of the siphon, the whelk uses it sense of smell to find its food.

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What it eats




Fishing for whelks

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Bo Johannesson | Martin Larsvik | Lars-Ove Loo | Helena Samuelsson