information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Needle whelk (Bittium reticulatum)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



An elongate, conical shell, up to 1 cm long, with 10-15 whorls. Strong ribs and spiral ridges interact to form rows of moderately prominent round elevations (tubercles), 4 on lower whorls, 3 on upper whorls. Whorls are a little swollen and sutures are rather deep. Aperture flared or oval and drawn out to form a short basal sinus. Oval operculum present. Shell reddish-brown to light chestnut-brown in colour, tubercles paler.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Occurs in Britain mainly on southern and western coasts.

Global distribution

Widely distributed from the Lofoten Isles, Norway to the Canaries but absent from the continental shores of the North Sea and the east Channel.


On sandy and muddy shores, often with Zostera spp., and on rocks and stones, from the lower shore to depths up to 250 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • No tubercles present on the lowest spiral ridge of each whorl or on the basal ridges of the last whorl.
  • Aperture small, with notch at base of columella.
  • A prominent ridge across each whorl (varix) typically present.
  • Apex bulbous and twisted.

Additional information

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Listed by

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Further information sources

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  1. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Graham, A., 1988. Molluscs: prosobranchs and pyramellid gastropods (2nd ed.). Leiden: E.J. Brill/Dr W. Backhuys. [Synopses of the British Fauna No. 2]

  3. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  4. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  6. McMillan, N.F., 1968. British Shells. London: Frederick Warne & Co Ltd.


This review can be cited as:

Skewes, M. 2008. Bittium reticulatum Needle whelk. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 22-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 03/06/2008