THE TYPICAL WHELKS Genus BUCCINUM, Linn.
Shell oval or oblong; spire elevated, acute; epidermis horny; colour dull ashen; aperture oval, large; canal wide, short; columella expanded, smooth; outer lip thin, smooth inside; operculum ovate, nucleus sub-marginal, small; radula prominent.
A carnivorous genus of few species, in northern waters.
The Waved Whelk (B. undatum, Linn.) is a circumpolar species which extends its range southward as far as New Jersey and the Mediterranean, varying from the type so far on American coasts as to induce some scientists to accept the name, B. undu latum of Willer. It has a steep spire of rounded coils, ridged with fine grooves and made wavy by crossing a dozen or more longi tudinal folds that fade out at the middle of the body whorl. The animal is aggressively carnivorous, and has demonstrated ability to adapt itself to varying circumstances.
It is not surprising to find in such a mollusk that the osphra dium, or organ of smell, is very large. It lies like a plume-shaped gland in the wall of the mantle cavity close to the gill. One might easily mistake it for a secondary breathing organ. The third and largest in the series of curved and flattened organs on the left side of the body is the gland that secretes quantities of glary mucus.
The egg cases of this whelk are attached, and the mass looks like a coarse sponge when picked up on the .beach. Sailors use them as a soap substitute under the name of "sea wash balls." Each capsule is a tough pouch like a large split pea, attached by its side. Several hundred eggs occupy each cell, and there are five hundred or more capsules in an average mass. As they hatch, the vigorous embryos devour the weak ones, so the numbers are greatly reduced. The development occurs in winter and re quires about two months before the fry are to leave the egg capsule.
68 The Whelks. Trumpet Shells The voracity of this scavenger snail is its besetting weakness. A wicker basket baited with fish offal and lowered at night to a muddy bottom is drawn up loaded with whelks in the morning.
The helpless lobster fisherman gnashes his teeth over the greedy mollusk which steals his bait over night, and then leaves the empty traps, The long lines set for cod are often drawn up with whelks on the hooks.
On the other hand, whelks have their enemies. Cod are especially fond of them. Forty or fifty shells are sometimes found in the stomach of a single fish. Quantities of whelks are used for bait in the cod fisheries. Hermit crabs are quick to occupy empty whelk shells. The people of Northern Europe count whelks among important sea foods—a staple, not a delicacy.
The Dublin method of cooking whelks is to boil them until they fall from the shell; then fry in butter until brown. A whelk soup which sounds "good enough to eat" is made somewhat like a clam chowder. The fried whelks are added to a vegetable soup, in which they boil an hour before being served. Boiled tender, whelks are eaten with oil and vinegar. In America they are unknown as food, though plentiful on the Atlantic coast.
The range of this species is from tide level to a depth of 65o fathoms, and from the Arctic Seas to the Mediterranean and New Jersey coasts. In sandy bottoms the shell is solid and strongly waved and ridged; in mud it is thin and smooth. The usual colouring is pale rusty, under a thin epidermis. Some are pure white. The body is dirty white, with black dots and streaks. Any species of such great geographical range is bound to show striking variations. The average size is three inches in length by two inches wide. A single specimen 61 inches long is probably the largest known. Pygmies represent the other extreme.
Each country has its own common name for this mollusk. It is called "the roaring buckie" by Scotch children who are told that by laying the mouth close to the ear one hears the murmurs of the sea imprisoned in its coiled spire.