© Dianne Faucette

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Whelk Egg Cases
January 2006 Palmetto Perspective
by Dianne Faucette, Master Naturalist

In November, hundreds of whelk egg cases washed up on the beach in Palmetto Dunes. Most people who donít study sea life think this unusual debris is seaweed.

Mother whelks lay egg strings along the South Carolina coast twice a year, in April-May and September-October, depending on the water temperature. The mother takes about a week to make a string which contains from 100 to 150 capsules. A string could be as much as 40Ē long. Specialized glands secrete a substance that encloses usually 20 to 40 eggs in each capsule. She then buries one end of the string in the sand under shallow water, and the rest of the string floats while the baby whelks slowly develop over the next three to 13 months into perfectly formed whelk shells. The first ones to hatch eat their unhatched siblings.

The strings of egg cases break loose in turbulent water. By the time we see them washed up on the beach, there are usually holes in each capsule which indicate the eggs have successfully hatched. Occasionally some of the eggs do not hatch, in which case an observer will see the perfectly-formed almost microscopic whelk shells left in the capsules. A whelk is one of the sea creatures that lives in one shell for life, secreting the substance that continues the shell growth.

Live Whelk Egg Case anchored in the tidal creek at The Folly
  Whelk Egg Cases

Knobbed Whelk